Thursday 18 December 2014

Rod's blonde on blonde action

Published 18/11/2012 | 06:00

Some time in the late 1990s, Rod Stewart ran out of swagger and self-belief. Or simply ran out of blondes. Newly divorced, directionless and heading into his mid-50s, Stewart was, as he says in his new autobiography, emotionally broken. So the London-born Scot, who personified the alpha-male swagger of the music industry in the 1970s, took the drastic step of seeking professional help.

"I tried therapy," recounts the singer in Rod – The Autobiography. "This had never appealed to me. For me, it was a bit like a Chinese meal: very filling at the time, but then an hour later you're hungry again."

Therapy was indeed an uncharacteristic move for the exuberantly blonde bombshell. And we can only imagine the herculean task facing any therapist trying to penetrate the ego of a rock star who once posed the entirely rhetorical question "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?".

Needless to say, it didn't take. Rod was soon back to his old habits again, chasing yet another much-younger blonde model in the shape of Penny Lancaster. They started dating in 1999, shortly after his break-up with his second wife, the blonde model Rachel Hunter. Stewart married Lancaster in June 2007 on board a yacht moored in the Italian port of Portofino.

In Rod – The Autobiography we meet a contented man in late middle age (Stewart is now 67) who really has been there, done that and proved to be one of the great survivors of the Golden Age of Rock.

From his early, faltering steps on the London blues scene of the 1960s (where Rod first showed his happy knack of teaming up with the very cream of rock talent) through to global stardom, the mansion in Hollywood and a dizzying array of blondes, Stewart has lived the cliché of classic rock royalty.

Discovered by singer Long John Baldry on a train platform playing blues-standard 'Smokestack Lightning' on the harmonica, Stewart went on to front the Jeff Beck Group and Faces and launched a successful solo career with hits like 'Maggie May', 'Sailing' and more recently a reinvention as a crooner of classic numbers from the great American songbook.

More self-knowing than you would expect, Stewart displays the genial wit and humour of a man who realises his life has been, occasionally at least, faintly ridiculous and even surreal. However, as a working-class lad, the son of a Scottish plumber, and a former gravedigger himself, Stewart obviously realises how blessed he has been to have a talent and a swagger that has given him the kind of life most can only dream of.

The singer can certainly claim to have seen it all, from hanging out and working with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, The Stones, Eric Clapton, Freddie Mercury and Elton John to being Los Angeles royalty during a golden time before paparazzi, gossip websites and relentless turnover in the music biz.

It was in the clubs of swinging London that Stewart made some of the friendships, and musical alliances, that would help him ascend to the top. It was in the Cromwellian Club in Soho that he met Jimi Hendrix in 1966, before then being introduced to a young guitarist who was said to be "better than Clapton" – Jeff Beck.

Stewart recalls that the first conversation started like this: "Me: 'Are you a taxi driver?' Him: 'No, I'm a guitarist. Are you a bouncer?' Me: 'No, I'm a singer.'"

Beck, considered hotter than Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, had left The Yardbirds to start his own group. Stewart joined him, and the band took off.

It was around this time that Stewart fell in with his great friend and musical collaborator Ronnie Wood. The singer and the future Rolling Stone set off on an odyssey of hard-drinking and womanising that left no groupie unturned. And their various adventures, many of which read like schoolboy japes, are recounted in some detail.

In 1969, Beck fired Wood from his band for "complaining too much", and soon Stewart followed his friend to join a new band called The Faces.

"I hadn't touched cocaine before The Faces, but on tour it became freely available. Mac (Ian McLagan, the keyboard player) had a fake carnation in his buttonhole, which he'd sprinkle with cocaine before a show, thus enabling him to inhale a reviving draught of powder during the performance."

Stewart admits The Faces were "bloody awful" some nights. "To give us the necessary courage to go on, slightly under-rehearsed, we used alcohol. We were the first band to have a bar on stage."

The 1970s fly past in an entertaining blur of cocaine, booze and blondes, with a great friendship established with Elton John and plenty of high living on a hugely successful solo career.

It's only when he gets into the 2000s that Stewart, now relatively reformed as far as the partying goes, starts to slow down and become more thoughtful, trying out Yoga, organic foods and monogamy.

Rod – The Autobiography may not have any surprises, but for fans of the music and the period, it's an entertaining, honest and funny account of a life lived right at the heart of the rock and fame industry.

Indo Review

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