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Roderick David Stewart (born January 10, 1945 in Highgate, London) is an English born singer and songwriter of Scottish descent, most known for his uniquely raspy, gravelly, hoarse-sounding voice and personable singing style, as exemplified in his signature song “Maggie May”.
In a career now entering its fifth decade, Stewart has achieved 27 top 10 hit singles worldwide. Although the quality of his recordings has dipped at times, he is widely recognised as among the best interpretive singers of recent times, and has consistently been a presence in the charts since the early 1970s.
Stewart was the youngest of five children born to Robert and Elsie Stewart. His parents owned a newsagent’s shop in North London, and the family resided above the shop. Minutes before Rod Stewart was born, a German V-2 rocket hit the police station just down the street and exploded.
“Rod the Mod” 1960-1969
Rod Stewart started as an apprentice footballer with Brentford F.C. based in West London. He soon switched to a career in music joining folk singer Wizz Jones in the early 1960s as a street singer travelling around Europe; this resulted in his being deported from Spain for vagrancy. Stewart also worked as a gravedigger during this period.
On his return to England, he went to Birmingham to join Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions as a vocalist and blues harp player — he and the band recorded a single for Pye Records. He is also commonly alleged to have played the instrument on Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”, which became a huge hit in 1964, but this account has never been confirmed and remains disputed.
Rod Stewart returned to London in 1964 to join Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men which recorded a single “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” which failed to chart. The Hoochie Coochie Men evolved into Steampacket featuring Stewart, Baldry, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Mickey Waller and Rick Brown. Steampacket supported the Rolling Stones and the Walker Brothers in the northern summer of 1965 and would also record an album that would not be released until 1970 when Stewart had become well-known in musical circles. Stewart also earned the nickname “Rod the Mod” in that period after an appearance on a BBC documentary,1965, on the Mod movement.
Steampacket broke up in early 1966 with Stewart joining Shotgun Express as lead vocalist with Beryl Marsden. Shotgun Express also contained Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green who would go on to form Fleetwood Mac and Peter Mardens. Shotgun Express released one single before breaking up.
Stewart sang guest vocals for the Australian group Python Lee Jackson on “In a Broken Dream” in 1970. His payment was a set of seat covers for his car. It was re-released in 1972 to become a worldwide success.
Stewart then joined the Jeff Beck Group as vocalist. In 1968, their first album Truth became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the group toured extensively. The second album Beck-ola also was a hit in the middle of 1969 but the group broke up by the end of the year. Much of Stewart’s sense of phrasing was developed during his time with the Jeff Beck Group.
Never A Dull Moment 1969-1975
The U.S. band Cactus offered Stewart a job as lead singer but he decided to join The Faces with Ron Wood. (Wood had played bass guitar with the Jeff Beck Group, but wanted to switch to guitar. The Faces were previously The Small Faces until the departure of Steve Marriott.)
Stewart also signed a solo recording contract. An Old Raincoat Won’t Let You Down became his first solo album in 1969; it was known as The Rod Stewart Album in the U.S.. It established the template for his solo sound: a heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues, all informed by a British working-class sensibility, with both original material (“Cindy’s Lament” and the title song) and cover versions (Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town” and Mike d’Abo’s “Handbags and Gladrags”) being very effective.
The Faces released their debut album First Step in early 1970 with a rock and roll style similar to The Rolling Stones. While the album did better in the UK than the U.S., the Faces quickly earned a strong live following. Stewart would release his second album Gasoline Alley with Martin Quittenton as his lead guitarist supplying mandolin. The sound and approach was similar to his first album, as exemplified by the dynamic but haunting title track. He also launched a solo tour.
Stewart’s 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story made him a household name when the B-side of his minor hit “Reason to Believe”, “Maggie May”, started receiving radio play. The album and the single hit number one in both the U.S. and the U.K. simultaneously, a chart first, in September. A loss of innocence tale set off by a striking mandolin part (by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne), “Maggie May” was also named in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, which is one of three songs by him to appear on that list. The rest of the album was equally strong, with “Mandolin Wind” again showcasing that instrument, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” adding hard-edged soul to the mix, and “Tomorrow is a Long Time” being one of the best British Bob Dylan covers. But the ultimate manifestation of the early Stewart solo style was the Stewart-Wood-penned “Every Picture Tells a Story” itself: powered by Mick Waller’s drumming and a mostly acoustic arrangement, it is a fast, rocking, headlong romp relating the picaresque adventures of the singer.
