Small Faces & The Who Drummer Kenney Jones on New Music With Rod Stewart & Ron Wood

Frank Mastropolo
Kenney JonesPhoto byStephen Daniels

Drummer Kenney Jones has been a member of three of the most beloved rock bands. He weaves stories of the groups and his life in his 2018 autobiography Let the Good Times Roll: My Life in Small Faces, Faces, and The Who

Jones formed Small Faces in 1965 with singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane and keyboardist Jimmy Winston, who was soon replaced by Ian McLagan. Although successful in the UK, “Itchycoo Park” was the band’s only Top 40 hit in the US, reaching number 16 on the Billboard chart in 1968.

Small Faces’ final studio effort was a concept album,1968’s Ogdens’ Nut-Gone Flake, with its unforgettable round cover.

By 1969, Small Faces regrouped as Faces after Marriott left to join Humble Pie. The remaining members were joined by singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood when the pair left the Jeff Beck Group. Faces’ biggest hit was 1971’s “Stay With Me.”

“We made albums that were alright, with some great tracks on them,” writes Jones. “The albums could have been a lot better though if Rod hadn’t pocketed a lot of good songs that we could have had. When I heard his solo material I often thought, hang on Rod, that should have been ours.”

Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of Small Faces and Faces.

Jones was asked to join The Who in November 1978 after the death of Keith Moon that September. Jones played on The Who’s albums Face Dances and It’s Hard and Pete Townshend’s solo album Empty Glass. Jones toured with The Who from 1979 to 1982.

Jones currently performs with the Jones Gang: vocalists Mark Read, formerly of Bad Company, and Robert Hart; guitarist Johnson Jay; and bassist Pat Davey. In concert, they perform tracks from their former bands as well as original songs.

“We had a number one record in America called ‘Angel,’ which was great,” says Jones. “So they’re gonna hear ‘Angel’ and a couple of Jones Gang tracks from our album Any Day Now.”

Jones reunited with The Who in June 2014 for the Rock ’n’ Horsepower concert to benefit prostate cancer held at his Hurtwood Polo Club. Sharing the bill with The Who was Procol Harum, Mike Rutherford and Jeff Beck.

We spoke with Jones days after Jeff Beck died on January 10, 2023 after contracting bacterial meningitis.

“Our paths have crossed over the past 60-odd years,” says Jones. “In 2014 we did a charity gig to raise money for prostate cancer at my polo club. We rehearsed a bit together. He bent over and split his trousers in rehearsal and we gaffered him up with tape.

“He’s definitely the ultimate guitarist. No one could take his place. I don’t know if anyone can take his place.”

Rock Cellar: You’ve talked about recording tracks for a Faces reunion album with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. What’s happening with that?

Kenney Jones: Well, that’s still going ahead. We’re slowly working on stuff. We’ll also be coming out with a load of back catalog stuff. But that’s all in the making at the moment.

Rock Cellar: Tell me about the writing and recording process.

Kenney Jones: At the moment Ronnie Wood and I have been working together, just guitar and drums. And then Ronnie comes in and puts the bass on. ’Cause Ronnie’s a great bass player as well.

We’re doing that sort of thing. And re-recording some of the old tracks. And one of them is “I Can Feel the Fire,” which was on Ronnie’s album I’ve Got My Own Album to Do.

"I Can Feel the Fire" by Ron Wood

Rock Cellar: Who wrote the new songs?

Kenney Jones: At the moment we’re in the process, it’s a bit too early to say. At the moment Rod’s done some lyrics on some.

Rock Cellar: How has working with Ronnie changed since the old days?

Kenney Jones: Nothing’s changed, really. We’re used to working with each other, so it’s not a problem. We just lock in, you know?

"Itchykoo Park" by Small Faces

Rock Cellar: “Itchycoo Park” is the best-known Small Faces song in the US but you’ve said it’s not representative of the band’s music. How so?

Kenney Jones: Because basically “Itchycoo Park” was a song that was never meant to be a single. It was meant to be just another track. We didn’t realize when we done it… you see, [Immediate Records head] Andrew Oldham put it out without telling any of us.

