“It all comes down to having fun. Real fun. Over the years, I’ve been asked to play on different people’s records, but I have turned them down. I just told them I was busy. They were people I didn’t particularly like. Even if I was broke, I just couldn’t do it. I was invited to audition for The Grateful Dead, and having never really listened to them much, I bought one of their records to hear their music. My wife came home that night to find me sitting there in the dark, with a very sad face. She asked me, ‘What’s the matter?’ and I replied, ‘Oh, nothing. I’ve just been listening to this band and I cannot bear them! I just couldn’t do it.’ The potential was there for huge amounts of money, but she said, ‘Mac, you can’t do it. If it puts you in that sort of mood, forget it!’ ”
– Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan
Born Ian Patrick McLagan, May 12, 1945 in West Middlesex Hospital, Isleworth, Middlesex, Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan is today best known as a founding member of two iconic bands: The Small Faces and The Faces. In the 1960s McLagan played keyboards and sang backing vocals as a member of The Small Faces, following earlier stints with The Muleskinners and The Boz People. He joined the group in November 1965, replacing Jimmy Winston, and played his debut with The Small Faces at London’s Lyceum Theatre on November 2 of that year. After Steve Marriott left the group in 1969, singer Rod Stewart and virtuoso guitarist Ronnie Wood joined the band, which emerged as The Faces.
After The Faces split up in 1975, McLagan worked as a keyboard player for The Rolling Stones, where his signature B3 organ sound was a highlight on both the band’s studio work and their tours. McLagan also worked on various Ronnie Wood projects, including The New Barbarians. In addition, he has built an impressive resume of session work, backing such notable artists as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Paul Westerberg, Melissa Etheridge, Frank Black, John Mayer, Izzy Stradlin and Nikki Sudden.
McLagan has also released several solo albums. An in-demand player, since 1977 he has served as bandleader with his own Bump Band, which played at the 2006 Austin City Limits Music Festival and opened for The Rolling Stones in Austin, Texas in 2006. Currently, Mac and his band play a regular weekly gig at the Lucky Lounge in Austin, Texas, where the band enjoy a devout following among the patrons of Austin’s city nightlife club scene. In addition, since 1997 McLagan has been a member of Billy Bragg’s band.
In 1973, McLagan developed a relationship with Kim Kerrigan, the young, estranged wife of Keith Moon. After she divorced Moon in 1975, the two lived together and later married on October 9, 1978, one month after Moon died at the age of 32. On August 2, 2006 Kerrigan died in a traffic accident in Travis County, Texas, aged 57. Her car was hit by a truck, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
At 67 years young, Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan continues to have fun doing what he does best: creating exciting, quality music for an appreciative audience. From his home in Austin, Texas, Mac talks with LA Beat magazine about his music, life and loves.
First, I want to congratulate you on the induction of The Small Faces/The Faces into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Were you excited about that induction?
Well, first I want to say that those are two separate bands; they are not the same band! The Hall may think they are, but they are not. You know, as long as Madonna’s in there for dancing and miming, then it just makes a joke of the whole thing!
I’ve read that Booker T. Jones was the driving force behind your picking up the B3 organ. Is that true?
Yeah, absolutely. I heard Green Onions and it changed my life, really. I just wanted to play that sound, you know! He’s brilliant, and he just got a new album out, The Road From Memphis. The roots are back in him, it’s brilliant!
What was it about growing up in post-war England that resulted in such a plethora of outstanding, legendary British musicians and singers? What was it about that post-war atmosphere that resulted in this?
The music in England at that time was crap, that’s why! Well, the music in America at that time was crap too. You had stuff like “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” and it was all very middle-of-the-road rubbish. Then we heard the Blues, Soul and R& B, and it touched our hearts! We didn’t know where that came from, but we just wanted to hear it and wanted to hear it now.
You’ve been quoted as saying that right up until you reached your teens, the British adolescents didn’t have their own unique style in clothing, music, or much else.
We take it for granted these days that you can wear any color…well, I mean, back when I was a kid, you actually wore small versions of your dad’s clothes. It was dark blues and browns, miserable clothes. There just weren’t any clothes for kids, not like now. Even babies then wore these zero size, adult clothes; either that or they were naked, lol!
Carbon copies of their parents from the very start, eh?
Yeah, they were!
What do you think about The Small Faces Ultimate Collection?
There’s so many collections you know; I’m not sure which one that is. There’s been so many that I get confused. I’m sure I’ve seen it, but it’s hard to keep up. Right now, they are working on a really good Small Faces collection that covers the Decca and Immediate periods. It has alternate tracks. This guy in England has researched it and has found all kinds of stuff they never knew existed. Kenney (Jones) and I are very keen to get that out.