The second Faces album Long Player was released in early 1971 which enjoyed greater chart success than First Step. The Faces also got their only U.S. top forty hit with “Stay With Me” from their third album A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse released in late 1971. This album reached the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic on the back of the success of Every Picture Tells A Story. Throughout this period there was a marked dichotomy between Stewart’s solo and group work, the former being meticulously crafted while the latter tended towards the boozy and sloppy. The Faces were unable to perform Stewart’s solo work effectively in concert, as the subsequent Rod Stewart/Faces Live album would show; faithful renditions of those songs would have to wait two decades until Stewart’s MTV Unplugged appearance. However Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols regarded The Faces very highly and named them as a main influence on the British punk rock movement.
The Faces had an extensive tour in 1972 with growing tension in the band over Stewart’s solo career enjoying more success than the band’s. Stewart released Never A Dull Moment in the same year. Repeating the Every Picture formula for the most part, it reached number two on the U.S. album charts and number one in the UK and enjoyed further good notices from reviewers. “You Wear It Well” being a hit single that reached number 13 in the U.S. and went to number one in the UK, while “Twisting the Night Away” made explicit Stewart’s debt to Sam Cooke.
For the body of his early solo work Stewart earned tremendous critical praise. Rolling Stone’s 1980 Illustrated History of Rock & Roll includes this in its Stewart entry:
Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart […] a writer who offered profound lyricism and fabulous self-deprecating humor, teller of tall tales and honest heartbreaker, he had an unmatched eye for the tiny details around which lives turn, shatter, and reform […] and a voice to make those details indelible. [… His solo albums] were defined by two special qualities: warmth, which was redemptive, and modesty, which was liberating. If ever any rocker chose the role of Everyman and lived up to it, it was Rod Stewart.
The Faces released their final album Ooh La La which reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 21 in 1973. The Faces went on their final tour in 1974 to support Ooh La La and the single “Pool Hall Richard”. The band formally broke up in 1975 with Ron Wood joining The Rolling Stones as their guitar player and Stewart pursuing his solo career.
Stewart would release the Smiler album in late 1974 which proved to be a disappointment. In Britain it reached No.1, and the single “Farewell”, No. 7, but only No. 13 on the Billboard pop album charts and the single “Mine For Me” only No. 91 on the Billboard pop singles charts. Smiler is generally regarded as Stewart’s weakest album of the seventies.
Atlantic Crossing 1975-1980
In 1975, Rod Stewart moved to the U.S., applying for citizenship due to his love affair with Britt Ekland and a fight with the UK tax authorities. He released the Atlantic Crossing album with producer Tom Dowd and a different sound, based on the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Atlantic Crossing marked both a return to form and a return to the top 10 of the Billboard album charts. The first single “Sailing” was a massive number one hit in the UK, while it only reached the top 60 of the U.S. charts. The single returned to the UK top ten a year later when used as the theme music for a BBC documentary series about HMS Ark Royal, and having been a hit twice over became, and remains, Stewart’s biggest-selling single in the UK. Holland-Dozier-Holland cover “This Old Heart of Mine” was also a top 100 hit in 1976. Musically, Atlantic Crossing showed Stewart was clearly distinguishing his slow material (such as Danny Whitten’s wrenching “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”) from his largely by-the-numbers rockers (such as “Three Time Loser”).
Later in 1976, Stewart topped the Billboard singles charts for eight weeks and the Australian singles charts with the glossy seduction ballad “Tonight’s the Night” (an accompanying music video featured Ekland). It came from the A Night on the Town album, which went to #2 on the Billboard album charts and was Stewart’s first album to go platinum. By explicitly marking the album as having a “fast side” and a “slow side”, Stewart continued the trend started by Atlantic Crossing. “The First Cut is the Deepest”, a cover of a Cat Stevens song, went top 30 in the U.S. in 1977 and number 1 in the UK (even though “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols is widely believed to have sold more records in that week). “The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and 2)”, about the murder of a gay man, was also a top 40 hit for Stewart during 1977.
Foot Loose & Fancy Free from 1978 continued Stewart’s run of chart success, again reaching #2 and featuring much the same sound as from A Night on the Town. “You’re In My Heart” was the hit single, reaching #4 in the U.S.. The rocker “Hot Legs” achieved a lot of radio airplay as did the confessional “I Was Only Joking”. In appearance, Stewart’s look had evolved to include a glam element, included make-up, spandex clothes, and the like.
