Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ian McLagan: The Cream Interview

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Ian McLagan
  • Ian McLagan
So, famed Small Faces/Faces keyboardist and session legend Ian McLagan is playing a twilight show this evening over at 3rd & Lindsley. Check out my Scene Critic's Pick on the show below, and my interview with Mac — in which he talks about the current Rod Stewart-less Faces reunion, his book, All the Rage, and more — after the Jump.

At press time, the sans-Rod Stewart reunited Faces have yet to book any stateside concert dates. But you don’t have to wait until they do to hear Faces' — Small or otherwise — classics performed live by the band’s legendary keyboardist Ian McLagan. McLagan tells the Scene that when he plays tonight at 3rd & Lindsley — as he does every year or two — his show will feature a mix of Small Faces and Faces gems, cuts from his various solo releases and more. Despite a staggering stage and session career backing artists the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Frank Black, Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry and Paul Westerberg (to name but a handful), McLagan will always be first and foremost associated The Small Faces and Faces — one of ’60s and ’70s rock’s defining institutions. This is no small feat for a session man. What a badass. Show up and show your love. —ADAM GOLD

Ian McLagan: How’s the weather in Nashville?

Nashville Cream: It’s, uh, nice and warm today.

IM: “Nice and warm.” [Laughs]. you mean fucking hot!

NC: Yeah, yeah, it feels like wearing duct tape.

IM: It’s hot here today. I just walked outside for a piss, I couldn’t believe it [laughs].

NC: Are you in Austin right now?

IM: Yeah. I think it's 99 [degrees] — that’s what they’ve given us.

NC: You’ve lived in Austin for a while, right?

IM: 17 years and four days [laughs].

NC: Do you think about ditching Austin for Nashville?

IM: [Laughs] You've got a sense of humor. I like that. No, I love Austin, ya know? I like to eat, so I don’t know that I would move to Nashville. That’s an old joke, I know you’ve got restaurants now.

NC: Yeah, is that why you left England? The Food?

IM: Well, actually, I left England for a load of reasons — mainly musical and financial, and the weather [laughs]. No, I didn’t leave England for the weather, but I wouldn’t move back there just because there’s nothing for me there — weather wise, music wise, Austin’s got it all. And America, America’s got it all.

NC: For sure. But you’ve done a bit of work in Nashville, haven’t you?

IM: Yeah. I’m playing there at 3rd & Lindsley. ... It’s a nice place, I always see a bunch of my pals there.

NC: Yeah, you seem to come here every year or so, right?

IM: Something like that, yeah. It’s not [that] organized. My agent only has a series of gigs I think [laughs] ... so I, I seem to be repeating myself.

NC: So 3rd & Lindsley is part of the McLagan circuit then?

IM: [Laughs] Yeah.

NC: What’s your work history been like in Nashville, far as studio recording goes, etc.?

IM: Well, I’ve been recording tracks for my next record [but] I didn’t get to finish it. I was hoping to put a six-song CD out, and to have it with me on the road but I was missing one line of lyrics on one song and, ya know, it’s no good going in to mix when you haven’t got the vocal [laughs], so I hated to do it, but I had to just shelve it temporarily 'till I come back, but it was a pressure drop because I couldn’t have done it, I was trying to do three things at once — I was finishing printing of my book, and I also paint, and I have these art cards I was having printed and it just took up so much more time. When it came to one line of lyrics I’m thinking, "Well, I could throw anything in there, but that ain't the way to do it, it just doesn’t work."

NC: When you compare that, ya know, writing a book and all, is it frustrating to get blocked, or hung up on one line? Is it smarter to wait than to try to force it in there?

IM: Yeah, yeah, it's just not practical. I was actually trying to write a chapter, or at least a few pages to bring the book up to date, but my wife died close to five years ago.

NC: I’m sorry to hear that.

IM: Well thank you. You know, its not something you just write about in a paragraph.

NC: Sure, of course.

IM: I have every intention of writing about the whole experience of her life, and her death, but it's just like, one line of lyrics is nothing compared to the story of someone you love, ya know, that you lived with for 33 years. So I labored — I was doing that while I was trying to write this one line of lyrics, and I labored over it and eventually said, "No, it’s got to be just a paragraph and, really, an apology." But it's not something you can just gloss over or ignore, so I did write a page, and now that’s being printed as we speak and I’m hoping people won’t think it’s a cheat, because it’s the same book, basically.

NC: And this is your memoir, correct?

IM: It is a memoir, but it’s really the story of unique individuals — people I’ve met. They’re not all famous, they’re not all musicians — though a lot of them are. It’s about family and friends and just funny things that happened, really. It's not chronological, though every era gets covered, but it starts here in Austin and then goes to Bangkok, and L.A. It just goes everywhere and then eventually settles down as a memoir.

