Back in the Groove

When you think of Rod Stewart, the first things that come to mind are the crazy hair, the sexy outfits, and that one-of-a-kind raspy voice that can make the ladies swoon.
But the one thing that really stands out about that raspy voice is it surprisingly can sing just about anything, lending itself to any genre. A voice like that has the ability to dig deep, to hold onto a lyric and touch the soul.
Stewart is a little bit like Willie Nelson in that respect. Both clearly don’t have what people would consider silky buttery smooth crooner vocal range. Nelson is a bit “twangy” and Stewart is, well, Stewart. Both, however, were ridiculously successful at penning their own songs over the years and both took the American Songbook in totally different directions showing the world neither of them would ever be stuck in any musical box. Their takes on the standards are regarded as some of their best work.
Stewart is one of those rarities who had the talent to sustain a career for more decades than most of his colleagues. He is a songwriter of profound lyrics, the teller of tales, earning his long-time, dues-properly-paid rock-star status, which he continues to maintain to this day.
Stewart is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 100 million records worldwide. He has had 16 top ten singles in the US, with four reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. He was knighted in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to music and charity.
A Grammy and Brit Award recipient, he was voted at No. 33 in Q Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Greatest Singers of all time, and No. 59 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of all time list.
As a solo artist, Stewart was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and was inducted a second time into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of Faces.
He is the lyricist and melodist behind such staples as ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘You Wear It Well’, ‘You’re In My Heart’, ‘The Killing of Georgie’ and the indelible ‘Maggie May’ – all of them miniature story-telling masterpieces.
The craft of songwriting lured Stewart from the beginning. As a young teenager, charged with minding his father’s London newspaper shop, Stewart would put up the closed sign, so as not to be disturbed, and sit out back with an acoustic guitar, attempting to decode and master every track on the first Bob Dylan album.
Yet, in the mid-’60s, in the small, hot British blues clubs in which Stewart did his formal vocalist’s apprenticeship, first as a member of Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men, and then in the group Steampacket, it wasn’t about writing your own songs. It was about wringing every drop of soul out of Ray Charles’s “The Night Time Is The Right Time” while wearing a sharp suit and keeping a carefully up-combed bouffant (first using a mixture of sugar and water) in perfect working order. The songwriting ambitions took a back seat.
Even while he sang with the influential Jeff Beck Group, between 1967 and 1969, they were largely a covers outfit.
He maintained a solo career alongside the group career, releasing his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down in 1969. Stewart’s early albums were a fusion of rock, folk, soul, and R&B.
That led Stewart to The Faces, where he found his stride as a writer, who, with Ron Wood, came up with the beautiful “Mandolin Wind.”
In between, his solo star started to rise, fueled by his self-penned work.
The era-defining “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” “Infatuation,” “Baby Jane,” “Hot Legs,” and the popular anthem, “Forever Young” cemented Stewart’s place as a solo musician.
In the ’80s and ’90s he was a darling of MTV with videos and hit songs including “Passion,” “Young Turks,” “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and “Rhythm of My Heart.”
After a string a self-pennned hits, Stewart thought the songwriting well had dried up.
“It was almost as if a person I didn’t know used to write those songs,” he said.
“My assumption was that I was finished as a songwriter. It had always been difficult, and then, at some point in the 1990s, my confidence took a knock and it became impossible.
“I was thinking too hard about what people expected from me. And I was thinking about whether I felt comfortable any more, delivering whatever it was people expected from me… I was trapped down all sorts of unhelpful mental alleys, basically. And eventually I convinced myself that I had made the best of the little bit of talent for songwriting that I had been given. But now it was over – time to move on.”
There were plenty of other songs around and Stewart was no stranger to taking a cover and making it his own, as “This Old Heart of Mine” proved.
He spent his time making his own path through the Great American Songbook, realizing a long-held ambition to put popular music’s least boundary-hindered voice to the classic ballads and swing tunes he heard in his childhood London home. At an age when most of his peers were hanging it up, Stewart sold more records than in any other decade of his career.
And then, a funny thing happened during an impromptu writing session with old friend and guitarist Jim Cregan. The writing spring started to trickle once more.
“To be perfectly frank,” Stewart said, “I was rather looking forward to a Sunday afternoon post-lunch snooze.”
A couple of days later, though, Cregan sent Stewart a recording of their efforts, slightly smartened up.
“And I played it, and the title ‘Brighton Beach’ dropped into my head — from nowhere, as titles always used to and for no reason I could put my finger on. And right then I started writing a lyric: about taking the train down to the south coast of England as a young, beatnik kid with an acoustic guitar, and sleeping on the beach and falling in love and the sheer romance of that time,” he said. “And very quickly — much quicker than I was used to — I found myself with a finished song.”
At the time he was also working on his best-selling autobiography, Rod, published in 2012.
“Something about that process of reviewing my life for the book reconnected me,” he said. “And that was it: I was away. Suddenly ideas for lyrics were piling up in my head. Next thing I knew, I had a song called ‘It’s Over’, about divorce and separation.
“And now I was getting up in the middle of the night and scrambling for a pen to write things down, which has never happened to me. I finished seven or eight songs very quickly and I still wasn’t done and it became apparent that I would eventually have a whole album of material to record, which had never happened before. It’s tended to be four or five songs per album at most.
“It was clean out of the blue. Something clicked and I realized I had things to write about again and things I wanted to sing about. A whole life’s worth of topics, in fact.”
From then on, Stewart continued to record and write. In September of this year, he released his 30th studio album, Blood Red Roses, on Republic Records, a collection of originals and three covers.
Stewart has never stopped touring. He is still singing, still reaching people with his music both sonically and face-to-face.
“I always think I make albums for a few friends and this record has that intimacy,” Stewart said of Blood Red Roses. “Sincerity and honesty go a long way in life and the same is true in songwriting.”


ROD STEWART

Laughlin Event Center

Saturday, Oct. 20 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info