Remembering two good musical friends

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Well, this wasn’t the start to the holiday season that I was expecting.
In the span of barely 48 hours during the opening days of the month two true musical greats and two good friends — Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan — passed away. Hopefully, you know a little of their wonderfully colorful history.
My travels with Ticket brought me into contact with Keys and McLagan, with both experiences providing far more stories of my own that extended well beyond any paragraphs I wrote here.
I interviewed Keys in advance of his show at the Keswick Theater back in March of 2012.
Our conversation got off to a rocky start. Keys had a bad case of the flu and asked if I could call back the next day. I did. He sounded fractionally better then and asked for another delay.
The third call started with Keys saying he was feeling tired and could we postpone it yet again. With my schedule clear and still eager to talk to him I agreed. But before hanging up, he said in his infectious Texas drawl, “You know, I’ve been talking to you every day this week, we might as well find out how each other’s doin’.”
General small talk inevitably led into a conversation about music. If I mentioned I had seen him play with this person or was at that show he always did two things — thanked me for going and asked what I thought of it. There was a politeness and an overwhelming, disarming humbleness that was almost hard to believe coming from a man who’d played with everyone from Elvis Presley to John Lennon to Harry Nilsson to, of course, his most famous role on stage playing saxophone with the Rolling Stones.
Keys was pleased I was so familiar with his career and the people he’d played with and who figured prominently in his life. We spoke for about a half hour before he joked that we should have just done the interview since we’d been talking so long.
To say Keys gave me more than I could possibly ever use in our “official” interview the next day is a vast understatement. He told me story after story starting many of them with “Well, Ken, since you already know about that, you’ll probably get a real kick out of this…”
He talked of racing cars with Rod Stewart, practical jokes played with Keith Richards and how one of the nicest people he ever met was John Lennon. He was as funny, kind, polite and humble in person as he was on the phone.
While Keys passing certainly hurt, I felt McLagan’s much deeper.
While I’d shaken hands and exchanged a few words with McLagan after a couple shows on Ron Wood’s solo tour in 1992. My first real contact with “Mac” was after a hastily scheduled Rod Stewart concert on the Lehigh University campus back in 1994.
In the snowy parking lot I spotted McLagan and Stewart’s guitarist Jim Cregan sitting and laughing in a van, waiting to head to the next destination. Not one to be shy about talking to musicians I love, I called out a greeting to McLagan, who waved me over. He signed a Faces album and chatted politely, but when I asked about an obscure cover version of The Who’s “Picture of Lily” he’d recently done with Ron Wood that was tied up in record company legalities, everything changed.
“How do you know about that, mate?! Have as seat!” I can still remember him saying, as he made room next to him. Cregan even poured me a spare Guinness. By the time I made my exit, amazed that I’d gotten to have a lengthy conversation with one of the Faces, who acted like I’d known him for years, McLagan was insisting I call him “Mac” and promising we’d meet again.
We did.
I saw him countless times after that, sometimes after Stewart shows where I always thought he looked like an impatient thoroughbred, restless in the paddock, suffering through Rod’s solo material to get to the Faces numbers he dearly loved and let loose on the keyboard, sometimes after his fantastically fun solo shows.
Somewhere along the line, we settled into a familiar post show greeting, where he’d throw an arm over my shoulder and say “Hello, old friend…”
I loved it not just because of his genuine pleasure in seeing me, but it was also the title of one of my most favorite songs of his with the lines — “I could talk all night, we could drink a few, I got stories to tell, but I want to know about you…”
To me, that was Mac.
He always … always wanted to know a little bit more about what was going on with you, what you were listening to, what you were doing.
“Where’s that girl you were with last time?!” he asked after one show, rolling his eyes at my explanation of why we’d split. Another night after a bad break up, I got a heartfelt, but hysterical lecture about the dangers of unrequited love and how I needed to “sort myself out first, worry about the birds later.”
When he played the Sellersville Theater for the first time I told him, much to his delight, that I’d grown up one town over and used to see movies there as a kid.
I could go on and on.
Sometimes in life we want things to have such meaning. When I heard Mac had passed away, I thought back on the last time I saw him and wished I’d said something significant, something consequential about our friendship. One of life’s cruelest things is that you don’t always know when you’re saying farewell for good.
But I think I like the last time I saw him just the way it was; filled with laughs, some inevitable talk about his beloved Faces and the way he raised his glass and said “Til the next time…” as I left.
Goodbye, old friend.
Ken Kolasinski’s column appears regularly in Ticket.

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