In what is proving to be a sad day for Rolling Stones sidemen, Paste is reporting the death of Ian McLagan, a keyboardist whose whirling electric piano and moody organ held together bluesy, boozy songs by Small Faces and its latter incarnation as Faces, as well as those of countless other rock giants. According to Paste’s report, McLagan suffered a stroke and died today at a hospital in his adopted home of Austin, Texas.
McLagan began playing around England with various rock groups in the 1960s,a and he was eventually sought out by the Small Faces as a replacement for ousted keyboardist Jimmy Winston. Within that group, McLagan soon adopted a familiar persona as “the quiet one,” the glue of the band ensconced behind his tiers of keys, holding down the group’s strutting R&B with genuine virtuosic flair. He made his recording debut with Small Faces on the hit 1966 single “Sha-La-La-La-Lee,” his cascading Hammond organ solo lending to the pop ditty’s psychedelic airs.
Unfortunately, Small Faces didn’t love “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” as much as the rest of the world did—and in particular the teenyboppers who gravitated toward it and to them. The band’s desire to be taken seriously in the face of screaming girls would weigh heavily on it over its brief life—in particular on vocalist Steve Marriott—as would the fact that its manager was withholding money (famously keeping each member on a stipend of £20 a week), run-ins with drugs (including McLagan’s hash bust that kept the band from touring America), and clashes with its label, Decca. Small Faces managed to crank out two more albums and its best-remembered song, “Itchycoo Park,” for the smaller label Immediate, before Marriott quit, frustrated with the divide between his experimental ambitions and the band’s pop image.
After the Small Faces split, McLagan, bassist Ronnie Lane, and drummer Kenney Jones joined forces with guitarist Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart—both late of The Jeff Beck Group—and became Faces. While the name was similar, the sound was different, thanks to the strut-and-sleaze Wood and Stewart brought with them. That difference could be heard on the group’s breakthrough “Stay With Me” from its third album, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse. As Stewart purrs his gravelly plea, it’s McLagan’s vamping, rollicking electric piano that hints at the good bad times Stewart has in mind.
As the Faces split after their next album, 1974’s Ooh La La, McLagan lent his grounding presence to a number of other acts—most notably joining Wood as a sideman for the Stones, playing both on tour and on record. It’s McLagan’s electric piano that can be heard burbling under the band’s “Miss You.”
Over the years, McLagan could be seen and heard playing alongside other music greats like Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg, Nick Lowe, and Frank Black. For many years, he also wrote, toured, and recorded with Billy Bragg. Beginning in 1977, McLagan formed his own Bump Band, which kept up a regular weekly gig in Austin, and toured constantly. He was even due to play tonight at Minneapolis’ First Ave. In 2000, he published an autobiography, All The Rage: A Riotous Romp Through Rock & Roll History, which recounted the on-stage and backstage goings-on of scores of rock’s biggest names, as only “the quiet one” could have witnessed.
Both the Small Faces and the Faces reunited several times, with McLagan being one of the few constants of their various permutations. In 2013, following the induction of both bands into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, it was announced that a full-on Faces reunion with Rod Stewart singing was being planned for this year—something McLagan was very much looking forward to. “I hope and pray nothing happens between now and then, because it would be great,” McLagan said last year. Sadly, something did.