NC: What would you say is the best, most amusing story that you had to cut out of there? I could ask you what the best one was that you included, but it’s already there.

IM: [Laughs] I don’t think I cut anything out that was, uh, well — I had a friend that was editing it for me for quite a while, and one day he emailed me and he said, "Mac, there’s a lot of rock 'n' roll and there’s a lot of drugs, but I don’t see any sex yet." So I fired him off a story and he was horrified, “You can’t print that!” I said, "Well, it happened. You asked me for sex, [so] I give you sex. And he said, “No.” Obviously I cant go into details but, ya know, I had to take that out. But there is some sex in the book, but not much. Its more about unique individuals and funny things.

NC: Tell me about the Faces reunion you’ve got on the horizon. How extensive is it gonna be?

IM: It’s not as extensive as I’d like, actually. I’m playing, like, 16 gigs in three weeks in the States, and then I go to England and play four shows in five weeks, and then I do a UK and Ireland tour and that straightaway is eleven gigs in a row — a day off, three gigs, a day off and three gigs. So I’m frustrated a little bit that we're not paying more, because we are a band, but a band works, ya know? When you pay night, after night, you get to new heights and we're not really gonna get to the heights that I’d want. But there’s possibilities of more [gigs], its just all we’ve got for Europe at the moment, we still haven’t hit America yet, not once.

NC: What prompted this decision to reunite, and to reunite in this form, with this line up?

IM: Well, I’ve been working on this for 37 years, ya know? I’ve been trying. Ronnie Wood has been trying. Ronnie Wood's been with The Stones, so he’s been more distracted, but as soon as he surfaces he wants to do it. And he’s keen, and Kenny [Jones] is keen and Rod [Stewart] seemed to be keen, but changed his mind eventually, and I’ve always looked towards Glen Matlock as being Ronnie Lane’s replacement, and I’m really happy he’s doing it — he’s a dear friend of mine, and he learned to play bass to Ronnie Lane’s lines on Small Face and Faces tracks. He’s really the right person for the job.

NC: Right. And he really never got enough credit as a Sex Pistol.

IM: I know.

NC: And I know he’s been in the reunited for the Pistols for some time, but was he pretty excited when you guys approached him about doing The Faces?

IM: Oh yeah. Ya know, years ago he was in a band called The Rich Kids, and I was in the reformed Small Faces — like in '76, '77, something like that — just before I left England, and Mick Ronson was producing their album, and he called me out the blue to play on their record, and then Glen called me up and asked me if I would tour with them, and I was a loose end, so I said, "Yeah, I’d love to." And I kind of met all the punks all in one tour, ya know? It was very interesting. And the first night during the show, like, in between songs, I could hear Glen play intros to, like, "Three Button Hand Me Down," or whatever, and I’d look across at him and he’d just smile, and I’d go, “Fuck." At the end of the first show he came over to me and took his shirt off and gave it to me. So I took my shirt off, like football [laughs], and there was a bond formed right there, and I just realized what a fan he was of Ronnie's, and if we ever did get it together there’s nobody else more suited, ya know? There are bass players in all kinds of genres of music, but he’s the one, because he’s a rock 'n' roller and he gets Ronnie Lane! Fuck, that’s essential.

NC: Of course. Were you were you disappointed that Rod Stewart passed on participating in this reunion?

IM: Yeah. He seemed to be keen to do it, and we had a rehearsal a couple years ago or so, and it went well and it seemed like it might happen, but I don’t know. I don’t know what's his bind, but he’s not keen to do it, so we carry on, ya know? We cant keep waiting. It's been a long wait.

NC: Do you think it’s so he can do more cocktail standards records, or something?

IM: Oh, I certainly wouldn’t comment on that, I have no idea what he wants to do. All I know is what I’m doing. Ya know, Mick Hucknall sang one song, he sang "Stay With Me" at a benefit we did in London at the Albert Hall, and It was so good and, as we walked off stage, he said, "I cant imagine having to do that every night,” and I said, "Be careful what you don’t wish for" [laughs].

NC: So, in a sense, that was an audition?

IM: it was. Because yeah, before he sang with us, I honestly didn’t — I was familiar with some of his work with Simply Red — and I just didn’t think he was the right guy. In fact, I opposed him when it was mentioned. I told him this, ya know, to be quite honest with him. But once he started singing, I was really impressed, and he’s a lovely geezer, and he can rock out — he surprised us.

NC: Who else was on the shortlist, before you settled on Mick?

