Roderick David "Rod" Stewart, CBE (born 10 January 1945) is a British singer-songwriter and musician, born and raised in North London, England and currently residing in Epping. He is of Scottish and English lineage.
With his distinctive raspy singing voice, Stewart came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with The Jeff Beck Group and then Faces. He launched his solo career in 1969 with his debut album An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (US: The Rod Stewart Album). His work with The Jeff Beck Group and Faces proved to be influential on the formation of the heavy metal and punk rock genres, respectively.
With his career in its fifth decade, Stewart has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best selling artists of all time. In the UK, he has garnered six consecutive number one albums, and his tally of 62 hit singles include 31 that reached the top 10, six of which gained the number one position. He has had 16 top ten singles in the U.S, with four of these reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked him the 17th most successful artist on the "The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists". He was voted at #33 in Q Magazines list of the top 100 Greatest Singers of all time.
Roderick David Stewart was born and raised in London, England, the youngest of Robert and Elsie Stewart's five children. His father was Scottish and had been a master builder in Leith outside of Edinburgh, while Elsie was English and had grown up in Upper Holloway in North London. Married in 1928, the couple had two sons and two daughters while living in Scotland, then they moved to Highgate. Stewart came after an eight-year gap following his youngest sibling; he was born at home during World War II, half an hour after a German V-2 missile warhead fell on the local Highgate police station.
The family was neither affluent nor poor, and by all accounts Stewart was a spoiled child as the youngest; Stewart has called his childhood "fantastically happy". He had an undistinguished record at Highgate Primary School and failed the eleven plus exam. He then attended the William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School in Hornsey. His father retired from the building trade at age 65, then opened a newsagent's shop on the Archway Road when Stewart was in his early teens; the family lived over the shop. Stewart's main hobby was railway modelling.
The Stewart family was mostly focused on football; Robert had played on a local amateur side and managed some as well, and one of Stewart's earliest memories were the pictures of Scottish players such as George Young and Gordon Smith that his brothers had on the wall. Rod was the most talented footballer in the Stewart family and was a strong supporter of Celtic F.C.. Combining natural athleticism with near-reckless aggression, he became captain of the school football team and played for Middlesex Schoolboys as centre-half.
The family were also great fans of the singer Al Jolson and would sing and play his hits. Stewart collected his records and saw his films, read books about him, and was influenced by his performing style and attitude towards his audience. His introduction to rock and roll was hearing Little Richard's 1956 hit "The Girl Can't Help It" and seeing Bill Haley & His Comets in concert. His father bought him a guitar in January 1959; the first song he learned was the folk tune "It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song" and the first record he bought was Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody". In 1960, he joined a skiffle group with schoolfriends called the Kool Kats, playing Lonnie Donegan and Chas McDevitt hits.
Stewart left school at age 15 and worked briefly as a silk screen printer. Spurred on by his father, his ambition was to become a professional footballer. In 1961 he joined on as an apprentice with Brentford F.C., a Third Division club at the time. However, he disliked the early morning travel to West London and the daily assignment to clean the first team's boots. His playing effectiveness at centre-half was hindered by his slight build — but only — and he pushed himself so much that he sometimes vomited at the side of the pitch. After up to two months of play in pre-season fixtures, Stewart left the team, to the great disappointment of his father. Stewart later reflected that: "I had the skill but not the enthusiasm." Regarding possible career options, Stewart concluded, "Well, a musician's life is a lot easier and I can also get drunk and make music, and I can't do that and play football. I plumped for music ... They're the only two things I can do actually: play football and sing."
He worked in the family shop and as a newspaper delivery boy, then as a grave digger at Highgate Cemetery, partly to face a childhood fear of death. He worked in a North Finchley funeral parlour and as a fence erector and sign writer. In 1961 he went to Denmark Street and got a singing audition with record producer Joe Meek, but Meek stopped the session with a rude sound. Stewart began listening to British and American topical folk artists such as Ewan MacColl, Alex Campbell, Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, and especially Derroll Adams and the debut album of Bob Dylan. He became attracted to beatnik attitudes and left-wing politics, living for a while in a beatnik houseboat at Shoreham-by-Sea. Stewart was an active supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at this time, joining the annual Aldermaston Marches in 1961 through 1963 and being arrested on three occasions when he took part in sit-ins at Trafalgar Square and Whitehall for the cause. His commitment was not total, however, as he also used the marches as a way to meet and bed girls. In 1962 he had his first serious relationship, with London art student Suzannah Boffey (and a friend of future model and actress Chrissie Shrimpton); he moved to a bed-sit in Muswell Hill to be near her. She became pregnant, but neither Rod nor his family wanted him to enter marriage; the baby girl was given for adoption and Rod's and Suzannah's relationship ended.