How does that music sound to you now, Mac?
It sounds a little old to me, frankly. I’m not that influenced by it. The music I was influenced by still sounds as fresh as the day I first heard it. Stuff that I’m on, I see the faults and I hear the stuff that I may have played better. I just don’t think that the (Small Faces) records are as interesting as the records that turned me on. But I’m proud of them, just not quite so excited by them.
Do you have a favorite Small Faces or Faces song, and if you do, then why is it your favorite?
Well, my favorite Small Faces song is Tin Soldier. I think that track is really well-played, well-written, well-sung, well-recorded and well-produced. I’m real pleased with that; I think it’s as good as we got. In fact, the funny thing is that Booker T. & the MGs obviously like it because they included licks from it into a song called Carnaby Street. For years I thought that we must have stolen that from them, then the author of the book about Stax Records (Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records) interviewed me for another project, the Small Faces DVD All or Nothing 1965-1968. I asked him about that, and he said, “No, no no! You were first!” So they borrowed Tin Soldier, and knowing that really knocked me out!
That’s a real compliment.
That’s more than just a compliment. That’s something that needs to be on one’s tombstone!
You’ve been quoted as saying that you’re having some trouble remembering some of those older songs.
It depends on what the song is, but sometimes they disappear from the memory. Maybe we only played them a few times.
Do you have a favorite memory or story from your days with either The Small Faces or The Faces?
When I think of The Small Faces, I think of us on the road. We were the closest pals, same as The Faces. But since there were only the four of us, we were very tight. We lived together and we did everything together for three or four years. But you know, a favorite memory keeps coming back: it’s just us in the car, going to gigs. Kenney used to sit in the front, and Ronnie, Steve and I would sit in the back. We used to smoke, listen to music, laugh and giggle, and had the best time! We’d get to the gig and we’d play music, then we’d leave the gig and we’d listen to music. Then we’d go back to the hotel and we’d play music, then we’d listen to music. It’s all we did, and it was fabulous! You can’t have a better life, and also we were playing shows that were jam-packed with people. It was very rewarding in that way. We didn’t get the money that we thought we were getting, but it’s sort of irrelevant when we were having the best time.
And the people who came to our shows were having the best time too; the best time we could give them, anyway. So it was just…it’s just a ton of memories. But it was just the feeling of us being in the car, listening to music and having a damn good time!
What bands were you in before The Small Faces?
I was in a band called The Mule Skinners. That was my first band. We were formed at art school; the four or five of us were at art school together. I was with that band for a couple of years, then I got an offer to join another band and be paid for it, which was pretty good. I was sorta managing the band. I booked the gigs, and I booked the van. I’d book the guy that would drive the van, and I’d rent gear. I was kinda in charge of everything. I wasn’t the best, the most talented. After a while it got kind of tiring, and I got called to join a band that was gonna pay me and provide me a place to live and the music was okay. It turned out that was The Boz People. The lead singer was Boz Burrell, who went on to become a bass player with Bad Company. So I was with them for about six months, then I quit because they weren’t keen to work and it was frustrating; I wanted to get on with it. Then I got an offer to join The Small Faces the following day. I joined immediately on November 1, 1965.
Do you still enjoy playing those classics from that period?
Well, I don’t play many of them, frankly. I very rarely do All or Nothing and I don’t do Tin Soldier as it’s too complex: two guitars, keyboards and Steve Marriott’s voice. It’s all too much bother! I play Glad and Sorry, but I don’t do it too often. It’s really hard to replicate Steve’s voice.
Well, you have a great singing voice.
Awww…thank you kindly!
Since nowadays you’re regarded by many people as primarily a blues man, and blues men are noted to play well into their nineties…
A blues man? Are you kidding me?
Do you feel like your music has only just begun to reach its potential, that your best work is still ahead?
I do! I mean, I hope that’s true. The point of it is I enjoy what I do. I’m still writing, recording…you know, I have a keyboard right here (Mac plays a few mean licks on his organ) and I have a piano right here (plays his piano) and I also have the grand piano right here! (plays some hot New Orleans style boogie) I love what I do, you know! I’m blessed, I’m a lucky guy! So many people in this world don’t do what they like, but I love what I do.
Mac, you’ll live to be 100 doing what you love to do, and doing it well!
Well, as long as I’m healthy. I’d like to be old! I’d like to be healthy when I die!
It’s a lot better than the alternative, as my granny used to say, lol. Now, I know from reading your autobiography (All the Rage) that your relationship with The Rolling Stones goes way, way back. You’ve done two tours with them. Do you still keep in touch with them?
