The Faces helped introduce flashy showmanship and a festive atmosphere to rock music performances in the early 1970s. The group was a consolidation of former members of the Small Faces and the Jeff Beck group. Throughout their history, the Faces dealt with a great deal of confusion between their work as a unit and as a back up to singer Rod Stewart’s solo career. Because of this mix-up, the band was also referred to as Rod Stewart & the Faces—for Stewart’s solo recordings—and as Rod Stewart/Faces. After the group’s demise, Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, who joined the Rolling Stones, went on to widely successful careers in music.
The Faces was a progression of the British band Small Faces, which began with bass player Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenny Jones, singer and guitarist Steve Marriot, and organist John Winstone. Not long after their formation, they replaced Winstone with Ian McLagan. Within the band’s first six weeks together, the Small Faces had a manager and a single on the U.K. charts, called “Watcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It.”
Members included Kenny Jones (born September 16, 1948, in London, England), drums; Ronnie Lane (born Ronald Frederick Lane, April 1, 1946, in London, England), bass; Ian McLagan (born May 12, 1945, in Hounslow, Middlesex, England), keyboards; Rod Stewart (born Roderick Stewart, January 10, 1945, in London, England), vocals; Ron Wood (born June 1, 1947, in Hillingdon, Middlesex, England), guitar; Lane was replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi (born October 21, 1947, in Fukuoka, Japan), bass.
Band formed with members of the Small Faces and the Jeff Beck group, 1969; released debut album First Step, 1970; released three more albums as a band, 1971-1973; dissolved band, 1975; Stewart continued solo career; Wood joined the Rolling Stones.
By 1969, Steve Marriot had decided to leave the Small Faces, but the remaining members wanted to continue the band. First, they recruited guitarist Ron Wood, who had just left the Jeff Beck group. Wood invited a former Jeff Beck bandmate, Rod Stewart, to check out a rehearsal. Stewart had already signed a recording contract as a solo artist with Mercury Records. However, when asked to join the Faces, he agreed. Stewart believed the ensemble hadn’t quite jelled, but got along with the group so well that he had to join. “I was more impressed with them as people,” Stewart told Robert Green in Rolling Stone. “I said, ‘What a nice bunch of guys—I’ll join that band!’ Literally, that’s what I said, and that’s exactly what I did.”
In June of 1969, the new formation of the Faces was complete, and the band signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. They released their debut album, First Step, along with the single “Flying” the following year. In the United States, the album was still released under the name Small Faces.
The year 1971 became an important milestone for all the members of the band. They released the album Long Player and the single “Had Me A Real Good Time” reached number 29 on the U.S. charts. In October, Rod Stewart’s solo career also took off with the hit single “Maggie May” and the album Every Picture Tells A Story. The other members of the Faces performed with Stewart on his television publicity and concert tour. This combination began the reference to Rod Stewart & the Faces, which created some difficulties in the band.
The group followed up their recording debut with the release A Nod’s As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse, which reached number two in Great Britain and number six in the United States. Bassist Ronnie Lane took over on vocals for some of the tracks on the album, including “You’re So Rude,” “Last Orders Please,” and “Debris.” Comparisons between the Faces albums and Rod Stewart’s solo work started to surface, especially since the same musicians played on both recordings. Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone, “The gap in achievement between Stewart’s albums and the Faces is too great for it to go on.”
Critics weren’t the only ones who recognized such differences. Ronnie Lane explained to Andrew Bailey in Rolling Stone, “I think Rod’s records have been better than the band’s…. When we do it as the band as a whole, there are five opinions to take into account. When we play on Rod’s album, everyone just strolls in, [does it], and it comes out great.”
The lack of distinction between a solo Stewart and the Faces extended into their live performances. The band would combine all their material in concert, making billing even more complicated. Stewart recognized the predicament and often attempted to submerge his solo identity with the ensemble’s. “We’re a band, and I want people to realize it’s a band up there,” Stewart told Green in Rolling Stone. “The other guys in the band are strong, too, in what they do. I wouldn’t be in this band if I didn’t think they were equally strong.”
