It’s with a heavy heart that I write about the loss of a true legend; the great Ian McLagan. Born in 1945, Ian began playing in bands while still a teenager, and joined up with the already wildly popular in Europe Small Faces when he was all of 20 years old.
Ian first appeared on the Small Faces ’66 UK smash hit “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”; a number that directly caused the group to rebel against their teeny bopper image and wholeheartedly embrace heavy soul and nascent psychedelia. Mac’s first songwriting credit appeared as co-writer (along with the rest of the group) on the undoubtedly speed-fuelled, organ driven Booker T inspired raver “Grow Your Own“, which appeared as the B-side of “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”. Mac’s organ is the driving force of the track, and established this man’s reputation as an ‘A’ list keyboard player; a reputation that held on through his entire life and numerous sessions and guest appearances with a jaw dropping number of artists, including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Paul Westerberg, and Bruce Springsteen (to name a few). Ian also cut several records and toured relentlessly as a bandleader.
Mac’s reputation was built upon his work with The Small Faces (and later, simply, The Faces which replaced Steve Marriott with Rod Stewart), and those recordings are the pieces that will always be the strongest in his legacy. I’m only scratching the surface of the greatness that these musicians achieved in a very short of a period.
In this fan’s opinion, The Small Faces reached their peak with the release of the 1967 single “Tin Soldier“; smoldering with an intense rock-soul groove, the band shows that they were a powerhouse unit that could hold their own with the Stax house band. Mac’s piano-organ doubling is the epitome of what well executed keyboards can add to a rock track, Steve Marriott’s vocal is pure soul, and the harmony vocals from PP Arnold are the stuff that makes life very good indeed. This clip may not be a live performance, but it captures the intensity of the record beautifully. The exemplary musicianship of this band is captured on this 1966 German TV performance of the group’s debut 45, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”.
This record was cut before Mac joined the group, but this performance drives home the fact that he was the proper man for the job, as he adds some incredibly fluid organ work during Marriott’s freak out guitar solo. Between Kenny Jones’ jackhammer drumming, Ronnie Lane holding it solid on bass, Mac’s mind boggling organ, Steve Marriott’s wild dance moves and from the gut vocals, it’s simply not possible for a live performance to be better than this! Another cool track with a Mac co-writer credit is one that shows the English music hall influence that is so prevalent in much of the Small Faces work – the excellent “Donkey Rides A Penny A Glass“. words / d see
Elsewhere: Our pal Gregg foreman (aka Mr Pharmacist) recently conducted a superb interview with Mac that can be heard, here.