Not really. I mean, I speak to Charlie (Watts) every now and then, and of course I speak to Ronnie (Wood) all the time. Keith (Richards) has been known to call me, and I’ve been known to call him. I don’t really…I see Bill (Wyman) every now and again. But you know those are busy, busy boys!
You’ve been living in Austin, Texas since 1994. I’ve read that the reason you moved there from Los Angeles wasn’t because of Ronnie Lane, as many fans believe. Rather, you moved there because of earthquakes in California.
Yeah, well that last one really knocked me out! That was it!
Was that the 1994 quake, Mac?
Yeah, the Northridge one. The news media said that it was the “big one” on January17: the day of the earthquake. Then the next day they said it wasn’t. I looked at Kim and said “Okay, we’re out!” She’d been wanting to leave anyway, and I guess that was all I needed. I was done! We were gone! We arrived here on May 21 ’94, so that’s 18 years ago.
Tell me about your band’s past and current members.
My bass player now is Jon Notarthomas, and on solo tours he comes with me. For me, ‘Solo’ actually means me solo part of the time and duo the rest of the time. Mark Andes left about three years ago. Don Harvey and ‘Scrappy’ Jud Newcomb have been with me since I moved here 18 years ago.
Are you maintaining your Thursday night residency at The Lucky Lounge in Austin, Texas?
Yes, since last October. Prior to that, The Faces were on the road touring. Scrappy too.
You’ve been turning out amazing projects with your band (The Bump Band). I know that your album Never Say Never received glowing reviews. After all these years in the music biz, that must be gratifying for you.
It is, yes. It was nice to get some recognition as a writer, and the next one hopefully will keep that moving, you know. I haven’t stopped. I actually had hoped to get an album out before the Faces tour, but there wasn’t enough time. It’s especially gratifying at this late stage when a lot of my contemporaries aren’t writing and are relaxing on their laurels. I have no laurels to relax on, I’m building my laurels.
Over the years, your sound has been known for the B3 organ. Yet on your album Never Say Never, it got relegated to the backburner. I think it’s only heard on two tracks. Why is that?
It wasn’t intentional. I wrote most of my songs on piano. There just wasn’t a place for organ. I wanted to keep it simple. It was actually on three things, but I took it off one of them. It just wasn’t necessary. On my next album, of the six songs we’ve already got, three of them already have B3 on ‘em. I don’t write on the organ, never have. It’s a strange instrument. If you hit a piano the note dies out, whereas if you hit an organ the note’s there until you stop. It kinda makes it difficult to write. I dunno, maybe I’ll never write on the organ.
The story behind the album’s title track, that’s very emotional: the story of your beloved wife’s untimely death. I read an amazing account of yours, where you said that you actually saw her spirit appear to you as clear as day.
I saw her. Absolutely! It’s the second line in the song: “I can see you standing in the shade. The sun is glistening, blinding my view.” The sun wasn’t glistening, I was crying, and I couldn’t see. Everything, everything was glistening! You see what I mean? It actually happened. In fact, it’s happened a couple of times. I saw her in The Lucky Lounge one night, near the stage! That’s the last verse: “I can see you standing in the crowd. I can see your face in the crowd, and I’ve been listening to an angel’s cry.”
When did you see her appear at The Lucky Lounge?
A couple of weeks after she died. You know, it’s not rare. I went to grief counseling, and I sat with a lot of people who had lost their wives and husbands and whatever. I mentioned this, and they just gathered around and hugged me, and so many of them said, “We’ve all experienced it” so it’s quite common. We’re not used to the ‘other world’ and we don’t know anything about it. Who knows what happens after death. I know there is something. She hadn’t disappeared, I didn’t invent it. I saw her twice. I only wish I could see her again!
You’ve been quoted as saying that the song Killing Me With Love was written for Kim when she was still alive.
Yeah, I used to play that for her.
How did that album come about?
Well, actually I had already recorded…Killing Me With Love was quite old. That was the earliest. In fact, George Reiff was my bass player when that was cut. On several tracks I had already started recording. I woke up one day and thought about doing an album, writing songs. I’d always planned to do it, and I looked at the date and realized that his (Ronnie Lane’s) 60th birthday was only a couple of months away. I thought it would be nice to have an album of his out on his birthday, to play those songs to him on his birthday. So I shelved what became Never Say Never temporarily, and we started recording Ronnie’s songs, and put Spiritual Boy out on April 1. We played it at a gig at a cinema here in Austin, and then they played the documentary of his life, and we then played a few more songs. It was a magic night! That was in April, and Kim died in August 2006. After that, I didn’t do anything for a while. Then, when I did start writing, I went back to see what I had, and we already had quite a few tracks. We cut some of them, and I just got down to work. It kept me sane at that point just to keep working. Actually, I haven’t stopped ever since, so I must be very sane, lol.
