Rod Stewart speaks exclusively ahead of Shrewsbury show
Sir Rod Stewart will be strutting his stuff when he comes to Shrewsbury Town FC in June. We spoke to the 72-year-old about life, loves and music.
Drinking, sha**ing and singing. They're his words, not ours, writes Andy Richardson.
Rod – that's 'Sir' Rod – Stewart is reflecting on the areas in which he's excelled during 56 technicolour years in rock'n'roll. He laughs a raucous laugh. It's the sound of whisky on gravel, of a uniquely soulful voice that made Maggie May, Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? and You Wear It Well international hits.
We're waiting for him to say something like: 'especially singing . . .' But he doesn't. He just leaves the laugh hanging. It's the sound of a thousand stories, of a life well-lived.
That hat-trick doesn't reflect the full picture, of course. The man who had five consecutive number one albums in the UK, has enjoyed 62 hit singles, four American number ones, one knighthood and eight kids by five women has sold more than 100 million records, is worth £160 million and bedded more than 1,000 women: "The most memorable is always the current one. The rest just merge into a sea of blondes."
He's a bona fide A-lister; a singer who ranks alongside other British greats such as Macca, Elton and his old mates Mick and Keef.
And yet away from the caricature, away from the larger-than-life entertainer who epitomised the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll myth is a quieter, more reflective soul.
And among his many lifetime achievement awards, his double induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his receipt of a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II is another unexpected honour.
In 2013, one of the world's greatest rock'n'roll stars was named Dull Man Of The Year.
The person whose unique approach to taking cocaine was so out-of-kilter with family newspapers that we won't relay it here received the honour because of his commitment to, um, model railways. Though Rolling Stone, NME and Mojo are all proud to have featured him on their covers, Rod has also graced a far more niche publication: Model Railroader.
His impressive layout made it on to the cover 10 years ago. And his addiction to railways was once so bad that he'd book a spare hotel room next to his so that he could play trains after thrilling 70,000 fans at a gig.
So while drinking, sha**ing and singing may all be true – so is 'playing trains'. His 1,500-square foot model train layout out takes up the entire third floor of his Beverley Hills home.
He laughs again: "Trains are when I get time for myself. That was something that I was very much into when I was a young kid. My dad bought me a guitar instead of a railway station that he promised he'd buy me.
"But, yes, it's a wonderful form of escapism. I've finished the lay-out after 23 years. It's kept me out of most trouble."
Most rock'n'rollers demand bottles of Champagne, blue M&Ms, lobster thermidor and the like on their list of demands. But not Rod. He'd always ask for a spare room so that he could set up his trains.
"The one thing about touring is that there's a lot of downtime and you feel like you're wasting your life. I'd have a spare room in the hotel and I'd pass away five or six hours. I was wonderfully content. It wasn't always that way. Before the trains it was always sha**ing and drinking."
Rod will leave his beloved trains in their shed for a week in June when he flies back to the UK. He's got a series of stadium shows, including one at Shrewsbury Town FC on June 7.
"It'll be every song that you want to hear plus a few more," he says. "I don't tend to do too many songs that people don't know. I look at it like this: If Otis Redding or Sam Cooke were alive I'd want to see them do what I loved. So people can expect a very energetic and very sexy show. I've got six girls in the band – they look amazing and they are amazing musically. I'll also be kicking 40 signed soccer balls into the audience, which I seem to have been doing for a million years."
It's 9am in LA and the sun is already high in the sky. "It's another glorious day," says Sir Rod. "What's it like back in England?"
His career continues to move forward as he builds on the remarkable success that he's enjoyed since the Millennium. Rod's Great American Songbook series allowed him to reinterpret some of the greatest songs of all time, from Cole Porter's Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye and Isham Jones's It Had To Be You to Sammy Cahn's Time After Time and the Rodgers & Hart classic Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
The records went platinum around the world and Rod loved making them. "I'm very proud of my American songbook series. I'd have done volumes 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. They stretch you as a vocalist. They bring out a side of you and exercise your vocal chords in a different way to the rock numbers."
Not that he'll be playing Frank Sinatra songs at Shrewsbury. "That's a different show and I don't mix the two. I did once, about 10 years ago. There was this couple in the front row, they must have been in their 80s. They were expecting the American Songbook and the first number I did was Hot Legs. I think they had blood coming out of their ears. After that, I thought 'never again'."
He turned his hand to soul covers soon after, with Soulbook, his 25th studio album, which was a hit around the world. And since then there's been a successful return to original material. His 2013 Time album, written after a 20-year writers' block – was a number one hit and earned him a platinum disc. Another Country, released in 2015, earned another platinum disc and went to number two.
"If it hadn't have been for Elvis Presley, I'd have had two number ones," he says. Then he laughs again.
"Rock'n'roll, American Songbook, soul . . . I can do the whole lot mate."
If he had to pick one album from his 48-year solo career, it would be Every Picture Tells A Story. A number one on both sides of the Atlantic, it featured Mandolin Wind, Maggie May, Reason to Believe, a cover of Dylan's Tomorrow Is A Long Time and the Stewart-Ronnie Wood classic, Every Picture Tells A Story.
