Rod Stewart Biography

Roderick David Stewart, 10 January 1945, Highgate, London, England. The leading UK rock star of the 70s started his career as an apprentice professional with Glasgow Celtic and Brentford F.C. (over the years Stewart has made it known that football is his second love). Following a spell roaming Europe with folk artist Wizz Jones in the early 60s he returned to join Jimmy Powell And The Five Dimensions in 1963. This frantic R&B band featured Stewart playing furious harmonica, reminiscent of James Cotton and Little Walter. As word got out, he was attracted to London and was hired by Long John Baldry in his band the Hoochie Coochie Men (formerly Cyril Davies’ All Stars). Without significant success outside the club scene, the Baldry band disintegrated and evolved into the Steam Packet, with Baldry, Stewart, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, Mick Waller and Rick Brown.

Following a television documentary on the swinging mod scene, featuring Stewart, he collected his moniker ‘Rod the Mod’. In 1965, he joined the blues-based Shotgun Express as joint lead vocalist with Beryl Marsden. The impressive line-up included Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Bardens. By the following year, Stewart was well-known in R&B and blues circles, but it was joining the Jeff Beck Group that gave him national exposure. During his tenure with Beck he recorded two important albums, Truth (1968) and Cosa Nostra Beck-Ola (1969) and made a number of gruelling tours of America. He also guested on ‘In A Broken Dream’ by Australian unit Python Lee Jackson, which became a major hit when re-released in 1972.

When the Jeff Beck Group broke up (partly through exhaustion) Stewart and Ron Wood joined the Faces, now having lost their smallest face, Steve Marriott. Simultaneously, Stewart had been signed as a solo artist to Phonogram Records, and he managed to juggle both careers expertly over the next six years. His hits with the Faces during this period included ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Cindy Incidentally’ and ‘Pool Hall Richard’/‘I Wish It Would Rain’. Though critically well-received and featuring a sublime cover version of Michael D’Abo’s ‘Handbags And Gladrags’, Stewart’s first album (1969’s An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, known as The Rod Stewart Album in the USA) sold only moderately. It was the following year’s Gasoline Alley that made the breakthrough. In addition to the superb title track the album contained the glorious ‘Lady Day’. This album was the first to feature the distinctive mandolin sound (supplied by the talented guitarist Martin Quittenton) which was to become a fixture of Stewart’s solo work during this period.

Stewart became a transatlantic superstar on the strength of his next two albums, Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) and Never A Dull Moment (1972). Taken as one body of work, they represent Stewart at his best. His choice and exemplary execution of non-originals gave him numerous hits from these albums including; ‘Reason To Believe’ (Tim Hardin), ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (the Temptations) and ‘Angel’ (Jimi Hendrix). His own classics were the irresistible UK/US chart-topping magnum opus ‘Maggie May’ (co-written by Quittenton), ‘Mandolin Wind’ and the wonderful UK number 1 ‘You Wear It Well’, all sung in Stewart’s now familiar hoarse voice.

In the mid-70s, following the release of the below average Smiler, Stewart embarked on a relationship with the Swedish actress, Britt Ekland. Besotted with her, he allowed her to dictate his sense of dress, and for a while appeared in faintly ludicrous dungarees made out of silk and ridiculous jump suits. At the same time he became the darling of the magazine and gutter press, a reputation he unwillingly maintained through his succession of affairs with women. His Warner Brothers Records debut Atlantic Crossing (1975) was his last critical success for many years; it included the future football crowd anthem and UK number 1 hit, ‘Sailing’ (written by Gavin Sutherland), and a fine reading of Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’.

Stewart’s albums throughout the second half of the 70s were patchy affairs although they became phenomenally successful, selling millions, in many cases topping the charts worldwide. The high-spots during this glitzy phase, which saw him readily embrace the prevalent disco era, were cover versions of Danny Whitten’s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ and Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, the remarkably sensitive ‘The Killing Of Georgie (Part I And II)’, the US number 1 ‘Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)’, and ‘You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)’. Other hits included ‘Hot Legs’ and the superbly immodest but irresistible UK/US number 1, ‘D’Ya Think I’m Sexy’, which was based on Brazilian artist Jorge Ben’s track, ‘Taj Mahal’. Stewart’s ‘Ole Ola’, meanwhile, was adopted by the Scottish World Cup football team, an area in which his popularity has always endured. Although a poor album, 1978’s Blondes Have More Fun also provided Stewart with his second US chart-topper (after Every Picture Tells A Story).

