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Ian McLagan, The B3 Organ Whiz


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Thursday, March 5, 2009

B3 organ wiz Ian McLagan recalls days in Detroit

Susan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

Ian McLagan played keyboards for the '60s British group the Small Faces (that's his raunchy Hammond B3 on "Itchykoo Park") and then with the Faces ("Stay With Me," "(I Know) I'm Losing You"). Rocking hard behind frontman Rod Stewart, the Faces played many gigs in Detroit in the '70s, raucous events at first the Eastown, then Cobo Hall, that usually ended with fights in the amped-up audience. The Guinness ale flowed so freely and the Faces were always on the verge of flying off the rails at any minute -- a tension that kept things exciting.

The scrappy, gregarious McLagan co-wrote some of their most loved songs, like "Cindy, Incidentally," "You're So Rude" and "Three-Button Hand-Me-Down." His latest album, "Never Say Never," recorded at his home studio in Austin with his Bump Band, is as heartfelt and rocking as anything Mac did with the Faces. He performs Sunday at the Magic Bag, and we hope he does "Cindy, Incidentally."

You should know Detroit pretty well, you played here so often with the Faces.

I remember it well. Detroit made the Faces! People who come from Detroit are tough. It's the same I think as Glasgow or Belfast, a tough life and hard living, but they appreciate great music.

Tell the story about how you were locked out of the Eastown Theater, in a pretty tough neighborhood.

There was something wrong with the organ, so someone at the Eastown was helping me with it. The (band) walked out the door and left me there; they didn't realize I wasn't with them. I ran out as quick as I could, and the door slammed behind me. I just had a little jacket on and it was March.

Picture a slight-framed British guy with an artichoke haircut -- not often seen in Detroit -- high-heeled boots and a tight jacket, all alone on a deserted street.

This was my third day in America, and I was a little concerned, because these four big guys were walking toward me. I thought, well that's the end of me! The one guy said, "Hey man, are you a musician?" I said "Yeah!" He said, "Are you playing at the Eastown?" I said, "Yeah, you want tickets?" "Yeah!" they said. No cab would stop for me, but they just whistled and the cab stopped! I jumped in. I had no money, I said, "If you get me to the Cadillac hotel, I will pay you." A good day in Detroit, but it could have been my last!

Do you haul your own Hammond B3 organ around?

Oh, yeah, it's the same Hammond B3 I was playing in the Faces. It's my road dog, although I shouldn't say that, it's a girl. I call her Betsy. She's been wood, white, red, she's purple at the moment. She's my faithful B3.

The new album, "Never Say Never," is great, very atmospheric and personal.

I recorded it all at home, and most of the album was played live. That's part of the magic of it. I love live music; it's what those kids can't hear if they download an MP3. They need to get a tube amp and some big old speakers, power those suckers up and open their ears! People aren't buying recorded music, they want it for nothing. Live music is where real things are happening at every split second. It's real life, and it's over until the next time.

There are several versions on YouTube of the Faces doing the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You."

God bless our David Ruffin. We all were into Motown and Stax. I even have a brick in my studio that came from the Stax studio, when they knocked it down. I loved (Motown drummer) Benny Benjamin, (bassist) James Jamerson, all those guys. I was in love with Gladys Knight for years. I got to meet her in London once. She was on a TV show with us. My secretary was walking down the hall backstage with me, she said "Mac, there's one thing I want to do." Then she banged really hard on this door and ran. It was Gladys' dressing room! Gladys opened the door and for once in my life, I was speechless. "I...I...I..." She said, "Hi!" I said, "I'm a big fan!" She said, "Come in, sit down!" She was so sweet to me.

Gladys says the voice is a muscle that you have to exercise.

That's exactly it. I don't have a great voice at all, but it's better than it used to be. I love singing. I exercise it. Like Gladys said, it's a muscle that you have to warm up. I cool it down with Guinness usually!

Any possibility of a reunion with Rod and the Faces?

We're talking about it; we've talked about it for 30, 40 years. The plan is, we may do a couple of gigs this summer and film it. I think we should tour the world, but I hear Rod's not so keen on touring anymore. Maybe after we do a few gigs he'll change his mind. I have my fingers crossed. If it's not this summer, I have gigs, I have work to do ...

You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or swhitall@detnews.com.

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