Rod Stewart – circa 1983
“Never found a compromise / Collected lovers like butterflies” – ‘I Was Only Joking’ (Rod Stewart, Gary Grainger)
Rod Stewart is in trouble. Again. The U.K. rock star ‘is notorious for his jet-set lifestyle, particularly the series of actresses and models he dates.’ “I enjoyed the chase,” Stewart smirks. Perhaps the most famous of his partners is movie star Britt Ekland. On this day in 1977, it is an enraged Ekland who is the source of Stewart’s problems. She has discovered he has been unfaithful to her and she is not inclined to give him another chance. It is the end of their relationship. “Even by rock star standards, I was pretty awful,” Rod will later concede. The legend of Rod Stewart sometimes seems to have as much to do with skirt-chasing as singing.
Roderick David Stewart is born 10 January 1945 at 507 Archway Road, Highgate, London, England, United Kingdom. He is the son of Robert Stewart and his wife Elsie Stewart (nee Gilbart). Robert Stewart was born in Scotland. He became a master builder in Leith, Edinburgh. Rod says of his father, “He was the Scotsman of the family, the one who gave us tartan pride, along with the football. He played [football] all his life and taught his sons to play.” Although Elsie Gilbart came from an English family background, she settled in Scotland with her husband. They had four children born in Scotland – Mary, Peggy, Don and Bob – before moving to England. The Stewarts’ fifth child, Rod, comes along eight years after their last baby. “Everybody sang in my family,” says Rod. “My big brother still thinks he’s a better singer than me.” Although Rod Stewart is born in England, ‘he later finds it convenient to gloss over his Sassenach origins’ (‘Sassenach’ is a Scots-Gaelic word for an Englishman). Rod ‘prefers to be considered a Scotsman.’
Rod Stewart starts his education at Highgate Primary School before going on to William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School in Hornsey. Rod grows up in the same neighbourhood as the brothers Ray and Dave Davies, later of British rock band The Kinks. The Davies boys also attend William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School.
Surprisingly, despite coming from a family where singing is popular, Rod Stewart claims not to have liked music classes at school: “I hated it. I had no musical inclinations whatsoever when I was young.” Al Jolson is a favourite singer of his parents and Rod will later profess to Jolson being a formative influence for him as well.
When Rod Stewart is in his teens, his father – Robert Stewart – retires from the building trade. Rod’s Dad buys a newsagency along the Archway Road in Holloway, selling the daily newspapers, magazines, stationery and such.
As mentioned earlier, it is Robert Stewart who introduces his sons to football (or soccer as it is known in some parts of the world). True to his self-image as a Scotsman, Rod Stewart is a lifetime supporter of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club. “I am passionate about football,” says Rod. “My support for Celtic F.C. has got me through some hard times in my life.” Rod shows some ability as a player, becoming captain of his school’s football side.
In January 1959, when he turns 14, Rod Stewart receives a life-changing gift. “What I do now is all my Dad’s fault, because he bought me a guitar as a boy, for no apparent reason…and people would ask me to play.” This seems to combine with the emergent new rock ‘n’ roll music to spark the youngster’s interest. “I had this little handheld transistor radio that I used to sleep next to,” Rod recalls. The first rock ‘n’ roll music he can remember hearing is Little Richard’s 1957 hit ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’. The first record Rod buys is Eddie Cochran’s 1959 hit ‘C’mon Everybody’. The first rock concert witnessed by the impressionable youth features visiting American act Bill Haley And The Comets. Yet it is another 1950s rock star that seems to be Rod Stewart’s idol. “Elvis [Presley] was the King, no doubt about it. People like myself, Mick Jagger [of British rock band The Rolling Stones] and all the others only followed in his footsteps.” Elvis is also renowned as a ladies’ man, so perhaps his influence on Rod Stewart’s career is based on more than just his music? In 1960, Rod Stewart forms The Kool Kats, a skiffle group, at his school. Skiffle is a genre made popular at the time by U.K. recording artist Lonnie Donegan. It’s a kind of home-made, rough-hewn, hybrid of acoustic folk music and thumping rock ‘n’ roll.
Rod Stewart leaves school when he is 15. He works briefly as a silkscreen printer.
In summer 1960, Rod Stewart tries out for Brentford Football Club but he is never signed. There is a popular myth that he was signed as an apprentice but this has been debunked as a story invented by an over-enthusiastic publicist after Rod becomes a recording artist. “I’m a rock star because I couldn’t be a soccer star,” Rod Stewart admits.
Neither a soccer star nor yet a rock star, the 15 year old Rod Stewart has to settle (for now) with the less glamorous option of working for his family’s newsagency. Another publicist-created myth is that Rod Stewart worked as a gravedigger. For two Saturdays, he did casual work marking out plots at Highgate Cemetery and this seems to be the source of the grave-digging legend. Stewart is also reputed to have worked as a fence-erector, but this one may be true. Rod claims that, “You learn a lot about yourself doing physical work,” and this seems to be his only experience with manual labour.
One of the most popular movie stars of the early 1960s is Brigitte Bardot. “She’s the only woman I’ve ever had a sexual fantasy about,” says Rod Stewart. “She’s everything a woman should be. She’s blonde and beautiful, she’s got the most incredible legs…and she’s French as well.” Brigitte Bardot seems to be the template for the parade of leggy blondes that Stewart squires through his heyday. “I was never a good-looking bloke, not by a long chalk,” he says modestly. However he also points out, “You know, I had no trouble with the girls.” Perhaps his charm carried him along? Possibly with visions of Brigitte Bardot still in his head, Rod Stewart concludes, “I think I was always looking for that perfect woman, who obviously doesn’t exist.”
