I was blown away by a Who concert as a 15-year-old, and for all the subsequent years, claimed that as my favorite live performance. Little has changed. That energy still remains, even more so perhaps, because it is more contained; the antics have become subdued. Their music is timeless; their performance is ageless.
After Keith Moon’s untimely death in 1978, it was natural that Kenney Jones would take over the Who’s drum seat. Aside from having worked with them in the past, Jones was one of the founding members of the Small Faces. The Small Faces that initially stirred London in the mid- ’60s was comprised of Ronnie Lane, Steve Marriott, lan McLagan and Jones. When Marriott left for Humble Pie, Ronnie Wood joined, shortly followed by Rod Stewart in 1969. During those years of Mods and Rockers, the Faces (as they became known) and the Who were the two most significant Mod bands. It came as no surprise to the public and the industry when Jones was invited to join the Who. To him, it almost seemed to be an extension of his past.
In 1980, Pete Townshend told the L.A. Times: “Keith was a unique drummer. Kenney’s style is slightly more formal and it has helped us to formalize our own sound and hold it down a bit. I enjoy performing very much at the moment because there’s less stress. We don’t need as much blood and-guts theatrics. We’re relying more on the music itself. I think it’s a bit purer.”
John Entwistle said, “Kenney was actually Keith’s choice when Keith was having health problems a few years ago. Kenney’s been playing with us for a long time in the studio, he’s a loud drummer like Keith, and my God, he’s made it a lot easier for me. With Keith, I never knew where he would go off on a tangent. Kenney is a more strict tempo drummer and we’II usually end up together on a riff. “
Kenney generously gave me his only L.A. day off, and being a sun fanatic, he requested the interview be conducted by the pool during the early afternoon. As the sun went down and he had openly shared his life story, complete with the ups and downs, triumphs and hardships, of the past twenty years, I became acutely aware of how the drums had changed his life. From a youngster who had grown up in the roughest of neighborhoods in England, a self-described “hooligan,” he has become a charming, warm, proud and gentle man. Sizes of drums, money earned and fame are of little consequence to him. It is the love of the instrument that has given him the passion and self respect that has enriched his life, thereby enriching ours.
RF: Let’s begin with the obvious. Why drums?
KJ: Because the store didn’t have any banjos. I was cleaning the car with a friend of mine for pocket money when I was about 12. We’d seen a skiffle group on TV the night before and we were talking about it very casually: “Why don’t we form a skiffle group?” “What’re you going to play?” He said, “I want to play the big double bass with the tea chest.” And I said, “I want to play banjo.” The reason I thought of banjo straight away was because, not only was the guy in the skiffle group using a banjo, but I’d seen a banjo in the window of a music shop and it looked fantastic. So I went to the shop and said, “Have you got any banjos?” They said, “No, we sold the last one today.” So I went back and began to think about it. My mate had bits of drums and he brought it around and I started banging on them. I really liked it, so I thought, “Alright. Drums.”
After that, I got on a bus and went to a shop. I got chatting with a guy there and he sat me down behind this drum kit. I just started knocking about with it and I really fell in love with it. I said, “How much is that?” And he said 64 pounds, 9 shillings and 9 pence, which at that time would have been $100, I think. So I said, “How much is the deposit?” And he said 10 pounds and said I needed my parents to sign the agreement. So I said, “No problem.” I was really one of those kids who was full of himself, walking the streets and beating up people and all that kind of thing. I was terrible. I’m from the east end of London and that’s all we knew. I went to the roughest school in the east end, which was on Cable Street. People who know London know that Cable Street was the roughest street in the east end and my school was right in the middle of it. You had to prove yourself by fighting someone every five minutes, so that made you aggressive. It was the early stages of Mods and Rockers, so it was all going around and looking for trouble, really. We got between 35 and 100 people walking the streets in gangs and anyone who got in our way, forget it.
RF: How did you get out of that kind of lifestyle?
KJ: Through the drums, really. This conversation while cleaning the car about banjos and drums, going to the shop and arranging to sign the papers got me out of it. At the shop, I said, “If you can deliver it to my house tonight, my parents will be there and you can get them to sign it straight away. No problem.” They told me they needed the deposit right then, so I got back on the bus and went home. My mother wasn’t in, but I saw her purse and all it had in it was 11 pounds, so I took 10. The reason I did it, I suppose, was that I was just thinking like a hooligan. So I got back on the bus, went back to the shop and gave them the 10 pounds. Then I went back home and sweated it out waiting for them to deliver the drums. I had a brief word with my mother when she asked who had taken the money out of her purse. I said, “Well, I borrowed it,” and told her what I had done. She had a go at me, severely, and then we both decided to keep it from my father. All of a sudden, it became 7:00 at night and the guy knocked on the door with the drums. My father answered the door and stood there with his mouth open. My father didn’t say a word while the guy brought the drums in and set them up. Then the guy sat down behind them and played a jazz beat with brushes on the snare drum and said, “Now you do it.” I knew it was make it or break it. If I couldn’t do that, then my father wouldn’t sign anything. So I sat there, put the brushes in my hand, took a deep breath and I did it straight away. I couldn’t believe it! I was so delighted. I started smiling and it was just amazing. I couldn’t stop. My parents saw that it was giving me a great deal of pleasure and I suppose they were thinking, “Oh anything to keep him off the street.” So they signed for it and that was it. I was the happiest kid in the east end. I used to wake up at 6:30 in the morning, play the drums for a couple of hours before I went to school and wake the whole street up. Then I would come home on my lunch break and play through the hour straight. Then I’d come home at 4:00 and play for as long as I could get away with, sometimes until 10:00 at night. I never stopped! For three months I kept that up.
