With the Rolling Stones his only logical, and certainly most exciting, new prospect, Wood officially became a Stone. He holds his guitar spot with “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World” to this day, longer than any of the band’s previous guitarists. Mac and Jones (and very briefly, Ronnie Lane) gave it a shot with a newly reformed Small Faces in 1975, but the newly reconstituted group (with original member Steve Marriott) produced little of note and failed to recapture the original intensity of their ‘60s heyday. With the passing of Keith Moon due to an accidental drug overdose in 1978, Kenney Jones would find himself moving onto the daunting stool once held by Moon, where he would stay until the late 80s. Ronnie Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1976, around the time of Rough Mix, a collaboration with Who guitarist Pete Townshend. He would continue various solo efforts, raise awareness and monies to fight MS with the ARMS concerts in the 1980s, and briefly appear on stage for a Faces one-off appearance (bass duties for the ailing Lane were handled by Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman) as part of a Rod Stewart performance at Wembley Stadium in 1986. Ronnie Lane would, sadly, die of the ailment in April 1997, at the age of 51. MS crippled his body but couldn’t defeat his towering spirit, his infectious humor, or his brilliant legacy. Faces fans the world over would shed tears, laugh with fond remembrances, and hoist many pints in his memory.
In 2004, McLagan remembers his great friend thusly: “He was a great songwriter. He was a lovely, lovely man—a very amusing, sweet, kind, naughty, naughty little boy! He had MS for the last 21 years of his life, and he never, ever complained. He used to curse his disease. He’d say, ‘Fuckin’ MS!,’ but that’s it. You’d go, ‘Go on, Ronnie!’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ When he’d try to walk or his leg’d go stiff on him…[he’d] curse it but not feeling sorry for himself in any way. Never saw him shed a tear for himself, y’know?”
He enthuses equally for Lane as a musician, commenting that he was “incredibly melodic. He’d have ideas; he’d have melodies for keyboard parts or guitar parts. He was thinking it around the arrangements the whole time. Incredibly, he never rated himself. Every bass player I’ve ever had in my band are Ronnie Lane fans. I don’t think I’d let ‘em in the band if they weren’t, if they didn’t get that, y’know? It’s so wonderful; I’ll rediscover some old line he played. Beautiful playing.”
Rod Stewart’s bloated commercial fortune after the Faces is a matter of record, but so, too, is the criminally shameful sacrifice of his astounding early talents to the slow death of uninspired habit that characterized his recorded output in the ‘80s and ‘90s (if not memories of a majestic stage endurance that soulless facsimiles like Black Crowe Chris Robinson usurped for rote calisthenics). As he zeros in on his sexagenarian years, the soccer playing, super-model dating, gentleman sports-car enthusiast Stewart continues to tour the world. He has even managed to reclaim a measure of critical respect with his credible take of American standards in The Great American Songbook series.
The latter-day influence of the Faces could (and still can) be found in any band that didn’t give a fuck for anything other than a righteously good song and a riotously good time. Having largely avoided the collective disdain heaped upon their contemporaries by the then up-and-coming punk novices, it was possible to have Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones declare, “When [the Sex Pistols] started out, we liked the [New York] Dolls and the Faces. In fact, we wanted to be the Faces.” Original Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, a longtime friend and collaborator with McLagan, has said, “The main reason I dug the Faces is because they were so different from everything else going on during that stage… They didn’t seem to give a toss about anything.” The Faces’ “who cares?”-with- a-purpose attitude is evident in the roots-rawk of the Georgia Satellites, the shambolic blast of the Replacements, the fighting spirit of Oasis, and even the sartorial jumble assemblages of the Black Crowes and the original Guns N’ Roses. In recalling my own shock at hearing a snippet of the famous keyboard break from “Stay With Me” in a live radio version of Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” Mac seems pretty laid back, if quite proud, of his band’s imbedded presence in many areas of modern rock. “I get e-mails from Kid Rock’s keyboard player--I can’t think of his name. Whenever they come to Texas, he invites me to the show. He told me he’s a big Faces fan.”
In the late ‘90s, observant Faces watchers were suddenly aware that the band was everywhere once more. The song “Ooh La La” provided the backing score to the credits of the quirkily engaging film Rushmore, as well as a denatured refrain for the benefit of Mitsubishi Motor TV ads. Good Boys When They’re Asleep, a repackaged compilation of the Faces’ official releases, was issued by Rhino, this time to a new generation of Faces fans. In the months up until the release of the new box set, it was even possible to hear “Bad ‘n’ Ruin” incorporated into the visual nastiness of a Sopranos episode, if not a snippet of Faces fare blaring in a VH1 bio bit on omnipresent media “it” boy, Ashton Kutcher. Most importantly, the band’s archival history found dedicated and serious hosting in cyberspace at the essential the–faces.com, and McLagan’s own macpages.com.
