With his distinctive raspy singing voice, Stewart came to prominence in the late 1960s and the early 1970s with The Jeff Beck Group, and then with Faces, though his music career had begun in 1962 when he took up busking with a harmonica. In October 1963, he joined The Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. In 1964, Stewart joined Long John Baldry and the All Stars, and in August, Stewart signed a solo contract, releasing his first single, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", in October. He maintained a solo career alongside a group career, releasing his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down in 1969. Stewart's early albums were a fusion of rock, folk music, soul music, and R&B.
From the late 1970s through the 1990s, Stewart's music often took on a new wave or soft rock/middle-of-the-road quality, and in the early 2000s, he released a series of successful albums interpreting the Great American Songbook. In 1994, Stewart staged the largest free rock concert in history when he performed in front of 3.5 million people in Rio de Janeiro.
In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked him the 17th most successful artist on the "Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists". A Grammy and Brit Award recipient, he was voted at #33 in Q Magazine's list of the Top 100 Greatest Singers of all time, and #59 on Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Singers of all time. As a solo artist, Stewart was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and was inducted a second time into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of Faces.
in October 1963, Stewart joined a rhythm and blues group, the Dimensions, 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. Relations soon broke down between Powell and Stewart over roles within the group and Stewart departed.
In January 1964, while Stewart was waiting at Twickenham railway station after having seen Long John Baldry and the All Stars at Eel Pie Island, Baldry heard him playing "Smokestack Lightnin'" on his harmonica, and invited him to sit in with the group. 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 the age of 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 (indeed, they became lifelong friends), and legendary impresario Giorgio Gomelsky put together Steampacket, which featured Baldry, Stewart, Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, Micky Waller, Vic Briggs and Ricky Fenson; 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. The other members included 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.
Mercury Records A&R man Lou Reizner had seen Stewart perform with Beck, and on 8 October 1968 signed him to a solo contract, but contractual complexities delayed Stewart's recording for him until July 1969. Meanwhile, in May 1969, guitarist and singer Steve Marriott left English band The Small Faces. Ron Wood was announced as the replacement guitarist in June and on 18 October 1969, Stewart followed his friend and was announced as their new singer. The two joined existing members Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones, who soon decided to call the new line-up Faces.
An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down became Stewart's first solo album in 1969 (it was known as The Rod Stewart Album in the US). It established the template for his solo sound: a heartfelt mixture of folk, rock, and country blues, inclusive of a British working-class sensibility, with both original material ("Cindy's Lament" and the title song) and cover versions (Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" and Mike d'Abo's "Handbags and Gladrags"). The backing band on the album included Wood, Waller and McLagan, plus Keith Emerson and guitarists Martin Pugh (of Steamhammer, and later Armageddon and 7th Order) and Martin Quittenton (also from Steamhammer).
Faces released their début album First Step in early 1970 with a rock and roll style similar to the Rolling Stones. While the album did better in the UK than in the US, the Faces quickly earned a strong live following. Stewart released his second album, Gasoline Alley that autumn. Stewart's approach was similar to his first album and mandolin was introduced into the sound. He then launched a US tour with the Faces. Stewart sang guest vocals for the Australian group Python Lee Jackson on "In a Broken Dream", recorded in April 1969 but not released until 1970. His payment was a set of seat covers for his car. It was re-released in 1972 to become a worldwide hit.
Stewart's 1971 solo album Every Picture Tells a Story made him a household name when the B-side of his minor hit "Reason to Believe", "Maggie May", (co-written with Martin Quittenton) started receiving radio play. The album and the single occupied number one in both the US and the UK simultaneously, a chart first, in September. Set off by a striking mandolin part (by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne), "Maggie May" was also named in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, one of three songs by him to appear on that list. You might say "Maggie May" catapulted Rod Stewart to stardom.1
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