When you have been drummer for the Small Faces, The Faces and The Who – three of the greatest bands this country has ever produced – kept the beat behind Paul McCartney, Paul Rodgers, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis (and played on Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’), had number 1 singles on both sides of the Atlantic, beaten cancer twice and survived to tell the tale then it’s undoubtedly a tale worth telling.
Tootal Blog caught up with Kenney Jones ahead of the publication of his autobiography.
Was there much music in your home when you were growing up?
No. What we did have was a radio, the old sort that you had to tune in so the choice was whatever they were playing. My Dad’s favourite singer was Michael Holliday, who sang “Some day I’m going to write the story of my life…” That’s kind of appropriate, isn’t it? TV wise we had Edmundo Ross and his Orchestra, Sunday Night At The Palladium, Billy Cotton and his Band, all that kind of stuff.
So where did the urge to become a drummer stem from?
Without me realising it, drumming must have been in my blood. My uncle was a mace thrower, he couldn’t play any instrument whatsoever but he got the big pole, and the big hat with the feathers on it, and he was the one that lead the band round the east London processions and I used to follow them. They had a row of side-drummers at the front, and I was mesmerised by them. I used to rush back after the procession had finished, into my Dad’s shed – he was a bit of a part-time carpenter – and I used to empty all of the nails out of this round biscuit tin, turn it upside down, and play with two bits of wood. And it sounded like a snare drum, and it sounded like the band I’d just been listening to.
How do you get to practice drums when you’re growing up on a terraced street in Stepney?
In the front room of our house. Neighbours either side, neighbours opposite, but in those days every street was like a village, and we knew all the neighbours. Didn’t stop them saying, ‘Shut up, Kenney’… There were lots of young kids, the same age as me, growing up on our street, so all the mothers and fathers were friendly, so when my success happened within eighteen months, I reckon, they were so proud of me and it switched from ‘Shut up, Kenney’ to ‘Give us a tune, Kenney’. Though they might have just been pleased that I wasn’t playing the drums at home anymore; they all got a bit of peace and quiet when I left.
I’ve read that you only started playing drums because you missed out on buying a banjo.
Me and my mate were cleaning cars, for half a crown – a bit of pocket money on a Friday night. And he threw the sponge at me, just to get my attention, and he said, ‘I think we should form a skiffle group’. So, I threw the sponge back at him and said, ‘What’s a skiffle group?’ And he said a skiffle group is when you get a tea chest, and you get a broom handle stick it in one corner, tie a bit of string to the top and stick the end of it in the other corner, and that makes the sound of a bass. So, I said, ‘Yeah…’ Then he said, ‘You get your mum’s washboard and your nan’s thimbles, stick ‘em on your fingers, and you play with your fingers running them up and down the washboard.’ By this time I thought he was nuts but there was a TV programme, it might have been Six-Five Special, and Lonnie Donegan came on, singing the theme tune, and he did ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ after that, and I fell in love with him playing the banjo, I loved that sound.
I’d seen a banjo in the Pawn Shop next to Bethnal Green station, the three gold balls outside, and it had been there for months, so the next day I said to my mate, ‘Let’s go and get that’. So we went up there to buy it, no money in our pockets, just keen. But we got there and there’s no banjo – it had been there months. So, I said to the guy, ‘Where is it?’ And he said, ‘The guy’s paid for it; this is a Pawn Shop. He’s paid the money back, and it’s gone’. So, we left that shop, and I was kind of down a little bit, walking back home, and my mate said to me, ‘You’re really upset, aren’t you? A mate of mine’s got a drum kit, shall I get him to bring it round this afternoon?’
Sure enough he bought the drum kit round, and it turned out to be one bass drum, a floor tom-tom and two sticks, one of which was broken in half. We spent ages trying to glue this one stick back together but gave up on that and I started playing with one-and-a-half sticks, God knows what I sounded like. My Mum worked in a glass factory, just off Cable Street, and she’d walk home underneath the railway arches. We lived halfway down the road, and she saw that all the neighbours were out, and she wondered what the commotion was. And as she got closer and closer she realised it was coming from her house, she came in the door and started screaming at me, ‘What’s happening here, what’s all this?’
