Loving ‘Cheers’ to My Late Mate, Ian McLagan

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May 12, 1945 – December 3, 2014
Photo by Jim Chapin Photohraphy

Photo by Jim Chapin Photography

Ian “Mac” McLagan was the finest kind of rock star: He was a player whose distinctive keyboard work with The Small Faces and The Faces, as well as sessions and tours with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Bragg, the solo Rod Stewart and many others yielded instrumental moments that merit heavenly enshrinement in the Pantheon of Rock Music. His playing was always rich with his spirit, soul and personality. Mac was a truly sweet, fond, jocular and thoroughly unpretentious hail-fellow-well-met with not even a trace of star attitude to any and all he crossed paths with, especially his fans.

As an admirer of his playing since my 1960s teen years I was blessed to know him as a genuine mate for the last 20-plus years of his life. And what a wonderful mate he was to me and many others who knew, played and worked with him. Even if you were a stranger yet a fan, if you caught Mac by a bar and shared a round of Guinness with him – his favorite libation, as befitted his Irish lineage – within a few sips he’d make you feel like a mate too.

I got to know Mac – it was always Mac, never Ian – soon after he moved to Austin, Texas, in 1994. I contacted him to do an interview for the local weekly paper. He suggested we meet at just about the closest thing in town to an English pub, and by the end of our lively talk filled with laughs and shared love for music we got nicely pissed, as the Brits would say, on pints of stout.

An immediate bond between us was that I’d done p.r. work on the Ronnie Lane Appeal for ARMS tour in 1983 that featured Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and an all-star band that raised a few million for alternative research into multiple sclerosis, the condition that disabled and eventually felled Mac’s Small Faces/Faces bandmate Lane. A few days after the interview Mac called me to say he’d been going though his old press clippings and found a nationally syndicated newspaper article I wrote in 1979 after I had first interviewed him on the release of his first solo album, Troublemaker. Without saying so outright, he still let me know that he appreciated my liking and support for his work and legacy.

Related: Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones had a 2015 Faces reunion

All+the+RageThe Faces and Small Faces had been fleeced nine ways to Sunday by various managers, publishers and record labels. Hence Mac was not wealthy by any means; instead just a solidly middle-class working musician with a nice home on a few acres just east of the city. His warm and lovely wife Kim – Keith Moon’s ex – also worked full-time as a cosmetician. Mac quickly jumped into the local scene, forming an Austin version of his Bump Band, and playing sessions for whomever was willing to pay the freight for him to haul his Hammond B-3 organ to the studio in his small pick-up truck and play. Whatever he laid down was well worth it; he would enhance any song he played on with his trademark touches.

He wasn’t just a rock legend who lived here. Mac became a genuine member of the Austin music community, out at shows, for many years playing a weekly no-cover residency with his band at a downtown club every Thursday whenever he was in town. It was always pub rock bliss. He was one of us. And for all of Mac’s accomplishments before, he blossomed here as a singer, songwriter, bandleader, player and maker of wonderful records.

At one point later in the ’90s, Mac called me to ask a favor. He explained how he’d started writing his memoirs, and wanted someone else to read the starting segments he’d done and let him know if he was on track. Since I had been slated after getting to know Lane to co-write his autobiography, edited by Pete Townshend and published by Faber & Faber, I reminded Mac of that fact, and suggested that if he wanted a co-writer… hoping that an opportunity lost through no fault of my own might come around again with Mac.

“Thanks, but I think I’m doing fine on my own,” he said. “Read what I’ve got and let me know what you think.” When I got the disc he sent me – this was still the early days of the Internet – and slid it into my primitive little Macintosh and opened the doc, it was apparent within just a few paragraphs he had no need of my help – what I read was well-written and redolent with his charm and personality. I immediately called Mac and told him he was doing great on his own, carry on.

When All The Rage came out in 2000, much to my delight, in his initial thanks, I was the third name mentioned, right after Townshend. To me it was a huge honor for what I felt was a small favor for a friend. That was the kind of person Mac was.

Watch Townshend guest with Mac and the Bump Band

A few more years down the line he sent me the tracks for his just-finished fifth solo album, Rise & Shine, to listen to. The songs and recordings were great, but as I played the disc, something wasn’t quite gelling. I took the liberty of re-sequencing the song order, and it played like a charm. When he asked me what I thought, I hesitantly told him that the songs and performances were great… then gently asked, “Are you married to the sequence?”

