The groove is
unmistakably identifiable, the essence of rock 'n' roll, raucous and
rollicking, spirited and slapdash. It's the raunchy tone of the lurching
guitar, the whipcrack response of the drums, the steady pulse of the bass
that does its best to hold together what's on the verge of falling apart and
the drive of the keyboard that sounds here like the gospel choir, there like
the bawdyhouse. It's the musical equivalent of a lively party, where the
drinks are flowing freely, but nobody gets sloppy drunk. Within the
camaraderie, the audience becomes participants rather than witnesses.
Though the music is steeped in Chuck Berry,
Motown and deeper Southern soul, it evinces a romance with Americana as
developed from an ocean's remove. It's the groove that you'll hear from the
Rolling Stones throughout their stadium tour. It's the spirit of which Rod
Stewart was the master during his days with the Faces, one that he has
conjured to greater popularity but less effect on his own.
And it's the same spirit that Austin can
enjoy every Thursday at the Continental Club, courtesy of recent transplant
Ian McLagan and his new band Monkey Jump. Former Faces mainstay and
occasional Stones keyboardist, McLagan has his crack Austin band - guitarist
Jud Newcomb, bassist Sarah Brown, drummer Don Harvey - playing with the
reckless urgency of giddy British teenagers. You could almost swear from the
tone that it's Keith Richards or Ronnie Wood on guitar, or that a younger
Charlie Watts has somehow snuck behind the drums.
After the band's Continental debut a couple
of weeks ago, I asked Harvey what it is that gives music that is so steeped
in American tradition such a distinctive twist, or how this band could so
quickly sound like the bands for which McLagan is renowned. He said it had
something to do with British kids trying to play a shuffle but never quite
figuring out how. When I offered Harvey's explanation a couple of days later
to McLagan, he laughed and then agreed.
"Somebody said to me once, `You're
playing behind the beat,' and I didn't understand at the time," said
the man more commonly known as Mac, who will lead Monkey Jump into all sorts
of activity in the next couple of days. The band will play the Continental
tonight and Friday, and a 9 p.m. show this evening at Shady Grove.
"I wasn't consciously doing
anything," he continued. "My sense of timing is very elastic. And
Don is very precise, which allows me to be even more sloppy. I can't bear
piano players who don't bend notes. I don't think there's one note on the
piano I like on its own."
McLagan's bent approach to his keyboards has
served him well. From his days with the Small Faces through his work with
the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan, he has remained at the top
of the list of goodtime keyboardists for hire. After 16 years in Los Angeles
and only three months in Austin, he already professes to feel more at home
here than he ever did there.
"I've got to be in a music town, and
L.A. just got old: the violence, the smog, the earthquakes," he
explained. "Ronnie Lane (former Face mate) until recently lived here,
and I'd known quite a few people through him. And I've been here with every
band I've played with and always had a good time.
"This city is a real music town. In
L.A., you don't get this feeling of community. You don't hear any local
musicians on the radio," McLagan said. "When you're playing at a
club, everyone in the audience is out there looking at each other, checking
each other's clothes out. Really, it's a music business town, that's all it
is. It has nothing to do with music. I have no idea about the music
business. I don't know why I don't get royalties from Faces records and
Small Faces records. But I know how to play music."
His admission that he knows nothing about the
music business suggests that McLagan will fit just fine in Austin, while his
years of high-profile experience add seasoning to the local scene. Already,
he has worked sessions with Michael Fracasso and jammed with Will Sexton,
playing with a boyish enthusiasm, responding to the spirit of a supportive
When McLagan first joined the Small Faces in
1965, he said that his life's ambition was to play smoky clubs much like the
Continental. Hired away from a rival band, he exaggerated to the Faces'
manager that he had been making 20 pounds a week and was immediately offered
30, with the provision that after he passed his probation, he'd receive an
even split with the rest of the band. It was only after he asked whether
he'd made it that he discovered that an "even split" was a pay
cut, since the rest of the band was on a 20-pound stipend.
