We last visited drummer Kenney Jones in the fall of 2018 (FTV: Kenney Jones 9-12-18) when Classic Rock Magazine talked with him about his book Let The Good Times Roll – My Life in Small Faces, Faces, and The Who (Kenney Jones, 2018 – St.Martin’s Press). It had just come out that month so I made a mental note to find a copy of his autobiography and filed the idea away – until early 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and the governor rightly keeping things shut down to curb the spread of the deadly virus, new reading material was hard to come by. Looking for one more item to assure free shipping on a parcel, my wife asked if I needed anything and out of the blue, my brain replied, “Sure. Find me the Kenney Jones book.” As I have found with other musicians promoting new works, the interviews given when they release a book or record only scratch the surface. A mere twenty months after hearing about it, Let The Good Times Roll arrived. Reading books about musicians (and yet another one about a drummer) seems to be one of my hard to kick habits.
Jones was born in 1948 in London, the only child of Violet and Samuel Jones. Around his Havering Street neighborhood in the East End, everyone knew him as Kenny Ward as they lived with his mother’s parents. His grandfather told him that during the Blitz, a bomb fell nearby but they didn’t hear any air-raid sirens before the explosion shattered every window in their house. The bedroom window blew in and the Wards found themselves sitting bolt upright in bed with the frame hanging around their necks. It was a close miss, but the bombed out buildings in the East End were the playgrounds of Kenny’s youth. In one instance, they were horsing around in a bombed out Victorian house when the floor gave way, sending Jones and his buddies sliding into the basement. When their eyes adjusted to the dark they found, to their horror, the skeletons of the former homeowners whose bodies had lain undiscovered until well after the war. Rumor had it they had died when a boating holiday ended badly, so no one had searched for them in the wreckage of their bombed out home.
Kenny’s father learned to drive trucks in the army and after the war, worked as a lorry driver for a company in Canning Town. As happened with many English families during the lean post war years, the household was mysteriously supplied with Argentinian beef (one of his dad’s frequent deliveries) when Samuel would drop home for tea time on his route. Kenny’s uncle worked for a tea shipping firm, so they were never lacking in that English staple either. In the rough East End, bartering and nicking things was a routine way of life. As Jones tells it, “Everyone around me was a rogue. Dad’s driving mate, for instance, was father to Roy James, who went on to become one of the Great Train Robbers. My cousin Billy Boy worked with the Krays (known East End gangsters) and was a bit of a villain. It would never have occurred to Mum and Dad to not bring me along when they went to Wormwood Scrubs to visit him when he was in the nick (prison). We lived in a close-knit community, where family mattered. Values were different from those of today. When Billy Boy broke out of prison to get married, we all went to the wedding.”
Post war living in the East End was character building for young Kenny: “The people there supported each other, looked out for each other, and occasionally knew a little more about each other than they might have liked. We all had outside toilets. The cold in winter made it a tortuous experience. Your bum would stick to the seat. Man, that was painful. [When we finally got indoor plumbing] I didn’t for a second miss that outside loo.”
School was an up and down experience for Jones. Later in life, he realized that he was dyslexic which helped explain many of his struggles. One of his first math teachers got Kenny excited about learning when both realized he had a head for numbers. Having spent a fair amount of time in the corner wearing a dunce cap (yes, that was part of English schooling in the 1950s), he found that he wasn’t dumb. The feeling lasted only until his transfer to another school took him away from his mathematical mentor. The rest of his academic career was highlighted by a lot of truancy. Kenny would show up for roll call, bolt out the door and make his way to Soho where he absorbed the street culture in the area of London that would later become a big part of his life. After being introduced to skiffle music and the drums, his schooling ended permanently at fourteen.
He acquired his first true drum kit by nicking a ten spot from his mother’s purse. He then had to convince his parents to sign the HP (Hired Purchase) papers when the kit was delivered to their living room. Kenny was given a brief introduction to the kit by the delivery man (“This is how you hold the brushes. This is how to play them. Now you try it”). When he nailed this first lesson, a big smile spread across Kenny’s face. His parents rightly thought that perhaps the joy he expressed playing the drums would keep him busy and out of trouble. They signed the HP papers. Jones looks back now and says, “Many of my friends ended up in gangs and some landed in jail. Playing music took me off that path, otherwise I would have been in the nick or dead. Music literally saved my life.” The neighbors complained about the racket until he moved the kit to the basement. When he became famous, the neighbors who complained about the noise proudly pointed to the house where Kenny Jones grew up.
