Ken­ney Jones

Those two pas­times were horse rid­ing and drumming. Ken­ney Jones, who was the drum­mer in the great­est Bri­tish rock’n’roll bands of all time, looks back at his life story so far. It has been, you could say, event­ful.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Ian Fort­nam Por­traits: Kevin Nixon

The drum­mer with three of the truly great Bri­tish bands, looks back at his life story so far. It has been, you could say, event­ful.

East End ’Er­bert, pre-teen ar­chi­tect of mod, for­mer drum­mer with the Small Faces, the Faces and The Who, Ken­ney Jones seemed to grav­i­tate from Step­ney’s bomb sites and back­streets to ru­ral Sur­rey’s idyl­lic greensward al­most by ac­ci­dent. With an easy charm, an in­built swing and a per­haps un­likely pas­sion for the ‘sport of kings’, the ac­com­plished horse­man and sticks­man is shoot­ing the breeze over BLTs in the salu­bri­ous sur­round­ings of his very own Hurt­wood

Park Polo Club’s high-beamed El­iz­a­bethan club­house.

“Prince Charles comes down here,” our re­fined cock­ney host ca­su­ally chirps. “He used to play here a lot. He’s got a great, dry sense of hu­mour.”

It’s un­sur­pris­ing that the rocker and the royal hit it off when you con­sider they were born just two months apart in 1948, and share a life­long love of The Goons: “Ec­cles and all that. When we spoke about it, the story of The Prince And The Pau­per came into my head. Back then every­one’s ra­dio whis­tled with static, and while I was try­ing to tune my ra­dio over at our house in Step­ney, I imag­ined him do­ing the same thing in Buck­ing­ham Palace.”

You were born in Lon­don’s East End.

I’ll never for­get the look on my mum and dad’s face. I looked up at them and they were like: “What the fuck have we given birth to here?” Even they were taken aback by what’s hap­pened since. For a lit­tle guy from the East End, what an amaz­ing jour­ney I’ve had.

Where did you go to school?

Where didn’t I go to school, you mean. My first was in Ca­ble Street, Step­ney, then the next one was in Com­mer­cial Road. I got a call from the head­mas­ter about twelve years ago and he said: “Ken­ney, we’ve just heard you went to this school.” And I said: “Yeah, briefly.” He said: “Well, you’re the talk of the school. We’re hav­ing an old boys’ re­union and we’d love you to come and be our guest, have lunch and talk about your mem­o­ries.” So I said okay, called my mum and said: “Mum, they’ve asked me to go back to the school I used to bunk out of.” So I said I’d drive up, park out­side where I grew up and walk across the road to the school. And he said: “Park in the play­ground.”

At that time I had a Jaguar XKR con­vert­ible. So I drove my Jag into the play­ground and thought: “Fuck, I’ve ar­rived!” It was so funny. I can’t tell you the feel­ing of park­ing there, think­ing about my­self run­ning around in short trousers. It was like wav­ing a magic wand.

When did the idea of play­ing the drums first cap­ti­vate you?

I blame it on the banjo. Me and a friend were clean­ing a car for half a crown, which we did when­ever we could, and his sponge hit my face, which got my at­ten­tion. He said: “We should form a skif­fle group – tea chest, broom han­dle, all that. There’s one on TV tonight.”

So we rushed back, and Lon­nie Done­gan came on SixFive Spe­cial singing Rock Is­land Line and I fell in love with the song straight away. Then he sang My Old Man’s A Dust­man while play­ing this banjo, and I fell in love with the sound of the banjo, the look of the banjo, and that was it.

I’d seen one in a pawn shop on the Com­mer­cial Road, so the next day me and my mate went to buy it with no money in my pocket – that’s how keen we were. It’d been hang­ing in the win­dow for months, but when we got there it was gone. I said to the guy: “Where is it?” And he said: “The bloke’s come back for it.” I got re­ally up­set, and on the way home one of my mates said: “A mate of mine’s got a drum kit. I’ll get him to bring it over.” So he brought it over, and it turned out to be a floor tom-tom, a bass drum and two sticks, one of which was bro­ken in half.

My dad was a bit of a car­pen­ter in those days, so we went up to his shed, got some glue. Wait­ing for it to dry was like wait­ing for hell to freeze over. So we gave that up, and I ended up play­ing on one and a half sticks, and that was how I got hooked on it.