In 1962, Stewart began hanging around folk singer Wizz Jones, busking at Leicester Square and other London spots. Stewart took up playing the then-fashionable harmonica. On several trips over the next 18 months Jones and Stewart took their act to Brighton and then to Paris, sleeping under bridges over the River Seine, and then finally to Barcelona. Finally this resulted in Stewart being rounded up and deported from Spain for vagrancy during 1963.
In the spring of 1962, Stewart joined The Ray Davies Quartet, later known as the successful British band The Kinks, as their lead singer. He had known three of their members at William Grimshaw School and at the time, Ray Davies was uncomfortable with the lead vocalist role. He performed with the group on at least one occasion, but was soon dropped due to complaints about his voice from then-drummer John Start's mother as well as musical and personality differences with the rest of the band. Stewart then briefly fronted his own group, Rod Stewart & The Moontrekkers, who competed with Davies' band.
In 1963, Stewart adopted the Mod lifestyle and look, and began fashioning the spiky rooster hairstyle that would become his trademark. (It originated from large amounts of his sisters' hair lacquer, backcombing, and his hands holding it in place to protect it from the winds of the Highgate Underground station.) Disillusioned by rock and roll, he saw Otis Redding perform in concert and began listening to Sam Cooke records; he became fascinated by rhythm and blues and soul music.
After returning to London, Stewart joined a Birmingham-based rhythm and blues group, the Dimensions, in October 1963 as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. It was his first professional job as a musician, although Stewart was still living at home and working in his brother's painting and picture frame shop. A somewhat more established singer from Birmingham, Jimmy Powell, then hired the group a few weeks later, and it became known as Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions, with Stewart being relegated to harmonica player. The group performed weekly at the famed Studio 51 club on Great Newport Street in London, where The Rolling Stones often headlined; this was Stewart's entrée into the thriving London R & B scene, and his harmonica playing improved in part from watching Mick Jagger on stage. Relations soon broke down between Powell and Stewart over roles within the group and Stewart departed.
On or around 5 January 1964, Stewart was drunk and waiting on the Twickenham railway station platform, playing "Smokestack Lightnin'" on his harmonica after having seen a Cyril Davies All Stars rhythm and blues show at Eel Pie Island. All Stars singer Long John Baldry discovered him and invited him to sit in with the group (which passed into his hands and was renamed the Hoochie Coochie Men when Davies died of leukaemia on 7 January); when Baldry discovered Stewart was a singer as well, he offered him a job for £35 a week, after securing the approval of Stewart's mother. Quitting his day job at age nineteen, Stewart gradually overcame his shyness and nerves and became a visible enough part of the act that he was sometimes added to the billing as "Rod the Mod" Stewart, the nickname coming from his dandyish style of grooming and dress. Baldry touted Stewart's abilities to Melody Maker magazine and the group enjoyed a weekly residence at London's fabled Marquee Club. In June 1964, Stewart made his recording début (without label credit) on "Up Above My Head", the B-side to a Baldry and Hoochie Coochie Men single.
While still with Baldry, Stewart embarked on a simultaneous solo career. He made some demo recordings, was scouted by Decca Records at the Marquee Club and signed to a solo contract in August 1964. He appeared on several regional television shows around the country and recorded his first single in September 1964. Turning down Decca's recommended material as too commercial, Stewart insisted that the experienced session musicians he was given, including John Paul Jones, learn a couple of Sonny Boy Williamson songs he had just heard. The resulting single, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", was recorded released in October 1964; despite Stewart performing it on the popular television show Ready Steady Go!, it failed to enter the charts. Also in October Stewart left the Hoochie Coochie Men after having a row with Baldry.
Stewart played some dates on his own in late 1964 and early 1965, sometimes backed by the Southampton R & B outfit The Soul Agents. The Hoochie Coochie Men broke up, Baldry and Stewart patched up their differences (and indeed became lifelong friends), and impresario Giorgio Gomelsky put together Steampacket, which featured Baldry, Stewart, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, Micky Waller, Vic Briggs, and Rick Brown; their first appearance was in support of The Rolling Stones in July 1965. The group was conceived as a white soul revue, analogous to The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, with multiple vocalists and styles ranging from jazz to R & B to blues. Steampacket toured with the Stones and The Walker Brothers that summer, ending in the London Palladium; seeing the audience react to the Stones gave Stewart his first exposure to crowd hysteria. Stewart, who had been included in the group upon Baldry's insistence, ended up with most of the male vocal parts. Steampacket was unable to enter the studio to record any material due to its members all belonging to different labels and managers, although Gomelsky did record one of their Marquee Club rehearsals.