Stewart scored another UK #1 and U.S. #1 single with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” which was a crossover hit reaching #5 on the Billboard black charts due to its disco sound. This was the lead single from 1979’s Blondes Have More Fun which went to #1 on the Billboard album charts and sold 4 million albums. It was to be Stewart’s last number one album for 25 years.
There are two schools of critical thought about this whole period of Stewart’s career. One is exemplified by the same 1980 Rolling Stone History entry quoted above, as it actually begins:
Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely. Once the most compassionate presence in music, he has become a bilious self-parody—and sells more records than ever. […] full of the rewards he received for his work, and seemingly without noticing, he exchanged passion for sentiment, the romance of sex for a tease, a reach for mysteries with tawdry posturing …
The other school acknowledges that Stewart has never surpassed his earliest work, but states that by Never a Dull Moment and certainly Smiler it was clear that that formula had run dry, and that he needed to make a musical change in direction. Furthermore, Stewart’s early solo work had inadvertantly benefited from The Faces drawing off his less-inspired, straight-rocking party efforts; without The Faces around, this side of him became more manifest in his solo work. Given that, this view concludes that his albums during this period are not so bad and in particular Atlantic Crossing and A Night on the Town are more than occasionally inspired.
A focal point of this debate was “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”. To detractors, this was the epitome of Stewart’s egotism and the nadir of his career. Supporters defend the music by saying this was Stewart’s try at the disco sound, much in the same way as Paul McCartney did “Silly Love Songs” or The Rolling Stones did “Miss You”. In interviews Stewart, while admitting his accompanying look had become “tarty”, has defended the lyrics by pointing out that the song is a third-person narrative slice-of-life portrayal, not unlike those in his earlier work, and that it is not about him. In any case, the song’s refrain was identical to Brazilian Jorge Ben Jor’s earlier “Taj Mahal”; a lawsuit ensued. Stewart donated his royalties from the song to UNICEF, and he performed it at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979.
Out of Order 1981-2001
In 1981, Stewart added elements of New Wave and synth pop to his sound for the Tonight I’m Yours album. The title song and “Young Turks” both reached top 5 of the Billboard charts with the album going platinum.
Stewart’s career then went into a relative slump. He only had three top ten singles between 1982 and 1988 and only 1983’s Camouflage album went gold in the UK. A reunion with Jeff Beck produced a successful take on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”, but an attempt to tour together fell apart after a few dates.
In 1988, he returned with Out Of Order produced by Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor and by Bernard Edwards of Chic. “Forever Young” and “Lost in You” from that album were both significant hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and mainstream rock charts. (“Forever Young” was an unconscious revision of Bob Dylan’s song of the same name; the artists reached an agreement about sharing royalties.)
In January of 1989 Rod set out on the South American leg of the “Out of Order” tour playing to sold out audiences throughout South America. Audiences hung on every line, often prompting Rod and the band to stop and listen to the crowd, and they knew every word to every song. In Buenos Aires the famed “River Plate” soccer stadium that seats 70,000+ was estimated to have had in attendance more than 90,000 , with several thousand outside the stadium. Firehoses were sprayed on the crowd to avoid heat prostration, the excitement was palpable.
Despite the riggors of traversing South Americas questionable highway system with three seperate convoys of equipment ( the loss of a truck in a landslide delayed one show in Brazil,) to satisfy the million$+ light show and stages, the show went on with a gruelling schedule of performances. Venues in remote seemingly desolate small towns would cram to standing room only capacity in the local soccer stadium, and ring the stadium in a sea of fans electrified by the music, the entertainer, and the fact that he was willing to perform for them.
His version of the Tom Waits song “Downtown Train” went to #2 of the U.S. singles charts. This song was taken from a four CD compilation set called Storyteller. The Vagabond Heart album continued his comeback with “Rhythm of My Heart” and “Motown Song” both reaching the top 10.
In 1993, he recorded “All For Love” with Sting and Bryan Adams for the soundtrack to the movie The Three Musketeers; the single reached #1 on the U.S. charts.
Also in 1993, Stewart reunited with Ron Wood and a talented backup group to record an MTV Unplugged special. For the first time Stewart’s early solo pieces were done justice in concert; highlights included a heartfelt “Handbags and Gladrags”, a furious “Cut Across Shorty”, and four selections from Every Picture Tells A Story. The show also featured an acoustic version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately” which topped the Billboard adult contemporary chart and went top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. A rendition of “Reason to Believe” also garnered considerable airplay. The Unplugged album reached #2 on the Billboard album charts.
Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
In 1995, Stewart released A Spanner in the Works containing a cover of Tom Petty’s “Leave Virginia Alone” which reached the top 10 of the adult contemporary charts. The latter half of the 1990s was not as commercially successful with If We Fall In Love Tonight not making much of an impression on the charts.
When we Were the New Boys from 1998 contained versions of Britpop acts such as Oasis and Primal Scream. However, it only reached #44 on the UK album charts. Human, his final album on the Warner Brothers label only just reached the top 50 in 2001 with the single “I Can’t Deny It” going top 40 in the UK and top 20 in the adult contemporary.
The Story So Far: the Very Best Of a greatest hits album compiled from his time at Warner Brothers went to the top ten in the UK and reached number 1 in places like Belgium and France in 2001.
In recent years, Stewart has concentrated on singing 1930s and 1940s pop standards from the “Great American Songbook”, written by songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, with great popular success but middling critical success. These albums have been released on Clive Davis’s J Records label and have seen Stewart enjoy album sales equal to the 1970s.
The first album from the songbook series, It Had to Be You … The Great American Songbook, reached #4 on the U.S. album chart, #8 in the UK and #10 in Canada when released in late 2002. The track “These Foolish Things” reached #13 on the Billboard adult contemporary charts and #2 in Taiwan. “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” went top 20 on the world internet charts and top 30 on the adult contemporary charts.
The second series album, As Time Goes By …The Great American Songbook Volume II, reached #2 in the U.S., #4 in the UK and #1 in Canada. “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered”, a duet with Cher went top 20 on the U.S. adult contemporary charts and top 5 in Taiwan. “Time After Time” was another top 30 track on the U.S. adult contemporary charts.
A musical featuring many of Stewart’s songs opened November 7, 2003 at London’s Victoria Palace theatre. It is written and directed by Ben Elton, who previously created a similar production, We Will Rock You, with music by Queen.
In 2004, Stewart is reuniting with Ron Wood for concerts of The Faces material. A Rod Stewart and the Faces best of Changing Faces reached the top 20 of the UK album charts. Five Guys Walk Into A Bar, a Faces box set compilation, went in to the shops, and it is widely regarded as a “must have” in Rock & Roll history. Together with Ron Wood he is still working on the album You Sing I’ll Strut.
In late 2004, Stardust … The Great American Songbook Volume III, the third album in the series, was released. It was his first U.S. number 1 album in 25 years, selling over 200,000 albums in its first week. It also debuted at #1 in Canada, #3 in the UK and top ten in Australia. His version of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, featuring Stevie Wonder has made the top 20 of the world adult charts. Stewart won his first ever Grammy Award for this album.
His most recent record was released on September 2005. Named Thanks For The Memory…The Great American Songbook IV, it included duets with Diana Ross and Elton John. Within weeks of its release, the CD made it to number 2 on the top 200 list.
In 2000 Stewart was detected as having thyroid cancer. Besides being a major health scare, the resulting surgery also threatened his famous voice, and he had to re-learn how to sing.  Since then he has been active in raising funds for The City of Hope Foundation charity to find cures for all forms of cancer, especially those affecting children.
Stewart has remained physically active in recent years, playing in a senior football league and still kicking balls into the audience during concerts. As a fan he is a well-known supporter of Celtic F.C. and the Scotland national team. In appearance Stewart still maintains his trademark rooster-style haircut.
Throughout his career Stewart has been known for his liaisons with attractive women (fathering seven children with five of them; the oldest being born in 1964 and his latest child being born in November 2005):
Art student Susannah Boffey; one daughter Sarah Thubron (born 1964)
Actress Britt Ekland
First marriage to (ex-wife of George Hamilton) Alana Hamilton; one daughter Kimberly (born 1979) and one son Sean (born 1981)
Model Kelly Emberg; one daughter Ruby (born 1987)
Second marriage to model Rachel Hunter; one daughter Renée (born 1992) and one son Liam (born 1994)
With his new fiancée, model Penny Lancaster, he had his seventh child, a boy, Alastair Wallace, on 27 November 2005. The couple plan to marry in 2006.
Regarding Rachel Hunter, he was quoted as saying that he’d rather have his penis cut off than cheat on her. He was later sued for divorce.