Then you nicked a ten­ner from your mum’s purse to pay the de­posit on a proper kit.

Yeah, the best nick I’ve ever done. I’d found out the near­est mu­sic shop was in East Ham, so I went up there and fell in love with this lit­tle white Olympic drum kit, which I’ve still got. The guy brought it over to our house that night. My dad opened the door com­pletely taken aback, and this guy walked in with a big bass drum and said: “Where do you want me to put it?” I said: “Over there in the front room,” as my dad’s look­ing dag­gers at me.

Af­ter the guy set it up, he said: “Can you play the drums?” I said: “No, that’s why I bought the kit – I want to learn.” So he got the brushes out, which I’d never seen in my life, said: “I’ll show you some­thing,” and started play­ing. “Now you have a go.” He gave me the brushes, showed me how to hold them. I looked at my mum and dad, looked at the brushes, looked at the drum kit, looked at this guy, just closed my eyes, and I was mak­ing the same sound. Ap­par­ently the look on my face saved me. My mum and dad said I had the big­gest grin I’d ever had in my life on my face, and that’s when they de­cided to sign the HP forms.

When did you first dis­cover rock’n’roll, or was skif­fle your first mu­si­cal pas­sion?

We’d had a lot of Elvis Pres­ley records; Mo­town hadn’t re­ally come over yet. But skif­fle was al­ways on Six-Five Spe­cial, so I got into that. It was the best thing that ever hap­pened to me, be­cause I learnt to play jazz that way. When you play rock’n’roll you’ve al­ways got to put a swing in it, make it move. There’s only a few drum­mers do it. Char­lie Watts, me… all the good drum­mers.

Did play­ing come nat­u­rally to you? When I learnt to play, I was just hooked on drums, ev­ery day. Teach­ing my­self. It saved my life, re­ally, be­cause prior to play­ing drums I was in street gangs. Go­ing around in the early mod days, be­fore mods ex­isted, re­ally, caus­ing havoc, pulling cig­a­rette ma­chines off walls and God knows what.

Any­way, I went to see this band play in a pub called The Bri­tish Prince in Step­ney. I’d just turned thir­teen. I sat in front of the drum­mer, whose name was Roy. Af­ter­wards he said: “Why are you watch­ing me?” I said: “I’m learn­ing to play, and I want to pick up some tips.” One week I went in there and he an­nounced from the stage: “We’ve got a guest drum­mer who’s go­ing to get up and play.” I thought: “Great, some­one else to watch.” And he said: “His name is Ken­ney Jones.” And I went: “Fuck.” I’d never played with any­one be­fore. So

I sat be­hind the drum kit, and these other guys, who were still stand­ing up, looked like giants. Then the gui­tarist looked at me, went: “One, two, three, four,” and I was play­ing, play­ing with some­one for the first time, and it was work­ing.

It was like the um­bil­i­cal chord had been cut – I was free and it was beau­ti­ful. I couldn’t stop shak­ing af­ter­wards. Then I met Ronnie Lane down the pub and formed a band called The Out­casts.

In 1960/61, as a twelve-year-old, you adopted and helped shape an ‘East End via Soho’ look and lifestyle that’s gen­er­ally de­fined as ‘mod’. Why did clothes and pre­sent­ing a sharp im­age sud­denly be­come so im­por­tant?

It was a bit of ev­ery­thing. Steve [Mar­riott], Ronnie [Lane] and my­self were war ba­bies. We used to play on the bomb ru­ins, sting­ing net­tles com­ing through the bricks ev­ery­where. Ba­si­cally it was foggy Lon­don town, ev­ery­thing was grey/black, and every­one wore grey/black. All the old ladies in the pie and mash shops looked like nuns. It was pretty de­press­ing see­ing ev­ery­body in a drab light. So the minute you saw colour, you had to have it. You want more colour. So that’s how we started to ex­per­i­ment and wear dif­fer­ent things – pink trousers, the lot.

Who was ul­ti­mately bet­ter for your ca­reer, Don Ar­den or An­drew Old­ham? Ian McLa­gan once told me that the Small Faces “had two re­ally great man­agers, it was just un­for­tu­nate that the money was a lit­tle hard to find”.