I was fascinated by each drum and I didn’t even touch a tom-tom until three weeks later. All of a sudden I realized that there was another drum there. I hit it and it made a different noise, so I kept hitting it, one after another, snare, tom-tom, and realized the meaning of the different sounds. I went around the kit like that—hit the cymbal and realized that that had a sound too. I was self taught, entirely, no lessons whatsoever. And the only record I had was “12th Street Rag,” so I just kept putting “12th Street Rag” on. I don’t even know what was on the “B” side. I just kept playing to that. So I started out in jazz, really.
RF: Did you become compulsive about wanting to learn about the origins and players, etc.?
KJ: Well, I was really a green little boy. I didn’t know much about anything and I wanted to know more about what I had gotten myself into. I was really excited. I heard about this jazz group that was playing in a pub near me, so I went down there. I was 13, and you’re not allowed to go into a pub unless you’re 18, so I pretended I was 18. I sat right in front of the drummer, watching him. His name was Roy. I’ll never forget that and he had a great way of playing. I was fascinated watching him. I had gone there for three or four weeks when suddenly he got off the drums halfway through one night and said, “You’re watching me all the time. Do you play drums?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve been practicing and watching you.” So he went back to playing and then he said in the microphone, “We’ve got someone here, another drummer. We’re going to ask him to play for us.” And he pointed to me. The first time I ever played in front of anyone! The pub was jam packed. So I got up there, shaking like a leaf and one of the guys played a jazz beat and counted me in. Once I was in, that was it. I’ll never forget the feeling of playing with a team of people. As I got into it, I was watching everyone else and they were watching me, smiling at me. Getting that contact—that first closeness of minds—was incredible. Like even when Pete [Townshend] and I look at one another, we know what’s coming. That first time was just amazing. I really got into it. I just played a number and got off the kit and sat down shaking, but I was so pleased. The funny thing was that the bartender came up to me afterwards and said, “My brother is learning to play guitar and he wants to put a band together.” That was Ronnie Lane’s brother. The next week, I waited in the pub and all of a sudden Ronnie Lane walks in. He was 17 and I lied and said I was 15 and leaving school, because I desperately wanted to get a band together and didn’t want anything to get in the way of it. So we got chatting and got along great. Then we got involved with these other two characters and formed a band called the Outcasts. We played in pubs and ended up playing in that same pub.
RF: What kind of music were you playing?
KJ: Things like Duane Eddy stuff, early Shadows’ stuff, a bit of the Beatles, and a lot of Chuck Berry. Ronnie was playing rhythm guitar then and he was very good at Chuck Berry riffs. The reason we did Chuck Berry numbers was that they’re easy to play, they were rock ‘n’ roll and made you move.
RF: Who were some of your musical influences?
KJ: I didn’t have any. None, whatsoever. I was trying to analyze it a while back, as best I could. Now, lots of kids go out and they buy a guitar or a set of drums because they want to be like Ringo Starr, Chuck Berry, Pete Townshend or whatever. In those days, there wasn’t a lot to choose from. I didn’t go out to be rich and famous or play like anyone. I didn’t want to be anything. I just wanted to play the drums when I got them—no more, no less. I didn’t ask to be rich, famous, nothing.
RF: I’ve always felt that the guys who started back then had a certain spark that just isn’t the same today. I wonder if that spark and energy came from a different kind of dedication, a dedication to making a band work, as opposed to getting a record deal and becoming rich and famous.
KJ: I think so, yeah. If you’re self taught, or if you want to be a musician, not for fame or money, the dedication is amazing. You’ve got to find your real self. You can’t be like somebody else. You just have to be what you know best. Know yourself. I think it’s very important that a musician develops his own style, rather than copy someone. There’s only one way to do that and that’s to cut out the influences. All of a sudden, you discover it. That’s the way it happens. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. Even if you wanted to copy somebody else, you find that you can’t. You’re stuck with what you are. That’s the way to be, because you don’t want to play like anybody else. You want to be different. Not that it crossed my mind at all. It just happened that way.
RF: So you had the Outcasts at 13?
KJ: And then that band kind of dissolved a bit or progressed into a band called the Pioneers. Then we got a job in another pub, playing weekends. I was about 14. Ronnie decided that he’d like to play bass and not rhythm anymore, and one of the other guys wanted to play rhythm. So Ronnie and I went to this shop where I bought me drums and we spent all afternoon there. We really locked into the sales person, so we invited him to the gig that night because he said he could play keyboard and guitar. There was this upright honky-tonk piano there. He sat in with us and went completely bananas—broke the piano to bits. That was Steve Marriott. We got slung out of the pub and the rest of the band was really upset with Ronnie and me for inviting him. We thought it was funny and we had enjoyed what he had been playing before he broke the bloody piano. Ronnie and I just said, “Bye, rest of the band,” and the three of us went off. What we needed then was a keyboard player because Steve wanted to play guitar. He introduced us to a keyboard player and not only was he a keyboard player, but we could use his dad’s pub for rehearsal, which was more to the point. We rehearsed a bit and we got along great. We played a lot of records, swapping ideas and records and tried to get to know each other quickly.
RF: Still musically the same?
