Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart

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Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The memoirs of Rod Stewart, the would-be footballer and for over four decades one of Britain's most successful rock and pop vocalists - a candid self-assessment of his professional and personal life
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 378 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Century
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780890524

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There is only one Rod. One of the first things I noticed about this book was that his surname did not appear on the spine or the front cover of the dust jacket – only on the inside flaps. However, as someone whose career has kept him a household name for over four decades, it is probably superfluous anyway.

The youngest of a large family, born in Archway Road, North London, at the end of the Second World War, Roderick David Stewart had a succession of shortlived jobs while nursing aspirations to become a professional footballer. Strange though it may seem, he disliked music at school. Not till he was given an acoustic guitar on his fifteenth birthday, and later heard the first Bob Dylan album, did the bug start to bite. After busking on the Aldermaston CND marches, something he went on less out of a desire to protest than to indulge in fumblings with the opposite sex, he realised that he had a talent for entertaining. As yet he did not see it as a lifelong career, and in the light of subsequent history, it is interesting to note his views that when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had their first major hits, everybody thought that pop music was just a fad which would soon disappear. Almost by accident he joined one band after another, coming close to hitting the big time as vocalist with the Jeff Beck Group.

At the end of the sixties, two things happened almost simultaneously. He was offered a deal for a solo album, which proved a moderate success and led to several more, and he also ended up in another band. When Ronnie Wood, who had been Jeff Beck’s bassist, went to jam with the rather rudderless Small Faces, at a loose end since the departure of front man Steve Marriott, it was clear that they had 'a singer-shaped hole'. After going to see them at rehearsal, Rod was offered the chance to fill it, and despite reservations on the part of two of the others, he had the job.

It was a strange twist of fate which led 'Maggie May', a song its creator came close to leaving on the cutting room floor, being included on his third solo album as an afterthought and as the B-side of a single. After an American radio presenter decided he liked the song better than the A-side, it went into the stratosphere on both sides of the Atlantic, taking the album and Rod’s career with it. This for me was where the book came alive. He is perfectly honest about his briefly dual career as a solo artist and simultaneously front man with the Faces, who always nursed the suspicion that he was keeping the best songs for himself and passing the second-best on for group albums. On a good night on stage, he admits, they were great – and on a bad night, they were terrible. But then Ronnie Wood was headhunted by the Rolling Stones, and the Faces were no more.

Instead of being the end of Rod’s career, it was little more than the beginning. Looking back on over forty years near the top, his success has been extraordinary. Starting off as a folksinger with leanings in the direction of soul and rock’n’roll, he went in several different musical directions one after another, and never really fell from favour. He admits that the disco diversion of 'Da Ya Think I’m Sexy' lost him some credibility, but it had little if any impact on his fan base and subsequent albums, although 'a bit of a loss of focus' in the early eighties thanks to too much partying, booze and cocaine might have done far more damage to his track record than it did. Always just as keen to reinterpret the songs of others as write his own, many years later his decision to record standards from the Cole Porter and Irving Berlin era brought him a whole new audience.

An uncanny ability to kickstart his career more than once was not always matched by the same good fortune in other areas. He is honest enough about the failures of various marriages and other relationships, and the fact that with his roving eye he probably deserved all he got. A medical check-up in 2000 revealed a cancerous growth which was dealt with in the nick of time, followed by several months of complete rest, the fear that his voice might not return, and gentle vocal exercises to coax the chords back into operation before he was given the all-clear. And last but not least, he certainly raised a few laughs from this reader at least with stories of various Rod Stewart lookalikes who nearly got him into trouble one way or another, not least the highly plausible impersonator who was permitted to drive a Ferrari out of a New York showroom before a final security check and a traffic violation put paid to any hopes of getting a free motor on false pretences.

I was pleasantly surprised when reading this book to find him coming across as quite self-effacing in places. It is as if he has never quite been able to believe his luck that a lad from a humble London family managed to become one of showbiz’s most bankable personalities, and sustained a high profile year in year out. Anybody who has ever fallen under the spell of one of his records or more will relish this read about life at the top – and about staying there. It is well written, very informative, moving at times – and a good deal of fun.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Ronnie by Ronnie Wood, a memoir from the Rolling Stones' guitarist who formerly worked with Stewart in the Jeff Beck Group and The Faces

Buy Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rod: The autobiography by Rod Stewart at Amazon.com.

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