“Rod The Mod” aka Rod Stewart
“You go through life wondering what is it all about, but at the end of the day, it’s all about family.”
In London, 1945, Robert and Elsie Stewart welcomed their youngest of 5 children come into this world. With 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters, Roderick David Stewart would grow in a family that wasn’t affluent, nor were they poor. By some accounts Rod would be considered somewhat a spoiled child.
With a Scottish father and English mother, Rod would grow up as “fantastically happy” by his accounts. He attended Highgate Primary School an and attended William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School. When Rod was a young teen, his father would retire from construction and established a news agent’s shop, where the family would reside above the shop, on the Archway Road.
A football focused family, and Robert played and managed local amateur teams over the years. His brothers would have pictures of George Young and Gordon Smith on their walls. Rod would copy his fathers natural ability in football which led him to be his school’s football team captain at Middlesex Schoolboy.
So how and when did this athletic soccer playing young man turn into a rock-n-roll artist with over 100 million records to his name? The family’s second love would be music and as dedicated fans of Al Jolson, his hits were played in the Stewart household as consistently as soccer balls were kicked around. Young Rod would study Mr. Jolson’s performances, play his records and sing along. He watched films and read books about Mr. Jolson along with listening to “The Girl Can’t Help It” by Little Richard in 1956 and seeing Bill Haley & His Comets live in concert would deepen Stewart’ love of music.
In 1959 Robert Stewart would bring his youngest son a guitar and Rod’ first song to learn was the folk tune “It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song”. Shortly after he would make his first purchase of a record with Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody”. In 1960, Rod joined school friends in a skiffle group, calling themselves Kool Kats.
At the age of 15, Stewart would leave school going to work as silk screen printer. His father encouraged his natural athletic son to go for a professional football career so in 1960, Rod would try out at a 3rd Division club, Brentford F.C. Some stories have it that Stewart played for the team, but Stewart’s autobiography in 2012, he stated that not only did he never play for the team, but they never called him back after his tryout either.
Making the statement that “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.” Stewart headed toward a career in music. As with most musicians, if not all, Steward would have to work several odd and end jobs to make ends meet until his music career took off. Of those odd and end jobs, he worked as a fence erector, grave digger and sign writer.
An attempt to audition for record producer Joe Meek was cut short in 1961 when Meek stopped the session. Stewart would begin listening to folk artist like Alex Campbell, Ramblin’s Jack Elliot, Woody Gutherie and many others including Bob Dylan’s debut album. From there, the young Stewart would be drawn to beatnik sound lifestyle which included living in a houseboat.
A left-wing supporter of things like Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stewart would join the Aldermaston Marches between 1961 to 1963. He would also participate in sit-ins that led to his being arrested three times. He learned quickly that joining these marches and sit-ins was a great avenue to meet women, one of which was Suzanna Boffey, an art student from London. 1962 would be a busy year for Rod Stewart as she became his first serious relationship and he relocated to a bed-sit with her. A baby girl would result from this relationship and while neither Rod nor Suzannah were prepared for marriage or parenting, they baby was given up for adoption.
In 1962, Stewart would learn to play the harmonica, which was a craze at the time and began hanging with Wizz Jones at various London spots including Leicester Square. For the next year and half, the two would travel to Brighton and Paris, slept under bridges and ended up in Barcelona. By 1963, Stewart was arrested for vagrancy and deported from Spain.
Three former classmates would have Stewart join them as a lead singer in The Ray Davies Quartet which would, later be called The Kinks, a famous British band of their own making. He performed only once with the group but was cut when John Starts mother complained about his voice. There was a fear of Rod Stewart taking charge of the group and musical differences between Rod and the rest of the band only cemented his departure.
The spiky hairstyle that would be his trademark came to be in 1963. The look was created with a mixture of sugar water, backcombing then held with his hands. Losing his interest in rock by then, a concert with Otis Redding and records of Sam Cooke would draw his interest to rhythm and blues and soul music. Upon his return to London in 1963, Stewart would get what he calls his first professional musical job and joined The Dimensions, a rhythm and blues group, as their harmonica player and part-time vocalist.
Still working for his brother in the frame shop and living at home, the group was then hired by Jimmy Powell, an established singer from Birmingham and the group name was changed to Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions. With weekly performances at Studio 51 club, the same club the The Rolling Stones headlined frequently. While this gave Stewart and entrance into the London R & B scene, he and Powell would come to disagreement about the roles in the group and Stewart would leave the group.
