Kenney Jones - One Man Went to MowWritten by Val Weedon
Kenney Jones is recognised as one of the top rock drummers in the world, playing with three of the most well known bands around. He was a member of the sixties Mod band Small Faces, went on to play with The Faces and front man Rod Stewart then in 1978 following the tragic death of Keith Moon was the obvious choice for The Who.
I knew Kenney back in 1966 when I worked for the Small Faces fan club and manager Don Arden. I was a huge fan and landed the job as office junior after weeks of hanging out at the offices in Carnaby Street. After the Small Faces left Don Arden I didn’t really see Kenney again until 2007 when he came to unveil a Commemorative Plaque that I had led a campaign for in honour of Don Arden and the Small Faces. The plaque was put up outside our old offices in Carnaby Street.
I recognised Kenney immediately as he hadn’t changed much at all. He has the most wonderful smile with squinting mischievous eyes. He’s a very warm, friendly person and was happy spending time with fans signing autographs and having photos taken.
Kenney had the reputation of being the quiet one of the band, but admits himself to being a bit of a tearaway as a youngster “I used to go out with my mates up the Roman Road throwing bottles”. It was also reported in the press that in1968, when the Small Faces were on tour with The Who in Australia, Kenney and Keith Moon trashed their hotel rooms.
Following the unveiling of the plaque I kept in touch with Kenney by email and the odd phone call. It had been my intention back then to interview him and find out what he’s been up in more recent times. Then last December I went to see Kenney’s band The Jones Gang play at his polo club in Surrey, vowing to ask about the interview.
The Jones Gang is a collaboration of top musicians made up of Robert Hart (Bad Company) & Rick Wills (Foreigner) and other guest musicians that have included the likes of Ronnie Wood and Dave “Bucket” Colwell.
The Jones Gang have something special. Very much a party band similar in style to The Faces, but with front man Robert Hart full of energy and engaging with the audience. It had been the first time I’d seen Kenney play since the Small Faces days, so I very excited to be there. He’s such a great drummer. I caught up with him after the show and put the question to him about doing an interview.
“Yeah, no problem” he said. “Let’s get together in the new year”.
But the new year came and went. We came very close to getting something together on several occasions in the following months, only to be dashed as other priorities came along for Kenney. Then the Polo season started and important fixtures demanded his attention. Finally after almost 8 months we both agreed it was getting ridiculous and we really needed to get our act together. Originally we had the idea of doing the interview over a relaxing lunch in London. But then we knew that just wasn’t feasible. So, the only way it was going to happen was for me to go to Hurtwood Park.
I don’t drive, so Kenney very kindly picked me up from Gatwick Station. We drove back to Hurtwood Park through the scenic route of the Surrey countryside. He pointed out a few landmarks along the way, including Glyn Johns recording studio. We chatted informally and I told him how he was the most difficult subject I’d ever tried to secure an interview with.
“Well today you’ll get an idea of a typical day for me.” Kenney said smiling.
It wasn’t long before I understood exactly what he meant. Just as we pulled into Hurtwood Park he turned and said “Now, I’m going to get you some coffee and then I need to leave you for a while as I have to do some mowing. We have a wedding we’re hosting tomorrow and I need to cut the grass. I’ll only be about ten minutes.”
Hurtwood Park is not just a Polo Club. It is also a Country Club and the venue is hired out for weddings and special occasions. As we entered the club house Kenney made his way to the kitchen. I sat myself down at a table unloading my tape machine and note book from my bag. Kenney was back in a few minutes with coffee before making his way outside. Looking from the clubhouse window I watched as Kenney climbed aboard this motorised mower. As I drank my coffee watching Kenney negotiate his way around a small area of grass I was thinking how bizarre this was. Here I am watching a top rock drummer mow grass. It was surreal.
He returned to the clubhouse, apologising for the slight distraction. A quick phone call interrupts the interview again. Phone call over he walks to where I’m sitting and pours himself a cup of coffee. His phone bleeps. Kenney leans forward and quickly checks it, giving a small sigh, then drinks his coffee.
This is an opportunity to ask Kenney what he feels about mobile phones and all the gadgets we have today.
