Ian McLagan, the jovial, charismatic keyboardist for the Faces and Small Faces whose versatile, forceful playing defined rock & roll classics like the Faces’ “Stay With Me,” passed away in Austin, Texas on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer confirmed his death to Rolling Stone. He was 69.
“It is with great sadness and eternal admiration that we report the passing of rock and roll icon Ian McLagan,” read the statement. “He died today surrounded by family and friends in his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas due to complications from a stroke suffered the previous day. Ian’s artistry, generosity and warmth of spirit touched countless other musicians and music fans around the world. His loss will be felt by so many.”
“I am completely devastated by this shocking news and I know this goes for [Faces members] Ronnie [Wood] and Rod [Stewart] also,” said McLagan’s bandmate Kenney Jones.
With the Faces, McLagan co-wrote classics like “Cindy Incidentally” and “You’re So Rude.” But the musician’s defining moment was his Wurlitzer electric piano pounding on “Stay With Me,” one of rock’s most swaggering, stomping barroom epics. “You can’t play ‘Stay With Me’ halfheartedly,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “It’s not [gently] ‘Stay with me…’ You have to tell her, ‘Stay with me!'” The Faces were the launching pad for Stewart’s solo success, and McLagan also played on Stewart classics like “Maggie May” and “You Wear It Well.”
The Faces were notorious for their offstage – and onstage – debauchery. “We were the first band to have a bar on stage, with a waiter serving us,” Stewart wrote in his recent autobiography. “It saved on time and energy hopping into the wings for refreshments. It also gave us somewhere to go during interminable drum solos.”
McLagan, whose friends called him ‘Mac,’ was born in Hounslow, England in 1945 and first became interested in rock & roll when he heard “Rock Around the Clock” at the age of 10. Initially a guitar player in skiffle groups, McLagan took piano lessons at the insistence of his mother. “I had piano lessons, which I hated, [but] my mother decided I was going to have [them]. I didn’t want piano lessons; what damn good would they do me?” he told Rolling Stone.
After hearing Booker T. and the M.G.’s, he became interested in the organ. McLagan once described another pivotal moment seeing the Rolling Stones in 1963 at the Crawdaddy Club: “The sound, the throbbing bass and the harmonica on top [had] convinced me they were black until I walked in. Then it was a case of, ‘Well blimey, I love this music, I’m trying to play it, maybe I can.'”
McLagan became a regular on the London mod scene, but never considered himself one. “I was never really a mod,” he wrote. “I thought I was more of a beatnik with the brown corduroy jacket, blue jeans, etc. I loved the music Mods liked and I loved the clothes, but I didn’t have any money to spend on them.”
In 1965, he earned a spot in the Small Faces, joining vocalist Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane, Jones and keyboardist Jimmy Winston in 1966. They recorded their debut album in three days, producing the classic “Sha La La La Lee” and, later, famed tracks like “Itchycoo Park” and “All or Nothing.” Underrated though hugely influential, they had a pioneering psychedelic sound but with heavy, soulful hooks.
“Small Faces were really a soul band as far as we were concerned,” McLagan told RS in 2012. “That’s what we listened to, that’s what we played, you know? We were pretty much based on Booker T. and the M.G.’s.” The band never toured the U.S. – McLagan blamed bad management – but said, “We would’ve been much bigger I’m sure.”
In late 1968, Marriott left the band to form Humble Pie. The breakup closely coincided with the disbanding of the Jeff Beck Group; Ronnie Lane called Ronnie Wood and invited him to a jam session. “We all worked on some Booker T. and the M.G.s and Meters stuff and funky grooves – we knew we had that,” Ronnie Wood recently told Rolling Stone. Soon, Stewart, Wood, Jones, McLagan and Lane were jamming together at the Rolling Stones’ London rehearsal space, becoming the Faces. “There was a pub nearby,” Wood says. “We’d do one song, and run to the pub to celebrate!”
After the Faces disbanded and Stewart pursued a solo career, McLagan continued to record with the singer. He also became a go-to session and touring keyboardist, touring and recording with the Rolling Stones and joining Wood and Keith Richards on the road in the New Barbarians in 1979. He played on records by Chuck Berry, Pete Townshend, Thin Lizzy, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Warren Zevon and toured with Bob Dylan in 1984.
McLagan moved to Austin, Texas in 1994, and spent recent years touring with his own Bump Band. In 2008, the Faces reunited (with Mick Hucknall standing in for Stewart) for a series of shows and again for the band’s 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I couldn’t help but be happy,” he said. Even though Rod Stewart missed the gig due to illness, their explosive performance defined the night. “I don’t want to be a has-been,” McLagan told Rolling Stone afterward. “I play every day. It’s what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing for 50 years.””