Rod Stewart begins hanging around with folk singer Wizz Jones in 1962. Rod decides to become a folkie and live a beatnik lifestyle. For the next eighteen months, Wizz Jones and Rod Stewart eke out a living busking on city streets. They start out in London and then make their way to Paris, France, and eventually wind up in Spain. Destitute, Stewart is deported by the Spanish authorities back to the U.K. in 1963.
The distinctive spiky hairstyle associated with Rod Stewart, a rooster-like flourish, has its origins in his trip to the continent. “We saw guys when I was busking as a beatnik in the 1960s and they had their hair all back-combed and bouffant in Paris. So I came home and started doing it…What I used to do was I put warm water and sugar in my hair and just wait for it to dry…It was before hair-dryers and hair lacquer…So that’s how I got it up.” He quickly adds, “The hair that is…” Once the style is adopted, it is for life. “It’ll never sit down. I’ve tried other hairstyles [but it doesn’t work].”
Rod Stewart becomes a father for the first time in 1963. From 1963 to 1964 he is romantically involved with an art student named Susannah Boffey. The couple have a daughter in 1963, but the child is given up for adoption. As an adult, Sarah Streeter seeks out her biological parents. Rod welcomes the reunion, but, “Sue, the mother of my first child, she doesn’t want anything to do with me or Sarah, my daughter.”
Sometime around this point, Rod Stewart is considered for the job of lead vocalist with an embryonic version of The Kinks. Ray and Dave Davies had grown up in the same area as Stewart and went to the same secondary school as him. Ray Davies was, at first, unwilling to take on the role of frontman. According to one account, ‘after a couple of weeks [the Davies brothers and Stewart] found that they didn’t get along and parted ways.’ However, ‘despite rumours that he performed with them, Stewart has no recollection of doing so.’
In 1963 Rod Stewart falls in with the mod movement. The mods (as in ‘modern’) dress in sharp suits and dig American rhythm and blues music. Stewart takes a particular interest in U.S. singer Sam Cooke and, over the next few years, becomes enamoured of Otis Redding as well and soul music in general.
While waiting for musical opportunities to arise, Rod Stewart works in his brother’s picture framing shop.
In October 1963 Rod Stewart gets a gig with The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. Any aspirations Rod may have had towards being their lead vocalist are rendered void when the band take on a better known singer, Jimmy Powell, becoming Jimmy Powell & The Dimensions. Still, Rod remains in the group and, through them, gains access to the London rhythm and blues scene.
In January 1964 Rod Stewart meets Long John Baldry. Purportedly, Baldry ‘discovered’ Stewart busking in a train station. Baldry invites Stewart to join his group, The Hoochie Coochie Men. It is Baldry who jestingly calls his new acquaintance ‘Rod the Mod’, a tag that will stick with Stewart through his subsequent career.
Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’, a seminal ska music single from May 1964, features harmonica playing that has sometimes been attributed to Rod Stewart. This is incorrect. Two members of his former band, Jimmy Powell & The Dimensions, have rival claims to playing harmonica on that record, but it is not their former harmonica player, Stewart.
Rod Stewart makes his vocal debut on record with ‘Up Above My Head’ in June 1964 – but this is only the B side to a Hoochie Coochie Men single that features Long John Baldry, the nominal leader, on the A side.
In October 1964 Rod Stewart releases his first solo single. Issued by Decca Records, ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ is a version of a blues song written by Willie Dixon. John Paul Jones, future member of Led Zeppelin, plays bass on the recording. ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ doesn’t make the charts, but it’s a start.
From 1965 to 1967 Rod Stewart dates Jenny Rylance, a model.
The Hoochie Coochie Men disband in 1965. This leaves Rod Stewart unemployed for two months. He then fronts an outfit called The Soul Agents for a short time. Long John Baldry has not forgotten him though and asks Rod to join his new act, the London-based rhythm and blues band Steampacket, in mid-1965. Steampacket is actually more like a revue than a band. It has three lead vocalists – Baldry, Stewart, and Julie Driscoll. Each does a set of their chosen material before all three combine for the big finale. Musically, the heart of the band is borrowed from an early incarnation of Brian Auger’s Trinity: Brian Auger (keyboards), Rick Brown (bass) and Mick Waller (drums). Vic Briggs is added on guitar. Given its nature, it is perhaps not surprising that Steampacket, a band ‘full of tempestuous personalities’, goes through some line-up changes. One notable other musician who passes through the ranks is keyboardist Reg Dwight – later to become famous as Elton John. Rod and Reg become friends, though they are also known as Phyllis and Sharon. Stewart explains: “Our mutual friend, Long John Baldry had christened me ‘Phyllis’, he had christened Elton ‘Sharon’, and that’s what we called each other ‘Phyllis and Sharon’.” Steampacket don’t release any recordings in the 1960s but, after they are history, a couple of albums worth of material later surface: ‘Early Days’ (1974) on 2001 Records and ‘The Steampacket: The First Supergroup’ (1992) on the Charly label.
While Steampacket is still a going concern, Rod Stewart tries another couple of solo singles, both for Columbia Records. ‘The Day Will Come’ is released in November 1965 and ‘Shake’ comes out in April 1966. The latter is a cover version of a 1965 single by Stewart’s ‘hero’, Sam Cooke. Stewart’s take has his Steampacket colleague Brian Auger playing organ. Neither of these Rod Stewart singles makes the charts.
