Rather reluctantly (because I’m lazy), I accepted a publicist’s invitation to head to the L.A. Forum in December 2006 to watch Rod Stewart rehearse for his new tour and then to chat with him afterwards. (He is pictured here a month earlier on a German TV show.)
The Forum stage was set up in the middle of the floor. I took a front-row seat -– the 17,000-seat arena/church to myself, finally — and looked on in mild fascination as Rod ran through songs like “Lost in You,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Infatuation,” “Tonight’s the Night” and “Forever Young.”
When he was done, his three cute black backup singers came up and chatted with me — Natasha, Di and Bridget. That was the highlight. Oh, Rod was cool too. I mentioned how his ex-wife Rachel Hunter and I used to serve ice creams at Swensen’s in Auckland, and he had a good laugh. In fact, he was in pretty good spirits throughout our brief chat at the side of the stage.
HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE IS IT EACH TIME TO GET YOURSELF PREPARED MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY AND VOCALLY FOR A TOUR?
It’s hard vocally, especially when you’ve been singing Christmas carols with your mates. I’ve blown my voice out. Two nights ago, we were all sitting around the piano singing Christmas carols, and I shouted at the top of my voice, so I can’t sing a note now. That’s the hardest, is keeping your voice, really. The rest of it’s pretty easy. Just getting the right running order for the songs, knowing what songs to play.
DO YOU WORK OUT?
Yeah. My trainer’s here somewhere. Every day, nearly. But we haven’t for 2 or 3 days because I’ve been so busy.
ARE THERE BRAND NEW SONGS ON THIS TOUR?
Yeah, eight new songs. And some we’re bringing back from the ’80s … They’re all off the last album, really. “It’s a Heartache,” “Still the Same,” “Father & Son,” “Crazy Love,” “(Have You) Ever Seen the Rain?”
HOW ABOUT LAY DOWN SALLY? (WHICH HE REHEARSED)
We’re doing “Lay Down Sally.” That’s on the English album. It wasn’t on the American album. I don’t know why. It was a bonus track. But it’s such a great song to play, and the band like playing it.
AND “DIRTY OLD TOWN.” WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM?
That was on my first album, in 1969.
I JUST KNOW THAT FROM THE POGUES’ VERSION. I THOUGHT YOU WERE COVERING THE POGUES!
I did it a long time before them! I was one of the first to do it, outside of Ewan MacColl (who) wrote it, whose daughter was on the Pogues, wasn’t she?
Kirsty, yeah. I did that in 1969. Make sure you’ve got that down on the tape! 1969!!
ARE THERE SONGS THAT YOU’VE DROPPED?
All the standards are gone. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” is gone. That’s gonna be gone forever. I always say that, but it seems to creep its way back in because people like it, right? I hate singing it. Do you know that guy Kimmel who has the night-time show? What’s his name?
Jimmy Kimmel. I was on his show, and he had a little (toy) dog that was singing “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” He said, “Give that to your son.” I was gonna put it up on the stool (on stage), and just let the microphone on it, and the cameras so everyone would see it, and let the dog do it. But the fucking thing’s broken. So I don’t know where to get another one from. But it’s a vastly different show to what it was last time we went out, two years ago … The next time I do standards, it will be an all-standards show, and I won’t play big arenas. I’d love to play Carnegie Hall (in New York) and the Olympia in Paris … A sophisticated evening, if that’s possible nowadays.
YOU’VE SAID THAT YOUR LIFE IS PRETTY BUSY OUTSIDE OF MUSIC, THAT IF YOU RETIRED YOU’D HAVE PLENTY OF STUFF TO KEEP YOURSELF BUSY. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
Mind your own business! Ha! Ha!
DRIVING FAST CARS AND HAVING MORE BABIES?
Nah, I don’t drive fast cars as much as I used to. I still own a fleet of fast cars, but I’m nowhere near as fast as I used to be.
SINCE YOU DON’T WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS ANYMORE, DO YOU ALMOST HAVE A FINANCIAL NEED TO GO OUT ON TOUR TO SUPPORT THE OVERHEAD?
No, not at all. It’s not that at all. I probably wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t getting paid for it. I do enjoy it. It’s the one aspect of the business I enjoy. People say, ‘Well, why don’t you just retire?’ Well, why the fuck would I want to retire for? What am I supposed to do? It’s my job. It’s like having my job taken away, y’know? It drives me crazy sometimes. I could do with more hours in the day, but I certainly wouldn’t want to retire. I’ll sing as long as I’ve got air in my lungs. As long as I’ve got hair on my head, I’m gonna sing!!
YOU COVER YET ANOTHER DYLAN SONG ON THIS RECORD (“IF NOT FOR YOU”), BUT I VAGUELY RECALL YOU’VE NEVER MET HIM?
No, the only time I got close to him was when he came to see the show at Madison Square Garden. But he turned up just as I was leaving. I was just jumping into the limousine, he was standing there. I’d love to.
YOU CAN’T JUST CALL HIM UP, GO OUT TO MALIBU AND HANG OUT WITH HIM?
No, I’m not that type of guy. I’m not a very sociable guy when it comes to — socializing!
AND LIKEWISE, YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE STONES SINCE THE ’60s?