KJ: We started playing loads of Jimmy McGriff and eventually, we got a few gigs here and there. By this time, I had left school and I had to get a job because I still had to pay for the rest of the drums. I remember just before I left school, the teacher gave everyone a lecture on “What are you going to do when you leave school?” He looked at me and said, “I suppose you’re going to be a coalman or a dustman.” And suddenly it all hit me and I thought, “Mind you, you haven’t really taught me anything either.” But I’m glad he said it because I went away thinking, “What am I going to be? I don’t want to be a postman, I don’t want to be a dustman, I don’t want to be a coalminer.” Suddenly it hit me that I had a profession, and that was drums. And I had taught myself that.
RF: Did you really believe that you could make money at it?
KJ: No, that’s why I got the job. I knew that I could earn some money at it because we had been playing in pubs. I was earning 10 pounds a week, which was my cut, and it was a lot of money to me. So I knew that there was money in it, but it didn’t really hit me that I could make a million pounds or anything like that. I just thought I could earn a living off of it if I worked hard. So I had this job at the pickle factory and had to get up at 4:00 in the morning, get into a truck and go down to the docks and load up barrels of pickles. UGH. Finally Ronnie said to me that they needed somebody to work making amplifiers where he worked. So I used to make these amplifiers and I was quite proud of it because it was a vehicle for a musical instrument. Ronnie had the cushiest job in the world. All he did all day long was play bass and guitar, testing the amplifiers. Each time I brought one in there, he’d reject mine. I made the best, but he did it to needle me, just for a laugh. I had that job for three months and we got the sack in the end because each day we strolled in there later than the day before. So we went to a cafe, called Steve, and the three of us just sat around drinking coffee and talking. That’s when we decided to turn professional. If you have no job, the only way you can give yourself some respect is to say, “Well, I’m a professional musician.” [laughs] I was fed up with being used, abused and that sort of thing, and it made me think, “I’ve got respect for myself.” Drumming really did a lot for me. It didn’t only teach me how to play drums, it brought me out of my shell and got me out of the rut. Otherwise, I would have been the normal run of the mill type of person who gets married, has children, gets fat and sloppy, then all his hair falls out and he’s old as his father before he’s 30. That wasn’t for me.
So, we went on the road, up north, as far as you could go, knocking on people’s doors. We played for nothing, an audition, that kind of thing, and a couple of clubs let us play. Hopefully the guy at the end of the night would give us a fiver, just to be nice, and it paid our petrol money. We got a good break in Sheffield though. There’s a club called the MoJo Club. It was so full of energy and people, it was bubbling. The owner was really great to us. He knew we were struggling and starving and he took one look at us and gave us a meal and drinks. His name was Peter Stringfellow and he now has a club in London called Stringfellows. He also has a club in Manchester called the Millionaires Club and they are the best clubs in the world. He’s a great friend of mine now. He did similar things with the Who. He actually booked the Who to play at the MoJo because the Who was just a little bit ahead of us. The Who had an agent who was getting them work, and while they were getting known, we were still knocking on doors.
RF: You were still the Outcasts?
KJ: We had no name. It was the last thing we thought of. We went back to London eventually and there was this girl called Anne who had a flat. We went around there one night and she said, “You haven’t got a name? I know what. You’ve all got small faces and I think you should call yourselves the Small Faces.” We just burst out in hysterical laughter. “No way, we’re not going to call our selves the Small Faces. That’s silly, that’s horrible.” But because we laughed and turned it into a joke, it became, “Yeah, we’re the Small Faces.”
Eventually we got a residency, playing every Saturday night in a place called the Cavern in Lester Square, London. We were basically doing it for nothing, but we did it for six weeks and built a following, to our amazement. The place was getting crowded and they were coming to see us.
RF: How had you changed?
KJ: We moved on stage and we looked different. But we didn’t know how different we looked because we couldn’t see ourselves. We didn’t realize we were all small and we looked cute and we looked like kids and the kids could relate to us. We got a following, and the promoter kept booking us. All of a sudden, this guy, Pat Meehan, came down and he was Don Arden’s right-hand man. Don Arden was a big manager. Meehan said, “We’ve heard a lot about you. How would you like to be managed by us? Come and see us in the morning and we’ll discuss it.” We said, “Naw, we don’t want a manager,” because we didn’t know what it was. Well, the next day, we all thought about it and we went up there to the office and met Don Arden who said, “I believe in you. I can make you into big stars,” and all that bullshit. He said, “I’ll give you 20 pounds a week each or a percentage, one or the other, whatever you want.” We had a little meeting and thought, “We’re not silly, we’ll take the percentage.” We didn’t even know what percentage.
RF: You guys were smart.
KJ: But were we, though? In the end, we never saw any money, we got screwed left, right and center and we would have been better off taking the wage. I’m being a little unfair when I say that, I suppose. Don Arden was a very, very good manager. He got the Small Faces known. He got us TV and within six weeks of our signing the management contract, we were in the studio making a record, and within six weeks, it was #10 in the charts. I was just 16 then.
RF: How did you feel the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
KJ: Ah! Now that made my day! I heard it on the radio in a car and I just couldn’t believe it. They mentioned all our names individually and it had been in the newspaper and it was incredible!
RF: You still weren’t making any money?
KJ: I’m not knocking Don Arden, but that was how business was done back then. What happened was that we got bought and sold. I was only 16 and the others were only like 18 and we weren’t lawyers or accountants. We were musicians, or trying to be, so they had the edge on us. We earned some money here and there on the road and when we got paid by cash, we’d get 100 pounds or 200 pounds for a night, which was a lot of money, and we’d split it up. That wasn’t that often though. Our wages eventually went up to 30 pounds a week and we were getting that regularly, but we lived like kings. We had accounts in every single shop on Carnaby Street. Don Arden only had agreed to that because he wanted us to look nice and we had an image to uphold. We started to look smart, like a band, and mod. We became Mods along with the Who.
