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Rockphiles Artist Profile

Rod Stewart

With a voice that is equal parts ground glass, chocolate syrup and aged whiskey, Roderick David Stewart is now an institution on both sides of the Atlantic.

Man or woman, it's hard not to love Rod. Despite, and perhaps because of all the money, hit records and blondes, he's still  one of the lads. His great loves in life are singing, football and women. Who can argue with those priorities?

Born January 10th, 1945 in North London to a Scottish dad and a Cockney mother, instead of a much-desired train set, canny Dad bought Rod a guitar for a Christmas gift. Over Rod's protests, Stewart Senior wisely noted "There's money in this. You need to learn to play." So, Rod did, and the rest ... well, Rod still is model-train mad, but he can buy all he wants!

Rod's early musical career dubbed him Rod the Mod. He sang with Long John Baldry, a long, tall, handbag wielding openly gay blues-shouter, and recorded his first solo single in 1964 - a version of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". Rod sang in Steampacket (with Elton John and John Baldry), Shotgun Express and Peter B's Looners, and  began to make a name for himself on the London pub scene. In 1967 he joined up with Jeff Beck, fresh out of the Yardbirds. The Jeff Beck Group recorded two pioneering albums, Truth and Beck-ola, combining Rod's powerful sandpapered vocals and Beck's thoughtful and technical blues guitar in a new, influential rock venture. Both reached 15 in USA.

However, despite major successful American tours, Beck, notoriously prickly, didn't get on with the rest of the group. Shortly after the firing of bassist Ronnie Wood, Rod's best friend in the band, they fell apart.

Back in London, Ronnie Wood was rehearsing with ex-Small Faces, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan and Ronnie "Plonk" Lane. When  asked to join and form The Faces, Rod was ready for a new challenge.

He already had a solo deal, and in late 1969 his first solo album, "An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down," showed Rod to be a superb interpreter of other people's songs. His version of Mike D'Abo's "Handbags and Gladrags" remains the definitive version. 

The Faces were all about drinking, partying and chasing women, a life-style designed to undermine their musical integrity. Their 1970 debut, First Step, didn't sell well. In England they were playing pub gigs, but in USA they were filling 10,000 seat arenas.  Rod's second solo album, Gasoline Alley, made top 30 in America and acted as a catalyst for The Faces career. So much so, that the following year Long Player became the Faces first hit album on both sides of the pond.

But it was the third solo album, Every Picture Tells a Story, that catapulted Rod to another level of stardom. A superb set of handpicked songs, Rod's version of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" was a strong single. However, it was the B side, "Maggie May," a song written by Rod as a tribute to an early love interest, which Rod had even considered dropping from the album, that was his career-maker. A Cleveland DJ flipped "Reason to Believe," and started playing the B side, creating a hit song that will forever be Rod's signature song. 

With "Maggie May," Rod achieved something no-one, not even the Beatles and Elvis, had done. He had the number 1 single and album on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously.

Old tracks were now dug out of the vaults to cash in on Rod's fame, and there began a whole series of superb hit singles from Rod and the Faces. "You Wear it Well", "Stay with Me," "Cindy Incidentally," "Pool Hall Richard" and "Angel." The Faces were everyone's favourite good time rock 'n' roll band and Rod was a consummate performer and style maven.  His scruffy feather-cut hair became the rock 'n' roll haircut, bar none, for the next 30 years. '71-'74 were great years and they made Rod a star.

But nothing that good could last forever. The Faces split amicably in '74, and Ronnie Wood went off to the Stones.

In 1975, Rod relocated to America, hooked up with glamour-puss actress Britt Eklund, and things began to go downhill. There was still the odd great song like his version of Crazy Horse's "I Don't Wanna Talk About It," and the controversial "Killing of Georgie," but there was too much dirt and not enough diamonds. At the urging of Britt Eklund, who was too involved in his career, he unfortunately took to wearing eyeliner, leopard skin pants, and even a straw boater.  But the hits never dried up. "Sailing" was another massive hit as was "Tonight's the Night." "Do Ya think I'm Sexy?" saw him in embarrassing disco style and garnering #1 success, but it was to be his last #1 in USA and his last in the UK till "Baby Jane" in 1983. Throughout the '80s Rod racked up hit after hit, even though albums like 1982's Camouflage and 1988's Out of Order were frankly way below standard.

By now the Mod was wearing fluorescent pink pants but the voice was as good as ever, and it was his voice that got him through the fashion fauxs pas of the '80s.

Perhaps because of the sheer quality of his singing and his high standard of professionalism, it was inevitable that prodigal Rod would again return to critical and commercial success. 1991's Vagabond Heart went top 10, but his 1993 Unplugged did even better making number 2 in UK and USA.

Rod now lives half the year in Santa Monica, California and half in England, where he has his own regulation football pitch.

Recently he's been selling shed-loads of the American Songbook album, singing old standards and doing a great job.

Through a procession of indistinguishable blonds and bad fashion choices, Rod's voice, musical panache and inimitable personal style has survived, and both he and his music are now an inseparable part of the heart and soul of classic rock, inextricably woven into the tapestry of our lives.

© 2004