Then someone told me about a music shop in Green Lane, Manor Park, called J60. And in the shop was this one white drum kit, a cheap one called an Olympia. So the guy said, ‘It’s Sixty Four Pounds, Five Shillings and Tuppence. Have you got it on you then? And I said, no, I haven’t got it on me. So, he said, ‘How are you going to pay for it then?’ I said, ‘Well… I dunno.’ He said, ‘You’re going to have to put it on H.P. but your Mum and Dad are going to have to sign the forms.”
I didn’t know what H.P. was, I thought it was brown sauce. Then he said, ‘You also need a deposit, ten pounds, have you got that on you?’ ‘No’, I said, ‘I’ll get it though’. So I got back on the bus, went back to my house and no one was in, just my Mum’s purse on the mantelpiece. And I looked at it for ages and ages, and there was exactly ten pounds in there. So, back on the bus, gave the guy the deposit, and he said, ‘Right, what’s your address? I’ll deliver them tonight, about half past five’.
Now, when my Dad finished work, after about five o’clock, no one knocked on our door, so when this guy delivered the drums, bang, bang, bang on the knocker it was, ‘Who’s that?’ So, my Dad opened the door and this guy walked straight past him with a great big bass drum and said, ‘Where do you want this then?” By this time my Mum and Dad are giving me evil looks, ‘What have you got up to now?’ This guy said, ‘Right, I’ll just play something; can you play drums?’ I said, ‘No, I want to learn how to play, that’s why I’ve got them’. He said, ‘Look, I’ll show you something’, and he got brushes out instead of sticks. I’d never seen brushes before, so I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ He sat behind it and he played a Jazz shuffle with the brushes. Then I sat behind the drum kit. I looked at my Mum and Dad, and I looked at this guy and I looked at the brushes, I closed my eyes and I started playing… and I kept my eyes shut but I could hear the same sound as this bloke had been playing. And I opened my eyes and my Mum and Dad said we’ve never seen you smile so much, so they decided to sign the H.P. They didn’t know about the ten pounds at this point, that came out later, when I had to pay them back. More than ten quid; best investment they ever made.
Legend has it that the Small Faces had accounts with all the Carnaby Street clothes shops in the mid-Sixties.
In those days there were only about three shops down there; Lord John, John Stevens and Topper’s. Other ones came after that, they were always going in and out of business but there weren’t that many. We went on TV wearing outfits that we’d pulled together, then the shops made up what we were wearing and put them on sale. We put Carnaby Street on the map, that’s where our management offices were and where there’s a commemorative plaque now.
We didn’t know what ‘style’ was; we had to be on TV so we were like, ‘What can we wear?’ The white Levis, I got those – no one wanted to buy the white ones but I loved them; I used to roll them up so you could see my bright socks underneath. We’d go out to find a jacket to wear, ‘Yeah, that will go with that, wear that with the white Levis, Hush Puppies and stuff like that’. Topper’s was really good at the time, I got really friendly with the guy who owned it; I love shoes. I bought these multi-coloured basket weave shoes, all sorts of stuff.
For many years the Immediate Records (the Small Faces label) business affairs were in a mess and it seemed you were single handedly fighting to sort it out.
I still am, I’m not giving up. Whoever bought the label owes us the money, they’re all living in denial. We had our own publishing company, and the receiver should have declared that but didn’t, slipped it under the covers. The receiver went off to Spain and retired a wealthy man, and there we were struggling; Ronnie Lane died with no money in his pocket, Mac was very similar… We must have had ‘Mug’ or ‘Screw us’ tattooed on our foreheads.
One thing I did learn is there’s a thing called sleeping on your rights. As long as you keep asking and sending letters, and poking about, otherwise when it does come up a judge will say you’ve known about this all along, why didn’t you do anything about it? So, they can’t accuse us ever of sleeping on our rights because I keep on digging, and I can prove it.
Both the Small Faces and The Faces had a reputation for knowing how to enjoy themselves.
The Small Faces were never into drinking. More into smoking a bit of pot, and I was into the same thing as Mooney, we called them Blues. They were only to keep us awake, because Don Arden was booking us three gigs a day, one in Birmingham, one in Manchester and one in wherever, and you would find yourself falling asleep. In those days, gigs weren’t that long, you only had to play for about twenty minutes. You couldn’t play for longer anyway, because the screaming kids would drive you nuts; you couldn’t hear yourself at all. Amplifiers weren’t big or loud enough to drown out the sound of the girls.
