A year ago to the week, I got a call from a music-biz-connected friend... Would I like to interview Ian "Mac" McLagan of the Small Faces, Faces, Rolling Stones, about a box set of the Small Faces years on Andrew Loog Oldham's record label, Immediate? Uhhh, do fries and a bacon-cheeseburger come with that? I suavely jumped out my skin.
Small Faces were/are the only All Time Top Ten band in My Taste Hall of Fame I never got to see perform. None of us US Anglophile kids did. They never made it "over the pond". An incredibly short-sighted manager is to blame. You see, Small Faces quickly became so monstrously successful in the UK and Europe, and were making so much money for the ass managing them (Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne's dear dad) that the idea of the band going over to an unconquered market (the enormous US of A, at that) seemed like throwing away cash money. Utterly blinkered.
Anyway, the day arrived and I found myself on the phone with an outright Musical Hero. Within 30 seconds, Mac had put me at total ease hilariously complaining in comic high dudgeon about Wikipedia getting his name wrong and how he was stuck with it now.
Throughout the entire 55 minutes we were on the phone, Ian McLagan was engaged, engaging, witty, wise, earthy, philosophical, a brutal realist, a decent and wonderful guy with both feet on the ground. It simply came shining through. For the record, a few weeks later, I interviewed Small Faces/Faces/Who drummer Kenney Jones, who was identically classy, forthcoming, intimate.
One is starting to get used to heroes dying theses days. A few weeks back, one of modern music's monolithic bassists, Jack Bruce died. While sad, and the passing of an actual giant, it seemed not all that surprising, Jack's health being delicate for decades.
But, for me, yesterday's news of the passing of Ian 'Mac' McLagan was like having the wind knocked out of me.
The giants are leaving us, indeed.
God, what a cool guy Mac was. What a fantastic keyboard man!
So, here, in its entirety, is my interview with Ian McLagan, done in mid-December of 2013, along with my ramblings about what this man's bands meant to me, particularly the best one... Small Faces.
Oh, one more thing... A few weeks after I did this interview, I received a copy of Mac's amazing memoir, All The Rage (available at his website, www.ianmclagan.com/). Mac had inscribed it, "To Binky... You swine!", a rare compliment I will treasure forever. This is easily one of the most delightful, witty, poignant, rock star memoirs you'll ever read. Mac lived a life, let me tell you, and he tells you in the most wonderfully British way. Really, a Must Read for those of us obsessed.
One moment from All The Rage I have to share...
Ian was now 18 and playing in a band called Boz People (yes, the Boz later in Bad Company). He was home one night and his Dad called out to him... "Ian, come see this band on the telly. They all look just like you!" It was Small Faces performing their debut single, "Whatcha Gonna Do About It". Less than two months later, Ian "Mac" McLagan replaced original organist, Jimmy Winston in Small Faces. Mac played on every track thereafter.
Here we go...
It was a week before Christmas break in 1967. My friend, Steven T, was 'going home' to England for two weeks. Although born in the USA, Steve's parents were both utterly British. His Dad seemed like a retired Colonel from Her Majesty's Army. Bristled mustache and bristling manner. His Mum was so classically a middle-'classy' lady, with such a proper accent, she seemed like some distant royal.
"So, what do you want me to bring back for ya, Binky" asked dear pal, Steven.
"Oh man, Small Faces albums, any you can find. That's it. Small Faces, Steve."
Two weeks later, back home in Brooklyn, Steve came over to my house with the first Small Faces album on Decca and the second Small Faces album on Immediate. I paid him the $10 I owed him.
By the time I'd finished listening to side one of the Decca album, the Small Faces were immediately the sixth in my Rock Pantheon next to The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Beatles. Yes, they were/are that good. The more you have heard, the more you realize that was always where they belonged.
When Punk broke out in all its angry ugly anti-glory, only The Who and Small Faces were immune from their sulphuric disdain. It's obvious why. Small Faces were punks. Punks with raw but world-class chops.