"It's Only Rock 'n Roll" by the Rolling Stones

Rock Cellar: You played a part in the Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” at Ronnie Wood’s home studio. How did that happen?

Kenney Jones: We all lived around Richmond Park in Richmond. As soon as I put one leg into bed the phone would go. See, the worst thing I did, I gave Ronnie a drum kit to put in his studio, which was the worst thing I could do.

He said, Kenney, we haven’t got a drummer. I said OK, Ronnie, I’ll be right over. One night Eric Clapton would be there, the next night Bob Dylan would be there. All these calls.

This night I went over and me and Jagger were just in the studio, havin’ a little blow. That’s how “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” came about. We were jammin’ around this riff and Jagger just said to me, Oh, play it like that. I mean, it’s like four o’clock in the morning. I said, I’ll play it like this anyway, it’s only rock and roll. He said, Yeah, but I like it. And the rest is history.

Rock Cellar: Replacing Keith Moon in The Who was a big step. How did you deal with maintaining your own drumming identity on songs with well-known riffs by Keith?

Kenney Jones: What I did, when I joined the band, I said no, I couldn’t do it. I was already forming a band, sort of half-American, half-English. Pete Townshend and I got together with Bil Curbishley, our manager. We started talking about the old times and Pete said, You gotta join the band, you gotta join the band. You’re one of us.

So I said look, my band’s in town tonight, I’ll go there and just tell them Pete asked me to join and see what they say. And he said OK.

I said if I join, I’m not going to copy Keith Moon. I can only play me, and I’m not going to stop playing me. Me is what I do and that’s it.

And he said yeah, no problem. I went back and told the band because all the Americans were in town. They’re half the band. I said look, I’ve been asked to join The Who. They said Kenney, you’ve got to do it. They were so gracious about it. So, I did.

Rock Cellar: You’ve written that Rod Stewart and Pete Townshend both pocketed their best songs for their solo albums. How did the band members react? I can’t believe Roger Daltrey could have been too happy about it.

"Rough Boys" by Pete Townshend

Kenney Jones: [Laughs] No, Daltrey would go along with it. He didn’t say anything. I said to Pete, on the album Empty Glass, there’s a track called “Rough Boys.” When I heard “Rough Boys,” I said to Pete, this is a Who song, in my opinion, Pete. And he said, no, it’s not a Who song. I said, yes it is. It’s gotta be for The Who.

Basically, I think Pete deep down knew it was a Who song. He said, no, I’m sorry, it’s not a Who song.

Rock Cellar: What about Rod?

Kenney Jones: We were all drunk at the time. There were only a few moments when we were sober. Rod didn’t bring any songs in to us to do. We had to work on riffs in the studio. Eventually we came up with some good songs.

Rock Cellar: You did a lot of session work outside of the bands. What were some of your favorite sessions and artists?

Kenney Jones: Wings, Rockestra. We all played for a charity for Kampuchea. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis. Art Garfunkel.

Rock Cellar: You go way back with Paul McCartney. How was it to work with him?

Kenney Jones: He just makes you feel welcome. I’ve known him for years, he’s a really nice guy, easy to work with and basically the songs are already there and it just comes naturally.

Rock Cellar: Let’s do a Lightning Round. If they needed a drummer, what’s another band that you would have been happy to join.

Kenney Jones: Elvis Presley’s.

"(If You Think You're) Groovy" by P. P. Arnold

Rock Cellar: A song of yours that never got the recognition it should have.

Kenney Jones: It’s a track I played on, “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” by P. P. Arnold.

Rock Cellar: The type of music that gives you a headache to listen to.

Kenney Jones: Actually, punk. To be honest, I don’t like to say I don’t like music because I do, I like all music. I don’t hate music. Some of it is good but most of it just gives me a headache. But the thing is, I love the excitement it created.

This story appeared in Rock Cellar February 9, 2023

Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock, selected by Best Classic Bands as two of the Best Music Books of 2021 and 2022.

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Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make New York Rock, selected by Best Classic Bands as two of the Best Music Books of 2021 and 2022. He is also the author of the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 writer and producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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