Kenney Jones photo: Mike Lawn
Drummer Kenney Jones’ tenure with The Small Faces, The Faces and The Who showcased a musician whose explosive drumming prowess lit the fuse for such timeless classics as “Tin Soldier,” “Maggie May,” “You Wear It Well” “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front.” Kenney’s authored a recent book, Let The Good Times Roll: My Life in the Small Faces, Faces and The Who, which chronicles his fifty year plus life in the rock and roll trenches.
While Kenney’s work in The Faces and The Who is much admired, it’s his innovative work with the Small Faces that set his career into motion and it’s the short-lived career of that band we focus upon in our interview with the British rock legend.
Rock Cellar: How did being mods come into plays for the Small Faces?
Kenney Jones: We were all mods before we were in the Small Faces. We had all identified individually with what we wanted to be before we had actually met. It was absolutely amazing that when we all bumped into each other we had absolutely similar fashion senses, similar outlook — because we were the first young generation after the war.
I remember growing up as a kid in black and white. And really, everybody wore black and white, and we were the people to wear color, and it was amazing. We started to wear all these bright things, and it was all right to dye your hair then. A lot of mods actually dyed their hair blonde. It wasn’t called dyed, it was called bleaching your hair then.
Rock Cellar: What do you remember about the first Small Faces album on Decca?
Kenney Jones: I remember doing it in IBC Studios, Portland Place, and Glyn Johns was an engineer there, and the desk he was using had great big knobs, faders, on it. Great desk, big old valve desk. We recorded it in no time at all, we just played. Did one or two takes, and we were gone. “All or Nothing” was also recorded there.
Rock Cellar: What do you think of some of your early hits that Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane didn’t write, like “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”?
Kenney Jones: I don’t think I hate it. I hate what it stands for.
We had “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, written by Ian Samwell, and that was a hit. So we said, “We’re gonna write the next one,” and it was called “I Got Mine.” It was great, and it was a flop. So Don Arden said, “I’m not gonna risk you guys having a flop again,” so he brought in Kenny Lynch and Mort Shuman, two hot songwriters, and they wrote this song. And Kenny Lynch — he’s a dear friend of mine now, and I always remind him what he said to me. We were recording “Sha-La-La-La-Lee,” and Kenny Lynch came out, and it’s the only time anyone’s ever told me what to play. He came out and said “Don’t play anything you can’t mime to.” And I went, “Awww, fuck that,” but I always remember that and I always remind him of it.
Rock Cellar: How did you feel when “All or Nothing” reached number one in 1966?
Kenney Jones: It was an amazing feeling. It was history. We had a joint No. 1 with the Beatles at one point. I’ll never forget on Top of the Pops, it was a joint No. 1 and they had our pictures on screen together, like cut in half. Half my face and half of Ringo’s. I’ve still got a picture of it somewhere — it was fantastic.
Rock Cellar: How did things change for the Small Faces with the move from Decca to Immediate Records under the guidance of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham?
Kenney Jones: What happened was we were given more studio time to do what we wanted. Andrew Oldham would just encourage us to stay and play and do what we want so we did. We had a lot more time to just experiment.
Rock Cellar: Once the band moved over to Immediate Records, with Glyn Johns overseeing the sessions, you began to use Olympic Studios as a sonic workshop to hash out ideas and record new music.
Kenney Jones: In Olympic Studios there was an echo chamber room with one speaker and a mike. Glyn and I used to love it. We used to go down there and reposition it and come back up and feed it through the desk and you’d get this lovely ambient sound. That’s how Glyn got that great big sustained snare and tom tom sound, which is fantastic and we were the first to do that.
Rock Cellar: In what way did Glyn Johns contribute to the band’s sound?
Kenney Jones: We had the good fortune of working with Glyn Johns as an engineer and he progressed with the sound — new tape machines, more toys. I hated hanging about in the studio so I’d be downstairs working on my mini outside the studio nine times out of ten because I hated waiting about. And a roadie would come down and say, ‘Right, okay, Steve’s got it down now, you can come up and do the drums now’ and half the time I never even heard the song. We’d just run through it once or twice and we’d get it.”
Rock Cellar: What made The Small Faces stick out from your fellow British rock brethren?
Kenney Jones: One thing I like about The Small Faces is the arrangements are so different and so good. Some people call us a rock and roll band. Well, we never ever played rock and roll. We wrote songs and we played them.
We didn’t have a rock and roll style. We were unique. It’s a bit like The Beatles; they were not a rock and roll band. Rock was an element that was a thread that ran through what we were doing but mainly the songs were brand new, fresh and inventive.
Rock Cellar: For me, “Tin Soldier” is one of the most exciting singles ever recorded.
Kenney Jones:Whenever I think of “Tin Soldier” I automatically think of “Here Comes the Nice,” because they’re very similar in terms of arrangement and sound, side stick and full-on drums. Many of the songs we recorded around the same time have a similar thread running through them. The great thing is that we never over-questioned or over-arranged anything. It was just, that’ll work, and that’s great.
Everything was done in the first or second take.