"As it turns out, that's the only money
we ever made, 'cause they stole the rest of it,'' said McLagan. In addition
to receiving a crash course in rock economics, he learned an early lesson
about the egos of lead singers. After a string of British hits - and a
Stateside breakthrough with 1967's Itchycoo Park - singer Steve Marriott
decided to form one of those "supergroups" that were then the
vogue and teamed with Peter Frampton.
Then Small Faces disbanded, much to the
dismay of fans such as Wood and Stewart, who used to play the band's Ogden's
Nut Gone Flake album incessantly when they were touring as members of the
Jeff Beck Group. Ronnies Wood and Lane decided to put a band together,
McLagan and Small Faces' drummer Kenney Jones woodshedded with them, and
Stewart started hanging around rehearsals.
"Eventually, Kenney asked him if he
would sit in," said McLagan. "We'd had it with lead singers, but
when Rod sat in, it was just great immediately."
The band billed itself under a number of
names, including Slim Chance (later adopted for Lane's solo offshoot), but
record companies urged them to retain a tie to their hitmaking legacy.
Though Stewart had previously signed a solo deal, he decided to pursue dual
careers, which blurred when the Faces backed him on his solo albums. For
whatever reason, the albums billed as Stewart's sold better than those
credited to the Faces (and made the solo artist a lot more money). Soon
enough, the band was billed as Rod Stewart and the Faces.
"I asked the manager, `What's going
on?," said McLagan. "You never hear of Mick Jagger and the Rolling
Stones. People knew who the singer was. It could have just as likely been
Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones. Rod was very much a part of the band,
and he enjoyed that, but he was constantly being told you don't need them.
He had less and less time for Faces, which was a shame, because some of his
best stuff was Faces' stuff. His rocking days kind of petered out on his own
McLagan's move to Los Angeles came when he
reunited with Wood in 1978 for the Rolling Stones' Some Girls album and
subsequent tour. He helped Wood cut a solo album in L.A. and then toured
with Wood and Richards as the New Barbarians. Since he could sing at least
as well as Keith or Woody (how's that for damning with faint praise?), he
was offered his own solo deal by Mercury, for whom he made two albums.
While he was making his second, Raitt stopped
by to check out the studio and was so impressed with the musicians that
McLagan's Bump Band became her band. After three years with Raitt, McLagan
was spinning his wheels through the usual rut of rock 'n' roll excess, so he
decided to quit that life and come to terms with his own. His soul-searching
hiatus ended with a call from the Dylan camp, which offered a tour of
Europe. Ever since, he has continued to pay the bills with touring and
session work, while playing his own music for love in the clubs.
"I would like to be able to do my own
stuff all the time," he said. "And yet when I do sessions, in some
ways I play better than when I'm doing my own records. I need a producer; I
can't drive myself. I'm easily satisfied."
McLagan had already decided to move here
before he played Austin earlier this year with Stewart. Their reconciliation
marked the first time the two had spoken since Stewart left the Faces 18
years earlier, and the reunion came about in a curious manner. It seems that
Stewart and Wood were doing one of those nationwide radio interview/call-in
programs in promotion of the former's Unplugged album.
"The producer of the show called me and
asked if I'd phone up as `Ian from Pasadena,' just as a joke," he said.
"And Woody said, `It must be Mac! Here, will you tour with Rod?' And I
said, `Why doesn't he bloody ask me?' That's all it took, and as soon as we
got together, all the bad feelings that I had dissipated."
Stewart has already asked McLagan to play on
his next album, and talk has begun among record companies, managers and the
musicians for a Faces reunion with Rod in the fold. The problem is that Wood
remains committed to the Stones tour until whenever it grinds to a halt,
Stewart is gearing up for his next album and tour, and McLagan plans to
develop Monkey Jump into a full-fledged recording project and working band.
In the meantime, he's settling in so comfortably that maybe the Continental
would be the perfect place to bring the Faces back.
"I can live cheaper than I can in L.A.,
and I sleep at night so much better," McLagan said. "I'm not a
religious person, but I wake up every morning and thank God that we're
Don McLeese, a big-city transplant, often
finds himself interviewing musicians from renowned bands who've fled the big
cities for this little music capital.