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may have began his career as a respected singer, yet that respect
eroded as he got older, as he became more concerned with stardom than
music. While he has recorded some terrible albums - and he would admit
that freely - Stewart was once rock & roll's best interpretive
singer, as well as an accomplished songwriter, creating a raw
combination of folk, rock, blues, and country that sounded like no
other folk-rock or country-rock. Instead of finding the folk in rock,
he found how folk rocked like hell on its own. After Stewart became
successful, he began to lose the rootsier elements of his music, yet he
remained a superb singer, even as he abandoned his own artistic path in
favor of following pop trends.
Stewart began his musical career after spending some time as an
apprentice with the Brentford Football Club, touring Europe with folk
singer Wizz Jones in the early '60s; during this time he was deported
from Spain for vagrancy. When he returned to England in 1963, he joined
the Birmingham-based R&B group Jimmy Powell & the Five
Dimensions, as a vocalist and harmonica player. The band toured the
U.K. and recorded one single for Pye Records, which featured Stewart on
blues harp. After moving back to London, he joined Long John Baldry's
band, the Hoochie Coochie Men. The group recorded a single in 1964,
"Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," which failed to chart and soon
afterward the group evolved into Steampacket.
Official Homepage: www.rodstewart.com
During the summer of 1965, the group supported the Rolling Stones and
the Walker Brothers on a U.K. tour, as well as recording an album that
remained unreleased until 1970. Early in 1966, Steampacket disbanded
and Stewart became a member of the blues-rock combo Shotgun Express,
which released one single that fall before splitting. Rod Stewart then
joined the Jeff Beck Group at the end of 1966.
With the Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart began his climb to stardom.
Stewart and the former Yardbird guitarist pioneered the heavy
blues-rock team of a virtuoso guitarist and a dynamic, sexy lead
vocalist which became the standard blueprint for heavy metal. Truth,
the band's debut album, was released in the fall of 1968, becoming a
hit in both America and Britain. The Jeff Beck Group toured both
countries several times in 1968 and 1969, gaining a dedicated
following. In the summer of 1969, they released their second album,
Beck-Ola, which became another hit record in both the U.S. and U.K.
However, the group fell apart in the fall.
After rejecting an offer to join the American rock group Cactus,
Stewart and Jeff Beck Group bassist Ron Wood joined the Small Faces,
replacing the departed vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott. With Wood
switching over to guitar, the group shortened their name to the Faces
and recorded their debut album, First Step. During this time, Stewart
had also signed a solo contract, releasing his first album, An Old
Raincoat Won't Let You Down (re-titled The Rod Stewart Album for its
American release), at the end of 1969; the record failed to chart in
the U.K., yet it made it to number 139 on the U.S. charts. On the
album, Stewart's folk roots meshed with his R&B and rock
influences, creating a distinctive, stripped-down acoustic-based rock
& roll that signalled he was a creative force in his own right.
The Faces released First Step in the spring of 1970. The album was a
departure both from the R&B/pop direction of the Small Faces and
the heavy blues of the Jeff Beck Group; instead, the group became a
boisterous, boozy, and sloppy Stones-inspired rock & roll band. The
album fared better in the U.K. than it did in the U.S., yet the group
built a devoted following on both continents with their reckless, messy
live shows. Stewart released his second solo album, Gasoline Alley, in
the fall of 1970, supporting it with an American tour.
The following year proved to be pivotal in Stewart's career. At the
beginning of 1971, the Faces released their second album, Long Player,
which became a bigger hit than First Step, yet his third solo album,
Every Picture Tells a Story, made Rod Stewart a household name,
reaching number one in both America and Britain. "Reason to Believe"
was the first single from the album, becoming a minor hit in both the
countries, but when DJs began playing the b-side, "Maggie May," the
single became a number one hit in both the U.K. and U.S. for five weeks
in September. The Faces released their third album, A Nod Is as Good as
a Wink...To a Blind Horse, a couple of months later. Thanks to the
success of Every Picture Tells a Story, the album was a Top Ten hit in
both countries; it also launched the single "Stay with Me," which
became the band's only Top 40 hit in the U.S.
The following year, the Faces began a lengthy spring tour. During the
tour, tensions grew within the band as Stewart's solo career increased
in popularity. That summer, Stewart released his fourth solo album,
Never a Dull Moment, which nearly replicated the success of Every
Picture Tells a Story, peaking at number two in the U.S. and number one
in the U.K. In the spring of 1973, the Faces released their final
album, Ooh La La. Stewart expressed his disdain for the record in the
press, yet it hit number one in the U.K. and number 21 in the U.S.
After releasing the "Pool Hall Richard" single in the beginning of
1974, the band went on tour; it would prove to be their last. Stewart
released Smiler in the fall of 1975. Smiler followed the same formula
as his previous four albums - and it also became a hit - yet it
showed signs that the formula was wearing thin. In March of 1975, he
began a love affair with Swedish actress Britt Ekland; the romance,
along with a bitter fight with U.K. tax collectors, prompted him to
apply for U.S. citizenship. Atlantic Crossing, released in the summer
of 1975, made the singer's relocation explicit. Recorded with producer
Tom Dowd and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, the album removed much
of the singer's folk roots and accentuated his pop appeal. At the end
of the year, Stewart left the Faces and the band finally called it
Recorded in Los Angeles with a group of studio musicians, 1976's A
Night on the Town continued Stewart's move to slicker pop territory and
proved quite successful, becoming his first platinum album; it featured
the hit single "Tonight's the Night," which was number one in the U.S.
for eight weeks. Foot Loose and Fancy Free, released the following
year, followed the same artistic pattern as A Night on the Town while
surpassing its commercial performance, selling over three-million
copies. Stewart incorporated some disco to his musical formula for
1978's Blondes Have More Fun. Supported by the number one single "Da Ya
Think I'm Sexy?," the record became Stewart's first number one album
since Every Picture Tells a Story, selling over four-million records.
By this time, Stewart was notorious for his jet-set lifestyle,
particularly the series of actresses and models he dated.
With 1981's Tonight I'm Yours, Stewart began adding elements of new
wave and synth-pop to his formula, resulting in another platinum album.
Soon afterward, his career hit a slump. His next four albums sounded
forced and he only scored three Top Ten hits between 1982 and 1988; out
of those four albums, only 1983's Camouflage went gold. Stewart
rebounded with 1988's Out of Order, recorded with Duran Duran's Andy
Taylor and Chic's Bernard Edwards. His version of Tom Waits' "Downtown
Train," taken from the 1989 four-disc box set Storyteller, became his
biggest hit since "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Vagabond Heart (1991)
reflected a more mature and reflective Rod Stewart and continued his
Stewart reunited with Ron Wood to record an MTV Unplugged concert in
1993; the accompanying album launched the Top Ten hit single, "Have I
Told You Lately." Unplugged also returned Stewart to a more
acoustic-based sound. On his 1995 album, A Spanner in the Works, the
singer explored a more polished version of this sound, scoring another
hit with Tom Petty's "Leave Virginia Alone." The following year, he
released If We Fall in Love Tonight, which was comprised of both
previously released and new material. When We Were the New Boys
followed in 1998. Human followed in early 2001.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
The Best of Rod Stewart (Warner Bros. Records, 1989)
Unplugged ... and Seated (Warner Bros. Records, 1993)
When We Were the New Boys (Warner Bros. Records, 1998)
Human (Atlantic Records, 2000)
Some Guys Have All the Luck (Warner Bros. Records, 2008)