Speaking of Ronnie Lane, fans and critics alike have noted the special care that you’ve taken over the years to keep his life and his music alive and vital. Can you tell readers what this means to you?
Ronnie was the heart of Small Faces and Faces. He was the glue. He was the reason The Faces started. Ronnie Wood called him up and asked him what he was doing after Steve (Marriott) had left. So they got together and I got together with them, then Kenney got together with us. Bit by bit. Then Rod came in and we had a band. But Ronnie Lane was the beginning of Faces and his songs were…meant a lot to me. The reason he left was because Rod…basically, Ronnie wasn’t gonna be singing any of those songs live. He never did. He only sang a couple over a period of three or four years. He knew Ooh La La was his swan song. Most of the songs were his, but he knew he wasn’t gonna get to sing any of them, so he quit. He never got the recognition he should have. He went solo, made records and had some success. But not big success, not success in America. He deserves more. He deserves better! When I put the box set together, I tried to address that fact with notes about him. Even today I still play his songs in my show, because they mean so much to me and so much to a lot of people. But there are people who don’t know about him, so I’ve gotta tell people.
I’ve heard that the Ronnie Lane/Steve Marriott songwriting partnership was much like that of Lennon/McCartney in that each wrote their songs separate from the other, then they came together for the final product.
The thing is, there were all kinds of variations. Steve would have a song that Ronnie would add to, and vice versa. Sometimes they wrote together, and sometimes I was there with them writing, but I didn’t get credit. Eventually I did, though.
You’ve played in bands with arguably two of the greatest singers that the UK has ever produced: Steve Marriott and Rod Stewart. Can you compare those two experiences?
Actually, I’ve played in three, because The Rolling Stones have one hell of a fucking singer too!
The difference between Steve and Rod…well, they’re both so cool to play with! I’m pretty much spoiled. I wouldn’t pick one over the other. I think they were both so great and unique. There are lots of great English singers who don’t get the recognition they deserve. People like Terry Reid, Joe Cocker, etc. There’s a load of great English singers.
Was it difficult for the band when Rod began to have success as a solo artist?
No. It helped us! Are you kidding me? We had more people coming to the shows. We did more tv, more gigs. It was all positive.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Itchycoo Park has dated very quickly. Can you elaborate on why you feel that’s so?
Our recording of it has dated very quickly. I realized that Ronnie Lane would have sung it much slower and with more feeling than “It’s all too BEA-UUU-TI-FUL!” which makes it sound like a comic song! When I recorded it on Spiritual Boy I played it at a slower tempo so that you could hear the lyrics and I could express myself a little bit more in the lyrics. It’s a very special song. It’s not just about getting high. It’s about education and privilege in England. What he’s really saying is “I haven’t got money. I haven’t been to Oxford or Cambridge. I don’t believe that education really matters. I haven’t got England’s wonderful scenery. I have a nettle patch in the East End of London and it’s beautiful, and I do get it!” and that’s really what the song is all about! He’s saying that he has a nettle patch but it’s enough for him, and he loves every leaf! It’s a much deeper song than most people realize! That’s Ronnie Lane for you!
Over the years, the fans have speculated on the possibility of a Faces reunion that would include Rod Stewart. You’ve been quoted as saying it’s not gonna happen.
Oh no! I’ve never said it’s not gonna happen! Rod’s decided he’s not gonna do it right now, but the door is open. We extend our open arm to him! We want him to do it, for fuck’s sake! At the moment, he’s got other plans. I respect that. We would like it if he would change his mind, but if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Life moves on.
Over the years, many Faces fans have wondered why there’s been no re-release of those classic albums. Do you know why they haven’t been re-released?
I do, yeah. Lawyers! They’ve been sitting there with extra tracks, covers already designed, for about three years…four years now! Sitting there, while meanwhile Warner Brothers disappeared! There’s no such thing as Warner Brothers anymore to spearhead the releases. So I’m afraid that the lawyers, as always, got in the way and are holding it up. They’re still there, waiting. And you’d think that with Faces there on tour, they would at least try to get them re-released! Don’t ya think?!
Who owns the rights to all that material, Mac?
It depends on what you mean by ‘rights.’ Warner Brothers have the rights to the recordings. Warner Chappelle, who had the publishing, have just folded. So I don’t know where we stand, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon. We’ll get a letter from a lawyer, lol.