It’s still un­for­tu­nate. To this fuck­ing day. Both of them were re­ally use­ful in their own way.

They were a nec­es­sary evil. There’s a mu­si­cal go­ing around right now por­tray­ing us as lit­tle

‘yes’ men with re­gards to Don Ar­den, which we weren’t. We were hor­ri­ble lit­tle brats to

Don Ar­den. We caused him so much havoc, but we ac­cepted him like a fa­ther fig­ure, in a sense, be­cause we trusted him. Our minds, en­er­gies and our out­go­ing per­sona wasn’t fo­cused on money or fame, it was fo­cused on just do­ing what we did to­gether and the love of mu­sic. That’s all we cared about. He said: “I’ll look af­ter your money, boys.” And he cer­tainly did. So we’d like some of it back now, please. He was like a big teddy bear, and he also be­lieved in the band it­self. And he broke the band, un­ques­tion­ably.

An­drew Old­ham was the sec­ond phase of the Small Faces. By then we were bet­ter mu­si­cians, more cre­ative, wrote bet­ter songs, and his en­cour­age­ment was ter­rific. I don’t think ei­ther of them in­tended to screw us, they spent a lot of money them­selves, so had no money to give us.

It seems odd, with the Small Faces painted as the hard-liv­ing mod ex­em­plars, that at one point in the six­ties Steve Mar­riott an­nounced:

“The Small Faces were hor­ri­ble lit­tle brats to Don Ar­den, we caused him so much havoc.”

“I’ve ar­ranged for us to have a rid­ing les­son.” It turned out to be a piv­otal mo­ment.

That was re­ally early on, be­fore we had any hits. It was a hot sunny day, and he said: “It’s too hot to re­hearse. I’ve fixed us up with a rid­ing les­son at High Beech in Ep­ping For­est.” I thought: “Great, I’ve never been on a horse.” So we got on these horses. They fell off, but I took to it like a duck to wa­ter. Loved it, went back ev­ery day un­til I bought a horse when we had our first hit record. As soon as Whatcha Gonna Do About It? earned us some money, I saved up to buy a horse. Over the years, I’ve had two hob­bies: drumming – which I don’t think of as my ca­reer – and rid­ing. One I earned money from, the other was my psy­chi­a­try.

Was Steve as ir­re­press­ible as he seemed, or did he have a dark, melan­cholic side?

It was like liv­ing with a fire­cracker. He was al­ways jolly, but if he got sad he re­ally got sad. He lit­er­ally was the lit­tle Art­ful Dodger he por­trayed, and turned us into the same thing. Four lit­tle Art­ful Dodgers run­ning around, caus­ing havoc.

Steve seemed obsessed with los­ing the Small Faces’ ‘pop’ tag. Was his crav­ing for se­ri­ous rock cred­i­bil­ity the rea­son he ul­ti­mately split? It wasn’t just Steve, it was all of us. We were fed up with be­ing la­belled as a pop band. We wanted to be recog­nised along­side Jeff Beck and Eric Clap­ton – we could play like them, we hung around with them, yet we were still ‘pop’. Then when we were away in Ger­many we got Melody Maker, opened it, and even though we were away we were hav­ing a hit record with Lazy Sun­day. We only did that record for a laugh, then put it to one side to get on with the se­ri­ous stuff. So that was an­other nail in our cof­fin. An­drew Old­ham put it out with­out ask­ing or telling us.

That was the seed that grew to a crescendo at Alexandra Palace when Steve walked off half­way through the show. I re­mem­ber be­ing back­stage af­ter­wards, all hav­ing a go at Steve, say­ing: “You can’t just walk off, leav­ing the three of us out there in limbo…” Peo­ple tell me I did a drum solo af­ter­wards, ap­par­ently.

If you’d known that Rod Ste­wart had al­ready got him­self a solo deal with Mercury, would you have got him in as the Faces’ vo­cal­ist?

It’s a ques­tion I of­ten ask my­self, and I don’t know. I like to think we would have still done the deal, be­cause it was a good deal. Warner Broth­ers and Mercury worked out a deal where Rod could make four al­bums with us for Warn­ers as long as we gave Mercury a live Faces al­bum, so we gave them Over­ture And Begin­ners. What we didn’t re­alise was his solo stuff would be hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously, so we’d come out with a sin­gle around the same time Mag­gie May would come out.

