Rod Stewart "Decades" CD Cover
John R. Rowlands photographs are used on the C.D. cover
Football's loss was rock 'n' roll's gain. As a teenager, north London-born Roderick Stewart considered pursuing a career as a footballer (soccer to us North Americans) before the allure of a musician's life became too great to overcome. With well in excess of 100 million records sold worldwide in a career now entering its 6th decade with no signs of slowing down, it's clear he chose the correct path. Two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member 'Rod the Mod' Stewart is one of the most successful recording artists in music history.
While he may be singing big band standards from the great American songbook collection in recent years, make no mistake: Rod Stewart remains a rock 'n' roller at heart, as this collection drawn from his lengthy recording career undeniably illustrates.
Rod's initial foray into the world of music began through supporting roles in London-based 60s R 'n' B combos such as Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions, The Hootchie Cootchie Men (featuring a certain Reg Dwight, aka Elton John, on piano), Steampacket, and Shotgun Express. He was then tapped by ex-Yardbirds guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck to front the original Jeff Beck Group (with an equally unknown Ron Wood on bass).
Making their American debut in 1968 at New York's legendary Fillmore East, Rod was so nervous he sang the first song from behind the band's bank of giant Marshall amplifiers, unsure how he would be accepted. He need not have worried. Rod's distinctive raspy deliver along with Beck's incendiary guitar and the interplay between them became the group's calling cards. The Jeff Beck Group released two critically acclaimed blues-rock albums with Rod before the singer embarked on a low-key solo career in 1969 with the release of An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down (renamed The Rod Stewart Album in North America). The song selection drew on Rod's affinity for rock, blues, country and folk music and included his touching rendition of Manfred Mann singer Mike d'Abo's "Handbags And Gladrags". Gasoline Alley followed in 1970 with the countrified title track along with a rollicking barrelhouse version of Bobby Womack's R 'n' B classic "It's All Over Now" drawing further attention. But by the time of its release, Rod was fronting the Faces, a reformed version of much-loved UK mod rockers the Small Faces. With Rod on vocals and Ron Wood on guitar, the Faces earned a reputation for gloriously shambolic live shows that endeared them to legions of loyal fans. Rod was content to submerge his solo identity within the group which enjoyed a smash hit with perennial concert favourite "Stay With Me" penned by Stewart and Wood.
Rod Stewart's solo breakthrough came with 1971's Every Picture Tells A Story and the massive worldwide #1 hit single "Maggie May". A collaboration between Stewart and guitarist Martin Quittenton, "Maggie May" refined Rod's sound and style, a country-flavoured acoustic rock boasting mandolin and fiddle, that came to define him for the next few years. The song, initially the B-side of his recording of Tim Hardin's much-covered folk classic "Reason To Believe", launched Rod into the rock music stratosphere as both a recording artist with superb musical instincts and tastes as well as a larger than life persona and media personality who's much-publicized female dalliances at times threatened to overshadow his music career. The album's title track as well as the revved up Faces-backed cover of The Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" boosted the album to multi-platinum sales. Rod's fame quickly eclipsed that of the Faces as the group was now billed as Rod Stewart & the Faces. He solidified his stature in the rock pantheon with follow up album Never A Dull Moment. Lest anyone assume Rod was a gentrified country/ roots crooner, he let loose on a powerhouse cover of mentor Sam Cooke's classic "Twisting The Night Away". "True Blue" further reinforced his reputation as a die-hard rocker as well as an accomplished songwriter.
By the middle of the 70s with Ron Wood on the road with Rolling Stones and Rod riding an unprecedented wave of solo success, the Faces called it a day leaving the singer with no other obligations than his own career.
Smiler, released in 1974 to surprisingly tepid reviews, opened with Rod's rip roarin' cover of the Chuck Berry rock 'n' roll chestnut "Sweet Little Rock & Roller". With disco and dance music in vogue, Rod ventured into that territory scoring huge hits first with "Hot Legs" followed by the provocatively titled "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" from the album Blondes Have More Fun. While some critics lambasted him for what they regarded as selling out, the ever popular performer laughed all the way to the bank. Besides being a dynamic live performer, Rod Stewart concerts were distinguished by a sea of tartan (though not from Scotland himself, Rod nonetheless championed his Scottish roots) and punctuated by the occasional soccer ball kicked into the audience.
The 1980s found Rod back rocking in fine form and still racking up the hits. "Young Turks" (better known as "Young Hearts" for its chorus) from the album Tonight I'm Yours was a strident self-penned number that maintained Rod's grip on the charts. For the next few years he continued releasing albums, touring to sell out arenas and stadiums including conquering new markets in South America (where he drew a record breaking 4.2 million to an outdoor concert) and Africa, and notching up even more hit singles. MTV kept his videos in heavy rotation during this period. Vagabond Heart in 1991 included a cover of Canadian songwriter and former leader of The Band, Robbie Robertson's poignant "Broken Arrow".
The new millennium finds Rod mining the pop standards catalogue to multi-platinum success with his series of albums under the Great American Songbook banner. While these albums are undertaken with the same sincerity and dedication to his craft that have been a consistence hallmark of his enormous recorded output, in concert Rod Stewart can still rock with the best of them. Who could ever have predicted that the shy young singer with the trademark rooster haircut nervously hiding behind the amps in 1968 would go on to become one of rock 'n' roll's most enduringly successful and endearingly popular practitioners?
- John Einarson, author of Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia (McClelland & Stewart, 2011)