Rod Stewart Biography



Singer

Rod Stewart

Born January 10, 1945, in London, England; married Alana Hamilton (a model), 1979 (divorced, 1984); married Rachel Hunter (a model), 1991 (divorced, 2006); children: Kimberly, Sean (from first marriage), Ruby (with Kelly Emberg), Renee, Liam (from second marriage), Alastair (with Penny Lancaster).

Addresses: Record company —J-Records, 745 Fifth Ave., 6th Flr., New York, NY 10151. Website —http://www.rodstewart.com.

Career

Worked as apprentice for Brentford Football Club, early 1960s; toured with folk singer Wizz Jones; sang in Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions, the Hoochie Coochie Men (later Steampacket), and Shotgun Express, mid-1960s; lead singer of the Jeff Beck Group, 1968–69; released first solo album, The Rod Stewart Album , 1969; joined the Small Faces (later the Faces), 1969; performed on MTV Unplugged , performance released on CD as Unplugged … And Seated , 1993; released Human , 2001; released Great American Songbook series, 2002–05; released Still the Same … Great Rock Classics of Our Time , 2006.

Awards: Grammy Award for best traditional pop vocal album, Recording Academy, for Stardust … The Great American Songbook Volume III , 2004.

Sidelights

Rod Stewart, perhaps the most popular British rocker of the 1970s, has enjoyed platinum record sales, seemingly permanent celebrity, an equally permanent place on classic rock radio, wealth, and the company of countless beautiful young women. Yet he has also suffered a 30-year assault on his reputation from the music press, eternally disappointed that he forsook his early '70s blend of rowdy rock-and-roll with rough, poignant folk music for a slick pop sound, heartstring-snapping ballads, and lyrics that celebrate his own playboy decadence.

At his best, wrote critic Jon Pareles in the New York Times , Stewart is "one of rock's more appealing personas—a rueful working-class rake, well aware of love's pratfalls but sincere when he pledges his devotion." Also key to his appeal is his distinctive raspy voice, which John Rockwell, another New York Times critic, described as a "whisky tenor" that combines "manly toughness with aching emotional pain and the sexuality that high voices have always symbolized."

Born in a working-class part of London to a Scottish family, Stewart took up music as a young man in the early 1960s after working as an apprentice for the Brentford Football Club. He toured Europe with Wizz Jones, a folk singer. Over the next few years, he sang in several short-lived British R&B and blues-rock bands, including Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions, the Hoochie Coochie Men (which, after renaming itself Steampacket, toured with the Rolling Stones), and Shotgun Express.

Stewart's first moment of rock stardom came as lead singer of the Jeff Beck Group, named after the band's guitarist, formerly of the mid-'60s British blues-rock band the Yardbirds. Stewart's wildly emotional vocals fit well with Beck's heavy, dramatic guitar work. Together, on the albums Truth and Beck-Ola —"exercises in brilliant bombast," as Rolling Stone 's biography of Stewart puts it—they helped establish the heavy, pre-metal, blues-based rock sound that Jimi Hendrix and Cream were also exploring and that would soon make Led Zeppelin famous.

In 1969, as Beck recovered from a car accident, Stewart and Beck's bass player, Ron Wood, left the band. Together, they recorded Stewart's acclaimed solo debut, The Rod Stewart Album . (That was its American title; it was named An Old Raincoat Won't Let You Down in Great Britain.) The album combined R&B and rock sounds with Stewart's folk roots to create a semi-acoustic rock and roll sound. Covers ranged from "Street Fighting Man," a then-recent Rolling Stones hit, to "Dirty Old Town," a classic folk song by Scottish songwriter Ewan MacColl. The songs Stewart wrote himself were poignant character sketches of misfits and people down on their luck.

The combination of Wood's slide guitar and Stewart's gravelly voice was even more successful than Beck and Stewart's collaboration. Stewart and Wood soon joined the band the Small Faces, whose lead singer had just left. After putting out their first album, First Step , in the spring of 1970, which established them as a sloppy but fun band with a heavy Rolling Stones influence, the group renamed itself the Faces.

For the next four years, Stewart and Wood worked together on roughly two albums a year, both Stewart albums and Faces albums. On his second solo album, Gasoline Alley , released in the fall of 1970, Stewart began to establish a reputation as an excellent interpreter of Bob Dylan songs by covering Dylan's folk song "Only A Hobo." The Stewart-Wood collaboration peaked in the year 1971, with Stewart's third solo album, Every Picture Tells A Story , which hit number one in America and Britain and made Stewart famous. It included Stewart's best-known song, still played relentlessly on classic rock stations: "Maggie May." The song tells the story of a young man trying to tear himself away from a consuming romance with a more mature woman. Stewart has said it was based on an actual affair he had with an older woman when he was 15 or 16. Also in 1971, the Faces released perhaps their best two albums, Long Player and A Nod Is as Good as a Wink … To a Blind Horse , which reached the top ten in America and Britain and included their only American hit, "Stay With Me."