IM: Ah, ya know, I can’t tell [you]. There’s a lot of them. I mean, if anyone could sing we were after them.

NC: How have fans reacted to you guys doing it without Rod?

IM: Actually, there’s been some anger. On Facebook I’ve been getting some really strange comments from people [since] when it was first mentioned. And all I said was, “Did we ask you who was gonna be the lead singer back in 1969? No, we didn’t. And we’re not asking you now. Just wait and see." And invariably fans came back and said, “Oh man, you were right. Sorry I doubted you.” You know, its not even me they’re doubting, but they’re doubting themselves. They’re doubting him and they don’t even know him until he starts singing. This is a band. We’re just five people, playing the same music, except instead of Ronnie Lane we have Glen Matlock, and instead of Rod we have Mick Hucknall. I mean Mick Hucknall himself said many times, he couldn’t believe when we started playing — just the four of us — what a link there is between me and Ronnie Wood. we play together and he gets it. That’s important for us

NC: Are you guys going to include Small Faces songs in your set lists for these shows, or is it gonna be strictly post-’69 Faces stuff?

IM: Well, we’ve just done Faces stuff up until now — we played three or four shows. On the flight back from Denmark to London, Mick suggested that we do "Tin Soldier" and "All or Nothing," and I was kind of a bit shocked, but Ronnie Wood said, “Yeah, that would be great!” And I thought, “Fuck, that would be great.” Because Kenny and I are the only (Small Faces) survivors, and there’s no way Kenny and I will do a Small Faces reunion.

NC: You've had a huge career as a session and side man, yet, despite those accolades, and your solo work, you still get mostly associated with The Faces before anything else, is that a testament to the band’s legacy?

IM: Yeah, I think it is. I think we were taken for granted a little bit, at the time, and in the last 35 years fans have surfaced ya know — Like Paul Westerberg, and Slash, and Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes. Yeah, I think it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

NC: It also seems like, now, The Faces legacy kind of overshadows The Small Faces legacy too.

IM: Especially in this country, not in England. In England it’s kind of reversed.

NC: Really?

IM: Oh yeah. Because we had so many hits over there. Ya know, Faces really only had “Stay with Me” and “Debris.” That was over there. I think “Stay With Me” was the only hit we had in America. And we only had “Itchycoo Park” here. But over there there was a bunch: “All or Nothing,” “Tin Soldier,” “Here Comes the Nice” — there was a bunch of them.

NC: Do you have a preference between the two — Small Faces or Faces?

IM: Nah. Ya know, they’re a part of me — both of them. I mean, when The Faces formed it was more — because I didn’t start Small Face, I joined after they’d been together for six months — there’s a closeness, I don’t’ have to say it, I feel closer in some ways to Faces, only because we formed together, and wrote, and worked on it together. But The Small Faces was such an exciting time. It was wayyyy more exciting than The Faces, in a way, because we were the hot shit (laughs), ya know?

NC: You mean, just among your contemporaries and all that?

IM: Yeah, yeah, I mean, we were the biggest act on the road ... [besides] The Beatles and The Stones. [Then] The Beatles broke up, and The Stones kind of, I don’t know, took a vacation or something at that point ... There was a lot going on for Small Faces back then.

NC: Do you have a favorite song between the two?

IM: Well, with Small Faces I always loved “Tin Soldier” — I thought that was as good as it got. In fact, it is that good. Years later I found out that Booker T. & the MG's [recorded] a track called “Carnaby Street,” which has a little lick from “Tin Soldier” in it [laughs]. It’s quite good.

NC: In terms of the all the session work you’ve done, what would you say is the best gig you’ve ever been offered and then passed on?

IM: [Laughs] I don’t know. I’ve, uh, I've never passed on anything I wanted to do, ya know? There’s a band in Austin called Los Lonely Boys. And I’ve been asked to play on every one of their three albums [laughs], and they’re nothing. I really don’t care, I’ve got plenty of fucking work, but I don’t know why they keep calling me! I’ve never passed anything I wanted to do, I passed on stuff I didn’t want to do, a lot of it. ... They might want to call me again, and I might want to turn [them] down again [laughs].

NC: What are you gonna be playing at the show here?

IM: Well, I made an album of Ronnie Lane songs in 2006 called Spiritual Boy, and I always play “Debris” in my solo shows — I don’t play it with the band much. There’s [also] “Glad and Sorry,” and I played "Spiritual Babe" — I played that with the band, but I can’t playit solo, it’s too complicated. But I always some Ronnie Lane songs. I always play maybe a Small Faces song, a couple of Faces songs, but the rest of it is all my [solo work].

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