“I love technology. I never thought I’d be able to work a computer, but now I wonder what we did without it. I’m not very good at filing things properly. But I mostly use the computer for communication. Although, I’ve got email on my phone now too. Anyone who says they can’t get hold of me is lying. There’s two phones in the office, I’ve got email, and the mobile phone. So if it’s important they can leave messages and I’ll always get back.”
The phone bleeps again and throughout the interview we are constantly interrupted by bleeps and rings. Occasionally Kenney went off to deal with a call if it was clearly important.
Kenney’s life is split, between his family, music and the Polo club, and he has a number of other business activities he’s involved in. But was keen to point out that music is central to it all. “Music is an important part of me and it will always be that way. Polo is a hobby really, plus riding horses.” Then he pauses and laughs as he adds “Oh, and flying helicopters. I’m a fully qualified pilot you know.”
On the music side Kenney is involved in a number of projects. He is Executive Producer for a full length animated film of the Ogdens Nutgone Flake album, that has been in production for a number of years. There is also the much talked about Faces re-union, which he assures me is still going ahead. And of course there is his work with The Jones Gang. The band are due to perform at an annual Open Air Concert at Hurtwood Park on 5th September. Kenney points out that the concert is not just for club’s members, but will be open to members of the public.
“People can bring picnics and it’s very much a social and family event.”
The Jones Gang will be supported by the Hurtwood Park Songbirds and a top covers band called The Overtures. It is the highlight of the club’s summer calendar with the Polo Season safely out of the way by this time. Attracting around 2,000 people, which has grown each year and this year they are hoping to double this to at least 4,000. Of course the club is used to handling large numbers, with the Polo events attracting crowds of up to 25,000.
“I work hard every day. There was a time when I’d go into my office in my pyjamas about 7am and next time I look at my watch it’ll be 6pm, but only because I’ve had to do so much. Once you answer a few emails and get a communication going you never get away. So what I tend to do now is go in early check it quickly and leave. You see, I’m an outdoor person. He looks thoughtful and says “I’d like to simplify my life.”
Kenney was very much involved in the building of his club. “I dug out the foundations to the clubhouse here and even my house. I just like doing all that. You get a real feeling of achievement. I was involved in building a good proportion of this clubhouse, the fireplace, the windows, pretty much all of it I was involved in. That’s because one of my other hobbies is building barns.”
He went on to explain “I got involved in barn building after wanting one in the grounds of my previous house which I’d intended to turn into a recording studio. Well I thought I’d bought a barn. A couple of characters came along and showed me a picture of a barn. We agreed a price and a few weeks later this lorry turns up with all these logs on the back. It looked like a huge pile of fire wood, although that’s what an unmade barn looks like.”
But Kenney felt something wasn’t quite right. “I got them to own up. It turns out they went to get the barn in the picture but it’d been sold, and they didn’t want to lose the work, so they went out and bought bits of old barns.”
So, Kenney told them that as long as they built a barn like the one in the picture, he’d be happy. They acquired some extra help from local experts and together with Kenney they finished the project.
“We built a wonderful barn. I learnt an awful lot from them. We are still friends and they help me out from time to time. So, out of these tragedies comes some good and also I found another hobby, which is great. If I was dumped in a wilderness somewhere I could now build a barn from scratch.”
His father had been a carpenter, which is probably where his interest in wood comes from “I love working with big oak, not fine joinery. I was always in my dad’s shed with the chisels and plains, so that definitely rubbed off on me.”
I asked him if he had ever built a tree house for his children?
“Ah, this is a sore point really. Yeah, they all wanted one of those, but I was always too busy to get around to doing it. Cody in particular really wanted one. I’ve got some great ideas for tree houses but I guess I’ll have to wait until the grandchildren come along now.”
Kenney’s own memories of the countryside as an East End kid in post war Britain was summer holidays hop picking in Kent. Like a lot of people from London hop picking was an annual treat. “I spent many years at those hop farms, right up until my thirteenth birthday.”
He felt it was a great time to grow up, with many adventures. “I certainly experienced the Fagin side of life really. Bunking off school and hanging out in central London with all the prostitutes who used to tell me off and say why aren’t you at school. But I liked looking through the window of music shops.”