Steampacket eventually comes to a halt in summer 1966. The first to exit is Rod Stewart, who claims that Brian Auger sacked him after a clash of personalities. Long John Baldry and Reg Dwight (Elton John) go on to Bluesology and Rod Stewart is said to have had a brief spell with Bluesology as well. However, Stewart’s next significant move is to a new band called Shotgun Express.
Existing from May 1966 to February 1967, Shotgun Express is similar to Steampacket. The line-up is: Rod Stewart (vocals), Beryl Marsden (vocals), John Morshead (guitar), Phil Sawyer (guitar), Peter Green (guitar), Peter Bardens (keyboards), Dave Ambrose (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums). Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood are better known for Fleetwood Mac, which they go on to form in July 1967.
One of the most famed guitarists of the British rock scene in the mid-1960s is Jeff Beck. After an acclaimed stint in The Yardbirds, Beck forms his own Jeff Beck Group in February 1967. Rod Stewart is recruited for this project. The Jeff Beck Group starts out as a four-piece consisting of: Rod Stewart (vocals), Jeff Beck (guitar), Ron Wood (bass) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums). In November 1967 they expand to a five-piece with the addition of Nicky Hopkins (piano). At the same time, Aynsley Dunbar is replaced by Mick Waller (who played drums in Steampacket and so had worked with Stewart previously). In February 1969 Tony Newman takes over on drums from Waller. During this time, Rod Stewart appears on two albums with The Jeff Beck Group: ‘Truth’ (1968) (US no. 15) and ‘Beck-Ola’ (1969) (US no. 15, UK no. 39). Behind the scenes, Beck and Stewart are ‘frequently at each other’s throats.’ Some claim that the musical sparks struck between the vocalist and guitarist are an influence on the chemistry between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin, a similarly blues-based heavy rock band of the same era.
While with The Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart tries another solo single. ‘Little Miss Understood’ is issued in March 1968 by Immediate Records. It is as unsuccessful as Stewart’s three previous singles. During 1968 Rod Stewart sings on sessions for a studio band called Python Lee Jackson. They never play live and seem to achieve nothing of note. However, it later comes back to haunt Stewart when their single, ‘In A Broken Dream’ (UK no. 3, US no. 56), is pulled out of the vaults in 1972.
The Jeff Beck Group is scheduled to appear at the landmark hippie music festival Woodstock in the U.S.A. in August 1969. However, Jeff Beck decides to kick out Ron Wood. Rod Stewart sides with the luckless bass player. Stewart and Wood exit in July 1969.
Rod Stewart’s time The Jeff Beck Group has boosted his public profile – at least in the U.S.A. where The Jeff Beck Group was more popular. On 6 June 1969 Stewart signs a solo record deal with Mercury.
The Small Faces, a popular British rock band of the 1960s, have parted ways with their leader, vocalist and guitarist, Steve Marriott. The remaining three members of the group are a bit lost. Rod Stewart bumps into them in a pub in Hampstead, London. A plan is hatched. Rod Stewart and his mate from The Jeff Beck Group, Ron Wood, will replace Marriott. Since The Small Faces already have a bass player, but don’t have a guitarist, Ron Wood will switch from bass (which he played in The Jeff Beck Group) to guitar. In addition, the band will modify its name to The Faces. The 1969 starting line-up of The Faces is: Rod Stewart (vocals), Ron Wood (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboards), Ronnie Lane (bass) and Kenny Jones (drums).
For the next few years, Rod Stewart maintains parallel recording careers for two different labels. He records as a solo artist for Mercury, and The Faces (with Rod on vocals) record for Warner Bros. In practice, Stewart virtually alternates between a solo album for him, a Faces album, another solo album, and so on. However, that could make things overly complicated here, so let’s deal with The Faces recordings first.
The Faces quickly gain a reputation for their ‘boozing…inebriated way.’ They are described as ‘the hardest-drinking band in show business.’ ‘They even travel with a bar on stage!’ The Faces play a rough, raw-boned, version of grinding rock. Rod Stewart regularly uses Tartan hats, scarves and the like to emphasise his Scots background. His fans emulate his example and he refers to them as ‘the tartan horde.’ Stewart’s love of soccer leads him and The Faces to playfully kick footballs out into the crowd. The singer regularly takes time out to attend major football matches. The Faces release the following albums: ‘First Step’ (1970) (UK no. 45, US no. 119), ‘Long Player’ (1971) (UK no. 31, US no. 24), ‘A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse’ (1972) (UK no. 2, US no. 6) and ‘Ooh La La’ (1973) (UK no. 1, US no. 21). Some of the more popular songs by the group include 1971’s ‘Stay With Me’ (UK no. 6, US no. 17), and from 1973 both ‘Cindy Incidentally’ (UK no. 2, US no. 48) and ‘Pool Hall Richard’ (UK no. 8). In 1973 Faces’ bassist Ronnie Lane quits the group. He is ‘fed up with Stewart’s dominance of the band.’ Tetsu Yamauchi takes over on bass and The Faces issue the live recording ‘Coast To Coast: Overture And Beginners’ (1974) (UK no. 3, US no. 63). “I’ve always looked on myself as one of a band and never sought a solo career,” claims Rod Stewart somewhat unconvincingly. It doesn’t help that The Faces ‘have degenerated into a drinking club rather than a working band.’ ‘You Can Make Me Dance Or Sing Or Anything’ (UK no. 12), released on 15 November 1974, is their last single. The Faces play their last show together at Nassau Coliseum at Long Island, U.S.A., on 12 October 1975. Rod Stewart announces he is leaving The Faces in December 1975. Ron Wood goes on to join The Rolling Stones.
