Friday, June 24, 2011

Rock Bio #6: Faces

Part of a series of brief artist biographies I wrote for in the spring of 2010 ...

Ever been to a raucous party that didn't end, it just changed locations? After the Small Faces' frontman, Steve Marriott, announced his resignation by walking offstage during a New Year's Eve performance in 1968, the rest of the group—Ronnie Lane (bass), Ian McLagan (keyboards), and Kenney Jones (drums)—decided to carry on with new members Ron Wood (guitar) and Rod Stewart (vocals), both of whom had recently left the Jeff Beck Group.

Having ditched the Marriott-led configuration's brand of mod pop for a more blues-based rock sound, the Small Faces shortened their name to signal that they were a new band and quickly got down to business, releasing First Step in early 1970. Stewart, meanwhile, had already begun a solo career, releasing his debut album, complete with contributions from Wood and McLagan, just a few months ahead of First Step.

Long Player followed in early '71. Its live covers of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" and Big Bill Broonzy's "I Feel So Good" emphasized the Faces' growing reputation for sloppy, liquored-up concerts—punk rockers on both sides of the Atlantic took notice in the latter half of the '70s, as did the Replacements in the '80s—and Lane showed off his songwriting talents on "Richmond."

By the time the Faces' third album, A Nod Is as Good as a Wink ... to a Blind Horse, hit record stores at the tail end of '71, Stewart had been crowned a solo star thanks to Every Picture Tells a Story and its number-one hit "Maggie May," which spent five weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. The Faces' own "Stay With Me" was lifted into the top 20 on the heels of "Maggie May's" success.

Stewart didn't tour separately from the Faces during this period, but because he also played his solo hits in concert, tensions arose between him and the rest of the band, who began to feel (ahem) faceless, mere backing musicians in the eyes of Stewart's newfound "Maggie May" fans. The singer was absent from some of the sessions for the band's next album, Ooh La La (1973), whose second side was dominated by Ronnie Lane compositions, including the wistful title track ("I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was stronger"), which featured Ron Wood's first-ever lead vocal.

After Stewart gave his low opinion of Ooh La La to the press, Lane quit the group and was replaced with ex-Free bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. The Faces carried on for a couple more years, releasing a live album and a few singles, but Stewart's solo career showed no signs of slowing down. As 1975 came to a close, the boys from England called it a day.

Wood replaced Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones that year, while McLagan and Jones recorded two more Small Faces records with Steve Marriott, fresh from his tenure in Humble Pie. Lane sat out the reunion but kept busy by collaborating on albums with Wood and Pete Townshend before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late '70s. When the Who's drummer, Keith Moon, died in 1978, Townshend asked Jones to take over.

The Faces reunited in 1986 and '93 for one-off performances, but in September 2009 McLagan, Jones, and Wood played a charity event without Stewart (Lane died in 1997), adding new faces like Simply Red's Mick Hucknall to the mix. Only time will tell if Rod the Mod can be coaxed out of the house for one last pint.

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