After watching Cyril Davies and the All Stars, waiting on a train in January 1964, a drunk Stewart was playing his harmonica Long John Baldry, a singer for the All Stars, heard him and invited Stewart to sit in them. The group would be renamed the Hoochie Coochie Men after Davies died later that month. Discovering that Stewart could sing, Baldry offered him a spot with the group. Stewart got his mother’s blessings and in short time, because of his dress and hair style, “Rod the Mod” was born. The group would take position as a weekly appearance at the famed London Marquee Club and by June that year, Stewart recording début would happen as the B-side to a Hoochie Coochie Men single with “Up Above My Head”.
Still singing with Baldry, Rod took off on a solo career starting with demo recordings. In August 1965, while performing at the Marquee Club, a scout from Decca Records signed Stewart to a solo contract. That September, he would record his first single and appeared on regional television shows. He declined the recommendations of material by Decca, insisting on using his experiences from working with session musicians. Those musicians would include John Paul Jones and Sonny Boy Williamson. That October, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” was recorded but failed to make the charts. A row with Baldry during this time would result in Steward leaving the Hoochie Coochie Men.
While Stewart was playing solo in late 1964 and early 1965, occasionally with The Soul Agents backing him, the Hoochie Coochie Men disbanded. Baldry and Stewart made up and together with Giorgio Gomelsky, The Steampacket, was created and in addition to Baldry and Stewart, included Brian Auger, Vic Briggs, Julie Driscoll, Ricky Fenson and Micky Waller. Baldry and Stewart would become friends for life.
July 1965, the group would make their ‘s legendary first appearance, supported by The Rolling Stones a white soul revue group was born. Similar to The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, they had multiple vocalists and multiple styles that ranged from blues, jazz to R & B. Touring with the Stones and The Walker Brothers, Stewart would get his first true experience of music loving crowds. With Baldry’s urging, Stewart took the majority of the male singing parts for the the Steampacket. The group was never signed with a label because each member had their own contract with various labels.
1969 would bring Stewart and his signature raspy voice his first solo début album An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, aka The Rod Stewart Album in the US. Fusing folk, R&B, rock and soul sounds with his early album cuts, it would be his blues that from his The Jeff Beck Group and the Faces time frame, where he met Ron Wood. Wood would eventually join The Rolling Stones and earn great success there. That time frame would be Stewart’s influence with the heavy metal genre.
Stewart would go with a New Wave or soft rock sound during the late 70s with hits that are still popular today by Stewart such as “Maggie May”, “Stay With Me”, “Tonight’s the Night” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”. The 80s and 90s wouldn’t be rock star years for Stewart, but the early part of the 2000s, Stewart released several successful albums that interpreted the Great American Songbook. In 2004, he won a Grammy Award for best traditional pop. vocal album in 2004.
Through all his career highs and lows, Rod Stewart managed to have a personal life as well. His first child was the daughter that he and Suzanna Boffey gave up for adoption in 1962 when Stewart was 18 years old. By the age of 60, Rod Stewart became the father to his 7th child.
He was first married to Alana Stewart who had one daughter and one son. With Kelly Emberg, a girlfriend that he never married, he has a daughter and from his second marriage to Rachel Hunter, a model, he has a daughter and a son. Today, Rod is happily married to Penny Lancaster with whom his 7th child, a son, was born 2005.
In addition to an exciting career and several women, seven children, Rod was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2007 and had surgery the same month it was diagnosed. The scare that his career could be over was resolved as he relearned how to sing. This health scare led Stewart to participating in raising funds for the charity, The City of Hope Foundation, who funds the seek for a cure for all cancers with a focus on cancers that affect children.
Despite his busy career and parenting, Stewart finds time for his model railway hoby. An enthusiast, Steward has a 23 x 124-foot HO scale in the top floor of his Los Angeles home, modeled after the 1940 New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads. It was featured on the cover of Model Railroader magazine twice, once in 2007 and again in 2010. Stewart takes perhaps more pride in those magazine covers than he does any music magazine covers he’s ever been featured. He has a similar railroad layout in his UK home as well. Mr. Stewart also collects real automobiles too. A Ferrari Enzos, one of 400 manufactured.
A star was dedicated to Steward October 2005, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2006 he was a guest artist and celebrity on American Idol. Buckingham Palace recognized Rod Steward in 2007 with a CBE for his contributions to the services of music. There is no doubt about, England’s Rod Stewart just has distinctive, yet different, voice just as America’s Bob Dylan. A sound that at first, one may not like at all, but after a few bars of one song, you find yourself wanting more.