There were some scary moments as well, like the time Kenney and some friends went into a bombed house where the floor gave way and they landed in the basement of the house right next to a load a skeletons. It turned out to be the family who lived there.
“They must have gone into the basement following an air raid, but were killed when a bomb hit it. We went to get a policeman but were so scared at what we’d just seen we couldn’t talk. This was the first time the reality of war hit me. As a kid playing on the bomb sites it was fun and we had no conception of what had taken place. But seeing those bodies in that house really made me aware of the horrors of war.”
These experiences led to influences in the song writing for the Small Faces in future years. “People often ask me where ItchyCoo Park is. Well, everyone has an ItchyCoo Park. For Steve there was a particular one in the East End, For me it was these bomb sites because they would often have these great big stinging nettles growing out of the rubble.”
School was not a happy place for Kenney and playing truant was something he did regularly. It wasn’t until many years later that he discovered he suffered from Dyslexia. At school he struggled with reading and writing,
“I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t as clever as some of the others. I’d get words round the wrong way.”
So was it his problem with dyslexia that got him into drumming?
“Not really. I was cleaning a car with a mate and he said I think we should form a skiffle group. Good idea I replied. Then I went around the other side of the car and thought for a minute. What’s a skiffle group I said. My mate said there was one playing on the telly that night and we should watch it.”
The band playing was Lonnie Donegan and one of the band was playing banjo. Kenney thought that’s just what he’d like to play and was so excited about the thought of playing music. He remembered seeing a banjo in the window of a local pawn shop next to Bethnal Green station, but when he got there it had gone. His mate could see his disappointment so got another mate to take his drum kit over to Kenney’s house.
“It turned out to be only one floor tom and a bass drum, plus one of the drumsticks was broken. We glued it with some stuff from my dad’s shed and waited what seemed hours for this stick to dry. Then I went to bash it and it broke again. But I persevered and really loved it.”
It wasn’t Kenney’s first experience with drums of course as he remembered having an uncle who was the Maestro for an Irish marching band and Kenney said he used to walk along side them pretending to pound the drums.
“Then I’d go back to my dad’s shed and get some old tins and some fire wood and bash away.” But it was when he saw Lonnie Donnigan on tv that he really got hooked on the idea of being in a band.
Kenney was determined to get his own drum kit and found his way to the famous J60 music shop. Having dyslexia posed a challenge for him when travelling, but he found a way of coping and had to work things out more laterally. When he arrived at the music shop the sales assistant pointed out a drum kit costing £64 4shillings and tuppence. But he had no money, so it was suggested he take out a Hire Purchase agreement (HP), although Kenney still needed £10 for the deposit. So he made his way back home.
“Luckily my mum’s purse was on the kitchen table and mum wasn’t” he said with a grin.
“I borrowed £10 and went straight back to J60s. They told me they’d drop the kit off at my house that night and get his parents to sign the HP forms.”
So Kenney waited nervously for them to turn up, thinking what his parents would say. Six o’clock came and there was a knock at the door.
“My parents looked at each other wondering who it could be. I let my dad answer the door and in walks the sales assistant who set the drum kit up in the front room. He took out these brushes and played a little rift then handed them to me. I just shut my eyes and started playing. I could hear the right sound and couldn’t believe I did it. My parents said they had never seen such a big smile on my face and could see the satisfaction it gave me, so didn’t hesitate in signing the HP forms.”
Kenney’s parents were keen for him to be involved in something that would keep him out of mischief. They sat him down and told him he’d have to get a little job on the side to help pay off the HP.
“I taught myself to play. I was up early in the morning about 7 o’clock. Mum would often have to drag the sticks off me and send me off to school. But I’d be back at lunch time practising again. We only had a couple of 78 records that I could play along to. My dad had bought the theme tune to Rawhide and another we had was a 12 Street Rag. Thank heaven for 12 Street Rag. It was the sequence of the tune that helped me.”
Kenney laughs “The Rawhide one wasn’t much use of course. So I went and bought a Shadows record and learnt the really early Shadows style.”
