This article appears here courtesy of David Fricke.
On August 13th, the Faces — the British blues-and-party band which ruled hotel bars and arenas in the U.S. in the early and mid-Seventies — reunite for a show at Vintage at Goodwood, a festival in West Sussex, England. Guitarist Ron Wood, keyboard player Ian McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones will be joined by Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock replacing the late Ronnie Lane and singer Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, in lieu of Rod Stewart who has talked of getting back with the group but made no commitment.
Any kind of Faces action seemed remote six years ago when I spoke to all of the surviving members, including Stewart, for my liner notes to the Faces’ 2004 boxed set, Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . (Rhino). “I’m going to get together with Mac again, and Rod this year,” Wood told me in our interview. “I see quite a lot of Kenney still. I don’t know if we’ll get back together, because of a lot of the old jinxes,” Wood admitted.
But the guitarist — who went from the Faces to the Rolling Stones, touring with the latter in 1975 before joining officially in 1976 — was delightful and detailed in his reminiscences, excerpted here from the original transcript of our long conversation. In 1969, Wood was the bassist in the Jeff Beck Group and tight with that band’s singer, Stewart, when he heard that acid-mod imps the Small Faces was on the verge of breaking up. Wood had other ideas . . .
“America — Let’s Take Em!”
What was your state of mind at the time you joined the Faces?
The Jeff Beck Group was falling apart, and our favorite band was the Small Faces, with Steve Marriott. They were so fantastic, so much energy. They were all the same size [laughs]. A band of merry men.
When Steve Marriott left to form Humble Pie, that really annoyed Rod and myself. But I was the one who took action. I didn’t know them — I just got Ronnie’s number and rang him up out of the clear blue sky: “Ronnie, you don’t know me, but my name’s Ron as well, and I don’t want to see the Small Faces disintegrate now that Marriott’s left. What are you gonna do?” And Ronnie Lane said, “I don’t know, mate. Do you fancy comin’ over and we’ll have a little play?” Yeah, all right!
We were so shy of each other — we all played with our backs to each other, just to get the feel. But we spoke through the music. We knew we were meant for each other. And we went on for months without even talking about a vocalist. Because they were very wary. They had been burned by Steve, and they didn’t want to get burned again.
I brought up Rod’s name. They were like, “We don’t want another Steve Marriott!” I said, “Don’t worry, he’s not like that. He’s our mate. Just give him a chance.” So Kenney finally asked him down. We’d be rehearsing in the basement at Bermondsey [the Rolling Stones’ rehearsal space], and Rod would listen at the top of the stairs.
Steve had a specific guitar and vocal style. Your guitar playing transformed the sound of the band.
Steve was the voice, and a strummer on guitar. He had that funky effect on guitar. I brought more of the pickin’, as well as the funk, to accompany the beef that Kenney was putting out.
We were trying all kinds of things — Booker T, the Meters. Rod brought the Sam Cooke. And through the Jeff Beck Group, we brought the blues things — the Muddy [Waters] and [Howlin’] Wolf, Buddy Guy. We just piled all the ideas into one melting pot. And the boys had always done that before.
But they had never been to America. Rod and me had — we’d taken America by storm at the Fillmore, going across the country with the Jeff Beck Group. We were saying, “C’mon, you boys gotta come to America. Let’s take ’em!”
How did you write with Rod?
Very spontaneously. He would get the riff from me. He’d say, “C’mon, do a riff in this tempo,” and I’d start playing on the slide or something, just grind it out. And he would experiment with the words. And they were usually the first ones that came into his head. We’d get songs like “Miss Judy’s Farm” and “Stay with Me,” “Silicone Grown” — they just came from grinding out a riff and taking his immediate lyrics.
You also had a strong writing relationship with Ronnie Lane.
I put melody along with his melody, so we’d have a double-melody thing coming out. “Had Me a Real Good Time,” for instance — him and me constructed that one. It was me who started it, and he came in with the influence from this old Fats Waller thing.
I was the only guitarist, see. When I joined the Stones, working with Keith, I had been used to keeping the rhythm and doing the solo. That still goes with me to this day with Keith, the weaving. Rod loved the fact that I was the only guitar player, because there was nothing to cloud the issue. It was a second voice, but one you could hear clearly.
Booze ‘n’ Blues
How would you describe Faces rehearsals? Everyone knows you liked a drink or three, but you couldn’t be that out of it and make music this forceful and direct.
We would work when it was time to work, and play when it was time to play. We’d often mix the two at rehearsals. It was funny, rehearsals. But the bottom line was, everyone was there to make the best possible sense of the song we were working on at the time. We all took pride in constructing the music. There was my instrumental, “Pineapple and the Monkey” [on 1970’s First Step]. “Shake, Shudder, Shiver” [also on First Step] — I remember Mac was the driving force behind that, kind of a Mac-and-Ronnie combination, with me and Rod stepping back and letting them tell us what to do on that song, how Rod would sing it and I would play it.
We would enjoy the interchange. One person would boss the rest of the band one rehearsal. Then another person would say “Why don’t we do it my way today?” In the end, we would always end up as one happy creative family.
How the band get so much done in those few years — the tours, the Faces records, Rod’s solo albums?
It was a creative force, between the Faces and Rod’s solo projects. When one finished, we’d have a tour. Then we’d go back in the studio with the other thing, then tour with that, combine the songs. In 1975, I did two Faces tours and one Stones tour, back to back. I had three months off for the whole year.
Were you surprised when Ronnie quit in 1973?
We used to have a phrase in the band — “I’m leaving the group!” And we’d all go, “Ha ha ha.” Ronnie came round one day and he said, “I’ve got something to tell ya. I’m leaving the group!” And I went, “Oh, yeah, ha ha, great.” And he said, “No, I’m starting my own band. I’m leaving. And I was like, “Fucking hell.” I said, “Are you sure? Think about it.” He was adamant. I said, “Ronnie, I’m always here if you ever change your mind. Don’t rush into anything. I’m worried about you.”
Was that a factor in your decision to fill in for Mick Taylor on the Stones’ 75 tour?
I was actually at Robert Stigwood’s house, sitting next to Mick Jagger and Mick Taylor, when Mick Taylor told Jagger that he was leaving the group. I was sitting in the middle, leaning back, and Taylor is saying, “I really am leaving the group, Mick.” [Jagger] was mindblown. He turned to me and said, “What am I gonna do? Would you help us?” I said, “Of course, but I don’t want to split up the Faces.” Mick said, “Nor do I. That’s top priority. But if I get desperate, can I ring you?” A year later, I was in Los Angeles. He rang me and said, “Ron, I’m desperate, can you come to Munich?” I did Black and Blue and all that started.
People forget that the Faces were as big, even bigger on the road, than the Stones for a time. You were playing stadiums here before they did. Did people get the Faces more in America than in Britain — even though you were the quintessential drinking British-blues band?
They did get us more in America. We were selling them their own music, and they understood it.