The music of Rod Stewart spans multiple genres. “My musical taste has always been wide,” he says. “I started out as a folkie before I moved on to blues and soul.” To that mix can be added the more general (but still apt) descriptions of pop and rock.
Some of Rod Stewart’s songs are cover versions of numbers first performed by other artists. The original songs include a number of songs written by Stewart alone but, more commonly, he co-writes with other authors. The suspicion is that Stewart writes the words while his collaborators concentrate on the music. At his best, Rod Stewart is a Rabelaisian raconteur, a teller of tall tales recounted with a knowing, laddish, wink. “I deliberate over the lyrics,” he claims. “It’s never been easy for me.” Stewart admits, “I’m not a natural songwriter…I just write from the heart.”
What ties together the disparate musical threads and the emotional themes of Rod Stewart’s music is his distinctive voice. Descriptions of his style of singing include ‘sandpapery’ and ‘rasping.’ These are certainly accurate, but don’t do justice to the full scope of his ability. They sound like he is a gravel-voiced hard rocker. That’s a role he can play with boldness, but it’s not his only sonic mode. Those textured tones prove just as effective on a more homespun folk song, a hot-blooded rhythm and blues showcase, or a heart-wrenching ballad. It is as though his voice catches all shades of the emotional spectrum.
Rod Stewart’s first album in his own right is ‘An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down’ (1970) (US no. 139, AUS no. 31), released in February. The album is co-produced by Rod Stewart and Lou Reizner and appears on the Vertigo label in the U.K. and on Mercury in the U.S. (where it is retitled ‘The Rod Stewart Album’). Most of Rod Stewart’s original compositions at the time go to The Faces, so in his solo work, at first there is only ‘the odd original, and (he) trawls through his vast musical appreciation for the rest.’ As may be anticipated, Rod Stewart does a lovely rendition of Ewan McColl’s folk tune ‘Dirty Old Town’. Less obvious is the singer’s reinvention of The Rolling Stones’ 1968 rocker ‘Street Fighting Man’ as ‘something of a [country music] hoedown.’ Another highlight is ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ (US no. 42).
Rod Stewart’s second solo album, ‘Gasoline Alley’ (1970) (UK no. 62, US no. 27, AUS no. 24), follows only four months later in June. This still contains cover versions, such as ‘It’s All Over Now’ (US no. 126) (a 1964 song separately recorded by The Valentinos and The Rolling Stones), but the original material is more potent. The title track, ‘Gasoline Alley’, is co-written with Stewart’s buddy from The Faces, Ron Wood. Other originals include ‘Jo’s Lament’ and ‘Lady Day’.
Rod Stewart’s love life is a bit complicated around this time. He is linked to Vicki Hodge (1970-1971) and Jo Jo Laine (1970-1972), but perhaps more significant than either is Dee Harrington, a model (1971-1975). It may be noted that the dates on which Stewart is involved with this trio overlap…but it seems Stewart’s affections are also inclined to overlap.
‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (1971) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is the album that earns Rod Stewart ‘superstar status.’ This disc and the next two are produced by Rod Stewart and released on Mercury in both the U.S. and the U.K. ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ contains Rod Stewart’s best song, ‘Maggie May’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1), co-written by Martin Quittenton. “Wake up, Maggie, I think I got something to say to you,” announces Stewart’s youthful narrator. “It’s late September and I really should be back at school / I know I keep you amused, but I feel I’m being used.” It’s a matter of conjecture whether Maggie is just an older woman or, as some would have it, a hooker. This folky story song is delicately shaded with a strummed mandolin, but Mick Waller’s thumping drums keep the song from becoming too genteel. ‘Maggie May’ is Stewart at his most potent. It’s an intriguing situation, a saucy wink, a tender farewell and a weary loss of innocence all wrapped together in one improbably successful package. In September 1971 ‘Maggie May’ and the album ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ give Rod Stewart the no. 1 spots on both the singles and albums charts in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. at the same time. The album includes the ‘hilarious goof’ of the title track, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ (co-written with Ron Wood), the ‘moving ballad’ of ‘Mandolin Wind’, and the rhythm and blues workout ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (US no. 24). “We had no preconceived ideas of what we were going to do,” claims Stewart. “We would have a few drinks, strum away and play.” For at least some rock music critics, Rod Stewart’s first three solo albums constitute his greatest works and represent a height he will never again reach.
‘Never A Dull Moment’ (1972) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 3) features ‘You Wear It Well’ (UK no. 1, US no. 13), a song of similar spirit to ‘Maggie May’ and again co-written by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton. “I had nothing to do on this hot afternoon but to settle down and write you a line,” Stewart sings ingratiatingly at the introduction to this song. It’s a love letter to an old acquaintance, an epistle enlivened by gypsy violin accompaniment. Stewart waxes nostalgic, “Remember those basement parties / Your brother’s karate / The all-day rock ‘n’ roll shows?” The album shows Rod Stewart tackling a raft of notable cover versions as well: Etta James’ rhythm and blues song ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’; Sam Cooke’s 1962 piece ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ (US no. 59); and Jimi Hendrix’s tender ‘Angel’ (US no. 40) from 1971, showing a softer side to the famed guitarist. There is also ‘What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)’ (UK no. 4), the Glen Sutton song recorded by first generation rocker Jerry Lee Lewis in 1968.