While I'm typing this, I'm breaking one of my own writing rules... I usually need complete silence.
I have CD One sorta blasting right now of this brand new and mind-blower of this new Small Faces box set, Here Come The Nice (out now on Charly Records, the title the same as one of their greatest tracks, and magically available only through Amazon).
For those who already know and don't need a Binky Primer on Small Faces, this box set not only has every Immediate single in mono (Oh, joy!), but, are you ready, FORTY ONE unreleased tracks! Some are different takes, some radically different mixes, some truly uncovered gems never heard before anywhere.
Sadly, the Small Faces legacy was in such disrepair that it took a guy named Rob Caiger over three years to find all this wonderful 'new' material. Precious the-only-copy of songs were found in unmarked cardboard boxes by sheer luck. Happy to report, that after awhile, other folks kicked in to help Rob. There is a comprehensive ( and actually fascinating) history of the treasure hunt included, written by the intrepid Mr. Caiger.
There is also an excellent overview, if a bit scholarly, by Mark Paytrees that tells the tale with various warts openly displayed.
This box is as lavish as they all have become these days. Hardcover book, vinyl 45s, posters, postcards, locks of hair (no)...
By coincidence, about 6 weeks ago, I drowned myself in two CDs worth of the early Decca Small Faces, excellent compilations of their 20 or so Decca cuts available from Universal these days. This was their rawest stuff and their most derivative of The Who, all to their glory, as far as I was concerned. Anyway, I had the boys revved up to help me get through a shitty two hours of cleaning and organizing in my home office. It was wonderful. Being the perfect Small Faces, their last cut on Disc Two ended as I was throwing out the weeded-out crap.
One of the things you realize as you listen to these Immediate tracks on Here Come The Nice isn't just that this band was magnificently talented as musicians, writers, arrangers, they were also staggeringly sophisticated and influential on their British Brethren Rock Stars. You hear snippets of The Who Sell Out, Sgt Pepper, Between The Buttons, Village Green Preservation Society... That's influencing... The Who... The Beatles... The Rolling Stones... The Kinks... okay?
Hell, one Small Face, drummer Kenney Jones, wound up in the fucking Who and organist Mac McLagan wound up touring with the Rolling Stones for a decade or two. Bit of alright.
The Small Faces eclecticism is at tour de force levels as you are greeted with each cut, more creative and catchy than the last. It's almost bizarre. How in fuck's name did this band not wind up monolithic?!
To go over "favorite cuts" is a wank. You do not need me to point out which tracks are special. Your own ears will reveal to you that they are ALL special, all utterly valid on the most potent levels or originality and what you might call genuine British Soul Music. And I don't not mean in terms of their remarkable assimilation of the Stax/Volt and Motown and the Brill Building. No, I mean this was British musicians exposing their souls, gritting their teeth, going for it, leaving it all on the table, all that bollocks.
In one paragraph, when Small Faces split up, Steve Marriott started Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, recruited Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart and dropped the 'Small' and became The Faces. Both had solid runs, but, God, to see the original four Small Faces together onstage... A true time-machine wish!
Anyway, my friend, Ken Sharp, author of the new bestseller, "Nothin' To Lose - The Making of Kiss" (Ken and KISS, by the way, are all Small Faces fans) reached out a few weeks back, told me about this box set and... 'Would you like to interview Small Face "Mac" McLagan, Binky?"
Would I like to interview a bona fide hero of mine for over 40 years? Yes, I would.
So, at 4pm est this past Monday, I dialed Mac McLagan's cell number...
Confession: my questions were unbelievably meandering. I both thank and congratulate Mac for getting through it with his affability intact.
Here's we go... One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy, three ringy-dingy...
"'Ello, is that you, Binky?"
Binky: "Hey, Mac... Yes it is. Look, this is very odd for me. I'm a musician, not an interviewer, Mac. I want you to know, I had a friend bring me back the two Small Faces albums from London, Christmas, 1967, based on photos of the band alone. Your music blew me away. I am a stone fan of you and your band, so bear with my occasional awkwardness."
