(Picture by Barrie Wentzell)
It would have been 46 years ago this week when I last had meaningful conversations with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Both were in New York together but separately, Rod touting his forthcoming LP Smiler and Ron his first solo outing I’ve Got My Own Album To Do.
In a seemingly pointless spirit of competition, both record companies – Mercury for Rod and Warners for Ron – hosted ‘invitation only’ lunches in posh restaurants for their artists on the same day, thus creating a dilemma for me. Lunch with Rod or lunch with Ron? I opted for Ron, solely because I had an interview scheduled with Rod the next day and needed to write something about Ron too.
Honest Ron was a great luncheon companion, hilariously indiscreet about the rivalry between him and his Faces pal with a similar haircut. There weren’t many of us around the table and he kept us all entertained with his banter, a bit of cheek, a bit risqué, a bit cor-blimey guv. The idea was that he was promoting his solo LP but I don't recall him saying much about it.
Mick Taylor had yet to leave the Stones so the issue of his replacement wasn’t on the table, but like pretty much everyone else observing the trajectory of the Faces I wasn’t surprised by the vagueness with which he spoke around the subject of their future. “Don’t ask me?” he said. Which rather begged the question, well who do I ask? Rod didn’t seem to know either.
Ron was more affable, a good deal friendlier than Rod, and I turned what he had to say into a few paragraphs in my weekly New York news column. Rod, on the other hand, required something more substantial.
When I arrived in his expansive hotel room – The President’s Suite no less – the following day it seemed to me as if he was on the defensive. “What do you wanna know?” he demanded when I settled down and switched on my cassette recorder. I think he sensed that the tide was turning against him, that the unanimous acclaim he’d enjoyed during that glorious run of solo LPs, beginning in 1969 with An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down up to 1972’s Never A Dull Moment, might be drawing to a close. Perhaps in his heart of hearts he knew that Smiler wasn’t in the same league.
Rod’s attitude towards the press had changed. In the past he’d been chatty, outgoing, but now he was behaving as if he expected the interview to turn into an argument. Maybe he didn’t trust us writers any longer. Still, I managed to scratch together a 1,500 word piece for the following week’s Melody Maker, dated August 31. It was headlined ‘I Dream Of A Solo Concert’, a dream that would become reality before long. Here it is:
“ANYTHING I say is not meant to be a blot on anyone’s character... or trousers.”
Rod Stewart, Old Spikey himself, settled into position on the double bed in the St Regis Hotel President’s Suite, running his thin fingers through his hair and occasionally admiring his Spanish tan in one of the two mirrors that the hotel provides for Presidents and others whose bank balance enables them to afford such luxury.
Rod, whose reputation for being a trifle outspoken is widely known, prefaced this interview with the above remark. He’s got into bother before through opening up a little too loosely on subjects he feels strongly about. A rebel who can’t be gagged, but who often regrets what he’s said earlier.
The real reason for Rod’s decision to speak out again is the release of his fifth solo album (or sixth if you count Sing It Again). It’ll be out next month, probably September 20, and the title is Smiler.
The lengthy delays that have preceded its release are due mainly to litigation regarding his contract with Mercury Records, a subject which he’s loth to discuss at present.
Either way, the delays have rattled him considerably.
As usual it’s an album of Rod’s own compositions with Ronnie Wood, personal favourites from days gone by and a few contributions from friends. This time around, the friends include Elton John and Paul McCartney.
Rod is in America is complete the mastering of the record, and here’s a rundown on the, as yet unheard, tracks.
Side one opens with ‘Sweet Little Rock And Roller’, the Chuck Berry song, followed by ‘Lochinvar’, a short linker, ‘Farewell’, a Stewart/Quittenton song, ‘Sailor’, a Stewart/ Wood song, ‘Bring It On Home’, the old Sam Cooke tune and ‘Let Me Be Your Car’, written for Rod by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This song was to have been on Elton’s Yellow Brick Road.
Side too opens with the Goffin/King song ‘Natural Man’, followed by ‘Dixie Toot’, a Stewart/Wood tune, ‘Hard Road’, an instrumental by Quittenton of ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face’ from My Fair Lady, ‘Girl From The North Country’, the Dylan song, and closes with ‘Mine For Me’, written for Rod by Paul McCartney.
The sleeve is a red tartan pattern and the inside depicts all those involved in the production – about 50 people. There’s a key to say who they all are.
“It’s been finished for five months,” growled Rod, rolling over on the enormous bed and ordering tea with sugar. “Plus the fact that I’m a little bit slow. The album didn’t take all that long to record, it was just the time taken in getting everyone together.
“For six months there’s been a problem with the record companies about who was releasing it, but it’s all been sorted out now. It comes out in England on September 20, thank goodness.