“No!” he blurted. “I fucking hate the sequence!” OK, try this, I suggested. He took down the new order, and said he’d burn a disc right away to listen to in his truck as he ran an errand. About an hour later the phone rang. “Rob! You’re a fucking genius!

Here was a guy who’d been one of my favorite rock keyboard players since I first heard his lilting organ on “Itchykoo Park” in 1967 praising me for my musical savvy? It just doesn’t get any better for a lover of rock music. (Of course he thanked me in the CD notes.)

Sometimes as we’d meet for pints or I’d be out at Mac’s house for a talk and hang – Kim McLagan would always take time to ask how I was, what I was doing – as well as his 60th birthday party, or I’d run into him at a show, I’d sometimes briefly step outside from the great pleasure of his company and recall all the songs he’d played on where his parts delighted me. Or how I’d seen him onstage in huge packed stadiums with the Stones and Dylan. Because most of the time he was simply my mate Mac, always good for a hearty laugh (especially after a few), warm as a roaring fireplace, as real and unaffected as not just the day nor week but year if not life is long. He was that kind of man.

And the kind of man I so admired for how deeply he loved and adored his wife. Every Friday night if he was not on the road, Ian and Kim McLagan had a standing date at their favorite Thai restaurant. He’d fallen in love with her when she was married to Moon, rescued her from his manic predations, and remained so utterly dedicated to and enthralled with her… I should only be so lucky to maybe enjoy that kind of love before I die. Which made it that much more saddening to see him so utterly devastated after she tragically died in a car accident in 2006.

Then, in typical Mac style, about a year or so later, I ran into Mac out on the town. He pulled me aside, and confessed, “Y’know Rob, Kim’s been gone for a while now… and a man’s got his needs, But every time I try to get something together with a woman… I swear, she’s cock-blocking me from heaven!”

When I learned he had died of a stroke, it hit me like a cinder block heaved at my gut. I cried like a child. And though I have no idea what happens when we die, I do have faith that our souls carry on. So about 30 seconds into the tears, I also had to smile: If there is some kind of rock ‘n’ roll heaven, Mac was reunited with his beloved Kim.

As I put the finishing touches on this, tears still well in my eyes. Yet I also smile, as I’ve done many times in the interim as I think of him, hear his music, see a picture of his face with that impish Irish smile and the crackle of his lust for life in his eyes. And will continue to do as long as I live and cherish perhaps the biggest blessing of my magical rock ‘n’ roll life – becoming friends with Ian McLagan.

I wish every rock fan could be so fortunate as I was to really be friends with a musical hero. But there are few if any men like Mac, much less famed musicians.

Love ya, Mac. Miss you terribly. So hope we meet again. Next round’s on me.

And I will cry and smile again when I can say, “Hello Old Friend.”

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Rob Patterson

Rob Patterson

Rob Patterson began writing about music in 1976. Since his first published record review in Crawdaddy he has contributed to numerous national popular music magazines such as Creem, Musician, Circus, Spin, Request, Tower Pulse!, CD Review, Acoustic Guitar, Harp and many others along with major country music, consumer audio, musical instrument and studio recording magazines plus international publications New Musical Express and Country Music People in the U.K. From 1977 to '84 he wrote a nationally syndicated music column as well as stories for Newspaper Enterprises Association/United Feature Syndicate that ran in more than 400 daily newspapers across the nation. His work has also appeared in many weekly newspapers, onlinepublications like Salon.com and The Huffington Post, such books as the Rolling Stone Record Guide & Revised Record Guide, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Rock History and The Year In Rock, 1980-81, plus liner notes for 20 album releases.
Rob Patterson
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  1. Jimmy
    #1 Jimmy 4 December, 2017, 19:21

    Rob, I loved your essay on Mac. I grew up with The Small Faces and Faces and Stewart and Mac. I found out that he lived and played in Austin just before his death. I had thought that, certainly, r&r royalty like Mac would be living in a castle somewhere in the English countryside. I was beside myself when I learned of the sad news even more so because I had been living down the road in San Antonio for a few years. So close and yet…Thanks for remembering. Love to buy you a pint sometime.

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