November , 1984
By David Huff
Rod Stewart on the Inside Looking Out
If there is one thing that can transcend the barriers of time, it's music. The industry today sparkles with ageless wonders who year after year continue to defy Father Time with vinyl brilliance. There are times when their wisdom is questioned and sometimes scoffed at, but their ability to beat those odds has forever enshrined their names in the annals of rock and roll history.
Names like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Moody Blues, Pete Townshend and the resilient Tina Turner are some of the best bets in music today. They have set standards unparalleled anywhere, their talents unequalled by anyone. But before one goes on, there is another name that should be added to the list of ageless performers whose voice, well, whose voice defies description just as much as he does. His name is Rod Stewart.
"Obviously I am going to be biased." replied guitarist Jim Cregan, an eight-year veteran of the Rod Stewart band and close friend, "but Rod is not only a great onstage performer. He has the best voice in rock and roll. Rod puts so much energy into his shows, and has such a great self-appreciation that great people like Elvis Presley had, that he doesn't take himself seriously or pose onstage.
"The thing about Rod Stewart is that he is able to take each gig as it comes, and play. You can never tell what is going to happen at his shows. I have seen children handed to him onstage and if you can believe this, one time when I was playing a guitar solo, some guy suddenly emerged from nowhere over the heads of the crowd and they passed this guy up on stage still in his wheelchair. It was madness, but Rod took it in stride and sang "Maggie May," with the guy. It was quite a sight."
Rod Stewart has been brandishing his style of rock and roll for more than two decades. His latest release is Camouflage, the 17th studio recording of a long and dubious career this North London product has produced. Raised In a working class neighborhood to parents of Scottish descent, Stewart's early musical inspirations ranged from the folk music of Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Bob Dylan. He supported himself in the beginning taking odd jobs like grave digging, delivering newspapers and mending fences.
Stewart came to prominence when he teamed up with Jeff Beck in 1968 as the vocalist for the Jeff Beck Group. It recorded two classic albums, Truth and Beck-ola. When the group broke up in 1969, Stewart and fellow band member Ron Wood, joined the Faces (formerly the Small Faces), and recorded seven albums. Concurrent with his involvement with the Faces, Stewart recorded an additional seven solo albums including the critically acclaimed Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story.
Since 1976 when Stewart finally went solo, his career has been on a sort of musical rollercoaster as he has managed ride out the musical trends that have besieged the industry. In 1979, Stewart's album, Blondes Have More Fun, included Billboard Magazine's top single of the year, the disco-tinged "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." Stewart has been able to cop a hit single from every album he's put out since he's left the Faces, but no overall album has been able to sustain the appetite of his critical early solo work did.
"Rod is very aware of what is going on musically around him," reassured Cregan. "I suppose you could say that it is a compliment to him that he has been able to `flow with the trends’ of music that has consumed the industry the past few years. There’s been no musical copout on his part either. Rod knows full well , as does everyone else in this business that you just can't stand still while the world goes by.
"The critics would love it if Rod came out with another Gasoline Alley or Every Picture Tells a Story. They were critical successes but financial failures. If Rod continued to make records without success, financial success, he would be back digging graves. It would have been a disaster for Rod to ignore the direction the music business was going in just to please the critics.
"One of the terrible things about the music business is that if you can't continue to sell records, you are easily forgotten no matter what you did in the past. Van Morrison, who I deeply like and respect, was one of many artists Warner Brothers dropped from their catalog during their big reshuffling period a few months ago. Though Van didn't sell tens of thousands of albums, he was still a good tax write off at the end of the year for the label. But it just goes to show you that no matter how well you are respected and loved, the bottom line is your ability to sell."
So business outweighs art and Rod Stewart has had to come to terms with it in that manner?
"No," replied Cregan quickly. "It is not true for everyone. Rod Stewart I would say, has been both a leader and a follower when it comes to making his music. The music during the Blondes Have More Fun period was the music we were trying to do to match the time. When we recorded "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," we were trying to do something that sounded rockier, but it turned out disco.
"There was a time when we did jump on the bandwagon, the New Wave bandwagon, and the result was the song "Passion." Rod is not a leader when it comes to innovative sounds. He is not interested In the latest technology, or gizmos, he is more interested in songs and performance. For instance, on the album Tonight I’m Yours, we used more synthesizers on the record and I think the hit on the record, “Young Turks”, was just indicative of the mood Rod was in at the time.
"The trick in this business that he has learned is this. You want two or three songs on every album that have commercial appeal. Then you can also put two or three songs on the same album that are very much from the heart and are commercially what you want to do. It doesn’t do any harm to approach an album that way. People like Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson make commercial albums right now, but in five years, they may lose the right touch and the right timing that has taken them so far today."
If Rod Stewart is anything, he is a performer. His onstage charisma is matched by a rock and roll image only David Bowie could appreciate. But that image has its pitfalls, as Bowie could certainly testify too. More often than not, it includes taller tales about one's lifestyle than a salty old sailor could spin.
"You can't be a well-known person and have the press ignore you," replied Cregan simply. "Let's face It, the more gossip and garbage that is printed, the more people like it, like the National Enquirer. Everyone wants to read that crap and hear it. They want to know what you do, who you do it with in bed, and how many times.
"For some people, constant media attention can take its toll. Rod still gets upset when he sees the press, particularly the British press, just make up some imaginary story about him. Just the other day he showed me this clipping from a British paper that said he was off hopscotching around Europe with someone when he actually was with the British Royal Marines doing parachute jumping tours. He wondered where they got these stories from because they were totally outrageous. There is even one where he is accused of sleeping with 14-year old girls and that kind of stuff. It is very pathetic, very pathetic."
Despite the media propensity to distort any and all things Rod Stewart, his one respite from it all is his music. No matter what outrageous accusations are printed about his personal life, when Stewart performs, the world is his stage.
"For some performers,” remarked Cregan, “if the media scrutinized every move they made both on and off the stage, their creativity could be hurt.
"No artist’s criteria for performing, or recording an album, should rest on whether the press or critics like what they have seen or heard. You have to go for what you believe in, otherwise you are doing It for someone else. If you are going to do things, you basically have to do it for yourself. Then you are pleasing the only person you have to and you are being honest with yourself. Rod Stewart has done that."