Mac, as Ian McLagan is affectionately known to friend and stranger alike, greets me like an old friend as we both discuss bad weather on our respective sides of geography--he from his home in Austin, Texas, and me in unincorporated DeKalb County. As the conversation turns to the early days, Mac is quick to distinguish the Faces from the progressive onslaught of the Yes and ELP schools from which the band sought to distance themselves.
“We hated all that crap, frankly. We were an amalgam of people who loved the blues, country, funk, I suppose. Rod was very folk, but he was a blues singer. It was all kinds of influences, but we weren’t going forward so much, we were going backwards. My piano influences were Otis Spann, Sonny Johnson. Where I couldn’t play the blues with the Small Faces hardly, all of a sudden we were running through [Big Bill Broonzy’s] “Feels So Good” and [Willie Dixon’s] “Evil,” which is why they’re on the box set. We didn’t have songs yet, so what we had in common was Woody, Rod, and I, one of our first albums we ever bought was Muddy Waters Live at Newport. We knew ‘Mojo Working,’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man,’ ‘I Feel So Good,’ ‘Tiger in Your Tank.’ That was such an important album to the three of us. In fact, that’s Rod playing guitar [on “Feels So Good” on the box set]. I forgot to mention that... and Woody on harp.”
As revealed on these earliest rehearsal cassette recordings, the Faces showed rough but ready cohesion at the outset. Despite the band’s reputation for somewhat loose and sloppy performances, Mac insists the first rehearsals were dedicated and regular affairs.
“[We rehearsed] several times a week. We’d been doing it kind of casually. Ian Stewart [the Rolling Stones pianist and road manager] had let us use the Stones’ rehearsal place as we didn’t have any money or a place to rehearse. We were just jamming, really. Micky Waller [Jeff Beck Group drummer] used to come down, Leigh Stephens [Blue Cheer guitarist], and a few other people, and girls. Eventually, we just said, ‘Well, fuck that, let’s blow them out and just not tell them we’re going down there,’ and we started doing it seriously as a four-piece. Once Rod was in the band, we knew we had something. I always thought that the Faces never rehearsed for recording, [but] one day I found Ronnie Lane’s original lyrics to ‘You’re So Rude.’ He wrote it on the back of my date sheet that the office used to send us: pages of where we were gonna be. And there’s like two days of rehearsal before going into Olympic [Studios] to record. It really blew my mind. There we were sloppy. We were drunk. Yeah, we never rehearsed. Well, actually, we did rehearse! So, as good or as bad as it is, we did actually work on it.”
Curiously, the Faces would first perform at Cambridge University as Quiet Melon with Wood’s older brother, Art, and Creation bassist Kim Gardner, to satisfy work commitments to which Art had agreed. By early 1970, with their debut album, First Step, ready, the band were prepared to tour in earnest. Their first proper North American gig saw them playing on a multi-act bill in Toronto with the likes of the MC5. In his autobiography, All the Rage, Mac is able to boast that, “I’ve been told by more than a few punters who were there that night that we killed the lot of them.”
The band next moved on to the USA, where they would debut at the Boston Tea Party on March 26, 1970. Memories of early performing life for McLagan provide insight into the nuts and bolts of touring in the period: “The earliest tour, I brought my Hammond over. At the first gig at the Boston Tea Party, we were rehearsing and we realized we were all in the wrong key. I knew America had different voltages, but I didn’t realize there was a cycle difference. So the Hammond was almost in F when they were in E. Very confusing. I don’t remember us having monitors in the earliest days. You play a club gig today, and you have monitors. We were pretty loud. In fact, it wasn’t until the second or third tour that I got a deal with Ampeg. I always had to struggle with the B3 getting it as loud as the guitar with Woody. They could just turn up. My equipment wasn’t built [that way]. I could mic the Leslie through Ampeg SVTs, and then they got SVTs, and it got louder and louder!”
Mac also remembers the pitfalls of air travel. “We used to travel in commercial jets in the early days, and all the guitars [and equipment] would get thrown in the hold. Eventually, we had two planes. We had a one-month gig, and we had a DC3, and the equipment was in the back of the plane. As the plane took off, it was at an angle, and as it leveled out, the equipment started to move. The crew refused to fly it after that.”
The band made their greatest impact with their earliest audiences in Detroit, a city whose rock bands and fans were some of the most enthusiastic and no-nonsense around. The anarchic social fabric in America at the time never prevented the band from having the biggest party in town, but reality did intrude on occasion.
“I was blissfully ignorant. It’s a great shame,” McLagan recalls. “I realize now when I look back that there were so many girls around because most of the guys were in Vietnam. In England, we weren’t getting those images [of the war]. English news is more kind of worldly than American news is, but even so, all you had [in the USA] was Vietnam night after night. We’d have people who’d come from gig to gig in different areas, and it was up around Cleveland and Detroit somewhere, this guy came to several gigs and we partied with him afterwards. And he was getting really wrecked, and apparently he’d just come out of ‘Nam and didn’t really want to talk about it. That’s when we started to realize [what was happening in America].”
The Faces appeared four times in Atlanta between 1971 and 1975, quickly garnering arena and stadium status. When the band first made it to Atlanta on their third tour in early 1971, they did so in proximity to an Atlanta Journal headline that screamed “Atlanta’s Infamous Title: The Nation’s VD Capital.” Among long-time Atlanta nightlife reporter Ron Hudspeth’s various memories of vintage “Hot’Lanta” is that it was “[O]nce the biggest party town in America. Bar none. And that certainly includes New York and Los Angeles... life revolved around the apartment complex…pools teemed with weekend parties, some complexes even had clubhouses that functioned as nightclubs and each apartment was equipped with closed circuit TVs where one could check out the action in the clubhouse…”
“Atlanta is an alarmingly liberal city, by Southern standards,” declared Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72. “It is also known for moonshine whisky, a bad biker/doper community, and a booming new porno-film industry.” For any British touring band of the period, especially a rolling entourage of generalized taboo like the Faces, neither headlines nor potential pitfalls of orgiastic excess were going to slow them down. (If anything, these tantalizing realities were touring’s best encouragement!)
“I very rarely remember the actual gigs; I remember the hotel,” recalls Mac. “The first time [in Atlanta] we stayed at that Hyatt, and I remember the girls! I was very impressed by the hotel. As soon as we were checking in, the guy who was helping us with the bags said, ‘Yeah, a girl just threw herself off the balcony and killed herself just a few weeks ago.’ Oh, thanks a lot! I do remember the view, and you could almost see that rock out there. What’s it called? [Stone Mountain] You could almost see it, or just the corner of it.”
The band’s post-gig festivities were spent in intensified inebriation in the old Underground before having to beat a hasty retreat up to Boston the next day where, according to All The Rage, a city cop offered his services procuring dope rather than having the band take their chances with the street market.
The band’s largest audience in Atlanta came when they shared a bill with Three Dog Night at Atlanta Fulton County stadium in August 1972. Despite enjoying sizeable strength as a touring act in their own right, as well as providing the musical muscle to Rod Stewart’s rapid commercial rise, I mistakenly assume the Faces topped the bill over the period’s proverbial superstar “boy band.”
“No, no, no! They were huge!” Mac emphasizes, “Working with them got us to their crowd. It was quite the big deal.”
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