You have a wonderful quote: “The next autobiography that I write won’t be written until I’m on my deathbed!”
It will be written long before, but it will probably be called Burning Bridges. When I go, the truth comes out! It may not be for a long time, because I don’t want to be around when that shit hits the fan! But I will tell the truth about every fucker! I do try to tell the truth, I really do! A lot of stories develop over the years, but the truth is the best thing.
Before that book comes out, there’ll be another book, which I’ve started to write: a book about Kim. It will be all about her life. People need to know about Kim. In another way, she is like Ronnie Lane. People need to know about Ronnie Lane and they need to know about Kim McLagan. She was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Do you have a tentative title for her book?
No, not yet.
Well, I want to read that one.
I’m looking forward to it. I’ve written some, but I need to get to it when I don’t have other things to do.
In the last few years, you’ve become increasingly well-known for your paintings. You’ve gotten great reviews, you’ve done some gallery shows.
Indeed! A couple of gallery shows. I’ve printed twelve of the paintings on 5”x7” postcards, and I’m gonna take them around to gigs and hope to sell them as small versions of what I do.
You’ve been quoted as saying there’s a direct connection between your debilitating bouts of migraine headaches and your painting. How has one influenced the other?
When I get a migraine, the first sign is this visual effect they call the ‘aura’. It’s a flashing…it’s just a horrible thing where you can’t see properly. You only see the aura. I decided I was going to try to capture it because it’s just so debilitating. The idea is that you take medication, close the blinds, lie down and wait for it to go. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I take my medication and try to draw what I can see. Sometimes I paint at the same time. The result of that was seventy-five to eighty paintings of auras. It wasn’t like I was becoming an artist – I’ve always painted – but this was me trying to capture something that no one else could see. People have tried to capture the auras, but they haven’t been successful. I’ve seen about a dozen paintings of people’s auras, and they’re not successful. I’ve done much better, I think. Anyway, it’s been some relief just to say to the migraine, “You’re fucking with me, I’m gonna fuck with you!” lol!
Let ‘em have it, Mac!
It’s called “paint from pain” and Van Gogh knew all about it!
You’re best known for your prowess on the Hammond B3 organ. Are there any particular makes/models of organ you recommend, and if so, then why?
Well, the B3 itself is a model, and I have several of them. The thing is that the B3, C3 and A3 are exactly the same: they’re just a pump box. It’s just that one is made for church, one is made for home, and so on. The B3 is slightly lighter than the C3 or the A3, and looks better onstage. It’s just a magic piece of instrument; a combination of mechanics and music.
During your days with The Small Faces and Faces, what makes/models of keyboards did you play?
In the early days of Small Faces, I already had an L102. In fact, I’m looking at my L102 right now, the one I bought last year. It’s made in 1963, and that’s a nice little organ. Then I got an M102 which is slightly bigger, better sounding, and that too was in the Small Faces days. Then when Faces formed, I bought the organ I’m standing in front of, which is the one I use onstage ever since. Every Bump Band gig, (the recording of) Maggie May, Faces gigs except for the current Faces because I rent. This one I’ve had since 1969 and she’s my baby, yeah, she’s my BABY! When you hear a Hammond organ on one of my records or a Faces record or one of Rod’s records, it’s this one you hear.
You’ve had her for a long time!
That right! (said with genuine affection in his voice)
Now, you’ve just had your 62nd, or was it your 63rd birthday?
That’s right. Happy birthday!
Thank you, Darling!
When you look back at your long and highly influential career, what are you the most proud of?
Most proud of my own albums, actually. Especially Never Say Never and Spiritual Boy. I’m just proud of them; I think I do good work! And the next one is gonna be even better!
As you look back over your career, is there anything that you would have done differently?
No. No regrets! I’ve been lucky to have a career in music, and it continues. I play the music I love, I turn down work I don’t want, and I’ve got a nice place to live. I had the love of a wonderful woman for 33 years. Everything’s ok!
Arguably, you’re one of Rock’s best-known, most respected keyboard players. Do you have any advice for up and coming musicians who want to achieve the best possible sound from their instrument?
It all comes from the love of the music. The music guides you. I love music. I just love to play. I mean, the thing is if you’re in the position to do something that you love, then you don’t look at it much harder because you won’t even feel it, lol. The only advice I’ve got is this: people, if you love music, then don’t look at it as a business. Don’t think, “Oh! I’ll make money!” because there’s no money to be made in music unless you get very lucky! I do sessions, that’s where I get my money. It’s not as rewarding as playing what I like to play live onstage, but I don’t make much money out of that. Follow your heart in everything and be lucky, and accept luck when you get it!