The name he attaches to an extensive list of rock ‘n’ roll credentials, from founding membership in The Small Faces and The Faces to extensive work with The Rolling Stones to a reputation as one of the most jubilant keyboardists in the business, is Ian McLagan.
But to fans, contemporaries, protégés – everyone, really – he forever goes by a simple, endearing nickname: Mac. That’s the name the native Brit and transplanted Texan has happily answered to in a career that stretches back a half century.
“I’m the luckiest guy I know because I love what I do, and I can still do it,” said McLagan, 69. “People still come out just to hear the music, too. That’s a blessing, you know? What else am I going to do but play the piano and sing?”
McLagan’s performances Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour and Tuesday at Parlay Social will be his first Lexington performances promoting his own music. He will be accompanied both evenings by bassist Jon Notarthomas, a member of the keyboardist’s long running Bump Band, now based in Austin. But McLagan has played twice at Rupp Arena with two acts that have helped define his career – The Rolling Stones in December 1981 and Rod Stewart in October 1993.
The former performance was particularly telling as it paired McLagan with longtime Stones mentor and pianist Ian Stewart. The two shared similar tastes and inspirations. Stewart was a devotee of roots-driven piano music and boogie woogie. McLagan was fascinated by Muddy Waters blues records that featured pianist Otis Spann.
“Stu was a wonderful man,” McLagan said. “He had no ego at all. He wasn’t a showboater. I learned a lot from Stu just from watching him and listening to him.
“He would say to me sometimes, ‘I don’t understand what you’re doing. Your playing – it’s sounds right, but you do it strange.’ I said it was because I had no training. I had to fumble and figure it out for myself. Some things I do wrong, but I’ve got to get to the notes.”
The Stones figured heavily in McLagan’s performance education, as well – that, along with more informal serenading from within his family.
“It’s funny, my grandmother played the concertina. She was a fantastic player. She wasn’t a professional. She just happened to be brilliant. I think if there is any music to hit me from anywhere, that’s where it came from.
“But when I first started out, you just wanted to be inside of the music you heard. So when I saw the Stones play a little club in the West of London, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s possible.’ That encouraged a lot of young musicians in London to hear the Stones live, because they were a blues cover band back then. We thought, ‘Yeah, we love that music. Why can’t we do that?’”
The Stewart performance came on the heels of the singer’s 1993’s Unplugged… and Seated album. But his connection with McLagan goes back to the boozy rock and soul records the two cut with guitarist Ron Wood, bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenny Jones in the early ‘70s as The Faces (the band began in 1965 as the more pop-directed Small Faces with McLagan, Lane, Jones and soon-to-be Humble Pie chieftain Steve Marriott).
“Rod’s voice was just a delight to play under. But I worked as hard as I ever did with The Faces. My fingers would be battered, my nails would be broken. I would get these big blisters. The music brought a lot out of me. It was pretty physical.
“We’re talking about getting together again next year. Rod is real interested. Ronnie (Wood), Kenney and I are interested. It’s looking real positive (Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997).”
“It’s ridiculous to think that 50-some years on I’m still doing this. I mean, I’ve never had a job. I’ve never had to go to work. I always had to go to fun.”
Ian McLagan and Jon Notarthomas perform Oct. 27 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour with Janiva Magness (6:45 p.m., $20) and 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at Parlay Social, 249 W. Short with Willie Eames (8 p.m.; $15, $20). Call (859) 252-8888 for the WoodSongs taping and (859) 244-1932 for the Parlay Social performance.