Mac: "It's nice to hear your background, very much appreciated."
Binky: "I think the thing civilians find eternally fascinating is Pop Stardom. What's it like being a rock star? For better or worse, Mac, that's what you are. I mean, it says so on Wikipedia."
Mac: [laughs] Yes, they've got William as my middle name. I don't know where the fuck they got that from. I've tried to change it, but, it's impossible for me to do it. Who decided I'd be Ian William Patrick? Okay, so, I've decided that's who I am. You can call me Willy."
Binky: "Okay, Willy. Getting back to Pop Stardom, when was that precise moment you felt, 'Oh my God, I've done it!'?"
Mac: "That was the MINUTE I joined the Small Faces, Binky. They were in an office, and as I came 'round the door, Steve Marriott laughed and picked me up. Then, all three picked me up on their shoulders. I'd found my brothers, that's the truth of it."
Binky: "I'd heard that the other three Small Faces didn't even know what you looked like when you joined the band... really?"
Mac: "What happened was, they'd seen a review in a magazine of the band I was in and it raved about my playing and the fact that I played a Hammond [the best organ ever made]. And there was a photograph of the handsome Boz Burrell, who wound up in Bad Company, who was our singer, with my name under it. So, they thought, 'Well, he's got a Hammond, he plays great, and he's good looking'... [Mac starts heartily laughing]... Hooray!" When they met me, they knew I wasn't the guy they saw in the magazine. Steve said, "Oh well, he ain't good lookin' but, he is short!" [more laughter from both of us].
Binky: "Well, if I had to share a prison cell, I think you're better looking than Boz, but, maybe that's just me."
Mac: [more laughs]
Binky: "Leads me into the fashion aspect of the Small Faces, Mac. Even though we only saw you in photos and never onstage, me 'n' all my friends in the States thought you guys were the absolute coolest looking band, the best fuckin' haircuts, the best suits... You guys were just dead impeccable. Was this just the fact that you guys had that much savvy and taste or was some stylist coaching you?"
Mac: "Hell yeah, we had taste. No one picked out our clothes for us." [giggles at the thought]
Binky: "Let me ask you about the songs, Mac. All those Marriott/Lane songs. Can you give me a sense of how those two were writing together?"
Mac: "It varied. For example, 'All Or Nothing' was pretty much all Steve. 'Itchycoo Park' was almost all Ronnie. I mean, we were always together. I heard all those songs going through their growing pains. Lots of songs evolved, rather than, Hey, I've written a song, fellas. One summer, we all had boats and mine was the biggest, so we were always on my boat. Ideas were flowing. And that's how I broke the Marriott/Lane logjam in the songwriting department and got writing credits on Ogden's Nutgone. But, you really need to read the lyrics to 'Itchycoo Park'. It's NOT just about getting high, which is the way Steve turned it. Steve wrote the part about feed the ducks in the pond and all that bollocks. Ronnie is actually singing about Oxford and Cambridge! And what Ronnie was saying was, he didn't have money, he didn't have education, but, he could find beauty in a nettle patch. And not in the 'England's green and fair land' way and all that bollocks. Ronnie found beauty in a nettle patch in the East End of London. Ronnie sang, [Mac over enunciates] It's... All... Too... Beautiful. The only trouble was, the song was so fast, and Steve turned it into [sings like a corny vaudevillian] It's Ah All Tooo Beeeoootifula! Frankly, I hated that. So, I've recorded a version on my tribute to Ronnie, A Spiritual Boy, An Appreciation of Ronnie Lane [also available at www.ianmclagan.com/] and I did it the way it should've been done. It's still a 'great hit' and all that, but, it's a better song that you'd normally think."
Binky: "You could be describing John Lennon's 'All Across The Universe'..."
Mac: "Yeah! You know I just heard that the other day. Love that song."