Don Arden gave us an image and made us into what we were becoming. We were only with him for a year though. We thought we were getting a raw deal from him and he wouldn’t negotiate anything, and lan Samwell, our producer then, was sticking up for us. Don Arden sacked him and then we said, “We’re not going to let you be our manager anymore.” He said, “Well, I’ve got you under contract.” And we said, “Bits of paper mean nothing to us.” We were underage anyway. It was against the law for us to sign a contract.
So he sold us to the Howard Davidson agency. We were quite pleased to go with them in a way because we had nothing to lose. They weren’t very good, though, and then we became friends with Andrew Oldham and he managed to buy us at our request for Immediate Records and they made a lot of money on us.
We made about four or five albums for Immediate Records and the very last one was the very first concept album ever, which was Ogden’s Nut Cone Flakes. We designed it lock, stock and barrel, although Immediate got the credit. We told the artists what to do, we did all the research on it, wrote the songs, wrote the story, everything. We got screwed out of the money, because Immediate folded up shortly afterwards. Immediate sold the catalogue to lots of subsidiary companies all over America and everywhere, and that’s why it keeps getting re-released in cheap packages. You can buy re-releases of old Small Faces’ records but they’re not the original covers. Some of the songs are just backing tracks and aren’t even mixed. It’s so horrible what happened to the Small Faces band. It was one of the most creative bands ever, and it’s been abused to this day.
RF: You certainly tried to do something about that?
KJ: I tried, but once it’s been bought and sold so many bloody times, it’s very difficult to penetrate it. I kind of wrote it off as a lesson. It makes me bitter now, although it didn’t make me bitter then because we really weren’t out for the rewards the other people were. They were out for the financial gains but we were out for the pleasure of playing. We were getting all the pleasure we wanted— all the fame—and we didn’t want the money. It didn’t matter if we had it or not.
RF: Why then did it make you bitter later?
KJ: Now it makes me bitter because I see these assholes who release these records on two-bit labels abusing great music. If they actually came to me and said, “Excuse me, I would like to straighten out this mess. Is there anything we can do to put this out again, properly, as it should be?” and give it the respect it should have, I would say, “Yes, I’ll give you all the help and cooperation I can give you.” I want the Small Faces records to be what they should have been. The only one I really want to work on is Ogden’s Nut Gone Flakes, because it was the #1 album in England and it got a lot of release in America. It had a lot of packaging problems, though, because it kept rolling off the shelf. No one knew how to stack it because it was round. People would take it off the shelf and it would be warped. The records kept getting sent back. I think it was a revolutionary break-through, though, just in terms of an album.
RF: What year was that?
KJ: I think it was ’67. After that album, we became lost from each other, because we saw things happening and we were getting that much older and that much wiser about what was going on in the business. We were disillusioned by the business and each other really, and we didn’t quite know how to handle it. Steve Marriott decided that he wanted to form another band, thinking that the Small Faces had had it. But we hadn’t. We were still famous. His excuse at the time appeared in the headlines: “I want to form another band called Humble Pie. I want to play with better musicians.” That really hurt. That really offended me. So everybody thought that the Small Faces had split up because Steve left. We had gone our separate ways for about six months, and then the three of us, lan McLagan, Ronnie Lane and myself decided that we’d play together anyway. Ronnie Lane had become friendly with Ronnie Wood from the Jeff Beck group and Ronnie Wood was friendly with Rod Stewart who was also with the Jeff Beck group. We decided to play together with Wood, just for fun, and we found something that we locked into. We liked him. Rod used to come down all the time and sit on the amps, but never joined in as a singer. We played for a while and sounded great, but we needed a lead singer. I’d never heard Rod sing before and I got invited to see a Jeff Beck concert when Woody and Rod were still with him. I saw Rod sing and I just went up to him and said, “You’re always with us, would you fancy joining the band?” He said, “Do you think I could? Do you think they’d let me?” I said I didn’t see why not; he was always there anyway.
RF: His vocals were kind of radical for that day. He was very different from anything else.
KJ: He was distinctive and I knew it. Everybody else didn’t want him in the band, because they didn’t want another reincarnation of the situation that happened with Steve Marriott. They didn’t want him to split or get famous, but I sat up all night trying to convince them that it was the right thing to do. Eventually, I talked them into it, and that was the Faces. We decided we didn’t want to call ourselves the Small Faces because we weren’t that small anymore and it was a different band.
One of the reasons the Faces folded up in the end was that Rod and I were day people and the others were night people. We’d have a 2:00 session and Rod and I would be there hours before the others wandered in. We couldn’t get anything done, basically. Then Rod moved to America and the contact became even more vast. There was no communication. Rod didn’t want the band to fold, even though he was ahead and knew he was a big solo artist. He loved the band because it was a good-time band; a lot of fun. Another problem was that Woody asked if we minded if he did a tour with the Stones. We said, “No, as long as you keep yourself in shape for our tour which starts after the Stones tour.” When he came back off of that tour, he was different. He had become a Rolling Stone, or thought like that, and that really started it folding.