Stewart entered the 80s newly married, to George Hamilton IV’s ex-wife, Alana, and maintained his momentum of regular hits and successful albums; his large body of fans ensured a chart placing irrespective of the quality. The decade saw Stewart spending his time jet-setting all over the world, with the press rarely far from his heels (covering his marriage break-up in 1984, his long relationship with Kelly Emberg, and the unceasing round of parties). Behind the jack-the-lad persona was an artist who still had a good ear for a quality song, a talent which surfaced throughout the decade with numbers like ‘How Long’ (Paul Carrick), ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck’ (Robert Palmer) and, reunited with Jeff Beck, a superb performance of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’. His biggest hits of the 80s were ‘Passion’, ‘Young Turks’, the UK number 1 ‘Baby Jane’, ‘What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So In Love With You)’, ‘Infatuation’, ‘Love Touch’ (from the movie Legal Eagles), ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’, ‘Lost In You’, ‘Forever Young’, ‘My Heart Can’t Tell You No’, ‘Crazy About Her’, and a superb reading of Tom Waits’ ‘Downtown Train’. The latter reached the US Top 5, and in fact during the 80s Stewart enjoyed more success in America than anywhere else in the world.

As the 90s got under way Stewart, now re-married to supermodel Rachel Hunter, indicated that he had settled down and found an enduring love at last (this was not to be the case as the couple separated in 1999). His new guise did not affect his record sales; in April 1991 he was high on the US and UK charts with ‘Rhythm Of My Heart’ and the bestselling Vagabond Heart. In 1993, Stewart returned to the top of the US singles chart in the company of Bryan Adams and Sting with the ballad ‘All For Love’, taken from the soundtrack of the movie The Three Musketeers. 1993’s Unplugged... And Seated boosted his credibility with an exciting performance of familiar songs and was a major US success. The album also included a hit reworking of Van Morrison’s ‘Have I Told You Lately’, previously covered by Stewart on Vagabond Heart. The following year saw Stewart inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

The studio album A Spanner In The Works in 1995 was his best for years, and during the launch Stewart undertook some interviews which were both revealing and hilarious. The once seemingly pompous rock star, dressed to the nines in baggy silks was really ‘Rod the Mod’ after all. Rod Stewart, one of the biggest ‘superstars’ of the century, turned 50 without his audience diminishing in any way. His credibility as high as it had ever been, Stewart then released When We Were The New Boys, debuting at UK number 2 in June 1998. On the album Stewart covered newer material by 90s bands including Skunk Anansie (‘Weak’), Primal Scream (‘Rocks’) and Oasis (‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’). He also revisited the Faces on the single ‘Ooh La La’, originally sung by Ron Wood on the album of the same name.

Stewart subsequently moved to Atlantic Records, although his debut for the label was delayed by voice-threatening throat surgery. Easy and smooth, Human was his most soulful album to date. It received only lukewarm reviews from the critics, yet was loved by the cognoscenti. In February 2002 Stewart left the WEA conglomerate after 25 years, signing a new recording contract with Clive Davis’ J Records. The first project was a stab at the great American songbook, previously defined by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Stewart’s fans may disagree, but somebody who possesses a natural rock/soul voice should not go down that road. Despite this, the album was a huge commercial success in America and prompted three further instalments. The third part, 2004’s Stardust... The Great American Songbook Volume III, returned Stewart to the top of the US charts for the first time in 25 years. He made a welcome return to rock ‘n’ roll with the 2006 covers album, Still The Same... Great Rock Classics Of Our Time. At the end of the year, the singer received a CBE in the New Year Honours list.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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