The success of Stewart's solo career began to create tension in the Faces as they toured in early 1972. His new solo album, Never A Dull Moment , lived up to its title by ranging from a cover of soul singer Sam Cooke's euphoric "Twistin' the Night Away" to the lustful "Italian Girls." The Faces recorded one more studio album, Ooh La La , in 1973 and quarreled during a difficult tour of the United States, documented on the live album Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners . The band, estranged by early 1974, officially broke up in 1975, and Wood went on to join the Rolling Stones.

Rock critics began to turn against Stewart with the release of his next solo album, Smiler , in 1974. Though recorded in the same style as his previous efforts, it showed he was in something of a rut. It included a strong cover of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," but also an ill-advised cover of Aretha Franklin's song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," which Stewart changed to "Natural Man." Still, the album was a hit.

In 1975, Stewart began a romance with Britt Ekland, a Swedish actress. He also decided to move to the United States because of a dispute with the British government over his taxes. His next album, Atlantic Crossing , commemorated his move and marked his transition from rock toward pop music. A Night on the Town from 1976, had a similar slick pop sound, but also featured ambitious songwriting. Stewart tipped his hat to his gay fans with "The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)," a narrative about the murder of a gay friend of his, and covered folk singer Cat Stevens' "The First Cut is the Deepest."

As Stewart became famous for his wild lifestyle and many actress and model girlfriends, his album titles turned cheeky, playing up his playboy image. Albums such as Foot Loose & Fancy Free and Blondes Have More Fun , released in 1977 and 1978, sold millions of copies. On the latter, Stewart embraced disco. Critics reacted badly, especially hating the single "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"—but it became one of Stewart's biggest pop hits, hitting number one in 1979. Around this time, he married model Alana Hamilton; they went on to have two children, Kimberly and Sean.

In 1981, on Tonight I'm Yours , Stewart updated his sound with then-popular new wave and synth pop styles. But his career took a downturn soon after, both in record sales and musical quality. He released a few singles during the 1980s, such as "Lost in You" and a cover of Dylan's "Forever Young," that were well-crafted enough to hit the pop charts but soft enough to disappoint old fans. A 1984 profile in People found him going through a bitter divorce from his first wife, Alana, after five years of marriage, and becoming more frugal after years of outrageous spending. "Gone are the fleet of nine sports cars, the troop of retainers," reported Todd Gold of People . Not gone were Stewart's playboy antics; at 39, he was dating a 25-year-old model, Kelly Emberg, and several other women. (He eventually had a daughter, Ruby, with Emberg.) He briefly reunited with Beck for what was to be a full tour, but Beck soon dropped out after—in the opinion of Stewart and his band—dragging down the show with extremely long guitar solos.

Stewart was 39 when Gold profiled him for People . He was about to bring his 80-year-old father along on tour with him for two weeks, which made him think about what it would be like to be that old. "I suppose it'd be hard to sing rock 'n' roll at 80," he told Gold with a laugh. "But you've got no idea what it's like to be up there in front of 20,000 screaming fans. It's a hard thing to give up. It's really like a drug."

A comeback began in 1989 when Stewart, embracing the advent of CDs and the trend of career-spanning box sets, released the four-disc set Storyteller . It included a cover of the Tom Waits song "Downtown Train," which became a major hit. He showed a partial return to rock form with 1991's Vagabond Heart , which included a duet with soul star Tina Turner and contributions from Robbie Robertson, former leader of The Band (Dylan's mid-'60s backup group, which had become popular in its own right in the 1970s). He reunited with Wood for his appearance on the television show MTV Unplugged , which spawned the album Unplugged … and Seated . The well-received performance included many of his best songs from the early '70s. Meanwhile, his love life was on the upswing too; in 1991, he married another model, Rachel Hunter, who was in her early 20s, half his age. The couple had a daughter, Renee, and a son, Liam.

With the 1998 album When We Were the New Boys , whose title clearly points back to his rock roots, Stewart pleased rock and roll fans for the first time in years. The album included a strong cover of "Cigarettes and Alcohol" by Oasis, one of the top British rock bands of the 1990s. But he quickly hit another rough patch in his career and romantic life. In 1999, he and his wife separated. Stewart, then 54, cheered himself up by dating another model, Tracy Tweed, 34, followed by 29-year-old underwater photographer Robbie Lauren, followed by Penny Lancaster, also 29 and both a photographer and a lingerie model. Thyroid surgery in 2000 lowered his voice slightly, and his 2001 album Human , an attempt to cross over to urban and contemporary pop, bombed commercially and was savaged by critics.