Binky: "So, you were a very young man, a kid, really, inter-acting with two of the most spectacularly colorful eccentric influential guys in the history of pop music, absolute monoliths in England, and almost diametrical opposites. Tell us what it was like to deal with Don Arden, someone who notoriously would keep a pistol on his desk during negotiations, as hard a nut as ever produced in British show biz, and then suddenly, be dealing with one of the most creative visionary oddballs that pop culture has ever spawned, Andrew Loog Oldham. Can you tell me about these two guys and how you related to them?"
Mac: "Well, they were both professional thieves."
Binky: "Oh dear." [laughter]
Mac: "Andrew had ideas, y'know [said in a disdainful tone]. Andrew and I have made friends in recent years and by 'friends' I mean to make peace. I was gonna do it with Don, too. But, then he went and died, so fuck him. I mean, the money is gone. We only started getting royalties in 1997. So, it's just not about the money, it's about the music. That's all I can say. I had great times, too. But, the fact that Ronnie and Steve never got a penny for publishing, songwriting, or Kenney and I 'til 1997... it's a tragedy. But, I can't live in the past."
Binky: "It's astounding. It seems like almost every British band got totally ripped off, at least their first few years..."
Mac: "Well, the Small Faces are the only band I've ever heard of who NEVER got paid. Think of it. Our royalties from 1966 til 1997. Can you imagine the millions? Nowadays, it's a trickle. A hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there, it's piss. The Who and The Kinks wound up doing, okay, y'know."
Binky: "Speaking of The Who, when I first heard the Small Faces, Steve's guitar, especially that fantastic feedback/whammy bar solo in the Faces first single, 'Whatcha Gonna Do About It', and Kenney's killer Moon-ish drum fills... well, there was a very strong Who influence. But, what I've found interesting is, now that I've seen tons of Small Faces clips on Youtube, the Small Faces were just as influential on The Who as they were on you."
Mac: "Here's the thing. That very Who sound was really before I joined them. A few years ago, Pete Townshend was the keynote speaker at the South By Southwest Festival. I live in Austin and that year, my band had won all these Austin Music Awards and we were the golden boys of the moment. So, the SXSW people wondered if Pete might do a song with us. I spoke to him and he agreed. When we played, I announced that I wanted to do 'Whatcha Gonna Do About It'. I told Pete and the audience that the first time I ever heard that guitar solo, remember, I wasn't in the band yet, I said to myself 'They took that feedback solo from only one place.' Then I yelled to Pete... 'Take the fucker back!' Some ass in Rolling Stone totally misquoted me as ordering Pete to 'Play it for me NOW!'. What the fuck! I couldn't fucking believe it. What's the point of putting quotation marks around that? Anyway, it was great to hear him take the feedback solo in 'Whatcha Gonna Do About It'. He did indeed take the fucker back, too."
Binky: "You're the keyboard man, so forgive me, but, Steve Marriott seemed to be the first gearhead in rock. Every clip, he's using a different guitar, and all of them really good ones. Rare ones, too. Was he fickle or was there some tone he was chasing?"
Mac: "Oh no, Steve just loved guitars... and... he would give them away! He loved guitars. He loved guitarists. If you were at his house, there were always guitars and guitarists about. That's where I first met Ronnie Wood. Steve concentration was always a bit short, he'd go from an SG to a Telecaster to a Gretsch, he just love all those guitars. It was passion. Y'know, Steve was really a ball of fire. He died early but lived three lives."
Binky: "You Small Faces went through a huge blast of success. You were absolutely a singles band, churning out 3 minute hits every 75 days it seemed. You were, for about a year, the biggest pop band in England, bar none. On the cover of every magazine every other week, it seemed."
Mac: "Oh yeah, we were hot shit for awhile."
Binky: "Can you describe what that was like?"