"I always thought the breakthrough was special."
It was, but perhaps it wasn't entirely unexpected. He'd already come to prominence with The Jeff Beck Group, in which he'd lined up with guitarist Jeff Beck and his mate Ronnie Wood. "It was just me and Jeff out front. We exchanged riffs with each other."
Then came one of the great Mod groups, The Faces. Formed from the ashes of the Small Faces, after Steve Marriott had left that group to form Humble Pie, the classic line-up featured Rod on vocals, Ronnie Wood on guitar, Ronnie Lane on bass, Kenney Jones on drums and Ian McLagan on keyboards. They are still remembered fondly.
"The Faces weren't the greatest of musicians, but boy could they drink. People loved us. We were extremely basic and we were mostly p***ed all the time. They loved the vulnerability. I wouldn't never have left The Faces. But we lost Ronnie Lane to ill health. Then Woody had the opportunity to join The Stones and he couldn't say no to that. I don't want people to think I broke the Faces up. Woody found another band and we lost Ronnie. That's what happened."
It was time for Rod to go it alone. He'd already cultivated his Rod the Mod image and his heartfelt mix of folk, rock and country blues soon made him successful. Though his debut album stalled and 1970s Gasoline Alley only brushed the UK charts, he subsequently hit his stride and from 1971 to 1976 took up residency at number one on the chart. Every Picture Tells A Story, Never A Dull Moment, Smiler, Atlantic Crossing and A Night On The Town were all huge hits and while the follow-ups – Foot Loose & Fancy Free and 1978's Blondes Have More Fun – stalled at number three, both went platinum and were huge in the States.
Remarkably, Rod sustained his success. While other rock'n'roll figures burned out, he stayed on the road and remained in the charts. "Every career has its high moments and low moments. No one can sustain that level of success forever. There was a period when I wasn't selling too many albums. But the American Songbook was great and things have gone well ever since."
And yet for all of his success, Rod was reticent to start writing his own material once more. Time was released in 2013 and went to number one. "Things had been great and then the songwriting started again. I wasn't sure. I thought 'who wants to listen to me?' At the time, I was 69. But people did and that gave me such a hit." It's fuelled the fire for more and Rod has been busy writing new songs. "I can't say too much. I'm sworn to secrecy about one of the projects I'm working on."
He's been working with the elusive Paddy McAloon, the Prefab Sprout singer, and fans can expect to hear the fruits of their labours in the not too distant future. "I'm a big old Prefab Sprout fan. Paddy's just written a song for me, Who Invented The Snowflake?"
At 72-years-young, Rod remains busy. His contribution to music was recognised last year when he was knighted. Rod arrived at Buckingham Palace with his wife, Penny Lancaster, and youngest children, Alastair and Aiden. "That was quite a day. I was over the moon. I was happy with the CBE but Penny kept saying 'wouldn't a knighthood be nice'.
"The good thing about it is that it's voted for by the common public. They send in their votes, they write and say who should get one. So it's an honour from the British people, rather than just the Queen. That's the way I look at it. But it hasn't changed me at all. People still just call me Rod. It's lovely."
Thoughts of the 1,000 blondes have long since disappeared following his marriage to his third wife, Penny, who he describes as 'the love of my life'. These days, he's happy being a family man.
"Well, having had three wives and eight kids, it goes without saying. I enjoy being a dad. And I'm thoroughly enjoying this period of my life with my boys. With Alana (his first wife) we parted company, so I didn't see as much of Kimberly and Sean (his second and third children). Then Rachel (his second wife) left me, so I didn't see the kids (Renee and Liam, his fifth and sixth children) as they were growing up. I missed out on some of those wonderful times from five to 14 because they weren't living with me. The exes don't often bump into each other. But they all get on fairly well."
He dotes on Alastair and Aiden, his seventh and eighth children, who are 11 and six. He wants to build a swimming pool for Alastair so that he can train to be an Olympic swimmer. He and Penny have asked for planning permission for a 20-metre long pool at their £5 million Epping Forest mansion so that Aiden can train at home.
"My wife and I are torn down the middle. I'm a great football fan and only recently gave it up. The boys are Celtic supporters, of course. Aiden adores football but he's gifted as a swimmer. So we'll see.
"But the kids are doing well. Ruby (his fourth child, by model Kelly Emberg) is 22 and she's just been signed by Sony. I listen to what she and the rest of them listen to. I'm fairly clued up, even though I am 72."
He marvels at the careers of modern superstars such as Sam Smith and Adele. But the people he still loves most are the great soul men, like David Ruffin, who was lead singer with The Temptations. "David was such a wonderful singer. I knew him so well. He would sing with me in Detroit."
And though drinking and sha**ing have been high on his list of priorities, singing remains the number one. "I've sung all of the songs I've wanted to sing. If I could've written any of my favourite songs, they'd have been Van Morrison's Have I Told You Lately, Cars and Girls by Paddy McAloon and In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Picket."
And if we're lucky, we'll hear those – and a bunch of others – when he headlines Shrewsbury Town on June 7.
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