Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ian McLagan celebrated in all-star SXSW tribute


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When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ian “Mac” McLagan passed away on Dec. 3 at age 69, the former Small Faces/Faces keyboardist and Rolling Stones sideman was mourned worldwide. But in Austin, which he’d called home for 20 years, the loss of this tightknit music community’s most famous — and beloved — member hit particularly hard. Here, he wasn’t just rock ‘n’ roll royalty. He was family. And Wednesday night at SXSW’s Austin Music Awards, his musical brothers and sisters showed up in force to pay tribute.

For the finale of the 33rd annual awards show, bandleader Charlie Sexton first called on fellow Austinites Alejandro Escovedo and Patty Griffin, then introduced his friend Steven Van Zandt. They joined members of McLagan’s Bump Band  guitarist “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb, bassist Jon Notarthomas and drumming alum Don Harvey — and the house band (keyboardist Michael Ramos, bassist George Reiff and Bump Band drummer Conrad Choucroun) — for a barn-burning tribute that would have thrilled the diminutive legend.

It started with a segment from an in-progress documentary by Wes Orshoski (c0-director of a film about Lemmy  and director of one about The Damned) that drew a tear or two from those who called McLagan a friend (though he somehow made every new acquaintance instantly feel like an old pal). Separate video reminiscences from Faces/Stones bandmate Ron Wood (who would have participated, Sexton said, had he not had a U.K. gig) and former boss Bonnie Raitt were interspersed with the music, which started with Sexton/Bump Band renditions of “Shalalala” and “Glad and Sorry.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Sexton said after those songs; clearly, the event was a labor of love for the guitarist and producer, who also called on powerful local vocalist Tameca Jones for “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” One of McLagan’s most iconic organ solos occurs in the Rod Stewart-sung Faces version of that famed Temptations song (though Ramos wisely avoided trying to duplicate Mac’s work throughout the segment).

Escovedo delivered an emotional version of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Anybody Else,” which he’d recently recorded with McLagan, and Griffin gave an equally emotional rendering of “Never Say Never,” which McLagan had written while mourning the loss of his wife, Kim.

Van Zandt kicked the tribute into high gear with rollicking versions of the Small Faces’ “Tin Soldier” and Faces’ “Stay With Me.” Sexton couldn’t stop grinning as they traded riffs and vocals, abetted by McLagan’s Bump Band pals. The whole gang came out for “Ooh La La,” ending on just the kind of high-note revelry McLagan would have loved.

Though previous Austin Music Awards shows have contained plenty of wattage — from Pete Townshend to Bruce Springsteen — it was obvious that both players and listeners regarded this tribute as special. Earlier in the night, McLagan took top honors in the Chronicle Music Poll’s keyboardist category; his son, Lee, collected the award, noting how much his father loved calling Austin home. (Earlier in the day, McLagan’s life and legacy were the subject of a panel featuring Griffin, Notarthomas, Irish expat-turned-Austinite BP Fallon, Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke, and longtime friends JoRae DiMenno, Mac’s publicist, and moderator Jody Denberg.)

In a night that also featured performances from Austin High School alumni Shakey Graves, Gary Clark Jr. (with Eve Monsees, his guitar-playing pal since adolescence), the awards offered a strong reminder of what SXSW once was — a showcase for and celebration of world-class local talent. With Clark, Graves, Spoon and other renowned Austin acts serving as marquee attractions on some of the music festival’s biggest bills, for the first time in years, it feels like it’s getting back to where it once belonged. McLagan, who played free happy-hour gigs at a local club every Thursday for 10 years, would have loved that.

Charlie Sexton and Alejandro Escovedo. Photo by Lynne Margolis.

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