Rod and I decided to stay together and we formed a band which was his first band. He and I were even splitting the money. It was a very good deal for me and I needed the money because I had tax bills. We rehearsed and everything and I was supposed to go to America, but at the last minute, I got cold feet and called and said, “I can’t go.” It just felt strange. I couldn’t get up on the stage without the rest of the Faces, knowing that Rod would be up there. It just wouldn’t feel right and it would feel like a backing band. I didn’t want to go backwards. I’m used to being in a band. That means I don’t want to be in a backing band. I like the flavor and the feel that four or five people have in a band. You feed off each other. It makes you think; it makes you react. I like the unit; the team. You don’t get that from being in a backing band; you’re a piece of baggage.
I don’t feel solo because I’m not a solo artist, although I can do it. I’ve proven I can do it. I don’t write, but I can sing. Originally, I went into a studio in England and took a real risk because I’m quite a shy person in terms of trying anything new and singing in front of a couple of people in the room, the engineer and the guy who wrote it. I thought, “Well, let’s see if there’s anything in me other than a drummer.” I did a Jackson Browne song I liked called “Ready or Not,” and then the moment of truth came when I had to sing on it. To my amazement, when I heard my voice back, apart from in stantly hating it at first, it sounded okay after I got over the shock. Everyone loved it and it was a very commercial record. Billy Gaff said, “We’ve got to put it out.” So it got put out but it got banned because the lyrics were about an unmarried, pregnant mother. At that time, the only way to get your record plugged was on kid’s TV shows and things like that. Once they ban it on the BBC TV, it automatically gets banned on the BBC radio. So it never really got a chance.
A few months later, at the end of another Faces tour, Mentor Williams, who has always been a good friend of mine, played me a couple of songs. I really liked them and he said, “Why don’t we do them then?” “Okay.” So we went into the Record Plant in L.A. McCartney just happened to be in town, so I called him and asked him if he wanted to play on my record. He got Danny Kortchmar and Al Kooper and I got Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. We all played on it, and got two great tracks. One song was called “So High,” but I didn’t finish it. We didn’t get as far as mixing it, but the idea was for me to go back home and then come back to finish it. I’ve still got those tapes and I’m going to do something with them eventually. I’m quite proud of it. It’s something special to me and I did it to prove I could do it, not for a solo career. What happened was that a year later, I heard “So High” on the radio by Dave Mason, who copied the arrangement and the way I sang it, everything. It just so happened that the engineer on that session was the same engineer who was on my session. It was never a hit for Dave, but he got great acclaim for it. But, there again, I didn’t release it, so good luck to him. One day, though, I’ll release the real version, the original.
At the moment, I’m building a studio at my place in England, which is really my big baby at the moment. I’m not really like Pete Townshend or Ronnie Lane or any songwriter who really gets into tape recorders and all that. All I ever wanted was a drum room. I started out to build a drum room and bought a three-hundred-year-old barn and had it moved from Norfolk to my house. Halfway through, I thought, “I’ve got a big drum room here. I’m going to turn it into a studio. I’m going to take the plunge.” It’s going to be great and I want to finish off “So High” in it. I want to do some tracks and if it ends up being an album, it will be. I’m quite excited about that. Let’s see what happens. I make no promises to anybody for anything. All I’m out to do is delve a bit more into me again, finish up a few things and please myself. If there’s anything good there and I think people should hear it, fine, great.
RF: So after the Faces broke up, you did sessions?
KJ: Well, I did two years off the road doing sessions, when I felt like it, mostly for friends so I could be comfortable. I rode horses, played polo and had a great, great time, until I realized it was time to stop being silly.
RF: Didn’t you need to read when you did sessions?
KJ: I didn’t on most of the sessions I did. But I did learn how to read pigeon-style very quickly. My father-in-law taught me. He was a band leader by the name of Tony Osbourne who was quite famous in his day. The very first session I ever did was for him, with a big band. It was an incredible feeling and I got off on it so much. I had done it by reading a piece of paper! That’s what astounded me. I read a piece of paper and we did it without commu nicating. I didn’t actually like it, though, because it wasn’t mind, it was paper.
RF: What were some of the sessions you did?
KJ: I did a Jerry Lee Lewis album, a Chuck Berry album, I worked with McCartney here and there, played on the Stones’ It’s Only Rock and Roll, and all the early Joan Armatrading albums with Glyn Johns as producer. There were loads of them.
RF: What was it like going from a tight unit into sessions?
KJ: It was very exciting to play with different people, although it was frustrating because you had to get into other people’s styles. The good thing about it was it made you think, and anything that makes you think is good, which is why I kept it up. But I would hate to be a session musician. Their lives are very difficult. They work really hard, mentally and physically, and it’s just not for me. If I had to be that, I would give it up.
RF: In International Musician and Recording World, it said that right before the Who came about for you, you were thinking of giving up music.
KJ: I was never thinking of giving up music. If you’re a musician, it’s totally impossible to give up music. It’s a natural ability that you have in you that will never, ever leave you. When I was at school, before I started playing an instrument, this guy came around who demonstrated different wind instruments. We threw chairs at him, and bits of paper and chewing gum, but one thing he said that really stuck in my mind was that, “If you can play an instrument, you’ll never, ever be lonely.” And he’s dead right. When you get upset, you get down, it’s part of feeling; it’s what you call feel. So no one can ever stop that. I can give up earning the money or being in a big band, but I could never give up music. The International Musician article was wrong, but that was a very difficult interview for me. They asked me what size drums I use and I don’t bloody know. Drums are drums. If it sounds right, great. If I can tune it and get a sound out of it, that’s the one I’ll use. Sizes are a lot of nonsense. Different sizes have different sounds, so if you want a higher sound in a tom-tom, you go for a smaller drum. You can’t beat a standard drum kit. If you want to play drums, go out and buy yourself a standard drum kit—a bass drum, a top tom-tom; a Charlie Watts kit, basically—and practice. Once you learn to play that, then you’ll know what drums you want after that. You really do not need any more than that anyway. The reason I use more drums than I used to, is because I need a longer tom-tom fill that fits in with John’s bass playing and the Who arrangement. It took me a long time to get into really playing a bigger kit. I don’t particularly like playing a bigger kit.
