The band that had a real good time
And don't underestimate the Faces musically
By Todd Leopold
(CNN) -- The stories about the Faces are numerous, colorful and legendary. The band members liked their drink, liked to play and liked to have a good time.
And they liked to -- in keyboardist Ian McLagan's words -- "personalize" their hotel rooms, which were often at roadside Holiday Inns.
"You couldn't go from one town to another and not walk into the identical room in every town," he says, jovially, in a phone interview from his home in Austin, Texas. "So we hurt them."
Guitarist Ron Wood puts it more gently. "We used to put in quality additions," he says from Los Angeles, California. "Some of [the rooms] got quite predictable. We'd spice them up."
OK. So they wrecked a few. Wood, an accomplished artist, would add drawings of bicycles or airplanes to bucolic and generic Holiday Inn paintings over the bed.
And, in the early days before they became successful, they all roomed together, something McLagan -- in his liner notes to a new boxed set, "Five Guys Walk Into a Bar ..." (Rhino) -- doesn't recommend. "We all kept different hours, so none of us were happy with it," he writes. No wonder the rooms came in for a beating.
But oh, they could play.
'We paced ourselves'
Now that the haze of alcohol has worn off and the mists of time have come on, it's often assumed the Faces were a sloppy band, liquored up and tripping all over each other's beats. McLagan begs to differ, and the boxed set bears him out.
"We had the reputation of big drinkers, but we paced ourselves," he notes. "We all knew our limits."
Besides, nothing got in the way of the music. "I'm now fighting this reputation of being sloppy, but listen [to the record]," he says.
Indeed, anyone listening to "Five Guys Walk Into a Bar ..." finds a band with range and depth, capable of bluesy belting, folkie moodiness and full-tilt boogie. Yes, they were loose and larkish, but steady with the beat.
It helps that the Faces had a strong pedigree.
McLagan, bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenney Jones were in the Small Faces together. Despite only one American hit, "Itchycoo Park," the band was huge in England and was coming off a 1968 No. 1 album, "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake," when lead singer Steve Marriott announced to the others he was leaving to start a band with Peter Frampton. McLagan, Lane and Jones were at a loss.
Then Lane talked to his friend Ron Wood, late of the Jeff Beck Group, and Wood started jamming with the three musicians. Eventually, he brought along his friend, former Beck lead singer Rod Stewart, and in 1969 the Faces were born.
Stewart had already started his solo career at the time, and he was only to get bigger in the early '70s, but McLagan says Stewart's success never got in the way.
"His solo career kept us together. When we toured, we'd reach more people, and with his success, it was now our success," he says, especially after Stewart hit No. 1 with his song "Maggie May" and album "Every Picture Tells a Story." "What eventually drove us apart was that the manager wanted to headline the group with Rod over the Faces. We thought, why change that? And I read that Rod hated that, too."
Bassist Lane was 'sadly ignored'
But before the breakup -- Lane left the band in 1973 -- the band produced a handful of fine albums, notably "A Nod Is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse" and "Ooh La La," and two hit singles, "Stay With Me" and "Cindy Incidentally."
"Five Guys" also collects a number of live performances and rehearsals, including versions of Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" (popularized by Wood's soon-to-be cohorts, the Rolling Stones), Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" and Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind."
The members of the Faces eventually went on to greater success separately. Wood joined the Stones; Jones became the Who's drummer after the death of Keith Moon; Stewart has dozens of hits under his belt. McLagan has been a session keyboardist for years, and is part of Billy Bragg's group, the Blokes. (He jokes that he's only one of the Faces who's not a millionaire.)
And then there was bassist Lane, who developed multiple sclerosis and died in 1997. Acknowledged as one of the great bassists in rock history -- his album collaboration with Pete Townshend, "Rough Mix," is a classic -- his understated work was generally overshadowed by more famous colleagues.
That's another thing McLagan, who assembled "Five Guys," wants to address.
"He's been sadly ignored," McLagan says. "I'd love to have a Ronnie Lane boxed set. It would do him justice."
"He was a damned good bassist, very melodic," agrees Wood.
In the meantime, there's "Five Guys," the story of a working band that enjoyed every minute of its music-making. McLagan knew it was good from the moment Stewart picked up a microphone.
"As soon as Rod started singing with us, the band was made," he says. "We got very lucky."