The 1973 single ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ (UK no. 6, US no. 54) keeps Rod Stewart in the charts while Warner Bros. and Mercury argue over his record contract. Mercury issues the compilation ‘Sing It Again, Rod’ (1973) (UK no. 1, US no. 31), which includes one new song, Stewart’s version of The Who’s 1969 hit ‘Pinball Wizard’, which Rod had been performing in the stage show mounted by Stewart’s former record producer, Lou Reizner, of the Who’s musical ‘Tommy’.
While the legal wrangles play themselves out, Rod Stewart turns to his other occupation: “I was shagging my way ‘round the world, like most blokes would if they had my opportunities.” He had encountered actress Britt Ekland ‘on and off during the early 1970s.’ They meet again after a Faces show at the Los Angeles Forum in March 1974. “I took her to an all-night laundry; we watched her bra go ‘round in the machine.” Despite such original seduction technique, the Rod Stewart-Britt Ekland pairing does not officially start at this point. Technically, Rod is still squiring Dee Harrington, though that may have slipped his mind.
Mercury wins the right to release one more Rod Stewart album before releasing him to Warner Bros. Their prize is ‘Smiler’ (1974) (UK no. 1, US no. 13, AUS no. 8), released in October. This set includes ‘Farewell’ (UK no. 7), an original composition which is ‘another of his beautiful lyrical ballads.’ Rod Stewart again raids the Sam Cooke songbook for cover versions of 1957’s ‘You Send Me’ and 1963’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. Stewart’s high profile in the pop charts encourages a couple of famous acquaintances to provide him with songs. Paul McCartney, formerly with 1960s rock giants The Beatles, offers Rod ‘Mine For Me’ (US no. 91). The singer’s old pal, ‘Sharon’ (i.e. Elton John) supplies ‘Let Me Be Your Car’. “Elton and I were really good mates,” says Rod Stewart. Tongue-in-cheek, he describes Elton John as “the second best rock singer ever.”
In March 1975 Rod Stewart officially begins his love affair with Swedish actress Britt Ekland. Fellow actress Joan Collins reportedly introduces the couple in 1975. By this time, Britt Ekland has become ‘a Bond girl’, appearing in the movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (1974), the latest adventure of sexy super-spy James Bond. So, really, she goes from one over-sexed U.K. fella to another. Rod and Britt live together for two years, during which time he is ‘inevitably…drawn into the show-biz celebrity circuits’ and she watches his eye stray to any passing female.
1975 is a transitional year for Rod Stewart. He has a new woman (Britt Ekland) and a new record label (Warner Bros). He also gains a new country of residence, moving from the U.K. to the U.S.A. to escape Britain’s punitive tax laws.
‘Atlantic Crossing’ (1975) (UK no. 1, US no. 9, AUS no. 1) in August is an album whose title is symbolic of Rod Stewart’s relocation from London to Los Angeles. Although it is Rod Stewart’s first album for Warner Bros, it is the first of five discs that appear on the Riva label in the U.K. – a company owned by Billy Gaff, Stewart’s manager. ‘Atlantic Crossing’ is also the first of four consecutive Rod Stewart albums produced by Tom Dowd. A native New Yorker, Dowd made his reputation working with 1960s soul music greats like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Dowd takes Stewart to Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama where many great soul records were made. Steve Cropper, the guitarist from definitive soul band Booker T. And The MGs, plays on the album. The result is Rod Stewart’s best album, one that ‘accentuates his pop appeal.’ At the suggestion of his girlfriend Britt Ekland, Stewart divides ‘Atlantic Crossing’ into a slow side and a fast side. The album’s best song is ‘Sailing’ (UK no. 1, US no. 58). Written by Gavin Sutherland and originally recorded by his group, The Sutherland Brothers Band, in 1972, ‘Sailing’ is a moving and hearty performance from Rod Stewart. It successfully captures the mystery of the sea and the immense power it exerts over men. ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ (UK no. 4, US no. 83), a 1966 rhythm and blues song by The Isley Brothers, is reworked in good style by Stewart. ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (UK no. 1, US no. 46) has a rueful, bruised quality, framed in spidery acoustic guitars. This is a cover version of a 1971 song by Danny Whitten originally recorded with his band Crazy Horse, a group best known for their work with folk/rock star Neil Young. The track’s doomed atmosphere is made more poignant due to Whitten’s death from a drug overdose in November 1972. ‘Atlantic Crossing’ may not be Rod Stewart’s most original or personal album, but it may be his most emotional work, his voice capturing every nuance of the contents.
In December 1975 Rod Stewart officially leaves The Faces, causing that group to disband, and severing his last professional tie to the U.K. and his old life.
‘A Night On The Town’ (1976) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 1), released in June, is a ‘move to slicker pop territory.’ It is a big commercial success and launches a clutch of hit singles. ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (UK no. 5, US no. 1) is the biggest smash, topping the U.S. singles chart for eight weeks from 13 November 1976 to 1 January 1977. Written by Rod Stewart alone, ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is a lip-smacking, saucy seduction: “Come on angel, my heart’s on fire / Don’t deny your man’s desire / You’d be a fool to stop this tide / Spread your wings and let me come inside.” The song climaxes with Britt Ekland contributing some whispers in a foreign language. Although they are, to most ears, indecipherable, they are ‘deemed too suggestive for airplay’ so some versions of ‘Tonight’s The Night’ are minus the moody mumbles. ‘The Killing Of Georgie’ (UK no. 2, US no. 30) is another Rod Stewart-penned song. “Georgie boy was gay I guess, nothing more and nothing less,” advises Stewart in a lyric that, for its time, is a surprisingly enlightened and sympathetic view of homosexuality. This story-song ends tragically with Georgie falling victim to street violence, his death leaving a mark on the narrator. ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ (US no. 21) is an acoustic strum, a claim that the pain of first love is virtually insurmountable. The song is the work of singer-songwriter Cat Stevens and dates from 1967. Stevens never released the song himself; it was given away to P.P. Arnold and he considered hers to be the definitive version. Rod Stewart also knocks out a version of Hank Thompson’s 1952 country music hit ‘Wild Side Of Life’ on this album.