To revive his career, Stewart tapped the songwriting of a much earlier generation. Starting with It Had to Be You and continuing through three more albums, Stewart recorded versions of classics from the Great American Songbook, a term for the best American pop music of the first half of the 20th century, including the work of such acclaimed songwriters as George Gershwin and Cole Porter. The albums, released between 2002 and 2005 and collected into a box set, became hits on adult contemporary charts. Stewart had not expected their commercial success. "It was meant to be a labor of love, something I was doing for a laugh," he told Rebecca Winters of Time , "and here we are going double platinum."

Some critics recoiled, though, saying Stewart lacked the vocal talent to interpret the nuanced old standards. Chuck Arnold of People proclaimed the first two albums "lame." Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly called the whole series "sacrilegious." Stewart seemed unfazed. In March of 2005, at age 60, he proposed to Lancaster, now 34, while they were in at the top of Paris' Eiffel Tower. That December, Lancaster gave birth to Stewart's sixth child, Alastair. In March of 2006, Stewart and Hunter finalized their divorce after a seven-year legal battle.

In 2006, Stewart's career took another new turn. He encouraged celebrity Paris Hilton to record his song "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" for her first album, and she did. It was released on her first album in August of 2006. Meanwhile, Stewart announced the October of 2006 release of his new album, Still the Same … Great Rock Classics of Our Time , which includes rock ballads such as Dylan's "If Not For You," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," and the title track, Bob Seger's "Still the Same." The album was predicted to be a return to form that would please both consumers and hard-to-please critics.

Selected discography

Solo

      
        The Rod Stewart Album
      
      , Mercury, 1969.
      
Gasoline Alley , Mercury, 1970.
Every Picture Tells A Story , Mercury, 1971.
Never A Dull Moment , Mercury, 1972.
Smiler , Mercury, 1974.
Atlantic Crossing , Warner Bros., 1975.
A Night on the Town , Warner Bros., 1976.
Foot Loose & Fancy Free , Warner Bros., 1977.
Blondes Have More Fun , Warner Bros., 1978.
Foolish Behaviour , Warner Bros., 1980.
Tonight I'm Yours , Warner Bros., 1981.
Absolutely Live , Warner Bros., 1982.
Body Wishes , Warner Bros., 1983.
Camouflage , Warner Bros., 1984.
Every Beat of My Heart , Wea International, 1986.
Rod Stewart , Warner Bros., 1986.
Out of Order , Warner Bros., 1988.
Storyteller (box set), Warner Bros., 1989.
Vagabond Heart , Warner Bros., 1991.
Unplugged … And Seated , Warner Bros., 1993.
Spanner in the Works , Warner Bros., 1995.
When We Were the New Boys , Warner Bros., 1998.
Human , Atlantic, 2001.
It Had to Be You … The Great American Songbook , J-Records, 2002.
As Time Goes By … The Great American Songbook, Vol. 2 , J-Records, 2003.
Stardust … The Great American Songbook, Vol. 3 , J-Records, 2004.
Thanks for the Memory … The Great American Songbook, Vol. 4 , J-Records, 2005.
The Great American Songbook Box Set , J-Records, 2005.
Still the Same … Great Rock Classics of Our Time , J-Records, 2006.

The Faces

      
        First Step
      
       (as the Small Faces), Mercury, 1970.
      
Long Player , Mercury, 1971.
A Nod Is as Good as a Wink … To a Blind Horse , Mercury, 1971.
Ooh La La , Mercury, 1973.
Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners , Mercury, 1974.

Jeff Beck Group

      
        Truth
      
      , Epic, 1968.
      
Beck-Ola , Epic, 1969.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard , November 12, 2005.

Entertainment Weekly , June 11, 1993; February 27, 2004, p. 96; November 12, 2004, p. 122.

Europe Intelligence Wire, July 3, 2003.

New York Times , September 29, 1988, p. C19; December 10, 1989, p. A33.

People , August 13, 1984, p. 34; June 8, 1998, p. 43; August 9, 1999, p. 10; November 24, 2003, p. 44; November 22, 2004, p. 49; June 13, 2005, p. 124; November 12, 2005, p. 37.

Time , February 9, 2004, p. 85.

Times (London, England), June 26, 2006.

Online

"Rod Stewart," All Music Guide , http://www.allmusic.com (August 13, 2006).

"Rod Stewart: Biography," Rolling Stone , http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/rodstewart/biography (August 13, 2006).

"Rod Stewart Returns to Rock On New Album," Billboard , http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002877636 (August 13, 2006).



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