Here are three things I would not have normally associated with drummer Kenney Jones:
the banjo, polo, or his donning an apron as a greengrocer. The trick here is knowing exactly how these things fit into what would become a far reaching career playing the drums for some iconic bands stretching from the 1960s to his last shows with The Who in 1988. He actually turned down the drum slot in The Who until Pete Townshend played the right card: “You’ve gotta join the band. You’re one of us, you’re a Mod.” Joining The Who seemed to be an impossible task. How does one replace Keith Moon’s frenetic drumming style and over the top personality? Jones told Classic Rock Magazine that when he joined, the press began the relentless “It’s not like Keith” nonsense so he resolved that “No one could be like Keith, I’m just going to play me.” The fall 2018 release of his autobiography Let the Good Times Roll: My Life in Small Faces, Faces, and The Who, almost assures that I will soon be reading another book about a drummer so this seemed a prudent time to take a look back his life and career.
Kenney Jones was born in 1948, two months apart from future pal Prince Charles. He grew up in post War II London: “We used to play on the bomb ruins, stinging nettles coming through the bricks everywhere.” Jones credits this environment for setting off the Mod period of wildly colorful clothing that he was very much into as one of the original ‘Mods’: “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 very 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.” Prior to joining the colorful Mod crowd, he was more of a street punk and music was the thing that pulled him back from being just another aimless gang member.
Jones and a buddy caught skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan on TV so they resolved to start their own group. Kenney was entranced by the banjo, but the one he had spied in a pawn shop window was sold before he could get his hands on it. Undaunted, he borrowed a couple of drums and before he knew if he could do a proper job with a full set, he nicked the down payment from his mother and had a set delivered. The guy making the delivery showed him a couple of things to do on the kit. As Jones remembered it, “He gave me the brushes, showed me how to hold them and said ‘Now you have a go’. 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.” One can only wonder how this tale would have unfolded had the banjo still been hanging in the pawn shop window.
Like many aspiring drummers, Jones got hooked on the drums, learning to play by practicing every day and going out to see other drummers at work. Meeting a drummer named Roy at a club in Stepney called The British Prince gave him one of his epiphanies.. Roy asked why he was watching him and Jones replied, “I am learning to play, and I want to pick up some tips.” He was startled some weeks later when Roy announced to the club, “We’ve got a guest drummer who’s going to get up and play . . . his name is Kenney Jones.” Somewhat aghast, Jones parked himself behind the kit: “. . . these other guys were still standing up and they looked like giants. 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 (sic) had been cut – it 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.” With the addition of guitarist/vocalist Steve Marriott, they eventually became one of the biggest English bands of the early 1960s, The Small Faces.
Besides making Jones a household name in a pop-sensational band, Marriot can also be credited with introducing Kenney to his life as a horseman. Marriott decided the band needed a day off from their relentless rehearsing so he booked them some time at High Beech (Riding Club) in Epping Forest. Jones took to riding as naturally as he had to drumming and as soon as they earned enough from their first hit (Whatcha Gonna Do About It?) he bought his own horse. Today, he says he has two hobbies: “Drumming – which I don’t think of as my career – and riding. One I earned money from, the other was my psychiatry.” The riding lead him to polo and a personal relationship with not only Prince Charles, but other polo playing musicians like Cream’s drummer Ginger Baker (“Ginger’s rude, charismatic, hooked and can’t stop, so we understand one other.”), Police drummer Stewart Copeland, and and Mike Rutherford, guitarist for Genesis.
While Marriott’s work ethic was legendary, he also had a darker side which lead to bouts of melancholy, some spurred by his distaste for being cast as a member of a ‘pop band’ (a feeling the whole band shared, according to Jones). Things built up until something happened during a jam on stage featuring Alexis Corner at the Alexandra Palace that caused Marriott to walk off stage in the middle of the show. Jones recalls playing a drum solo to cover and then telling Marriott backstage, “You can’t just walk off, leaving the three of us out there in limbo.” but by then whatever damage had been done couldn’t be fixed. Marriott called up Peter Frampton and drummer Jerry Shirley and pitched forming a band with them and Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley (Spoiler alert: I am at this juncture reading Shirley’s 2011 book The Best Seat in the House so I am not quite done with my ever continuing series about drummers). Once the legal details were ironed out, Marriott was now in the band that would let him shake off the ‘pop’ label he so detested. The Small Faces, however, weren’t quite ready to call it a day.
Enter Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Two of the remaining Small Faces (keyboardist Ian McLagan and bassist Ronnie Lane) were set to step up and take over the vocal spot vacated by Marriott so they were less than keen about the two new members of the band. As Jones recalled, “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.” An inter-label bargain was struck between Mercury and Warner Brothers. Rod Stewart could make four albums with the Faces (they dropped the ‘Small’ because neither Stewart or Woods were small in stature like the other three) as long as the band also put out a live album for Mercury. Eventually, Stewart’s solo work would take him one direction but when Ronnie Wood’s gig with The Rolling Stones (he subbed for them when Mick Taylor left the band) became permanent, Jones and Stewart knew it was time to move on.
Jones’ name may not show up in the writing credits, but he was involved in many musical moments that turned into rock staples. A night of clubbing after a recording session with Andy Fairweather Low found them back in the studio sipping brandy and coke at three A.M. Fairweather Low asked Jones how he was feeling: “A bit wide-eyed and legless at the moment” was Jones reply (which became the title of a hit record for Fairweather Low in 1975). Jamming with Mick Jagger at Ronnie Wood’s studio at yet another early morning session lead Jagger to ask Jones to repeat a bit over again leading to another inspiring bit of dialog: Jones: “It’s too late. Anyway, it’s only rock’n’roll” prompting Mick to chime in with, “But I like it”. Jones recalled, “And the penny dropped. I could see the pound signs in his eyeballs.” Does Jones regret not getting credit for these unscripted rock’n’roll moments? As he told CRM: “It basically doesn’t matter because we’re all mates and that’s fine. I didn’t intend to play on it either. It has happened to me a few times.” What would he have done with himself if the music career hadn’t side tracked his life? “I’d own a nice little greengrocer’s shop down Cable Street.”
All of this brings us back to that other band that kept him at the forefront of rock after the end of the Faces. Jones found being in The Who to be a much different thing than being in the Small Faces and The Faces” “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: ‘Blokes!’ I was used to seeing women.” Then the music press started the inevitable comparisons to Keith Moon. One must give a lot of credit to Jones because the relentless scrutinizing of his playing in comparison to Moon the Loon would have been enough to shake the confidence of many a drummer. Kenney Jones never had problems in that regard and even in the heavy partying days of The Faces, he held his own socially as well as musically. Jones take on the heavy drinking Faces is spot on: “We were still fairly young, we were at the right age to take it. I could not do it now.”
Which band did he enjoy the most? “The Small Faces were the most creative band I’ve ever been in, the Faces the most partying and fun-loving, 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 . . . it was nuts.”
Having had his career guided by two huge names in music business management could have left a bitter taste in Jones’ mouth. Both Don Arden (“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”) and Andrew Oldham (“It was the second phase of the Small Faces. By then we were better musicians, more creative, wrote better songs, and his encouragement was terrific”) took a generous slice of the income pie. Jones is pragmatic about the arrangement: “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.” I am of the mind that Kenney Jones still made more in the music business than he would have in the greengrocer’s trade. There are few instances where I can see a greengrocer playing polo with His Royale Highness, the Prince of Wales!
Top Piece Video – Kenney Jones rehearsing Sister Disco with The Who in 1979