After a few months Kenney felt he could play and went along to a local pub called the British Prince in Commercial Road, Stepney, where on a Friday night they had a jazz band playing. Kenney recalls it was a really lively place to be where people dressed up in all sorts of fancy dress.
“I pretended I was 17 to get in and was fixed on the drummer of course, who’s name was Roy, can’t remember his second name. I used to go everyweek and after about five weeks the drummer came over to me accusing me of staring at him, asking if I was taking the piss. He said I kept blinking at him, but I said that’s because you blink. Then I demonstrated what I meant. I think he was doing it in time to the music but didn’t realise it.”
Kenney and Roy became good friends and I told him I was learning the drums too. So he then understood why I was so fixed on him.
One Friday Kenney went to the pub to see the band play and a little way through the lead singer announced they’d got a surprise guest drummer.
“I was thinking oh great, I’ll get to see another drummer. Then they called out my name. I was in total shock, but got behind the drumkit and looked at the other musicians around me who looked like giants. They counted me in and everything seemed to be in slow motion. I got through it ok though and afterwards the barman came over to me and said it was great.”
It turns out that the barman was Stan Lane and the following week he introduced Kenney to his brother Ronnie.
“When I first met Ronnie he was wearing a smart Mod suit. Grey shiny mohair, but with a white shirt that had a starched collar. He was younger than me, and quite skinny, well we were all skinny back then, but it was funny as everytime Ronnie turned his head his collar would stand still.”
Kenney and Ronnie formed a band called The Outcasts. They had a keyboard player and did a few weddings and social gigs playing chart stuff like Chuck Berry. This was around 1961 and Kenney earnt enough money from those gigs to pay off the HP for his drum kit.
“I was earning more than my dad who only got about £25 a week in those days. So we did quite well financially out of playing.”
Kenney’s phone rings, interrupting the flow of the conversation. By the time he comes back we skip ahead and start talking about the rumoured Faces project.
“We rehearsed in December in Bermondsey, which is where we rehearsed back when the Faces first formed.”
Kenney went onto explain how that collaboration came about.
“After the Small Faces split, Mac & Ronnie and I were really lost as to what to do. We wanted to play together, so the Stones lent us their warehouse where they keep all their equipment. One day Ronnie brought along his new neighbour, which was Ronnie Wood. We alternated jamming with going down the pub, or going to clubs after. Then after a few weeks Ronnie Wood brought down his mate, who was Rod Stewart. He would sit on the amps just watching us play. He would come down the pub with us afterwards as well. This went on for a number of weeks and we realised we really should take this seriously. Woody was playing bass with Jeff Beck at the time, but he was playing guitar with us. We needed a lead singer though. Although both Ronnie’s could sing, Mac was okay too, but after having Steve Marriott in lead we needed someone with a strong voice and presence. All this time Rod would be sitting on the amp just watching. One day when we went down the pub I took Rod aside. It reminded me of Adam Faith in Stardust when he’d want to get rid of someone or do something, he’d put his arm around them. So I put my arm round Rod and asked him if he wanted to join the band. He was excited, and said do you think the others would mind that? And the rest is history as they say.”
The Faces re-union has been much talked about and Kenney says that there is a definite willingness of all those involved to make it happen. “There are some technical bits we need to sort out first” he added.
But alongside this of course Kenney has The Jones Gang which is a band that he is obviously extremely proud of. He asks me if I have a copy of their album “Any Day Now”. Which I don’t.
“I’ll give you a copy before you leave. When you listen to it you’ll know how special the band is. The song Angel from the album was number one in the US, which not a lot of people know about. It’s a party atmosphere when we play and a lot of fun. Robert and I write great songs together as well. There are about 5 songs that are mine on the album with help from Robert.”
I ask what his aspirations are for The Jones Gang.
“There is definitely a future for us and there is a niche market we could go into like doing corporate concerts or the big festivals. When we go on stage we could completely blow anyone off. The Jones Gang is a cross between all the bands I’ve been in, but more like the Faces because we are a fun type band. The main problem for us is that we work inbetween doing everything else we do in our lives. We took a bit of a break after coming back from the US promoting the album. The industry has changed, and we’re getting older. We can’t change that, but there is still a future for us which we haven’t given up on.”
(C) Val Weedon