The Faces spent most of 1972 on the road. They released the single “Stay With Me,” which climbed to number six in Great Britain and number 17 in the United States. They performed in the Great Western Express Festival, along with the Beach Boys and Monty Python. In 1973, they released their next album, Ooh La La, which soared to the top of the charts in Great Britain and hit number 21 in the United States. This time, four of the songs on the album were sung by other members of the band.
In May of 1973, bassist Ronnie Lane decided to leave the band. “It’s time for me to move on,” Lane said in a press statement. “I feel the need for a change.” He went on to form a group called Slim Chance and later moved with his family to a 100-acre farm in the hills between England and Wales. Lane worked as a sheepherder on his farm and continued to play music in a small studio on his property. In 1978, however, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, making it impossible for him to play professionally again.
After Lane’s departure, the Faces enlisted Tetsu Yamauchi, a former bassist for Free. Soon thereafter, the band decided to take some time off. During this interval, Stewart released Smiler. Ron Wood also released a solo album, and Kenny Jones made a guest performance on a Jackson Browne record. The following year, Rod Stewart moved to the United States because of tax issues in England, and the Faces began touring again. According to BarbaraCharone’s review in Rolling Stone, the break did them some good. “Kenny Jones, Tetsu, Ian McLagan, and Wood ceased being Stewart’s straightmen for the singer’s more flamboyant antics,” she wrote, noting that “sloppy, good-time atmospheres were replaced by tighter musicianship.” But in June of 1975, Wood toured the United States as a temporary member of the Rolling Stones and rumors began to fly about the band’s possible breakup.
When the Faces returned to Great Britain to perform, the British Musicians Union denied Yamauchi’s work permit. Sensing the band was beginning to crumble, Stewart contemplated giving up his solo career to pursue work with the Faces 100 percent of the time. “Everybody should face up to the fact that we haven’t made good albums as a band,” Stewart told Cameron Crowe in Rolling Stone. “Everybody knows.” Then, Wood commented, “He just means we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do—capture the spirit of our live shows.”
“I don’t think the Faces have been given a chance yet, as far as recording a good album,” Kenny Jones told Tom Nolan in Rolling Stone. “The ones we’ve made in the past were mostly leftover ideas, from Rod’s albums and later from Woody’s. You’ve got to go in with concrete ideas. We’ve never done that.” With the members drifting off into different directions, the Faces never got that chance. On October 12, 1975, they played what would be their last concert together. The split became official at a London press conference on December 18, 1975. Stewart began working on his next solo album immediately. “The thing is, now I can have a band that’s exactly what I want it to be,” Stewart told Rolling Stone. “It doesn’t have to be a set load of musicians onstage, like the Faces. Now I can have who I want.”
After the breakup, Rod Stewart continued a successful solo career; Ron Wood officially joined the Rolling Stones. And Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan made a futile attempt to reform the Small Faces. In 1979, Jones replaced Keith Moon as the drummer for the Who. McLagan released a few solo albums, then toured as a backup band member for the Rolling Stones. In 1993 the original members of the Faces, with the exception of Ronnie Lane, reunited for one more show. They performed with bassist Bill Wyman in recognition of Rod Stewart’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the twelfth annual BRIT Awards.
Despite all of the obstacles that arose during the band’s tenure, the Faces became well known as the launch pad for Rod Stewart and Ron Wood’s careers. The members agreed with much of their negative press; namely, that the group worked better on stage and on Stewart’s albums than they did on their own records. The live performances, polished off with lots of glitter and flashy satin, were where the Faces made their mark in music history.
First Step, Warner Bros., 1970.
Long Player, Warner Bros., 1971.
A Nod’s As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse, Warner Bros., 1971.
Ooh La La, Warner Bros., 1973.
Coast to Coast Overture and Beginners, Mercury, 1974.
The Best of the Faces, Warner Bros., 1977.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, 1996.
Billboard, September 6, 1971; January 8, 1972; September 30, 1972; March 15, 1975.
People, December 19, 1983.
Rolling Stone, March 18, 1971; November 25, 1971; January 6, 1972; June 8, 1972; June 7, 1973; June 21, 1973; September 27, 1973; February 27, 1975; April 24, 1975; October 9, 1975; January 29, 1976; April 22, 1976.
Stereo Review, August 1972.
Texas Monthly, August 1986.
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