For decades, bootleggers and overseas record companies did a better job of chronicling the Faces' career than their own record company did.
This was the British band whose music influenced bands as diverse as The Replacements, Wilco and Supergrass. This was the band that launched the careers of Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Kenny Jones and keyboard player Ian McLagan. But its albums weren't even in print anymore.
In New York in 1988, McLagan found Japanese imports of the Faces albums priced at $27 each. He went to Warners, who agreed to put them out, "and they did a shoddy job," McLagan says.
"The art was watered down. Nothing interesting was added, no liner notes, and they still spelled Bobby Keys' name wrong. They were put out at eight bucks, the cheapo label. I bought the Japanese ones myself."
Finally, the wrongs have been righted. In stores now is Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . ., a four-disc restoration of the band's heritage, lovingly overseen by McLagan.
"We haven't been in shops since '75. You couldn't buy a Faces album, vinyl or CD or nothing," McLagan says from his home in Austin, Texas. "It's mainly because we're five individuals without one manager. If we were still a band - like the Stones still going, The Who in some form are still going - they're still represented."
McLagan has spent years not only gathering the master tapes and outtakes but collecting BBC sessions, digging out old cassettes and finding the rehearsals that made it to the new set.
With e-mails from fans through his Web site (ianmclagan.com), he was able to figure out what the box needed.
"The fans have been e-mailing me and asking me questions because I'm available," he says. "You can't e-mail Rod or Woody or Kenny. I put myself out there. I have a book and I sell records and T-shirts off my site. I try to answer all questions, so they've been bugging me."
He worked off of bootlegs, and Warners' restoration expert, Bill Inglot, went out and tracked down the master tapes. "I'm sure he's not this enthusiastic about every project, but he raves about the Faces. I think he went the extra mile," McLagan says.
The unreleased material sounds perfect, but fans will be especially impressed by the punchy, perfect sound of Faces classics such as Stay With Me, Ooh La La and Cindy Incidentally.
Part of McLagan's drive was simply setting history straight. The Faces are largely seen as a jumping-off point for the members, but their music was highly influential. There was also a blur between the band and Stewart's solo career; that's basically the Faces backing him on early solo hits such as Maggie May.
"I want people to hear us," McLagan says. "We've been overshadowed. The saddest part of it is, (the late) Ronnie Lane has been overshadowed. He did such great work before, during and after Faces. This box set is dedicated to him. It's my job to put the Faces in front of people. We don't have any rights to any of the visuals or this would have been a DVD."
One Faces show is out on DVD, called The Faces' Final Show (which it wasn't). But the band saw no money from that.
"I called them and said, 'How dare you put this out when you don't have the rights?' They got back to me and said: 'Oh yeah we do. Your accountant signed them off about 15 years ago for 100 bucks.' That's the kind of accountant you need!"
Much of the unreleased material is made up of very informal rehearsals, with lots of joking and laughter between takes.
"We were at Mick Jagger's house, Stargroves, using the Stones' mobile studio," McLagan says. "Mick said, 'Check it out.' They were testing their equipment as much as we were cutting tracks. We weren't expecting to use this stuff. It was kind of like a rehearsal."
So songs like the cover of the Beach Boys' Getting Hungry are very unpolished yet compelling.
"That's probably Rod's worst vocal on the box, and I really should apologize," McLagan says. "But I needed the track on there. I figured he wouldn't mind too much. I haven't discussed it with him. . . . Stewart calls out, 'Bridge! Chorus!' We couldn't take his vocal out, because the minute we did, the drums disappeared. His vocal mike was picking up the drums. Maybe that should have been explained on the box set."
Stewart's manager called McLagan recently from backstage at a show saying: "Rod and Woody are listening to the stuff and reading the notes and they're loving it. You did a fantastic job."
Each individual album will be remastered now with more bonus tracks, and fans can watch for more studio material to come out. After the box was essentially complete, McLagan discovered more tapes.
"I found another five cassettes from rehearsals," he says. "So at some point, there has to be a really good CD of the rehearsals to come out. I don't know quite when, but I know Warners is excited about this to the point . . . where they're talking about the next stage."