And he didn’t just do well with his solo ca­reer, he did amaz­ingly well.

And you’ve got to re­mem­ber that the Faces broke Rod. The record com­pany were tak­ing ad­van­tage of the Faces, push­ing Rod while cash­ing in on our fame. We were launch­ing Rod as well as our­selves.

Ian McLa­gan wasn’t en­tirely happy when Rod was asked to join the re­main­ing Small Faces along with Ronnie Wood. Do you reckon he might have had his heart set on shar­ing lead vo­cals with Ronnie Lane and not bring­ing in a new singer at all?

I think there’s some truth in that, yeah. When I asked Rod to join the band, I had to sit up most of the night try­ing to con­vince them that Rod was the dif­fer­ence be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure. And luck­ily I won. They didn’t want an­other prima donna like Steve Mar­riott.

Rod’s cou­ple of beers to take the edge off his shy­ness soon es­ca­lated, and the Faces gained a rep­u­ta­tion as the world’s lead­ing party band, even set­ting up party rooms in ho­tels so the mad­ness need never stop. Do you ever wish there’d been more so­bri­ety? Not re­ally. It wouldn’t have been the same. The good thing was that be­cause we were still fairly young we were at the right age to take it. I couldn’t do it now. The Small Faces was the most cre­ative band I’ve ever been in, the Faces the most par­ty­ing and funlov­ing, and The Who the most ex­cit­ing by the sheer na­ture of the power of the mu­sic, but I’ve al­ways had a hell of a lot of fun. I mean, when I first joined The Who, fuck­ing hell, it was nuts.

“At my first show with The Who, I looked out at the au­di­ence and went:

‘F**k! Blokes!’ I was used to see­ing women.”

You were fac­ing a very dif­fer­ent au­di­ence. Fuck­ing right. It was a nasty shock. At my first show with The Who, at The Rain­bow [in Lon­don], I looked out at the au­di­ence and went: “Fuck! Blokes!” I was used to see­ing women. Ronnie Wood is philo­soph­i­cal about the fact he didn’t get a song­writ­ing credit for the Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll. How do you feel about it?

The same as Woody. It ba­si­cally doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause we’re all mates and that’s fine. I didn’t in­tend to play on it ei­ther. Me and Jag­ger were just fuck­ing around on a riff at Ronnie Wood’s stu­dio. It was two o’clock in the morn­ing, and Jag­ger said: “Just play that bit again.” I said: “Fuck off, it’s too late. Any­way, it’s only rock’n’roll.” And he went: “But I like it.” And the penny dropped. I could see the pound signs in his eye­balls.

It’s hap­pened to me a few times. One night, af­ter record­ing with Andy Fair­weather Low, we went to Tramps [night­club] and got back late. It’s three in the morn­ing, brandy and coke, and Andy asked: “How you feel­ing?” And I said: “A bit wide-eyed and leg­less at the mo­ment.” Pound signs again. Same with Itchy­coo Park, but there you go.

When was the writ­ing on the wall for the Faces: when Ronnie Lane left, when Ronnie Wood toured with the Stones or when Rod quit?

I’d say it was Ronnie Wood. Woody called and said: “Mick Tay­lor’s left the Stones and Jag­ger’s asked if I’ll help out on tour while they look for a new gui­tarist.” And we said: “Yeah, no prob­lem. Have a great time, but keep your­self to­gether be­cause our tour starts in Miami the week af­ter.”

So we met in Miami, and when Woody ar­rived, Rod and I looked at each other and went: “He’s come back a Rolling Stone.” He was a bit more flam­boy­ant, but you’d ex­pect him to be like that. It’s hard to come down af­ter a tour af­ter you’ve been away for eight weeks. So we went into re­hearsals and that was that. Rod and I had a chat af­ter, and we knew the writ­ing was on the wall.

Was agree­ing to re­place Keith Moon in The Who a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion?

I turned it down in the first place. Any­way, I was per­suaded to go over to War­dour Street to meet Pete [Town­shend], and we talked for about two hours, just hav­ing a laugh talk­ing about the good times we had in the early days. Then Pete came straight out with: “You’ve gotta join the band. You’re one of us, you’re a mod.”