Stewart's "Rod the Mod" image gained wider visibility in November 1965, when he was the subject of a 30-minute Rediffusion, London television documentary titled "An Easter with Rod" that portrayed the Mod scene. His parallel solo career attempts continued on EMI's Columbia label with the November 1965 release of "The Day Will Come", a more heavily arranged pop attempt, and the April 1966 release of his take on Sam Cooke's "Shake", with the Brian Auger Trinity. Both failed commercially and neither gained positive notices. Stewart had spent the better part of two years listening mostly to Cooke; he later said, "I didn't sound like anybody at all ... but I knew I sounded a bit like Sam Cooke, so I listened to Sam Cooke." This recording solidified that singer's position as Stewart's idol and most enduring influence; he called it a "crossing of the water."
Stewart departed from Steampacket in March 1966, with Stewart saying he had been sacked and Auger saying he had quit. Stewart then joined a somewhat similar outfit, Shotgun Express, in May 1966 as co-lead vocalist with Beryl Marsden. Amongst the other members were Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green (who would go on to form Fleetwood Mac), and Peter Bardens. Shotgun Express released one unsuccessful single in October 1966, the orchestra-heavy "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round", before disbanding. Stewart later disparaged Shotgun Express as a poor imitation of Steampacket, and said "I was still getting this terrible feeling of doing other people's music. I think you can only start finding yourself when you write your own material." By now, Stewart had bounced around without achieving much success, with little to distinguish himself among other aspiring London singers other than the emerging rasp in his voice.
Guitarist Jeff Beck recruited Stewart for his new post-Yardbirds venture, and in February 1967, Stewart joined the Jeff Beck Group as vocalist and sometime songwriter. This would become the big break of his early career. There he first played with Ronnie Wood whom he had first met in a London pub in 1964; the two soon became fast friends. During its first year, the group experienced frequent changes of drummers and conflicts involving manager Mickie Most wanting to reduce Stewart's role; they toured the UK, and released a couple of singles that featured Stewart on their B-sides. Stewart's sputtering solo career also continued, with the March 1968 release of non-hit "Little Miss Understood" on Immediate Records. The Jeff Beck Group toured Western Europe in spring 1968, recorded, and were nearly destitute; then assistant manager Peter Grant booked them on a six-week tour of the United States starting in June 1968 with the Fillmore East in New York. The first-time-in-America Stewart suffered terrible stage fright during the opening show and hid behind the amplifier banks while singing; only a quick shot of brandy brought him out front. Nevertheless, the show and the tour were a big success, with Robert Shelton of The New York Times calling the group exciting and praising "the interaction of Mr. Beck's wild and visionary guitar against the hoarse and insistent shouting of Rod Stewart," and New Musical Express reporting that the group was receiving standing ovations and pulling receipts equal to those of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors.
In August 1968, their first album Truth was released; by October it had risen to number 15 on the US albums chart but failed to chart in the UK. The radical, groundbreaking, landmark album featured Beck's masterly guitar technique and manipulated sounds as Stewart's dramatic vocalising tackled the group's varied repertoire of blues, folk, rock, and proto-heavy metal. Stewart also co-wrote three of the songs, and credited the record for helping to develop his vocal abilities and the sandpaper quality in his voice. The group toured America again at the end of the year to a very strong reception, then suffered from more personnel upheaval (something that has continued throughout Beck's career). In July 1969, Stewart left, following his friend Wood's departure. Stewart later recalled: "It was a great band to sing with but I couldn't take all the aggravation and unfriendliness that developed.... In the two and a half years I was with Beck I never once looked him in the eye – I always looked at his shirt or something like that." The group's second album, Beck-Ola, was released in June 1969 in the US and September 1969 in the UK, bracketing the time the group was dissolving; it also made number 15 in the US albums chart and placed to number 39 in the UK albums chart. During his time with the group, Stewart initially felt overmatched by Beck's presence, and his style was still developing; but later Stewart felt the two developed a strong musical, if not personal, rapport. Much of Stewart's sense of phrasing was developed during his time with the Jeff Beck Group. Beck sought to form a new supergroup with Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert (of the similarly just-breaking-up Vanilla Fudge) joining him and Stewart, but Stewart had other plans.