Again, Mac finds it all a bit funny, but most definitely an important development in the Faces’ history. “I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s gonna happen more… my whole point in doing this and putting this together, and why I put [these recordings] out, is to get public awareness of the Faces. [It’s] to show that Rod was in a band before he went solo, that Ronnie Wood was in a great band before he joined the Stones, and that Ronnie Lane was a great songwriter, always. That Ian McLagan’s not just a session guy. Kenney Jones was in [two really great bands] before the Who. It needs to be said.”
Rock n’ roll as a genre is more fragmented than ever before. Modern radio programming and satellite broadcasters subcompartmentalize its history, its meaning, and even its audience. The major rock press, once a snotty and defiant voice for the artists, is now just incidental personality reporting with its life support tethered to major advertising. The historically avaricious recording industry, already suffering the karmic payback being dealt by digital file sharing, still manages to carry on its arbitrary championing of artists who may, or may not, stand the test of time as the Faces now clearly prove they have. “I think it’s about time we were put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for Christ’s sake,” Mac resolutely declares. “If you’re gonna get [Rolling Stone magazine publisher] Jann Wenner in there, c’mon! What’s he done? It’s not gonna get me in by slaggin’ him off, but c’mon, Jann! Wake up, we’re a band! A great band! We’re talkin’ about rock ‘n’ roll, y’know. And I asked Rod if he should say something to somebody, and Woody. They’re both in. The Small Faces should be in there, too. I mention it here and there, and hopefully someone will mention it to somebody else, because there are bands that are influenced by us. When I see U2 in there, I go, ‘OK, alright,’ [or] Bruce Springsteen, ‘OK. Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Bruce used to come to our gigs. I met him in New York years ago. [Rock critic] Dave Marsh brought him to my hotel room. [Springsteen’s] a lovely, lovely guy. You’d think he’d be mentioning it.”
But don’t mistake Mac’s anger here as bitterness. No way! Life is good for the man. In addition to Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, his recent solo recording with his own Bump Band, Rise & Shine, is as good as any of his work in the Faces. Unpretentious R&B-flavored rock permeates this album full of experiences both glad and sorry, happy or sad. He remains a seriously in-demand session player appearing in the last few years on recordings by Ryan Adams and Billy Bragg, among others. However, the question still lingers in the anticipatory hopes of Faces’ aficionados the world over: Will there be a Faces reunion? For many, the answer has primarily rested on Rod Stewart’s whim and wallet, so hopes have not been especially high. However, in late August 2004, Wood, Stewart, and McLagan kicked out a version of “Stay With Me” at the Hollywood Bowl. According to one Dean Goodman reporting for Reuters: “They also dusted off Faces covers of ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ featuring a lengthy Wood guitar solo, as well as Stewart’s own ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ and ‘You Wear It Well’.” This September, Stewart and Wood performed an encore of the song on a Fox TV tribute to rock and fashion.
In July when I asked Mac about the possibility of a Faces reunion, he seemed hopeful:
“I’ve been trying to make it happen for years. We had a tour some years ago, big multimillion dollar tour, three weeks in America, and Rod blew it out. He wanted to do it: then, he didn’t want to do it. So, I never thought he was interested. Once this box set was together, his manager called me up to talk about other things, but then he said, ‘This could have been the box set. It’s a shame, you’ve done a lovely job on this, but it should have been much bigger.’ I said, well who knows how big it’s gonna be. He said, ‘What we should have done, if I had been involved, it would have been a Faces reunion.’ I laughed at him! I said, you and Rod don’t want that, and he said, ‘Yes, we do!’ So, since then, we’ve been talking, and maybe this box set will make it happen. Rod might just want to do a charity gig, and I’m not interested in doing just a charity gig. I’m the only one who isn’t a millionaire in this band. Wait a minute! Can I get a payday, please?”
It is hoped that Mac will indeed reap that payday. The payday to the Faces legions of fans has been answered in the treasure trove of Faces box set material, but there is news that more rarities may be released from the vaults, included newly remastered versions of the band’s official releases. The festivities at the Faces’ bar, it seems, will be granted extended hours, and it’s for the best. Wherever rock ‘n’ roll grows pretentious and self-important, wherever its soulful spirit has been replaced with counterfeit emotion and bogus outrage, the Faces will provide the example that it can always be otherwise. It can always be a party. You can always have yourself a real good time! As for this writer, 25 years as a Faces fan has provided a vicarious journey: a crushed-velvet time ride, a bleary-eyed blip of shaggy macho heroics descending into that irresponsibly hedonic ‘70s bliss-basin. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Dorothy Goodbody's stout is cold, and I have all night to join Rod and Woody in singing endless rounds of “Angel.”
(Very special thanks to Jeff Clark, Yancy Yohannon, Laura Cantrell, Kevin Kennedy, Tom Roche, and Dave McNarie)
(c) 2004 by Andy Pierce. All Rights Reserved.