Appreciating Kenney Jones

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.

7 thoughts on “Appreciating Kenney Jones”

  1. Right! It’s about time somebody gave Kenney some love. Jesus, “Debris” is the greatest thing ever, of all time. And what about the way he and Woody straighten out the groove on “TwistinG The Night Away”? Pure genius.

  2. My feelings on drummers has always leaned towards the guys who could do more with less. Unfortunately much of my early music tastes were shaped by the basdardization of musical artists at the hands of MTV and other music based television. My impressions of Jones as a player were shaped by him behind the grossly excessive kits that seemed to be the norm of the big acts in that era. Too many notes. ZZZZZZZzzzz.

  3. Mike — huh? I’m not sure if you are disagreeing with my compliments of Jones or not. My whole point with Jone’s is that he is great for being economic in his approach through most of his career. YEs?

  4. I was agreeing with you and was expanding on why Jones might be ignored or left out of these types of discussions. I haven’t listened extensively to Jones work outside of the Who and my recolection of that was him playing with that dumb looking kit with the big gong and a ridiculous amount of toms which was all the rage during that period including the video for “You Better You Bet” which you mentioned and “Athena” which was grossly overplayed to my dismay.

    I think I recall hearing at that time that the recording sessons with Jones were contentious as the band wanted to move in a new direction and someone in the band thought he was playing too much like Keith. Perhaps that led to safe drumming. I will have to inquire about that with my resident Who expert.

  5. Huge KJ fan here. I got to see the Faces at age 14 on Valentines day 1974 in Detroit (12th row). On that night Kenney and the lads rocked their way into my heart and I knew that I would become a drummer. I loved the camaraderie, the swagger, and yes, the haircuts of the Faces. If you listen to some of the pre-roll outtakes on “Five Guys Walk Into A Bar” like “Jealous Guy”, you get an idea of the credo the band lived by “Have a good time ALL the time”. BTW the guy on “Every Picture …” is another phenomenal Brit drummer named Mickey Waller, who just passed away.

  6. rich's brother said

    Mike H……..I definately agree with your regarding drumming style.

    Ive seen many of the drumming “greats” over the course of my life like Lenny White and Billy Cobham. Speed to leave your jaw drop…….but I find myself rarely going back to their stuff all these years later.

    Then I go play “Who’s Next” and cue in on Moon’s drumming on a simple song like “The Song is Over”. When you listen to the last minute or so of that tune and hear Moon with that uniquely disjointed style, you realize it is indeed timeless and priceless.

    Ive never really considered Kenney Jones one way or another in the years after Moon’s passing………I guess not a good thing……..but then again, after 1978, Im not sure anything The Who did was nearly as profound on the whole.

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