Kenney Jones was born into a working class family in East London, growing up in an area of Stepney where the residual effects of the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids could still be seen.
When he ventures into a central London caff to sit down with Clash, however, things have changed; armed only with his drum sticks, he’s toured the world countless times, notching up hit records with the Small Faces, The Faces, The Who, and many more. Oh, and he’s a passionate polo player, who can hold his own against both Prince Charles and Prince Harry.
When Clash gives Kenny a brief run down of his resume, though, all this genial musician can do is chuckle. He’s here – ostensibly – to promote his new book, the wonderful, humane, and often very humorous Let The Good Times Roll. So, why’d he leave it so long to pen his tale?
“I tried to do it when I was in my 30s,” he admits. “I did a little bit of work on it, but something kept bugging me. I thought, I can’t write an autobiography about my life when I haven’t lived it. So I put it away.”
“It’s only since I turned my 70 th year that I thought, I’d better do something about it. To be honest, when I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time I thought, shit! I’d better do something about this because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. But I’m alright now, I’m fine!”
- - -
- - -
We start at the beginning. Helping form the Small Faces, Kenney Jones began a chart star at the age of 15, matching teen scream status to absolute Mod suss. “Absolute chaos!” he grins. “It was great. I’ve got such a lot of affection for those days because basically it’s your first band, your first love in music.”
“It was the most creative band I’ve been in – unlike The Faces which was very much a party band. I mean, the music was good too! And The Who was really exciting, but the Small Faces had all the elements all wrapped up in one.”
It's something he keeps coming back to. Perhaps it’s due to the ferocious creativity of that period, moving from revved up R&B to psychedelia and back again in only a few years. “In those days the Small Faces lived in the studio,” he says. “We based ourselves in Olympic Studios. And we were always trying to find something new and different.”
The band’s 1967 hit single ‘Itchycoo Park’ utilised the phasing technique, which Kenny helped devise alongside Glyn Johns. “Glyn and I were messing with this piece of tape to try and create a loop,” he recalls. “What we did was we put this quarter inch tape around the tape machine, and then we looped it. But we needed a bigger loop, so we found an old chair and looped it around that, so it went continuously around that. It made this noise, which went like: ssshhh… And that was phasing!”
- - -
- - -
Perhaps the group’s ultimate achievement is the ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ LP, which matched psychedelic whimsy to cockney slang, blue eyed soul to blistering heavy rock workouts. It’s an album which still holds a place in Kenney’s heart, and one that is still inspiring fresh ideas.
“‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ - our album with the Small Faces – is one project I’m going to be working on quite seriously,” he tells Clash. “We’re making that into a full length animation film, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. We’re putting it to script right now. We wrote the lyrics as a story, and when you read ‘em you realise the story is incredibly thin. So I’ve had to invent other characters and stuff around it.”
Sadly, though, the era did hold one rather large sting in its tail – the Small Faces were ripped off, making very little from their hits on Decca or Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate imprint. Even after all this time it still rankles the genial drummer, but he’s stubborn enough to rip though the red tape placed in his way.
“We’re still trying to get those royalties!” he exclaims. “Everyday I wake up trying to chase them. The paper trail is so complicated, which what they do… on purpose. But they picked on the wrong person with me! And I mean that.”
Creative difficulties eventually pushed the band apart, with frontman Steve Marriott departing to form Humble Pie. At the time, there seemed to be no forward road – after all, many of their peers and contemporaries had already split.
“When the Small Faces broke up and Steve left we were completely lost,” he says quietly. “We didn’t know what to do. So we just got together once a week – the Stones had a warehouse in Bermondsey so we used to go there and just play.”
“We were still looking to find out if we were going to stay together. We just didn’t know! Until Ronnie Lane brought down Ronnie Wood, his neighbour… and that was it – we started playing with him.”
Then the little-known blues singer Rod Stewart began showing up to rehearsals. “Rod turns up with Woodie, and he’s sat there… and I’m sitting there playing, waiting for the vocals. Ronnie Lane can sing but he’s not got a great frontman’s voice after Steve Marriott, that big powerful voice. There I am sitting there looking at Rod… who I know has got a great voice.”
“Afterwards we all went to pub, and I took Rod to the side of the bar and said: how do you fancy joining the band? And he went, do you think they’ll let me? And I said yeah, course they will! I had such a hard time trying to convince him.”
