Let the Good Times Roll: My Life in Small Faces, Faces and The Who
By Kenney Jones
[Thomas Dunne Books]
“Even to this day I still can’t properly get to grips with how quickly it all happened,” writes Kenney Jones in his new autobiography Let the Good Times Roll. “At the age of 15 I was out of school, working in a pickling factory, a child. By 16 I was in a band with a hit record, an adult. I was earning as much as my dad. Not that I ever thought about money then. As long as I had a few quid in my pocket, that’s all that mattered.” And so began one of the more illustrative careers in rock ‘n’ roll. Born in Stepney in London’s East End, Jones was sort of a quiet bloke who managed to find musical success at a young age and helped found Small Faces and The Faces and replaced Keith Moon in The Who after Moon’s 1978 death.
Jones’ tale is familiar yet his warm approach brings a lucidity that helps his story blossom. Yes, he started out working class (or close to poor) and gained loads of success, but he never lost touch with his humble beginnings. Both his family and friends were dodgy. He was even related to criminals. “The Kray twins, the gangsters, were distant cousins on my Dad’s side,” Jones writes. “Everyone around me was a rouge.” Music entered his life and the drums saved it. “My mates were now becoming involved in gangs,” his story goes. “I know I would have been drawn into that world had it not been for the drums. It’s not too strong a statement to say they saved my life, or at the very least my liberty. No question.”
Eventually he met Ronnie Lane, Steve Marriott and Ian McLagan and formed a band. Diminutive in stature, the four lads shared their mod look as well as their musical chops. One night a posh bird called Annabelle had them over to her flat. Smoking and drinking, she sat up. “You know what?” she exclaimed, “you all have little faces, you’re all small, you should be the Small Faces!” And so musical history began with Jones keeping the beat for such a singular talented band…one that formed and created output quite quickly. Marriott still ranks as one of the best Blue Eyed Soul voices ever and McLagan’s organ was a nice (and – at the time – rare on the musical landscape) touch. Their songs caught on quickly and Small Faces soon hooked up with notorious London manager Don Arden. Yet as their star shot up, their earnings did not. When the members’ parents approached Arden about their missing wages, he told them their sons were all on drugs. When the Small Faces wanted to leave Arden’s Contemporary Records and go with Robert Stigwood (then successful with the Bee Gees), Arden and his heavies went to his office and “dangled Stigwood out of a window and threatened to let go unless he backed off,” writes Jones. “Funnily enough, it worked.”
Success was met with frustration both inside and outside the band. At the time most bands had to lip-sync on television, something Jones found to be disingenuous. When in the studio his solid drumming was met with caution. He was often told “That’s great what you’re doing there, Kenney, great. Only thing is, don’t play anything you can’t mime.” The Small Faces’ US success never really came. Their chance to hit big in America was thwarted by McLagan’s drug charge. “Mac had been busted for cannabis possession,” Jones writes, “and under US immigration law, such a conviction prohibited entry into the States. Our chance of conquering America went up in a puff of bluish smoke.”
When Jones was 20, Small Faces disbanded when Marriott and Peter Frampton formed Humble Pie. Jones, McLagan and Lane joined forces with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart and morphed into The Faces. Their international success, finally including America, was staggering. Jones was always crossing paths with musicians and friendships were created. He attended a session with Mick Jagger and Wood. “Mick had a riff he was working on,” recalls Jones, “and I started to play along. And then he got it into his head that we wanted something different,” recalls Jones. “He started insisting, but I told him to let it go. ‘Don’t worry Mick. It’s only rock ‘n roll.’” “But I like it,” he fired straight back. The song they created that day was soon a hit single, with Jones not knowing ahead of time the fate of their jam. “Next thing I knew, it was a Rolling Stones single. With me drumming. That’s nuts.”
Drummers often are followers and not leaders, but Jones had established himself in the London scene, and when The Who trajectory came to an end after Moon’s death, Pete Townshend called. “Look, you’ve got to join,” Townshend said. “We’ve come through the ranks together. You’re one of us.” Jones told him, “There is only one drummer for The Who and that’s Keith Moon.” With the blessing of Moon’s family and the rest of the band, Jones joined The Who, a band he’d first seen in 1964.
Let the Good Times Roll is an educational read, one that speaks to his love of the songs. “I was determined not just to be a drummer, keeping everything together in the background,” he writes. “I wanted the songs to come alive, to use all that I’d been learning during my session work to make Steve, Ronnie and Mac’s compositions even more meaningful, the lyrics more powerful. What made that possible was that the songs were so good. If you have an average song, one that’s not inspirational, you play averagely. For me, to play my best, I must love the song; I don’t necessarily need to understand it.”
In the end he’s just a kid from the East End. “I never imagined I could be a success at anything other than something decidedly dodgy,” he concludes. “Mind you, thinking about it now, perhaps that’s exactly what happened.”