Ian McLagan of Small Faces and the Faces Dead at 69

Ian McLagan
Jim Chapin

Ian McLagan, the electrifying pianist and songwriter of Small Faces and the Faces who became a rock 'n' roll journeyman with stints backing Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones and others, died Dec. 3 in Austin, Texas, due to complications from a stroke suffered a day earlier. He was 69.

A statement said he was surrounded by family and friends in his adopted hometown. "Ian's artistry, generosity and warmth of spirit touched countless other musicians and music fans around the world.  His loss will be felt by so many."

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An active musician, in 2014 McLagan and his Bump Band released the album United States, he recorded with the Empty Hearts featuring Eliot Easton of the Cars and Clem Burke of Blondie and was about to tour with Nick Lowe on his Quality Holiday Revue.

Lowe was in Minneapolis where the tour started Dec. 3 and in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio's the Current he said "As we all know, he was a fellow who loved life, and there's no question of us not carrying on with the tour."

The outpouring of respect for McLagan could be felt on Twitter as musicians, among them Joe Walsh, Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams, shared their respect and admiration for him.

"What a joyous player," wrote Benmont Tench, keyboardist of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. "King of the Wurlitzer, giant of the Hammond & the rock & roll piano. Terrific memoirist. Damn damn damn."

Billy Bragg, who hired McLagan for records and tours in the late '90s and early 2000s, wrote "I have a lost a dear friend and British rock has lost one of it's greatest players."

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Burke issued a statement on behalf of the Empty Hearts. "We will remain forever grateful to him for lending his legendary talent to our work and his enthusiastic support of our efforts -- but more so for his legacy as the exemplary man and musician he was. Our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones. Today, our hearts are empty."

A native of Middlesex, England, he learned the piano as a child and became enthralled with the organ at the age of 13 after hearing Booker T. & the MG's. He made his first recording, a single, in 1965 as a member of the Muleskinners before joining Small Faces playing organ and electric keyboards behind singer-guitarist Steve Marriott and bassist-singer Ronnie Lane. He saw them as a soul band, though its influence was keenly felt among psychedelic acts that followed them.

Marriott left in 1969 with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood taking his place and the unit of McLagan, Stewart, Lane, Wood and Kenney Jones became known for their heavy drinking; the band made a habit of sounding like an act that could implode at any minute. "We were a fine drinking band," Stewart says in the Rhino box set Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, "and most of our best work was done in the pub."

McLagan co-wrote "Cindy Incidentally" and "You're So Rude," but his defining moment came on their 1971 track "Stay With Me," as hard-charging a record as the Faces ever made and the one closest to their high-energy live style.

When the Faces split up, McLagan stayed with Stewart, playing on his first five albums, including his legendary Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment. He also continued to record with Wood and Lane on their solo projects.

McLagan joined the Rolling Stones to record "Some Girls" in 1978 and toured with them as well. Highlights among the multiple recordings he appears on include Chuck Berry's "London Sessions," Carly Simon's "Spy," Bonnie Raitt's "Green Light" and Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town"; he toured with Bob Dylan in 1984.

McLagan formed his first edition of the Bump Band in 1979, recording "Troublemaker" for Mercury; Yep Roc rereleased the seventh Bump Band album, "United Staes," in June.

After moving to Austin 20 years ago, McLagan worked extensively with Americana acts, among them James McMurtry, the LeRoi Brothers, Robert Earl Keen and Patty Griffin.

The Faces and Small Faces were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, a double induction that did not sit well with McLagan. "It was nice to be thought of, but damnit, it's too little, way too late," he told the Austin Chronicle. "If that sounds like I'm ungrateful, then so be it."


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