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.
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.”