Future Pub Owner Ian McLagan: Far From the
Land of Guinness
by Rob Patterson
Ian McLagan sits in the late afternoon light
at a window table in the Draught Horse, a fairly faithful approximation of
an English pub on Medical Parkway. He takes a sip of his Guinness and
recounts how this one-time keyboard player for English rock leg-ends the
Faces (née the Small Faces) landed in Austin. "We were sitting in a
bar, knowing we were going to leave L.A.," he explains, referring to
his wife Kim, who is over at the bar getting another round.
"It wasn't a very good bar, and I said,
`Damn it, we know how to have a bar. We know what a bar should be like - we
spend a lot of time in bars.' So I said, `Let's open a bar in Austin.' So
Kim wrote it down in her diary. We had a lot of friends here, and we didn't
really think about it after that. There really wasn't any doubt then."
Although McLagan's Pub is right now limited
to a refrigerator stocked with cans of Guinness at their Manor country home,
and the ice chest (yes, of Guinness) that Ian takes along to sessions, one
of rock & roll's finest Hammond B-3 and electric piano players is
serious about his semi-retirement plans here in Austin. "It would be a
tea shop, it would be a bar, and it would have English foods," he says.
"For instance, we can't get Coleman's Dry Mustard around here."
Right, mate - I'm there. But before we can start calling him "the
guv'nor" and going 'round to McLagan's for a late afternoon pint, he's
got a bit of work to do: a tour with his former Faces bandmate Rod Stewart
that will take McLagan around the world until Christmas, 1996. It should
help "Mac," as everyone calls him, get the seed capital to open
McLagan's. In the meantime, Austin will be just a little less flavorful and
diverse without him.
In the last year that McLagan has lived in
Austin, he's become a rich and delightful addition to the local music menu.
His band Monkey Jump - with guitarist "Scrappy" Jud Newcomb of
Loose Diamonds, bass veteran Sarah Brown, and drummer/Austin Rehearsal
Complex co-owner Don Harvey - offers a hearty jolt of good ol' rock &
roll that mixes Faces goodies with new McLagan songs; it also showcases the
punchy B-3 swells and rhythmic pianistics that have made McLagan a top
player in the musical big leagues, touring with the Rolling Stones, Bob
Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and others in addition to Stewart.
While here, McLagan's also graced both records and gigs by Lucinda Williams
and Michael Fracasso, bringing to the local table a style and sound that's
as full and well brewed as, well, a pint of Guinness.
It's a long way from Hounslow in West London,
where McLagan grew up, to Central Texas. But when McLagan and Monkey Jump
launch into a Faces chestnut like "Cindy Incidentally," the spirit
of Swinging London, and the incendiary mixture of R&B and Brit-pop
finesse that McLagan was an integral part of, comes alive.
Born in London of an Irish mother and a
father of Scottish descent, Ian Patrick McLagan got into music as a teen,
thanks to Bill Haley, Elvis, Little Richard, and (later) Buddy Holly and the
Everly Brothers, all of which led him back to the blues. "The first
album I ever bought was Muddy Waters Live at Newport, and
Thelonious Monk, Monk's Moods," he says. "You'd think they
were quite a long way apart, but they really weren't."
It wasn't until he was in art school - the
great breeding ground of the British Invasion - that he became involved in
music. "I used to go see the Stones," he recalls. "I had
heard about this band at a party; this guy had told me about this great
blues band playing in Richmond. I said, `Blues band! Wow, you're kidding!'
picturing in my mind - because he didn't tell me what they looked like -
that they were old black guys from Chicago, because that's what a blues band
"I'm in line to get in, and they started
playing - da, da, dah; da dah, da dah - and I'm going, yeah, fuckin' great!
I came in and there's these white boys, the same age as me! It was a
revelation, and I started going every Sunday. So that was what made me
think: maybe I can do it."