In November 1976 Rod Stewart contributes to ‘All This and World War Two’ (1976), a motion picture that matches footage from the Second World War in the 1940s with recording artists from the 1970s performing Beatles’ songs from the 1960s. Rod Stewart’s scorching rendition of ‘Get Back’ (UK no. 11) becomes the most successful song from the soundtrack album. Rod’s former record producer, Lou Reizner, is the mastermind of the whole project.
Rod Stewart’s relationship with Britt Ekland concludes in 1977 when she finds he has been unfaithful. Rod doesn’t spend a lot of time feeling remorseful. In 1977 he is romantically linked to Marcy Hanson and Liz Treadwell and then is involved with Bebe Buell (1977-1978).
‘Foot Loose And Fancy Free’ (1977) (UK no. 3, US no. 2, AUS no. 1) in November is Rod Stewart’s next album. The title gives an idea of his attitude. ‘You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)’ (UK no. 3, US no. 4) is a continental café sing-song offset by a violin. The subject of the song is a matter of contention. In tipping his lid to his football team (“You’re Celtic United / But baby I’ve decided / You’re the best team I’ve ever seen”), Stewart gives some the impression that the song is about someone who prefers soccer over any woman. The more popular interpretation is that the track functions as a goodbye note to Britt Ekland. What clouds the issue a bit is this line: “The big bosomed lady with the Dutch accent who tried to change my point of view.” Britt Ekland is Swedish, not Dutch; she certainly doesn’t have a Dutch accent; and, for all her charms, being prodigiously buxom is not one of her characteristics. Rod Stewart offers this explanation: “It wasn’t totally about Britt…It could have been anybody I met in that period…and there were a lot of them.” When the lyrics speak of “Your fashion sense, Beardsley prints,” it is alluding to Aubrey Beardsley, the art nouveau identity. ‘You’re In My Heart’ is written by Rod Stewart. The album’s other two most significant tracks are co-written by Rod Stewart and Gary Grainger but, musically, they are poles apart. ‘Hot Legs’ (UK no. 5, US no. 28) is a raunchy rock tune in which the singer cries in mock exhaustion, “Gonna need a shot of vitamin E / By the time you’re finished with me” and “You got legs right up to your neck / You’re making me a physical wreck.” By contrast, ‘I Was Only Joking’ (UK no. 5, US no. 22) is a semi-acoustic ballad. Rod Stewart looks back over his life and expresses no regrets…well, maybe some…He concludes, “Quietly now, while I turn a page / Act one is over without costume change / The principal would like to leave the stage / The crowd don’t understand.”
In 1978 Rod Stewart dates British actress Joanna Lumley.
‘Blondes Have More Fun’ (1978) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is an old adage that Rod Stewart tries to prove since his locks are looking rather more artificially yellow these days in comparison to his previously mousey-brown mane. This November release is best known for ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (UK no. 1, US no. 1) Co-written by Rod Stewart and drummer Carmine Appice, this track is most notable for appropriating a disco rhythm that sees Stewart trying to keep abreast of musical trends. “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy / Come on sugar, let me know,” urges the singer. Rod Stewart is subsequently sued by Jorge Ben over ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ because of its resemblance to Ben’s ‘Taj Mahal’. Ben wins the case and asks Rod to donate all profits to the charity organisation UNICEF. This album also includes the pouting ‘Ain’t Love A Bitch’ (UK no. 11, US no. 22), co-written by Rod Stewart and Gary Grainger.
On 9 January 1979 Rod Stewart is one of the acts who participate in the benefit show called ‘A Gift of Song – The Music for UNICEF Concert.’ The venue is the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Others on the bill include Abba, The Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John. The concert is taped and broadcast the next night on NBC-TV in the United States. Rod Stewart performs ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’
On 6 April 1979 Rod Stewart marries Alana Hamilton, the ex-wife of actor George Hamilton. Rod and Alana go on to have two children: Kimberley (born 21 August 1979) and Sean (born 1 September 1980).
‘Foolish Behaviour’ (1980) (UK no. 4, US no. 12, AUS no. 9) features the insistent ‘Passion’ (UK no. 17, US no. 5). Most of the album’s compositions are credited to The Rod Stewart Group and they also share production credit with Harry The Hook and Jeremy Andrew Johns. Stewart later says, “’Foolish Behaviour’ was a pile of s***, really. Maybe a couple of others were too.”
‘Tonight I’m Yours’ (1981) (UK no. 8, US no. 11, AUS no. 11) is co-produced by Rod Stewart and his guitarist, Jim Cregan. This album incorporates ‘elements of new wave and synth pop.’ The title track, ‘Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)’ (UK no. 8, US no. 20) is certainly a bouncy effort. ‘Young Turks’ (UK no. 11, US no. 5) is a percolating dance pop tune. The four songwriters on this track are Rod Stewart, Carmine Appice, Kevin Savigar and Duane Hitchings. While the song revolves around a sugary chorus urging, “Young hearts be free tonight”, the story-song of Billy and Patti seems to be pure Stewart. A pair of runaways make a life for themselves and Billy writes to her parents advising, “Patti gave birth to a ten-pound baby boy.”