Mac: "We were on the inside of it. We never saw that stuff. We... were... busy! Every single day. We'd go to the studio, and then down to the gig, sometimes two gigs a night at different venues, and then back to the studio, and then a TV show... Days off were an incredible rarity the entire time I was with them. And... I loved every fuckin' minute of it. 'Cause that's all I ever wanted to do in life and with the three guys I wanted to do it with. The not getting paid part, we were never thinking about it. We had clothes on our backs, food in our bellies, a place to sleep, and we got to play every fucking day. We were the hottest shit around and we just assumed, we'll have money eventually."
Binky: "While you didn't gain real international notoriety for Rock Star Tomfoolery until you were in the Faces with Rod the Mod and Ronnie "Rolling Stone" Wood, there must've been some wild times on the road in the 1960s, too. Anything strike you as worth divulging for the voracious Huff Post skimmer, Mac?"
Mac: "I suppose that tour of Australia and New Zealand we did with the The Who..."
Binky: "OH GOODIE!"
Mac: "It all started when an Australian band on the same flight as the Small Faces and The Who opened a bottle of beer. Can you believe all the bollocks over that tour started with one open bottle of beer on a plane? Australian airlines had a strict no alcohol policy during flights. All the Faces and Who's knew this and were behaving ourselves. We landed and were promptly arrested! We marched down the stairs out of the plane with our hands high in the air, just mocking them. Then, while we're waiting in the first class airport lounge while the police figured out what to do with us. A waiter came up to us and asked if we wanted a drink! We said, 'Fucking right, we will.' Then, after that delay, we got on the plane to New Zealand and when we arrived in Wellington, there were eight policemen waiting for us. Four for the Small Faces, four for The Who, one for each of us.They escorted us to the hotel. They were with us at all times, so, that nothing 'terrible' would happen. The show that night went fine. It was Steve Marriott's 21st birthday. The police came back with us and by this time we were all on a first name terms. I asked them, 'Would you like to come in for a drink?' They said, 'Oh well, that'd be nice'. They came to Steve's suite, all very nice. Keith Moon came to the door. He immediately picked up the portable record player we were using for entertainment, threw it through the plate glass window... and the policemen RAN! That's all there was."
Binky: "They RAN?!"
Mac: "Look, it was a great tour. We played to packed houses, we played great, The Who were fantastic, and all anyone remembers is we got arrested because another band opened a bottle of beer on a plane."
Binky: "Wow. Yeah, I've always heard insane stories surrounding that tour. Glad to hear the facts, sir. Hey, I just want to make sure about something dumb. The name Small Faces came from you all being under 5' 5" and 'faces', the Mod term for a truly cool dude. Is that right?"
Mac: "Yes, that's how I always understood it. There's a story in the box set that tells it differently, but, I think it's wrong."
Binky: " It must've been an odd thing to hear all these unreleased and 'lost' tracks while you were putting together this box set for Charly Records. Any moments come back to you?"
Mac: "Truth is, I haven't heard all of them yet. It's in my phone and I'll be listening on my flight to the UK later today. "Anything" surprised and amazed me. Kenney and I listened to that together and while we remembered it, but couldn't place it. Then, I realized it was the intro to "Tin Soldier" that we never used."
Binky:: "Wow, my band, The Planets, has been doing "Tin Solder" for years and years. We just landed a new singer. He's only 26. Yet, when we showed him the list of songs we wanted him to learn, the first thing he said was, 'Wow, Small Faces' 'Tin Soldier'. Cool!'... How 'bout that!"
Mac: "Really! I love that!"
Binky: "Last query, dearie... Someone told me that, as a kid, you somehow convinced a store to sell you your mammoth Hammond organ on installments and that when you Dad got home that night, he literally couldn't open the front door as the Hammond was totally blocking the way."
Mac: "That's the story that I started my book, All The Rage with, Binky. You must get my book!"
Binky: "We ALL must get your book, Mac... and will! Thank you so much, man."
Mac: "Oh, Thank you very much. And, good luck with YOUR band, Binky."
Rest in peace, sweet prince.