Then all the dodgy press slowly started to hap­pen: “It’s not like Keith, is it?” Of course not. How could I ever be like Keith? No one could be like Keith. I said from the start, I’m just go­ing to play me. I started to master it. As I got more com­fort­able, I’d put my Keith Moon hat on, de­lib­er­ately play all over the place. I’m a sim­ple drum­mer with a fairly sim­ple tech­nique, but I’d busy it up a bit.

You de­feated can­cer twice. On both oc­ca­sions you were di­ag­nosed by chance, and you’ve since been com­mit­ted to rais­ing aware­ness of the im­por­tance of early di­ag­no­sis. Yeah. When I had the tu­mour in my neck it fright­ened the life out of me be­cause, I was young and thought that was it. The sec­ond time, it didn’t re­ally scare me. I just knew I had to deal with it. I’m pleased I’ve been able to raise aware­ness, be­cause I couldn’t just sit by and do noth­ing.

Would you rec­om­mend a ca­reer in mu­sic to the com­ing gen­er­a­tions of Jone­ses?

They’ve all tried it! When we started, the mu­sic busi­ness was small: there was only the Stones, Bea­tles, Yard­birds, Zoot Money, Ge­orgie Fame. That’s how small it was, so there wasn’t a great deal of com­pe­ti­tion. Now every­one wants the fame and for­tune with­out go­ing out and earn­ing it. You’ve got to love your in­stru­ment – money mustn’t come into it. You’ve got to do it be­cause it pleases you, and if it pleases oth­ers af­ter­wards that’s a bonus. Right now it’s the other way around.

When do you think you were at your most con­tented mu­si­cally?

I have bad days when I’ve been con­tent. One day you play great, the next day you don’t.

It’s part of be­ing a mu­si­cian. You play your emo­tions, and if your emo­tions are up, you play up; if your emo­tions are down, you play down. Some­one once said to me: “It must be great be­ing a drum­mer, be­cause you can take all your anger out on your drum kit.” But when I’m an­gry I don’t go any­where near my drum kit. I don’t take my tem­per out on my drum kit, I play it and it pleases me. That’s the dif­fer­ence.

Polo: not only the sport of kings, but also the sport of drum­mers. I ex­pect Ginger Baker’s fear­some in a chukka?

When you’re hooked on polo, you’re hooked. When you hit the sweet spot on the ball, you hear the right sound and you’re hooked. It’s quite skil­ful, like rugby on horse­back. Ginger’s rude, charis­matic, hooked and can’t stop, so we un­der­stand one other. Ste­wart Copeland plays polo, and Mike Ruther­ford – we had a rock’n’roll team. Peo­ple say it looks easy. Well you fuck­ing get up and try it.

Your story con­tin­ues, but you’ve lost some good friends along the way.

I think about Ronnie and Steve ev­ery day, re­ally. They’re al­ways with me. It’s like they’re there, but they’re not there. It’s very sad, es­pe­cially Mac [Ian McLa­gan]. My daugh­ter had just given birth to my first lit­tle grand­child and I was on my way to the hos­pi­tal when I got the call from Mac’s son. Fuck. I was up, look­ing for­ward to see­ing my first grand­son, and one of my bud­dies was just… gone. So it was strange. I drove to the hos­pi­tal, and as I was pick­ing my grand­son up I re­alised he was born at the same time that Mac died.

“I didn’t in­tend to play on It’s Only Rock’N’Roll. Me and Jag­ger were just f**king around on a riff.” On play­ing with the Stones

Where do you think your life might have taken you if you’d never picked up the sticks? I’d own a nice lit­tle green­gro­cer’s shop down Ca­ble Street.

The Small Faces in 1965: (l-r) Ronnie Lane, Steve Mar­riott, Jimmy Win­ston

(front), Ken­ney Jones. Rod’s mods: Ste­wart (left)

with the Faces in 1974.

All or noth­ing: Jones with the Faces in 1970.

Who are ya? Jones with

The Who, circa 1982.

A brick in the rock’n’roll wall: “I’m a sim­ple drum­mer with a fairly sim­ple tech­nique.”

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