Rock Cellar: How would you describe your drum style with The Small Faces?
Kenney Jones: My style on those records at the time was very big and dynamic orchestral Phil Spector type of drum sounds and fills. I’d picked up stuff subconsciously from doing sessions with big bands so that’s reflected on a song like “Green Circles.”
Rock Cellar: The Marriott/Lane song, “Itchycoo Park,” was the band’s only hit in the United States.
Kenney Jones: Hitler’s bombs fell on our street so my playground was the bomb ruins. I just played on all this stuff, I never questioned it, just had a wonderful time playing on all this rubble.
There were a lot of stinging nettles that grew there, and you’d have on short trousers, and they’d sting your legs and you’d get all itchycoo. Everyplace had its own “Itchycoo Park,” really. It showed a different side of Steve’s talent.
The great thing was you knew when he sang like that it wasn’t for long before he really hammered it down. I think Steve had a great voice in the songs without the power behind it as well. One of my favorite tracks is one that didn’t come out under our name, funnily enough — it’s P.P. Arnold’s “(If You Think You’re) Groovy.” I think a Small Faces version with Steve singing it does exist. I think I’ve heard it.
One of us may have a copy lying around somewhere; I’d have to look for that. I thought Steve and Ronnie were really kind to give that song to her, because it could’ve been a big hit for the Small Faces. I didn’t mind — I played on it, but it was all by accident. We all went by the studio together, and Pat and her band were doing it. And suddenly, the drummer couldn’t get it right. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was a great drummer, but for some reason it just wasn’t working out. So I was in the booth with Glyn Johns, and Steve was trying to show him how to play it, and I went on the mike and said “Here, if you’ll just do it like — well, I’ll just come down and show you.”
So I got on the kit, and showed him, and remember, I’d never played the song before. And he learned it, and then they came to another point where it just wasn’t right so I showed him another part. And in the end he said, “Come on, you just play it,” and I said, “No, that’s not right, you play it,” and everybody else chimed in, so in the end I just played it. It wound up being the whole Small Faces on that cut.
Rock Cellar: Speaking of America, the Small Faces never made it over here to play live shows. Looking back, was that a mistake?
Kenney Jones: I bitterly regret we never conquered America. We were watching The Beatles do it, The Stones, The Who and The Kinks. We should have been alongside there. If we’d have gone to America we would have made it big and probably stayed together and our music would have changed for the better in America.
All we wanted to do was get rid of our teenybopper image and we could have done in America.
Rock Cellar: “I’m Only Dreaming” is a Small Faces track that had a big influence on the ’70s power pop band Raspberries.
Kenney Jones: I remember on “I’m Only Dreaming” we all got bits of pins and paper and stuck it on the piano hammers, and that’s how we got the effect on the piano. I didn’t only play drums on the records; I played my drum stool with brushes. I played on “If I Were a Carpenter” — we were all sitting around and playing it, and it didn’t sound right on the drum kit, so I started playing on the drum stool with brushes — the stool was quite rough.
And I said to Glyn Johns, “All right, mike it,” and that’s how I did it. I also played Andy Fairweather Low’s guitar case on “La Booga Rooga.”
Rock Cellar: The Small Faces and Faces were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame concurrently. How did the success of The Faces in the U.S. lead others to get turned onto the Small Faces?
Kenney Jones: I think when the Faces first went over to America, people wanted to know more about us and did their homework and realized three of us were in the Small Faces. So in many ways the Faces put the Small Faces on the map in America.
Rock Cellar: If the Small Faces had stayed together and Steve hadn’t left, what direction musically do you think you would have gone in?
Kenney Jones: I think we would have been messing around with the same music we played between us all. As a new instrument came out, we would have been using it to our advantage. Who knows? I think we would have done wonderful stuff! I think the Britpop movement now are doing it for us. They’re taking the best elements of Small Faces, and they’re making a new flavor of ice cream.
Rock Cellar: Are you flattered by the respect the band gets now?
Kenney Jones: I can see a lot of bands, a lot of drummers, playing like me, which is really strange. I’m incredibly flattered, and I can see similarities in Ronnie, Steve and Mac in the look of the bands now.
Of all the bands in the ’60s, the biggest-hyped bands were the Stones and the Beatles, basically, but we were right there and we were quite big at the time. The record company kept releasing these poppy records — but it was our fault, we wrote them. So nobody would listen to the album tracks, and the album tracks were bloody great. We were a lot heavier band than people gave us credit for, but we could never lose that pop image — which, funnily enough, I’m actually quite proud of now, because there is strength in the pop side of music.
I think it’s actually been abundantly clear now, people have actually realized it’s not just pop, it’s just a commercial record. Pop is just a term and you can actually still be heavy under that label.
Rock Cellar: What’s the legacy of the Small Faces?
Kenney Jones: We were way before our time. When young people discover the Small Faces today I’m pleased to know the songs stand the test of time. And that isn’t surprising, as the songs had great meaningful content. The songs tell the truth and the proof lies in the songs, the performances and the creativity of the band.
None of us knew how good and ahead of our time we were.