Scanning the previous article, it came to me that the extra ‘e’ in Kenney hadn’t come up in the CRM interview: “I’d just become a member of the Performing Rights Society (PRS), which looks after the interests of musicians and songwriters. It turned out there were about five Ken Joneses, a few Kenneth Joneses, and a number of Kenny Joneses. I contacted the PRS and suggested adding an ‘e’ in my name to make the difference. It stuck.” From then on, he was Kenney Jones. Hooking up with a few guitarists who were as green to music as he was, he practiced a lot, played a few places, and went out to see a lot of other bands perform. He went to see a drummer he had heard about play with a jazz band at a pub called the British Prince. It would prove to be a pivotal moment for Jones. The drummer, Roy, stopped to talk to Kenney on this first trip to the British Prince – Roy wanted to know why this kid was staring at him. Once he knew that Jones was a beginning drummer, they had a nice discussion that ended with Roy asking him not to stare so much.
On his next trip to the club, Roy did him one better when he announced that, “We have a guest drummer coming up on stage.” When Kenney turned around to see who it was, he was surprised to find out he was the ‘guest drummer.” Jones recalled, “I sat behind his huge kit, scared to death. I started to play. Snap! The world comes alive again, and I am in heaven. I am the driver who has to make the song fly. And utterly unbelieveably, the band start following me. Amazing. I came off the stage shaking.” When the barman asked if he was in a band (Kenny said he wasn’t, yet, but he wanted to form one), Stan Lane told him, “My brother is a guitarist, Well, he’s learning, like you. Just now he can’t play much, but shall I bring him down next week to say hello?” Once he met Stan’s brother, Ronnie, the first two pieces of The Small Faces were now forming a band together, though it would take some time before they would be called The Small Faces.
Around 1965, Jones happened to be in a local music shop standing next to Mick Jagger (Mick was there trying out maracas). He noticed a used drum kit in the corner. After learning it had belonged to The Shadows’ drummer Brian Bennett, Kenney decided right then and there that he had to have it. Not unusual because, like guitar players, some drummers are always looking to frequently upgrade their gear. I found this purchase interesting because the set he replaced was a ‘silver glitter Ludwig kit’ (which appears in a photo in the center spread). Apparently Kenney Jones was playing exactly the same make and model Ludwig drum set that I would start learning to play in the spring of 1966. One of his other music store connections was a clerk named Steve who would eventually come out and sit in with the band at a gig. He got a little over exuberant. Steve had previous stage experience having played The Artful Dodger on stage, spent some time in acting school, and was also a musician. His over the top performance that night cost the band a regular gig which in turn caused two of the band’s members to quit. It didn’t matter to Ronnie and Kenney because they knew immediately that this new guy, Steve Marriott, was the key to them forming a better band. With a rehearsal space secured and a shared apartment to act as a band clubhouse (even though Jones remained with his family on Havering Street for a while longer), they began building a life in the music business.
It was a friend of Marriott’s named Annabelle who looked at them lounging around her pad one day and announced, “You all have little faces, you’re all small, you should be the Small Faces!” Jones now says, “We looked at each other, our eyes lit up, then we burst out laughing. What a ridiculous name. Give me a break, love. Only a right bunch of Herberts would call themselves the Small Faces.” He continues, “We were that right bunch of Herberts. Having mercilessly taken the mickey out of calling ourselves ‘Small Faces’ for a few weeks, the name then stuck. We ended up loving it.” The band ended when Marriott departed to join Peter Frampton in a new band called Humble Pie (covered in detail in FTV: Jerry Shirley 1-16-19), eventually to be replaced by Ron Wood and Rod Stewart. Wood and Stewart were not at all ‘small’ which induced the band to simply become The Faces. A hard rocking, hard partying band, The Faces toured with a stage side bar and bartender (author’s note: the bartender was one Royden Walter Magee, known as Chuch. Magee would eventually follow Ronnie Woods when he joined the Rolling Stones. When he suddenly died in Toronto while the Stones were preparing for a tour (2002), most of his snowmobiling and four-wheeling buddies in Marquette (including my brother) didn’t even know he worked for the Stones. Chuch had married a U.P. girl and fit right in). The Faces were one of the best concert draws around, but it wasn’t to last. When Rod Stewart began a simultaneous solo career, The Faces gained new followers, but the band’s days were numbered.