- - -
- - -
The band hit the bottle, and then hit the road; famous party animals, The Faces caused mayhem across the early years of the 70s, with their blues rock sound augmented by Rod Stewart’s trademark soulful husk.
“I’ve got to tell ya – those days were fantastic, and they still are!” the drummer says, before collapsing into gales of laughter. “There’s only three of us left now, and we still see each other, and whenever we see each other we always cause havoc. I am no longer the quiet one.”
The constant touring left its mark on Kenney’s family life, however, keeping him away from his young children during those lengthy American jaunts. “I had two kids, yeah,” he says. “I never saw my first son a lot because we were always in America touring. He’s now 46 and we get along great! It was about balancing the situation, and that was the same for all of us.”
A hard-drinking band, Kenny never saw eye-to-eye with the 70s great love affair with cocaine. “I was very inquisitive as I didn’t like cocaine – nor did Rod – and I thought, how does it give you a buzz if you sniff it up your nose? I found out from a doctor that what it does, the cocaine pops one of your brain cells and when it pops... that’s what gives you the buzz, that’s what gives you the high.”
It’s knowledge that has come in handy of late. “I got Ronnie Wood off of drinking and drugs,” the drummer insists. “That was about six years ago. But he had to get off it. He had to get off drink, drugs, and Russian women.”
“Look, our brain cells take 25 to 30 years to reproduce, unlike any other cell in your body. So I thought… If he keeps taking this all his life he’s going to have no fucking brain left! I’d ring him up and say, what happened on that day? Do you remember that? And he’d be like, shit, I shouldn’t be taking cocaine!”
- - -
- - -
The three of them still cause mischief. Reforming a few years back for a very select batch of shows, The Faces might still roll out the red carpet once more. “Like I said, life never ceases to amaze me,” says Kenney. “We all talk about it. The three of us talk about it, all the time.”
“We are talking about doing Vegas. Vegas keeps coming up all the time. The first time it came up – which is a few years back – I said to Rod, I’m not sitting there in front of a load of people eating! And he said, no it’s completely different now! It’s a proper audience, watching the music. And not only that, if you do a residency there – two, three weeks or whatever – that means you can sit by the pool, you don’t have to unpack and travel… fine by me! Fine by me… because then it’s a playing holiday!”
Leafing through Let The Good Times Roll it’s clear that Kenney Jones has lived one of British music’s most extraordinary lives. When The Faces splinter he becomes a session musician, a hired hand who works with countless people. The death of Keith Moon – the two drummers were close friends for a number of years – prompts a call from The Who, sparking a frustrating period for the musician.
“When I joined The Who, I said I’m not taking Keith’s place. And they said no, you don’t have to, because Keith – in many ways – held us back a little bit, because it’s one style, and so on. Now we have the opportunity to do something completely different. And we never ever fucking did!”
“I should have twigged it,” he says. “I should have twigged that all the fans wouldn’t ever let you do anything different, they just want to hear the hits. The last hit that The Who had was ‘You Better Bet’ with me – they haven’t had a hit since. So it’s literally the back catalogue. That’s what the fans want. Those songs are so strong that they still hold up today. It’s a bit like the 60s, 70s music all does.”
- - -
- - -
This period is marked by a taut relationship between Kenney Jones and The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey. The singer wasn’t impressed with his drumming; for his part, Kenney Jones wasn’t impressed with much of the creativity let in the band. Now, though, the two can laugh about it, part of the reconciliation that runs through Kenney’s book.
“Daltrey and I get along like a house on fire!” he exclaims. “I just had to tell the truth. The way I approached my book was, well, I’ve got to be honest. I’ve got to explain it and get it across to people exactly how I felt at the time.”
“In the book I said what I felt like at the time, but I think that old expression ‘time heals’ is true. And I’ve mellowed quite a lot, so I don’t feel like that any more.”
With our conversation freewheeling between the decades – and with a Radio 2 slot staring ominously from his schedule – we end by discussing a few future plans. The Jones Gang – responsible for a sole 2006 album – might yet develop another project, while he equally doesn’t rule out further work with Paul Rodgers following their stint as The Law. It seems that Kenney Jones is able to take each day as it comes. Whether that’s making a mess with his grandkids, taking charge of his drum kit, or playing polo with royalty.
“When I wake up in the morning I never know where life’s going to take me,” he smiles. “But it’s always interesting.”
- - -
- - -
Let The Good Times Roll is out now.
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.