RF: What about the double bass?
KJ: I don’t play double bass drum. I do everything on one foot. Since I’ve got two bass drums up there, a lot of people have said to me, “I really like your double bass drums. You really know how to use it.” I do it all on one foot. Now will you all believe me? I’ve got a quick right foot. You don’t need two bass drums anyway. It’s ludicrous. It’s up there purely and simply to balance out the kit and it’s a stand to mount two extra tom-toms on. You don’t need any more than that. In fact, I would advise a drummer never to play two bass drums. It will throw you instantly off where the beat naturally falls and you’ll end up playing in between that. It’s totally wrong and uncomfortable.
RF: You seem to be of the philosophy that less is more.
KJ: Yes I am. When I do sessions, I use the minimum.
RF: Even in your playing; your approach.
KJ: It’s attack; it’s effect. I go for effectiveness, not the crap in between. I’m a great believer in being a drummer, and a drummer should know his place. The drummer keeps time basically. He’s not there to show off.
RF: But you were talking about feel before, so it’s a lot more than that.
KJ: Yes, you’ve got to feel, that’s all part of it, but rule number one is you’ve got to keep time. Feel comes with it, hopefully.
RF: How did the Who come about for you?
KJ: The interesting thing is that I was with Keith the night before he died. We went to the premiere of a Buddy Holly film. There was a reception and we were talking with Paul McCartney and he said, “I’ve got this idea and I want to call it ‘Rockestra’, where I’ll get a lot of people together. I want you Kenney, you Keith, and John Bonham with all these guitarists—Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton.” It ended up happening, of course, with about 100 people in the bloody studio. So Keith and I were enjoying each other’s company and when I left, we decided that the idea was fantastic. The next day, I woke up and he didn’t. I heard on the radio that he died and I just couldn’t believe it. Then I started to get people saying to me, “You’re going to join the Who, aren’t you?” I said, “No, I’ve never heard anything like that at all.” People in the music industry all assumed I would join the Who because they said I was the obvious choice, which was because of the ’60s. The Small Faces and the Who were not so much rival Mod bands, but the only two Mod bands that meant anything. That’s where the close ties came. We were all very close friends anyway. I played on the soundtrack for Tommy and at the end of the week of sessions that I did, I found myself sitting in between Pete and John, realizing that it felt strange because it felt so right. It felt as though I was in the Who. I jumped out of my seat, double quick, because I thought, “Oh no, I’m in the Faces!”
RF: Did you assume that the Who would break up? I think most people thought they would.
KJ: I’d assumed that they were still in a state of shock and didn’t know which way they were going. I didn’t really know what they were going to do or my own feelings about it. Everybody said they’d probably break up. I really didn’t know. But I wasn’t really surprised, after all the talk, when I got the call from Bill Curbishley. He said, “I’m the Who’s manager. The Who have had a meeting and they’ve decided to stay together as a band and they haven’t considered, and will not consider, anybody else. They would like you to join the band as an equal member.” Those were his exact words. Having had that compliment hit me straight in the face, I said, “Let’s have lunch.” I didn’t really know what to say. I did tell him I was already in a band which was forming with a guy by the name of Bill Lamb who was a singer-songwriter in America. The idea behind that particular band was to get an English sort of sounding hard rock ‘n’ roll with an Eagles’ type of vocal, and it did sound amazing! It was a very viable proposition. The reason I bring that up is to let you see that I didn’t join the Who for money. I want to get that across. I needed the stuff, but I had the opportunity in the other band also. We had rehearsed a bit and I was about to put pen to paper when Bill Curbishley called.
So I went off to see him at his office the next day and Pete was up there. We talked for about two and a half hours, “Hi Pete, how’ve you been?” I mean, we’re friends. We talked about Glyn Johns, the kids, our families and at the end of it, we briefly discussed the Who. Pete said, “Well you’ve been through it before and if it doesn’t work out, you know how to handle it.” I said “Yeah,” but I hadn’t decided yet that I would join the band. At the end, I suddenly realized, “I’ve got to join this band. It’s how I grew up; it’s part of me. I know them and it’s what I stand for.” So I said we’d give it a go and that was it. There was no audition.
RF: I read that you never audition.
KJ: Never. People should know me by now. If somebody said to me, “Look, you’re not doing anything with the Who. Fleetwood Mac wants you to join but you’ve got to do an audition,” I’d tell them to get lost.
RF: You feel that they should know you well enough to know if you would fit.
KJ: Right. The right band would know. After all this time, an audition seems to be a bit of an insult. I don’t mind auditioning for something I’ve never done before, but then again, I’ve never auditioned for a thing in my life anyway.
RF: In an article, you mentioned that you were not accustomed to playing accents or dynamics before you entered the Who.
