The Country Ties of Ian McLagan & Bobby Keys

In the fall of 2012 when Ronnie Dunn (of Brooks & Dunn) was looking to write and record material for his upcoming album, he reached out to Texas music songwriting guru Ray Wylie Hubbard after falling in love with the gritty sound Hubbard imbibes on all his records. Dunn flew into Austin as Ray Wylie wrangled up an A-list of Austin musicians to to participate in a recording session that would give Dunn the authentic sound he was looking for, including reaching out to one cat named Ian McLagan—a 67-year-old keyboard player who was born in England but had permanently relocated to Austin in 1993, and spent many nights entertaining small crowds in bars around town, especially at the Lucky Lounge on 5th Street with his “Bump Band.” He was known to the greater world however as the keyboardist of the highly influential rock band Small Faces, and later Faces.

ian-mclagan“Started recording in Austin yesterday,” Ronnie Dunn boasted to his social network followers at the time. “TEXAS boys ripped it up !! Brad Rice, George Reiff, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ian McLagan (Faces)”¦.this is where the Rolling Stones ride with the Cowboys !!!! If you like your country raw and with a razor edged jangle”¦.I found the ‘honey hole.’”

Along with being the go-to auxiliary keyboard player for the cream of the classic rock world, including numerous occasions with The Rolling Stones over the years, Ian McLagan played keys on Robert Earl Keen’s 1998 album Walking Distance, on John Hiatt’s Best Of album from the same year, on Slaid Cleaves’ Broke Down from 2000, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Eternal and Lowdown, and entering into the 2000’s, albums from Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, James McMurtry, Lucinda Williams, Chelle Rose, Mary Gauthier, Gurf Morlix, Jennifer Nettles’ (of Sugarland) 2014 solo album, and just about any recent album from Ray Wylie or Robert Earl Keen you can find. When you needed a keyboard player on a definitive Texas record, Ian McLagan was the first man you called.

Ian was also a solo artist and released ten studio albums, including United States with his Bump Band on June 17th, 2014 through Yep Rock. McLagan was excited about a long-rumored reunion tour of Faces coming together with iconic frontman Rod Stewart.

“We will be touring next year, and I’m very excited,” McLagan told Kevin Curtain of the Austin Chronicle in June. “The fact is we always wanted Rod to do it. Every single time we asked him, it didn’t work. This time, he wants to do it. So I hope and pray nothing happens between now and then, because it would be great.”

Ian McLagan died on Wednesday, December 3rd of a stroke at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. He was 69-years-old.

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bobby-keysRock music lost another titan of the legendary auxiliary surrounding The Rolling Stones, Faces, and other similar projects in saxophone player Bobby Keys who passed away on Monday, December 2nd, of cirrhosis at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. Like Ian McLagan, though he was known mostly for his work with British-based rock bands, especially as The Rolling Stones’ studio and touring saxophone player on pretty much any song or tour the band ever played, he was born in the small town of Slaton, TX, just south and east of Lubbock, and one of his first gigs as a saxophonist was playing with Buddy Holly where he rubbed elbows with Holly understudy and friend Waylon Jennings.

When Waylon Jennings made his very first two studio recordings with Buddy Holly, “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops,” keys was present in the Clovis, New Mexico studio. Keys later joked the experience “threw my whole life down the toilet!”, meaning it sent him down the path of pursuing music as a living, and he never looked back.

Later in life Bobby Keys’ studio credits would include Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helpings, John Hiatt’s Beneath This Gruff Exterior, and Joe Ely’s Lord of the Highway.

The Small Faces, and later Faces and The Rolling Stones defined the loose, gritty, sweaty sound of late 60’s, early 70’s classic rock that every artist wanted, but few could master. That sound found on Small Faces records, and Rolling Stones projects like Exile on Main St. and Sticky Fingers most certainly went on to influence the rugged, sweaty, and stripped down sound of the Outlaw movement in country of the same era, with similar sounding albums recorded by the touring bands of defiant frontman instead of the slick session players of Music Row—albums like Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes, and Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie.

When you wanted to evoke that timeless, gritty sound of the 70’s in your music, you reached out to sidemen like Ian McLagan and Bobby Keys to bring it back to life. Now that era will be that much harder to reach back to, but that much more treasured in the hearts of listeners.

RIP Ian McLagan (1945-2014) & Bobby Keys (1943-2014)