“Yeah, I’m happy with it. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, It’d have been scrapped by now. Made it all outside the country for a change... Frankfurt, Brussels, everywhere. It seems donkey’s years ago since I started, but it must have been just before last Christmas. I made 17 tracks altogether and picked out the best ones.
“There’s a couple of numbers that I’ve done that I’ve always wanted to sing. ‘Natural Man’ is one and ‘Bring It On Home’ is another. Paul McCartney came along to sing his number with me – not a bad singer either, that Paul.
“He says he wrote it specially for me but I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like a cast-off. He mentioned something about it being for Red Rose Speedway, but I don’t care. It’s a fucking good track either way. Elton’s done one for me too. Bernie said it was for me ‘cos it was a good rock‘n’roll number and the only person who could sing it properly was me.
“I know for a fact that Elton wanted to record that one himself ‘cos he kept saying if I didn’t want to do it, he’d do it himself. He plays the Joanna and sings it with me.”
Rod walked towards the window and gazed over Central Park. “Nice ‘ere in New York innit,” he said. “I’m ‘ere until Friday. It’s a sort of promotional visit, ‘cos I ain’t done any press for ages. When I’m touring I like to look after my voice and talk as little as possible. Then I’m off to LA to finish mastering the album and I’m making a little documentary film there with Russell Harty.”
Time, I thought, to dig a little deeper. Is work progressing on another Faces album?
“No, no way. I don’t know whether we’re gonna do another Faces album or not. I don’t know what the position is there. We haven’t talked about it at all.
“Kenney Jones has gone off and made a single of his own. He’s a good little singer, y’know, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Faces recordings. I know we’re staying together as a band and that’s all that counts as far as I am concerned.
“Ronnie’s got his own solo album and it wouldn’t be any big hardship if we just got together to play each other’s stuff. As long as we stay together as a band, we’re OK. There’s no backbiting going on. We still get along with each other very well.
“I’d say I put more work into the Faces’ albums than I do with my own. They’ve always been a bigger headache. Putting this latest album together was a piece of cake compared to a Faces’ album. It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded more tracks than I wanted.
“Actually it’s more of a singing album than anything else. I felt it was about time I called the tune and sang what I wanted to sing, even though maybe some people might not like them as much.”
There are no immediate plans for the Faces to tour America, even though they’ll be appearing in Europe soon. Rod likes playing England better than anywhere else, but right now he’s uncertain about the Faces’ popularity in America.
“Two years ago we were Jack the Lads over here, but I don’t know how strong we are now. We’ll have to see how my album and Woody’s album do first. Everybody tells me fans are fickle, but I don’t think so – not for the brand of music we make anyway. We start a British tour on November 5, and that I really am looking forward to.”
Was there any chance of Rod following in the footsteps of other rock stars and leaving Britain because of the tax situation?
“Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s actually doing it yet,” he said. “I think they ought to, though. The Government thinks they’ll tax us bastards right up to the hilt because we won’t leave, but that’s wrong because I will if I want to. It’s so bloody unfair.
“They’re thinking of a wealth tax now and that’s bloody criminal. That’s like, for a young man, paying your death duties before you die. What with a 90 per cent tax ceiling, it’s just not worth living in England any more.
“I’m all for paying taxes. There’s nothing wrong in that. I’ll pay my dues, but I’ve got one shot at the big ball for all my life. I can’t do anything else but sing and maybe play a bit of football.”
Conversation switched to the current huge package tours that have been travelling around America recently, the come-back of Dylan, CSN&Y and Clapton.
“I’ve never thought of Dylan making a comeback. I think it’s detrimental to say they’re making a comeback. Out of the three I would say Clapton was the only one making a real comeback ‘cos he did have a lay off and wasn’t very well for a few years.
“Dylan’s music has matured and people have matured with him. He hasn’t dropped out anywhere along the line and you can’t expect the guy to be writing songs now like he was when he was in Greenwich Village, can you? I always think comebacks are for really old geezers.”
Did Rod miss Ronnie Lane’s presence in the Faces?
“I really missed him at the outset but I don’t any more. He’s found what he wanted and that’s peace of mind and not going through the same old routine.
“I don’t think it is a routine, though. I enjoy it, coming here and travelling there but Ronnie got fed up with it. It changed his lifestyle so he decided he wanted to change his band.”
Which promoted me to ask about a change for Rod. “I dream about a solo concert of my own someday. There’s gotta be a chance of it happening with all the people that appear on my albums. I’ve asked them and they all say I ought to do it someday. Mmmmm, lovely acoustic guitars behind me.”
Rod’s eyes glistened at the thought. “I’ll get round to it. It’s just a question of time. The longer I wait the better it’s going to be when I do it anyway.”