KJ: I didn’t really mean that. Sometimes when a question is asked in the wrong way, you give them the wrong answer. I started out in the Small Faces, which had quite complex arrangements, but sim ple complex arrangements. Then it went into the Faces and the Faces were too drunk to be complex, so we were a very simple, straight rock ‘n’ roll band. So the right way to say what we’re talking about is not accents, but more complex arrangements. That was a challenge to get back into because I wasn’t used to it. I was used to it on sessions because I had been asked to play some very complex arrangements. If you listen to a Joan Armatrading album, they are the most brain damaging arrangements I’ve ever done in my life. God, I had to use my brain with her. So with the Who, it was hard to learn the songs and get the accents in the right places because they were tricky accents. Who accents are different. I wasn’t used to doing it to the degree that I had to do it with the Who. Now it’s like second nature. Actually, the hardest thing about joining the Who was learning the songs.
RF: You didn’t have very much time.
KJ: No, I had a week in which the Easter holiday fell. I had something like 25 or 30 songs to learn in a week and then do my very first gig. What I kept thinking was, “Well, I’m used to it. Shut your eyes and imagine it’s the Faces.”
RF: You don’t subscribe to the usual bass player/drummer relationship theory. You play more off the guitar and vocals.
KJ: If I describe how I work with a band, I play with everyone. This whole illusion of drummer and bass player is a load of shit. You can’t just play with the bass player. If anything, I lean more towards the vocals and lead guitar. Then I play with the bass. My right leg is doing something with the bass anyway and if the bass player suddenly decides he’s going to play a long riff, then I’ll latch into it and complement him. But it’s more with vocals than anything. I’ve always been a drummer associated with vocals. Rod and I used to really click. We’d be chugging along and I would just stop playing and Rod’s back would go straight up and he’d sing something different and then start again. He’d love it and it came from the early days of working with Steve Marriott.
RF: You don’t really feel ready to stop touring do you?
KJ: No, but I understand how Pete feels. I went through a time when I was about 25 when I felt too old to do it, and I felt silly doing it. I suppose insecurity was one of the factors. I felt that 25 was old, but it wasn’t. That’s how I’m relating to Pete’s situation at the moment. I snapped out of it, fortunately, and I don’t feel silly. I feel very proud of my profession and proud that I’ve lived through a lot of crap, so I’m hoping that Pete will finally feel that way as well. It affects people in different ways. He’ll either come out of it or he won’t. The Who is very energetic, but it does take a lot of you to expend that amount of energy. I understand that more than anything. I just feel that I’ve got a bit left in me and would like to continue to do it. When two people want to do it and two people don’t, however, you’ve got no choice. You’ve got to go with the flow. The band is not splitting up. It’s definitely the last long tour, but maybe we’ll do a short tour, [laughs] “The Who’s last short tour.” I don’t know. It’s very hard to tour as you get older. The preparations are very difficult, although the touring is easy once you get into the groove of it.
RF: Easy? You’re a day person, remember?
KJ: It’s all very hard. Bloody shit—I keep saying “it’s hard.” [The name of the Who’s most recent album] It’s all very hard, but you can accept it easier. The preparation of touring is very much more difficult because you’ve got to get yourself fit and it takes longer to get fit, both mentally and physically.
RF: How do you do that?
KJ: Fortunately, I gave up drinking and that’s what really saved me. I was going through a divorce in between the Who having two years off the road. When my marriage split up, I hit the bottle like crazy and Roger, as a friend, came to me and said, “You’re drink ing too much. If you carry on like that, it could affect the band.” My first reaction was that I took offense to what he said, but having thought about it for a couple of weeks, I realized that he was only helping me as a friend. It’s not a cop out or excuse because Roger and I have talked about it since I’ve been straight and we are now bosom buddies as we always were.
RF: There have been a lot of rumors in the press that Roger had second thoughts about having someone fill Keith’s place.
KJ: The press has been very unkind to me in that respect because it’s a lot of bullshit. The press is a lot of liars, but that’s what sells papers.
RF: The last Rolling Stone article had Pete admitting that there was, in fact, a “communication problem,” though.
KJ: There was a communication problem, but it had nothing to do with the band. With my marriage, we were all friends and Roger and my wife were friends. He didn’t want to see me split my marriage up. We differed on a few points there, but that’s all. Roger and I have come out of all this the best of buddies, with no problems at all.
I asked Roger about the Rolling Stone article because I took offense to it. I felt if that’s the way he really felt, then “Goodbye, I don’t need your money; I don’t need your band.” I would have been gone. But I went to Roger and he said, “I never said that at all. When I did the interview, before you joined the band, they asked me what was going on with the Who, and I said that I thought the Who would get different drummers if they were going to go out on the road and make albums.” And that is exactly what it was. He said, “I promise you Kenney, I never said it.”
RF: When you stopped drinking, did your playing change?
KJ: It didn’t change, but I’m more alert. I think quicker, I hit harder, I feel more, so I guess my playing has changed. I played exactly the same before where it didn’t mean anything. Now it means much more. Physically, I can keep up. I gave up smoking when I was 30 and I used to smoke 60 a day. My playing changed then also because I could breathe a lot easier. But when I gave up alcohol, one thing I did notice was that my breathing was even easier. To get through a Who concert now, it’s easier to pace myself. If it’s easier, you can put more into the performance and your delivery of what you’re going to play. Rather than playing the same fill once or twice because you can’t think of anything, your brain is that much sharper and you can think of a different one. A drummer really shouldn’t think until a split second before he gets to the fill, because if he thinks about the fill too hard, he’ll blow it and do something he can rely on. It’s good to take a risk because that’s when it’s exciting.