Early in The Small Faces period, Jones was dating the daughter of a well known bandleader named Tony Osborne. It was Osborne who taught Kenney how to read charts that mapped out what a drummer would play during session work. Because he had never learned to read music, Jones was fortunate to have a knowledgeable studio pro invite him to be part of a recording session and then tutor him on how to fit in. Kenney was a bit flummoxed when he found himself sitting in a studio with an entire orchestra ready to accompany two of the world’s best artists, guitarist Big Jim Sullivan and bassist Herbie Flowers. The run through with each section went okay. When it was time to put it all together, Tony raised his baton and Kenney began to get nervous: “The sound check was one thing, this is totally different. I’ve got to concentrate on the marks on my sheets, and Tony’s baton. Sheet, Tony, Sheet, Tony. Nothing else. He counts us in and I’m following on the page. We’re at the section with the first accents, when everyone is meant to come together on my beat. Here it comes. I can’t believe it, We did it. Together. In time. Everyone! I look up, startled, shocked. And drop my sticks. Tony calls everyone to a halt, ‘Kenney, what happened?’ [Kenney explained] I was looking at the sheet, played the accents, and at that same moment, in came the brass, everyone. Ba, ba, ba, ba, bam! Incredible, All from dots and squiggles on a little bit of paper, I knew I was going to play them, but not everyone else, Frightened the life out of me.” The room erupted in laughter and the session went on.
Big Jim and Herbie were so pleased that they requested Jones for all their sessions. They raved about him and as a result, Kenney Jones became a first call session drummer. The experience he got playing many varieties of music improved his skills immensely. Ian McLagan was the only other member of The Small Faces to dabble in studio work, but he didn’t find the early morning calls to his liking. Ian did become a sought after sideman for many famous musician’s tours, but Kenney was the only one drawing a regular paycheck from session work. It was during this period that he got to know Pete Townshend when The Who’s guitarist employed him to make demos of the songs he was writing.
When Keith Moon died, the list for someone to drum with The Who was a short one with but one name: Kenney Jones. Jones had been putting together what he called ‘a trans-Atlantic band’ with some notable studio musicians from both sides of the pond. Lazy Racer was on the verge of signing a record deal when Townshend pleaded with Kenney to join The Who. “You have got to join,” Peter said, “You are one of us.” Lazy Racer never left the gate.
Nobody could replace Keith Moon, so Jones made a conscious decision when he joined the band. He would play The Who’s songs without any radical changes in their arrangements, but he would play like Kenney Jones and not Keith Moon. Throughout his association with the band, there was a lot of ‘he is not Keith Moon’ babble in the music trades, but he largely ignored the bad press. He only had to satisfy two camps: his own mind and The Who’s remaining members. Townshend and John Entwhistle were fine with Jones throughout his time with the band. Singer Roger Daltry, however, complained long and loud that he didn’t like Jones. By February of 1988, he had played his last concert with The Who.
When The Faces broke up, Rod Stewart asked him to join his solo band as a 50-50 partner, not just a hired sideman. On the verge of relocating to L.A., he had second thoughts: perhaps people would think he and Rod killed The Faces so they could make more money together. Rod understood and it was Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) who took the drum stool with Rod instead. Appice played with Stewart a long time and provided him with one of his biggest hits, Do You Think I’m Sexy. Kenney Jones has no regrets. He has survived cancer, car crashes, divorce, the break up of bands, and the never ending quest to recover royalties from his days with The Small Faces, but he is still alive and well. He still engages in what he calls his favorite hobbies – riding horses and playing the drums.
Top Piece Video: KJ rehearses ‘Sister Disco’ with The Who in 1979