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

The 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.

Watch Faces perform “I’m Losing You”

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.)

Related: McLagan is on our list of 13 best rock organists

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.”

Related: The remaining Faces albums – Stewart, Wood and Jones – are discussing a reunion

Rob Patterson

9 Comments so far

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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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  2. Jim
    #2 Jim 4 December, 2018, 09:33

    Thanks for a beautiful article. I’ve always felt that Mac was the real deal, entirely authentic. One need only look at the musical company he kept and, better yet, listen to his contributions to their songs, to know where he belongs in the firmament of rock ‘n roll greats. Cheers, mate!

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  3. Phil in Shrewsbury
    #3 Phil in Shrewsbury 13 May, 2020, 03:30

    Mac’s tours of small UK venues, both with the Bump Band and more or less solo, were an absolute joy. And you’re right, if you talked to him after the gig, he made you feel like you were his new best mate.

    I took my copy of All the Rage, hoping he might sign it, and he seemed pleased to be asked and said ‘Who shall I sign it to?’ Phil, I replied. He’d said during the show that his hearing was a bit shot, so I wasn’t surprised, when I looked proudly at my autographed copy the next day, to see: ‘All the best Bill, Love Mac’.

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  4. Namdooglah
    #4 Namdooglah 4 December, 2020, 09:13

    great post, rob. i almost cried myself as you mentioned learning of his death. i am aware of mac ’cause his name was on ALL my fave albums. he would’ve liked your article. my name is hal, and if you’re ever in colorado, i’d like to buy you a beer…

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  5. Bobby Frufracker
    #5 Bobby Frufracker 17 February, 2021, 07:48

    Met Mac at Lucky’s in Austin, asked him to sign my copy of Nut Flake and told him his playing on “Tin Soldier inspired my own playing. “Oh God bless ya, lad!” Was his enthusiastic response. We chatted just a bit — I didn’t want to keep him from the band, lol — and I figured out how everything written about him above was 100 percent true. Wot a gem!

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  6. Wail
    #6 Wail 17 February, 2021, 08:05

    Being a latecomer to bestclassicbands.com I haven’t previously read your great tribute to Ian McLagan. Back in the day, The Faces were “my” band and I always considered Mac to be their conscience and to have a greater understanding of their heritage than other band members. He was the only one, I believe, who readily contributed to Andy Neill’s excellent 2011 biography of the Faces and, of course, was the brainchild behind Five Guys Walk Into A Bar. All the Rage remains my favourite book of the genre and after I read it I somehow tracked down Mac’s email address. And he responded to my message! As you say, nothing pretentious about Mac. And just a brilliant player.

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  7. Neuy
    #7 Neuy 19 April, 2022, 17:16

    Beautiful homage. Oooh what a lucky man you are.

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  8. Baker boy
    #8 Baker boy 6 December, 2022, 03:26

    Brilliantly written article grew up with these guys all sadly mised

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  9. Dr. Bristol
    #9 Dr. Bristol 13 May, 2023, 10:09

    Wonderful piece, Rob. Grew up loving Small Faces and Faces and never dreamed I’d get to know and hang with Mac years later. Like you, a long interview opened the door and a correspondence started. I knew Jon, his bass player and road trip companion, so every show I saw was followed by hours of pints and jokes and laughs. (A couple of entries on his webpage joke tab are mine; the supreme honor!). As kind and gentle a soul as I’ve ever met, and like you, his death crushed me. But his music lives on and that smile and laugh are burned into my memory. I cried then…I smile now.

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