RF: Do you have the freedom to take as many risks as you like?
KJ: I can do what I like, yes. The Who has never told me what to play or how to play. It’s great. I play exactly the way I always played before.
RF: Was there any discomfort about the fact that audiences, and even the band, had grown accustomed to a flashy drummer?
KJ: I was never uncomfortable about it because part of the reason I think the Who wanted me to join the band was because they knew everything about me. They knew me as a friend, they knew me as a drummer and certainly Pete knew the approach I would give it. He knows I’m a proud person and I think a lot of myself, which I don’t mean in a vain way. I won’t let anybody change me. I am who I am and that is the way I stay. People have to accept me for what I am and judge me on what I am. That’s it. I am not going to change to suit somebody else. I am me and that’s the way I play. That’s what has gotten me through being in the Who. In my opinion, if they had gotten another drummer who tried to mimick, copy, or outdo Keith Moon, it would have been a failure.
RF: He would have been crucified.
KJ: That’s right. You can’t. Nobody can copy Keith Moon. He was a unique drummer and he was very good at what he had to do—his role in the Who. Nobody can copy it, so nobody should try. All I can do is progress as Kenney Jones and that’s all I want to do; a natural, preferably upward, progression. That’s the way I see my future.
RF: You’re contracted to do two more Who albums.
RF: When the Who stops touring, where are you going to get the live-playing stimulation that you seem to need?
KJ: I can always play. The great thing about the future is that nobody knows, so in that respect, it’s quite exciting. You can’t see around corners.
RF: With all the crap, does the music ever lose its magic?
KJ: No. No. Especially this tour. It’s more magical than ever.
RF: How do you keep it fresh every night?
KJ: It’s very difficult to keep it fresh every night without becoming clockwork. It’s very difficult to play the same songs over and over again, which is one of the reasons the Who is stopping long tours. That is where I back it up. To play the same songs every night, one after another for two and half hours, is incredibly frustrating for a musician. The only way I get by is that I do them a different way. There’s only so many ways you can do it, though. You can’t really vary that much, so what you have to do is get off on each other; feed off each other. We’ve all got a positive attitude on this tour and I think we’re all going to come out of this tour gaining and learning something beyond what you learn from any other tour. Therefore, I look at it as a healthy tour and who knows where it leads? It’s much more exhilarating to play new songs and explore new boundaries by creating new material. If anything is going to hold the Who together, it’s going to be less touring and more creativity. The Who is still here because they are progressive, one step ahead, I think. The thing of the future is satellite TV, cable TV, not for the money, but as a way of still playing for that many people without going mad. You can retain some form of respect for yourself and still be able to leave a little bit to explore within yourself; to enable yourself not to get so nuts so you can still write songs and perform properly.
RF: You once said that the Who is the first “band” you’ve ever been in and you defined band as being where the members think more about the band than they do about the individuals.
KJ: Yes, we think band. I was invited into this band in the deep end, with all the problems. I didn’t just reap the bloody rewards; I got all the problems, debts, finishing off film music, Quadrophenia, then getting into McVicar. Basically, I’ve done every film project the Who has done, having Tommy under my belt. If you stop to think about it, it’s so strange. It’s all mystique and all that nonsense. I don’t really know. The band had lots of meetings where I was thrust into situations like heavy accountant meetings, heavy lawyer meetings, trying to understand the complex situations of different Who company set-ups. To take it in all at once was very difficult for me and I spent most of the time being quiet. Until I understood it, I couldn’t really comment. But the great thing is that they invited me into it and that is the biggest compliment I’ve ever had. To be put into it in that degree is lovely and all the way down the line. I give 100% for my quarter, we all give 100%, for all the troubles as well, Cincinnati, and the lot. I share the burden with everybody.
RF: That whole experience in Cincinnati was so awesome. We were talking about bitterness before. I would imagine that experience would make you somewhat cynical.
KJ: It’s an unfortunate accident that happened. There are obviously reasons why it shouldn’t have happened. What went wrong, I don’t know. It was just an accident. Nobody blames the Who. We get letters from all the families that lost somebody saying that they don’t blame us at all and comfort us. We felt rather deeply about it. Actually, it didn’t hit us at all until much later, much, much later.
RF: You didn’t know about it until after the show, did you?
KJ: No. The weird thing is that it was one of the best concerts we ever did. The thing is, you see, the Who are going to get much more publicity out of something like that because of the press. One thing I’ve noticed since the two-year gap between the last tour and this tour, every TV station you turn on in America has sensational news. It was just bubbling then, so they really latched into Cincinnati. What they didn’t publicize as well, and I wonder how they managed it, is that the same thing happened to the Pope. There was also a football stadium accident about the same time. You can’t blame the Pope for people dying at one of his functions and you can’t blame the football team that played where the stands collapsed. It’s just an accident, but somebody will get the blame because life will blame somebody. We were unfairly picked on, that’s all. We went back and gave evidence, individually. We opened up to every single lawyer, representing each family who wanted to ask us questions. All I know is that I’m a musician, I turned up and played a concert. Anyway, we’d better get off of Cincinnati because it’s still going on, so I don’t really know what to say about it.
What is important is the future. The future is something I really care about because what’s past is past. I’ve got to think, “Let me learn something from the past, take a bit from the past and present it to the future and see what happens.”
RF: What do you want?
KJ: Whatever is meant to be, whatever I’m meant to be, whatever comes. Someone up there has got something planned for me. I look forward to the next adventures of Kenney Jones.