Parting ways with manager Billy Gaff (and Gaff’s Riva Records label), Rod Stewart’s first outing for Warner Bros. alone (in all territories) is the concert recording ‘Absolutely Live’ (1982) (UK no. 35, US no. 46).
Rod Stewart is the first to record the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager composition ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. It appears on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Night Shift’ (1982). Four years later, it becomes a big hit for the foursome of Dionne Warwicke, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.
‘Body Wishes’ (1983) (UK no. 5, US no. 30, AUS no. 14) reunites Rod Stewart with producer Tom Dowd. ‘Baby Jane’ (UK no. 1, US no. 14) is smooth disco pop with a big saxophone. “Baby Jane don’t leave me hanging on the line,” asks the vocalist, before going on to vow, “When I give my heart again, I know / It’s gonna last forever.” ‘Baby Jane’ is co-written by Rod Stewart and bassist Jay Davis. The duo share a songwriting credit on this album with drummer Tony Brock for ‘What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So In Love With You)’ (UK no. 3, US no. 35), a buoyant Euro-pop piece.
In 1983 Rod Stewart begins romancing model Kelly Emberg. This spells the end for his marriage to Alana Hamilton and they divorce in 1984. Rod Stewart’s relationship with Kelly Emberg runs from 1983 to 1990. Though they never marry, they do have a daughter, Ruby (born 17 June 1987). While involved with Kelly Emberg, Rod Stewart is also linked to Michelle Johnson (1984) and actress Kelly LeBrock (1985).
‘Camouflage’ (1984) (UK no. 8, US no. 18, AUS no. 34) is produced by Michael Omartian. The album is keyboard-heavy with a glossy sheen. Notable songs from this set are ‘Infatuation’ (UK no. 27, US no. 6) and ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck’ (UK no. 15, US no. 10).
‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (1986) (UK no. 5, US no. 28, AUS no. 16) is produced by Bob Ezrin. The title track, ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (UK no. 2, US no. 83), is co-written by Rod Stewart and Kevin Savigar. It has a decidedly Scottish, anthemic feel with Stewart pleading, “Seagull carry me / Over land and sea / To my own folk / That’s where I want to be.” ‘Another Heartache’ (UK no. 54, US no. 52) and ‘Love Touch’ (UK no. 27, US no. 6) also hail from this album.
‘Out Of Order’ (1988) (UK no. 11, US no. 20, AUS no. 26) is co-produced by Rod Stewart, Andy Taylor and Bernard Edwards. This album attempts to modernise Stewart’s approach with songs like ‘’Lost In You’ (UK no. 21, US no. 12), ‘Forever Young’ (UK no. 57, US no. 12) and ‘My Heart Can’t Tell You No’ (UK no. 49, US no. 4).
‘Storyteller’ (1989) (UK no. 31, US no. 54) is a four-disc box set trawling through Rod Stewart’s career. A new track, ‘Downtown Train’ (UK no. 10, US no. 3), is a cover version of a Tom Waits song, a performer with a similarly gravelly voice. “He’s one of my favourite all-time songwriters,” Stewart says of Waits.
Rod Stewart’s relationship with Kelly Emberg ends in 1990. After brief liaisons with both Teri Copley and Helen Fairbrother in 1990, Rod Stewart marries his second wife, New Zealand actress and model Rachel Hunter, on 15 December 1990. Rod and Rachel have two children together: Renee (born 1 June 1992) and Liam (born 5 September 1994).
‘Vagabond Heart’ (1991) (UK no. 2, US no. 10, AUS no. 1) uses a variety of producers and so yields a variety of styles. It reaches from the new sound of ‘Rhythm Of The Heart’ (UK no. 3, US no. 5) to the classic ‘It Takes Two’ (UK no. 5), the 1967 Motown hit by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, that partners Rod Stewart with the smouldering Tina Turner. ‘The Motown Song’ (UK no. 10, US no. 10), a new song about the great record label’s material, is also on this album. ‘Unplugged And Seated’ (1993) (UK no. 2, US no. 2) is a live acoustic album that reunites Stewart with his old mate from The Faces, Ron Wood. ‘Have I Told You Lately’ (UK no. 5, US no. 5) is the single from this set. ‘A Spanner In The Works’ (1995) (UK no. 4, US no. 35, AUS no. 28) is another multi-producer recording that includes ‘Leave Virginia Alone’ (US no. 52), ‘You’re The Star’ (UK no. 2, US no. 44), ‘Lady Luck’ (UK no. 56) and ‘Purple Heather’ (UK no. 16). Rod Stewart’s last album for the century is ‘When We Were Boys’ (1998) (UK no. 2, US no. 44), which he co-produces with Kevin Savigar. Aside from the title track, ‘When We Were Boys’, it is largely a collection of cover versions, including a reworking of a song Stewart originally recorded with The Faces, ‘Ooh La La’ (UK no. 16, US no. 34). Speaking of his late 1990s output, Rod Stewart snorts, “I might as well have not made records.”
Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter separate in 1999 but don’t officially divorce until 2006. “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house,” quips Stewart. He keeps busy in 1999 being linked to Kimberley Conrad, Tracey Tweed, Vicki-Lee McIntyre and Angelica Bridges. However, it is another woman he meets in 1999, Penny Lancaster, who becomes the next major love of Rod Stewart’s life. Despite a dalliance with Caprice Bourret in 2000, it is Penny Lancaster who wins his heart.
‘Human’ (2001) (UK no. 9, US no. 50 is an ‘attempt to cross-over to contemporary and urban audiences.’ It is Rod Stewart’s last album of its type for some time.