Soon after, he started a band with his art
schoolmates called the Muleskinners. "I booked the Stones for our
end-of-school dance at Eel Pie Island for [[sterling]]150, and put my band
on to open for them," McLagan recounts. "I helped them with the
equipment, paid them, and because I had booked them, I had gone to their
agent and told him I had a band. And just as easy as that we got on some
Stones gigs" (including one where they also shared the bill with
Steampacket, featuring a young Scottish singer named Rod Stewart).
By this time, McLagan had scammed himself a
Hammond L-100 organ and a Leslie cabinet from a music store, jumping from
one band to another until he landed in the Small Faces. Hitting the U.K.
charts with raucous pop like "Sha La La La Lee" and later in
America with incipient psychedelia like "Itchykoo Park," the Small
Faces - McLagan, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane (who would later move to
Austin), and Kenny Jones - mutated into simply the Faces when Marriott left
and Ron Wood and Rod Stewart, late of the first Jeff Beck Group, joined up.
As the premier party band of the early Seventies arena and stadium circuit,
the Faces were renowned for their musical revelry (including an onstage
circus troupe) and legendary offstage antics.
When the Faces broke up in 1975 after Wood
joined the Rolling Stones and Stewart opted out for his burgeoning solo
career, McLagan participated in a brief Small Faces reunion, and then cut
two solo albums for Mercury Records. His Los Angeles group the Bump Band was
recruited to record and play with Bonnie Raitt, and he also began touring
with the Stones (in 1978 and 1981). In 1983, he "gave up music and
drugs" for a spell, but soon "realized it wasn't the music I gave
up, but the drugs." The next year, he got a call "to go and have a
play" with Bob Dylan, and ended up touring Europe for the summer.
Stints with the Everly Brothers, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, and Pat
McLaughlin followed, but Ian and Kim McLagan were growing tired of Los
Angeles and the rock & roll rat race.
"Actually, I played here with my very
first [solo] band, opening for the Thunderbirds [at Steamboat and Soap
Creek]," says McLagan. "I also came here a lot with Bonnie,
because Bonnie had a soft spot for Austin, and we'd always arrange to stay a
few days. This is the greatest place to play." McLagan had dreamed of
living in America as a youngster. "There was so much of an image about
America, I knew I'd have to live here from when I was young. A lot of
English kids who were into the music and the movies had to come
here," he notes. "And I'm still constantly fascinated by this
country. I haven't lost the enjoyment for the size of it, and what there is
here. I find it amazing that Americans want to go to Europe. You could drive
all day every day for the rest of your life and find something
But Los Angeles, where McLagan had lived for
16 years, had paled after earthquakes, mudslides, riots, and fires, and he
and his wife (the former Mrs. Keith Moon) found their own lovely slice of
America in Austin last spring. "Kim had never been here, so she came
out here on Rod's tour and fell in love with the place," he enthuses. A
week later, they'd bought a home and within a month they were here. And
McLagan certainly finds Austin a congenial locale.
"I read this `Rant'n'Rave' in the Austin
American-Statesman... that's such a bunch of shit." says McLagan
about the daily's phone-in forum for local gripes. "People complain
about the drivers here. Jesus, take a short flight to L.A.!" As Kim
heads off to go shopping - "Be sure to get a lot of those [Guinness]
cans!" he tells her - McLagan reflects on a life in rock & roll
that has shown him everything from the heights of stardom to the lowest
ripoffs. "That's the tragedy of the Small Faces," he explains.
"We never got paid a penny for our records."
Yet McLagan remains an infectiously ebullient
presence, bubbling with the same vitality and wit that colors his playing.
And perhaps part of his joy is from knowing that he's found a home. "I
want to get off the road, really. I've been doing it for a long time,"
he says. When he does, expect Monkey Jump to pop up again, and keep your
eyes open for McLagan's.
"This has been a great year," he
concludes. "So many people have welcomed me here. I was never welcomed
to L.A. in 16 years. That's the wonderful thing about Austin." Cheers,
mate. Welcome home.