Appreciating Kenney Jones

By on 11-03-2008 in Uncategorized

I just plugged in, “Kenney Jones underrated” in Google. I only came up with a few posts on message boards, his name listed in one or two posts, next to posts about guys in Spyro Gyra and metal bands, drummers using mallets, double kick drums, etc.

I’ve been listening a lot to the Small Faces and the Faces over the past few years, growing up with the latter but only really getting deeper into the former in the past decade. And Kenney’s drumming is stunning — ranging from what might be called power soul, likely what gave the Who the idea for the tagline, “Maximum R&B;,” to a more restrained approach, which is a typical arc for a maturing musician. The Small Faces had a much higher R&B; quotient than the Who, who were more “maximum” than “R&B;” in their approach. There’s a straight line from the early Small Faces to Led Zeppelin’s hard blues (to the extent that Zep — as they did with the work from so many other artists — actually lifted Small Faces bits wholesale.) And the relationships between all of those bands in ’60s London was closely intertwined, with shared labels, managers, clubs, and side musicians. Their fellow early mods, the Who clearly admired their brethren in the Small Faces, as Keith Moon in his hardest partying days, when he perhaps glimpsed his end, speculated on a hand-picked successor, none other than Kenny Jones. And of course, this is the very drummer they picked after Moon’s death.

“Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”

From the Small Faces’ earliest singles like “What’cha Gonna Do About It” to their more experimental psychedelic-era opus LP Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Jones’ power and control were on display. This is the style of drumming that would have made him a musical fit for the Who. But he later settled into a more finessed, restrained style that would have come from some of his R&B; heroes like Al Jackson of the MGs and all of those Stax recordings, the same southern “in the pocket” groove that Charlie Watts concentrated on in his transition from a jazz drummer to his role in the Rolling Stones. It is this style that can be heard in its austere extreme on Faces tracks like “Tell Everyone” and the artful drum track on “Love Lives Here.” It is not merely the simplicity; it is the musicality of the drums, the groove and the space, the way Jones locks in with the bassist Ronnie Lane. When he does augment the basic backbeat, it is with tastefully placed fills consisting simple snare rolls and one or two rack tom hits. This is the sort of groove-centric style he employs on songs like “Debris” and “Ooh La La.” On the latter, most of the track is backed by tension-building percussion and whole-note kicks. When Jones backs the tack-piano solo, he adds a cross-stick snare drum (stick placed on the drum head and clicked lightly on the rim).

“Tell Everyone”

“Love Lives Here”

Even when the Faces went all out and raved it up, as with their biggest hit “Stay With Me,” Jones’ is just laying it in there simply, with an improbable 16th-note high hat pattern (presaging disco), not some huge-ass reverberating, brutal multi-drum fills a la Jason Bonham or Keith Moon (not a man known for his finesse with the high hat). When Jones really lets go on “Stay With Me,” he merely loosens up the high hat to create more splash and adds a few rolls at the end of some bars. Even on the drum solo, he adds a few jazzy, Gene Krupa-like fills – no flaming gongs to be heard here. In fact, it is on this song as well as “Feel So Good” (live), the cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and other rave-ups, as the drumming gets a bit heavier handed, that Jones swings more than rocks. I mean, it is rocking and gets heavy, but it never loses that slinky swing. I love this style on other tracks like “Miss Judy’s Farm” and the amazing cover of “I’m Losing You.” Contrast this to his more Moon/Bonham-like approach on “Come on Children” from the Small Faces in 1965. The man comes out swinging, looking for a fight. The boogie is evident, but the fills are exhilaratingly chaotic and reckless, barely landing in place. Even covering his MGs backing Otis Redding, on “Shake” on the same record, Jones adds way more mid-verse fills.

Back when I was a teenager, playing in my first bands, we used to have endless arguments about with guitarist was the best — Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia, Townshend, Keith, Van Halen etc. And there were other such discussions about drummers. But those usually ended around Bonham, Moon, maybe Appice, Neil fuckin’ Pert, and so on. I was usually in the minority of pip squeaks advocating for Keith, Charlie, even Ringo, of course. Those are more my guys, along with Levon Helm and musician’s musicians like Dave Mattacks. Sure, I love and have always loved the more pyrotechnic Moon and Bonham and Hendrix and Page. But maybe it was because I have never been able to play very fast and/or complicated guitar parts, but I never really tried either. It was not my interest. I hated, HATED Rush, Van Halen and all those huge technically flashy acts. I wanted the guy that played the Harvest beat (Kenny Buttrey), or one who could lay down a clean, feel-good backbeat to play against. But Kenney Jones was the guy who replaced Keith Moon to me and millions more like me, then went on to do those two lame Who albums (yeah, “Eminence Front” was great, but “You Better You Bet???) Not Kenney’s fault he joined that party too late, but my knowledge of the Small Faces and the Faces were only a bare minimum at age 13 and 14 — a few songs on the radio or in the LP collections of the older brothers of friends.) My appreciation of him has become more intense as I get older and listen more and more closely.