Rod Stewart abandons rock music all together with his next album. ‘It Had To Be You: The Great American Songbook’ (2002) (UK no. 8, US no. 4, AUS no. 5) finds Rod relying on his abilities as an interpretive singer to tackle pre-rock standards for a more mature audience. He records more volumes of such material: ‘As Time Goes By – The Great American Songbook Volume 2’ (2003) (UK no. 4, US no. 2, AUS no. 7) ‘Stardust: The Great American Songbook – Volume 3’ (2004) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 8) and ‘Thanks For The Memory: The Great American Songbook – Volume 4’ (2005) (UK no. 3, US no. 2, AUS no. 15).
On 9 March 2005 Rod Stewart proposes to Penny Lancaster atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. She accepts. Waiting only for Rod’s divorce from Rachel Hunter to be finalised in 2006, Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster marry on 16 June 2007 aboard the super-yacht ‘The Lady Ann Magee’ in Portafino Harbour, Italy. A model and photographer, Penny Lancaster is six foot, one inch, tall, while Rod Stewart is five feet, ten inches, in height. The couple have two sons: Alastair (born 27 November 2005) and Aiden (born 16 February 2011). This means that Rod Stewart has eight children by five mothers.
Rod Stewart’s recording career continues with more interpretive works. ‘Still The Same…Great Rock Classics Of Our Time’ (2006) (UK no. 4, US no. 1, AUS no. 16) is followed by ‘Soulbook’ (2009) (UK no. 9, US no. 4, AUS no. 11); another set of pre-rock standards, ‘Fly Me To The Moon: The Great American Songbook – Volume 5’ (2010) (UK no. 5, US no. 4, AUS no. 4); and the holiday season special, ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ (2012) (UK no. 2, US no. 3, AUS no. 3).
Writing ‘Rod: The Autobiography’ (2012) prompts Rod Stewart to again try songwriting.
‘Time’ (2013) (UK no. 1, US no. 7, AUS no. 6) is his first album for Capitol Records. It includes songs inspired by his father (‘Can’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘It’s Over’) and the mother of his first child (‘Brighton Beach’). ‘Another Country’ (2015) (UK no. 2, US no. 20, AUS no. 9) continues Rod Stewart’s return to original material and personal themes.
In the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list Rod Stewart is appointed Knight Bachelor.
Rod Stewart may have chased women as much as he chased hit records, but he avoided other pitfalls of fame. Compared to many of his peers in the rock industry, Stewart was relatively unscathed. “I did drugs but I was never mad on ‘em,” he suggested. “My father, being a Scotsman, taught me to look after finances.” An interest in the opposite sex is the subject of countless rock songs so, in that sense, Rod Stewart lived a very rock ‘n’ roll life. His best work was probably in the 1970s. Arguably ‘the finest singer of his generation’, Rod Stewart was also a ‘randy rock star, sensitive singer-songwriter, eloquent interpreter of other people’s material, folky traditionalist [and] reverent soul man. It was remarkable that Stewart could embrace so many roles.’
- wikipedia.org as at 31 March 2014, 2 January 2016, 4 January 2017
- allmusic.com, ‘Rod Stewart’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 28 May 2014
- brainyquote.com as at 27 May 2014
- whosdatedwho.com as at 31 March 2014
- ‘The Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Britt Ekland on Nudity, Alzheimer’s and Being “Abducted” by Peter Sellers’ – interview conducted by Chrissy Iley (22 September 2013) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
- Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 31 March 2014
- Internet movie database imdb.com as at 27 May 2014
- ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – Rod Stewart interview conducted by Kathy McCabe (23 May 2013) p. 35
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 14, 60, 76, 77, 222, 223, 224
- urbandictionary.com as at 19 January 2006
- ‘The Graham Norton Show’ (U.K. television program – BBC 1 Network) (2012 – episode 4)
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 49, 79, 83, 91, 132, 141, 205, 206
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 88, 92, 159, 161, 234, 247, 262, 263, 266, 294
- ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 180, 183
- ‘Rod: The Autobiography’ by Rod Stewart (Crown Archetype, 2012) (via Chris Michaud, retuers.com 10 October 2012)
- discogs.com as at 28 May 2014
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Britain: The Second Wave’ by Ken Emerson (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 422, 423, 427
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 106
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 173
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 55
- ‘The Telegraph’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Rod Stewart Interview: “I Am Desperately Ashamed of the Way I Finished Relationships”’ by Neil McCormick (11 April 2013) (reproduced on telegraph.co.uk)
- songfacts.com as at 28 May 2014
- lyricsfreak.com as at 21 May 2014
- ask.com as at 28 May 2014
Song lyrics copyright Intersong U.S.A., Inc. ASCAP with the exceptions of ‘Hot Legs’ and ‘I Was Only Joking (both Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Riva Music Ltd. ASCAP); ‘Maggie May’ (Unichappell Music Inc. / Rightsong Music, Inc. / H.G. Music ASCAP); ‘You Wear It Well’ (Chappell & Co., Inc. / Intersong U.S.A., Inc. O/B/O Rod Stewart / H.G. Music, Inc. ASCAP); ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ (WB Music Corp. O/B/O Nite Stalk Music / Intersong U.S.A., Inc. ASCAP); ‘Young Turks’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Riva Music Ltd. / Hitchings Publ. ASCAP); ‘Baby Jane’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Anteater Music ASCAP); and ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (Intersong U.S.A., Inc. / Black Lion Music ASCAP)
Last revised 12 January 2017