We were drinking by the time of The Faces, quite a lot actually. Brandy and coke or brandy and ginger was our drink. When we got to America it was Lancers wine, and – I hate to say it – Liebfraumilch, which is awful. That’s all we could afford in those days, we used to buy some bottles and throw them out to the audience so they could have a drink with us… Then we discovered better drinks.
For the 1973 ‘live’ album Coast to Coast: Overtures & Beginners you were billed as Rod Stewart & The Faces. Did it concern you that you were seen as Rod’s backing band?
No, we didn’t realise it when we were signing to Warner Brothers – it only came out that day – that Rod had already signed a solo deal with Mercury Records, so he could have the money to buy a Marcos sports car. It just so happened, the boss at Warner Brothers, Joe Smith, and the boss at Mercury were great friends, so they worked out a deal where Rod could sing with us as the Faces, providing we gave Mercury one ‘live’ album, which was ‘Overtures & Beginners’, so that’s how that came out, no one was doing the dirty.
You had recorded with The Who as early as the Tommy soundtrack in 1975 but it still can’t have been easy to step into Keith Moon’s shoes when you joined The Who in 1979?
I was forming a band with Glyn Johns, a half American, half English transatlantic thing. A great sound, great songwriting, everyone was excited about it. We rented a house over there and we were going to rehearse and record there, when I got a call from (The Who manager) Bill Curbishley to say, ‘The Who have had a meeting, they want you to join the band and they’re not going to consider anyone else’. So I said, ‘I’m terribly sorry, Bill, but I can’t. I’m forming a band, we’re just about to sign with Atlantic Records and they’re giving us loads of money’. He said, ‘Well, Pete’s coming in the office this afternoon, come and have a word with Pete’. So we talked for about two hours, the three of us, laughing and joking about all the things we’d got up to when Pete just stopped in his tracks and said, ‘You’ve got to join the band, you’re one of us; you’re a Mod’. It kind of struck a chord…
Then it started to get serious. He said, ‘Look, in many ways Keith was holding us back a little because basically he played in his own way, and we were playing to it, but now we have a chance to do something completely different’. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll join but I’m not taking Keith Moon’s place. No one can copy Keith, I’m not even going to attempt it, he had a unique style. And not only that he was far more of a showman than I was… than anyone was. And I can’t imagine breaking up my drums, or anything like that’.
Polo doesn’t seem an obvious pastime for a drummer from east London. How did that come about?
I blame it on Steve Marriott. We were rehearsing in the East End, Jimmy Winston’s mum and dad has this pub, The Ruskin Arms, with a small ballroom at the back, and it was a hot summer’s day. Steve arrived and said it’s far too hot to rehearse, a friend of mine’s got a stable yard in Epping, so I’ve fixed us up riding horses, get out of the place for the day. So, we went, yeah, and I thought, I’ve never been on a horse, lovely, great. So, we got out there, got on these horses and had a good laugh, and I loved it. They fell off and I fell on. And I went back the next day, and the next, and the minute we had some money in our pocket I ended up buying a horse called Pedro, a Welsh stallion, and a saddle, and stuff like that, and that was the first thing I bought with my money.
Once I discovered Polo, I got hooked. I tried to learn to play at the Ham Polo Club in 1969, when (Cream drummer) Ginger Baker had just taken it up; he couldn’t ride at all. At least I could ride; every time I looked round Ginger was off his horse. He was wearing his suede jacket with all the tassels on the sleeve, running after his horse, polo stick in his hand; it made me laugh.
What are you going to do between now and the next volume of your autobiography?
When I was in my early thirties and I did interviews, people would say to me, so much has happened to you so quickly, you should write a book and I thought, yeah. So, I started but stopped almost straight away. I thought, this doesn’t feel right, I can’t write an autobiography; I’m not old enough. So I parked it until now, I had to live some life. It’s only when I got cancer for the second time that I thought I better sit down and do something about it. So here it is… and it’s nice that this book is coming out in my 70th year.
Let The Good Times Roll by Kenney Jones is out 31st May RRP £20 (Blink Publishing)