The Firm of Jones, McLagan, Lane and Marriott
The Faces – Jones, Stewart, Wood, McLagan and Lane
This week the world of music was stunned by the sudden death of legendary keyboardist Ian McLagan.
McLagan was lucky enough to have manned the keys in both the Small Faces (replacing Jimmy Winston in 1965) and then following some of his bandmates into the slightly larger Faces.
As someone who grew up in a house where the piano loomed large (thanks to my old man) I have always had a healthy respect for keyboard players, and Ian McLagan was among the best.
He was also – as were many of his ilk – cursed by his position in the band to fade into the woodwork.
Frontment, guitarists and bassists have the luxury of moving around the stage, playing the fool, and the drummer – in addition to often being the loudest goon on the bandstand, is usually right there in the middle of things.
The poor keyboardist (lead singers like Steve Winwood excepted) are often on the side of the stage, seated behind some huge appliance made of wood and wires, providing much of the musical texture, yet out of sight, and as usually follows, out of mind.
As you may already be aware, especially if you follow Funky16Corners, I am a certified Hammond organ and electric piano nut, so my ears have always been attuned to Mac’s prodigious skills.
At his very best, Mac was the epitome of the team player, eschewing the bombast of contemporaries like Keith Emerson, choosing instead to add layers, and more importantly, punctuation of a sort. He used the piano and organ to add texture and emphasis to songs.
The first track I’m featuring today appeared here at Iron Leg back in 2010, and is for me the finest thing the Small Faces ever did. ‘Tin Soldier’, recorded in 1967 is the perfect intersection of the group’s R&B roots and the more progressive direction things were moving in at the time.
‘Tin Soldier’ is a master class in rock dynamics, due in large part to McLagan’s electric piano, which sets the tone, and (with the organ) lays the foundation for the entire song. The electric piano break at 1:29 is as powerful as anything that ever appeared on a Small Faces record.
The Faces were another bag entirely. With Rod Stewart and Ron Wood (it took two regular humans to replace Steve Marriott) added to the mix things got a whole lot shaggier but the mix was every bit as potent as with the Small Faces.
I’m including two Faces tracks here, one that illustrates Mac’s power as a sideman, and the second an organ feature.
The Faces cover of the Temptations ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ – recorded by the band but released as part of Rod Stewart’s solo LP ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ – is one of the band’s best known recordings. This version, recorded live for the BBC ‘Sounds For Saturday’ program in 1971, once again features McLagan’s electric piano as a prominent voice. As loud as Ronnie Wood’s guitar is, Mac’s piano is right there with him, and when you get to 2:05, and the band drops back (except to hum), and the piano comes in by itself, it’s a thing to behold.
The last track is ‘Oh Lord I’m Browned Off’, which appeared as the b-side to the single of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. A Wood/McLagan/Lane/Jones composition, the Hammond-led instro starts off like a distant cousin of the Turtles’ ‘Buzz Saw’, rolling out into a funky groove with plenty of solo time for McLagan and some bottleneck guitar from Wood.
Following the demise of the Faces, McLagan followed Wood into the New Barbarians, formed his own Bump Band, played for years with Billy Bragg, and recorded as a sideman for all kinds of people.
He had been living in Austin, TX for many years when he passed away.
He will be missed.
See you next week.