No. I did see James Morrison the other night, and I also saw Paolo Nutini. Have you heard of him? He’s Scottish-Italian, young, good-looking singer who’s really good. Those are the last two shows I went to see. And I saw George Michael. He was good, in London. Very good, in fact. Not being a George fan, I came away a bit of a fan.
WILL YOU AND RONNIE WOOD REUNITE ON STAGE LIKE YOU DID AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL?
No, I think we’ve done that to death. He just lost his dad. I must call him up. His dad just passed away. His brother, rather.
YEAH, ART. IT WAS MICK’S DAD WHO DIED.
All in the space of a few days.
AND IAN MCLAGAN’S WIFE DIED. A TERRIBLE YEAR. SO A FACES REUNION ISN’T ON THE CARDS?
No. I’ve said many times, if we do it I’d love to do one great show for charity. One great big show for charity. It would be nice if we could maybe do the (Princess Diana 10-year death anniversary show in London on July 1). That would be nice, a one off.
IS THERE ANY MOVE AFOOT TO DO THAT?
No, it just came off the top of my head. Now I’ve said it, maybe there will be.
I’LL PUT IN A CALL TO PRINCE WILLIAM. SO YOU TOLD BLENDER THAT YOU’VE STARTED PICKING UP THE GUITAR TO WRITE SONGS.
Yeah, I haven’t got very far with it, at the moment.
I’VE NEVER SEEN YOU PLAY ACOUSTIC BEFORE (HE WAS PLAYING ACOUSTIC DURING REHEARSAL OF “DIRTY OLD TOWN”)
Well, you didn’t hear me then, because I didn’t have it plugged in. I was more concerned with the balance of the band. I’ll plug it in when we do play. I’m an old folkie at heart, you see!
YEAH, IT’S GREAT. I FEEL LIKE I’M IN SCOTLAND. I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT SOME MACAROONS OR SOME SHORTBREAD ALONG.
The biggest kilt in the world. Have you seen it down? (Motioning to a vast bunched-up tartan curtain that will descend from the ceiling.)
NO. I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE SHOW. SO, IN TERMS OF SONGWRITING, DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING AFOOT?
No, not really. I don’t know what we’re gonna do. Because of the success of this album, this rock classics, I’m sure the record company (J Records) are gonna call for another one. I’d love to do a country album. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do … Just covers of really old great classics, like, “Behind Closed Doors,” and whatever. (sings: “and when she gets ‘Behind Closed Doors’…”)
HOW ABOUT GOSPEL? DOES THAT APPEAL?
No, I’m not that good a singer.
WHAT’S YOUR SPECIALTY? LYRICS OR THE MUSIC?
Umm, I’ve always done both, really.
WITH THIS TOUR, WILL THERE BE MUCH OF A CHANGE IN THE SET LIST EVERY NIGHT?
More or less stick to the same set list. But it will change in the first week. Some troubles will be dropped, some will come in. It’s hard. You’ve gotta feel your way the first week, see what sort of audience reaction you get.
DO YOU WORK HARDER IF YOU SENSE THAT AN AUDIENCE ISN’T RESPONDING AS MUCH AS THEY SHOULD BE?
They always love it! I’ve got such a great back catalog, 30-odd years of music to look back on.
WILL YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL GUESTS?
Nah, just me. Me and my band. Me and my band and my kilt.
AFTER NORTH AMERICA, WILL YOU GO TO EUROPE?
Yeah. We’re playing Twickenham, and all big football stadiums in England next year.
SO YOU’LL BE ON THE ROAD FOR THE WHOLE YEAR, BASICALLY?
Well, I’m going to get married in the summer, and then I’ve got offers in for Australia, New Zealand, Mexico.
WHERE ARE YOU GETTING MARRIED?
Where? It’s a trade secret, mate. I can’t tell you that. I’ll be shot at dawn.
WHO’S GOING TO BE THE BEST MAN? RONNIE?
I can’t tell you that.
There’ll be nobody famous there, only a couple.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE MUSIC SCENE AT THE MOMENT?
I was very uplifted when I saw Paolo Nutini. He’s really a great singer. For me to say someone’s a fabulous singer, and also a really nice guy, and he’s Scottish as well… No, he’s really good. The music business is in a wonderfully healthy state.
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE SUCCESS OF THIS RECORD?
There’s no guarantee of success. It was a complete u-turn (from the previous four standards album). I just think I’ve got a really good record company that knows how to market. It’s so important. You’ve got to just work your ass off. I did every TV show I possibly could. You’ve got to. There’s just so much competition. It’s not like the old days when they released six albums a month. There’s probably hundreds, even more, albums coming out every month.
DOING AMERICAN IDOL WAS A GREAT IDEA. BUT TEN YEARS AGO, IT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT WOULD HAVE APPEALED TO YOU?
No, no, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Television’s good to me. I come across well on television. I enjoyed working with the kids. I’d do it again, in a heartbeat. In fact, I went on to do The X Factor (in Britain), and then I did the equivalent in France and Spain.
DO YOU AND SIMON COWELL GET ALONG?
Yeah, I love Simon. I really do. He’s a good mate. I love him. I think he’s hilarious, and I also think he speaks what most people really think.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WRITING YOUR MEMOIRS?
Yeah, we’ve got many offers in, and it’s just finding the time to do it. A life well lived.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock anthology Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2006, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING