I've always wanted to ask you, Rod...

Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams in the studio
Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams in 1993 (Image credit: Lester Cohen)

Bryan Adams: How are the potholes down where you are? 

Rod Stewart: All fixed. I put the council and the government to shame. 

BA: What’s wrong with the councils, honestly? 

RS: Like most councils – especially in Britain and everywhere – no one’s got any money. Same thing here in California. Schwarzenegger went out and did it. Did you see that? [Arnold Schwarzenegger filled a pothole in his neighbourhood in Brentwood, Los Angeles, after residents’ complaints to the authorities fell on deaf ears]. 

BA: I did, yeah. You’re inspiring people all over the place. I love that story. And I’m sure you don’t have potholes in California, though. Do you? 

RS: Yeah, of course we do. 

BA: At your place? 

RS: Not actually round my house. But I live up in the hills – in a private enclave, if you don’t mind. When you get down into town it gets a little rough. The worst place was when I was in Mexico City. That’s the worst for potholes. You’re lost in them for days.

BA: That’s probably why they had to come down there, to fill in a few holes… 

Rod, I know when Ifirst started to become a singer, I know the moment when I felt like: “This is good. I’ve got a voice”. What was the moment for you that you thought: “Oh, I can sing”? 

RS: When I was a youngster, six or seven, we had huge family parties. My parents, my brothers, they all had voices, they could all sing. So I was surrounded by would-be singers. But in my beatnik days, down in Brighton Beach when I was about sixteen or seventeen, people would ask me to take my guitar out and play Woody Guthrie’s this and that. And I thought: “I must have something here.” 

BA: I love the story about you busking on a train platform. Is it true that you were discovered there?

RS: Yeah. You know Long John Baldry? Him and Cyril Davis were bringing the blues to Great Britain and trying to get Muddy Waters to come over. I’d just gone to see his band, and I was on theway home, on platform seven, but he [Baldry] was on platform six or whatever. I was playing a harmonica and singing by myself, doing an old Muddy Waters song, and he came over and said: [briefly puts on a posh accent] “Young, man, would you like to join the band as a backup singer?” So I did, and that’s what started it all. Thirty-five pounds a week, which was a fortune in those days. The average wage was twenty pounds a week. 

BA: Long John Baldry played near me in Vancouver years ago, but in a restaurant. 

RS: I’ve still got his guitar. His ashes are inside, so if I rattle it round I can hear him. He’s still with me. 

BA: That’s sweet. Tears Of Hercules. How did you find that song? It’s such a good song. 

RS: It was written by Mark Jordan. He’s written a couple of songs for me. 

BA: It’s a great song title. 

RS: Yeah, it’s a great album title. 

BA: It’s a great album title and it pisses me off because it’s such a good song title. Were you working with Kevin [Savigar, American producer, keyboard player, songwriter] on that record? That must have made it a little bit easier? 

RS: Yeah, it was fun. You know, we’ve worked together for a long time. You know Jools Holland? We’ve nearly completed a swing album. The Great American Songbook was all ballads, but this is all up-tempo stuff with his band, which is probably one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Bryan Adams with one of his portraits of Rod Stewart.

Bryan Adams with one of his portraits of Rod Stewart. (Image credit: Dominik Butzmann/LAIF)

BA: Did you do that in LA, or in London? 

RS: It was in his studio. He’s also a model railroader like me, and his whole studio is like a railway station. That’s how we first met, because we’re both model railroaders. 

BA: Do you have one in LA as well? RS: No, it all got shifted to the UK. It took two years. Two great big containers took four months to get into Britain, and it’s taken about a year and a half to put it all back together. 

BA: When’s the swing album coming out? 

RS: It was gonna come out in September. But, you know, I’ll go to Vegas. I’ve got a bit of a British tour. And then I’ll go into Spain. We just haven’t got the time between the two of us. So it’ll come out next year now, probably March or April. 

BA: I look forward to it, then. How’s the voice holding out? 

RS: Fucking amazing, mate. Better than yours! [laughs loudly]. I look after it. 

BA: Gallons of Mateus Rosé? 

RS: No, I drink a little rum and coke before I go on now. 

BA: But when we [Adams, Stewart and Sting] did All For Love, you said white wine.

RS: Some people think you shouldn’t drink when you sing, but I do. It doesn’t make any difference. But I do have a proper way of doing it. I don’t drink till I’m totally warmed up, which takes me about an hour. And then I have a little rum and coke and then I have a hot lemon/water. 

BA: You just carry on. Whatever you’re doing, don’t change it. Bob Ezrin asked me to ask you a question: Is it true blondes have more fun? 

RS: I’ve always fancied blondes, since I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe in her swimming costume when I was little kid, and I immediately masturbated. I’m kidding. I was only seven. 

BA: And that concludes the interview… Right, I wanted to say one of the things I love when I listened to you is your story songs, like Maggie May. But my favourite one is from A Night On The Town, it’s The Killing Of Georgie

RS: It’s funny you should say that. We’re gonna put that in the set tomorrow night in Vegas. 

BA: I was just going to ask you if you still play that song. 

RS: Very rarely, but we wanted to change it up a little bit, so we’re gonna put that one in.

BA: It was ahead of its time even when it came out. 

RS: It was. And the BBC wouldn’t play it. The most gratifying thing is when I bump into people now, and guys come up and tell me how helpful that song was when it came out, and they were much younger than me, and it helped them through some very bleak times when they didn’t know what to do with their sexuality. So it sort of opened the doors for them. And that is the most gratifying thing about writing songs: when people come up and say: “Oh my god, that got me through a bad period of my life,” or “I had a baby to Tonight’s The Night,” or something like that. 

BA: It’s a beautiful song. You should be really proud of that lyric. If I was you I’d have it in every night. In terms of its content, like I said, back then it was ahead of its time, but even now. Beautiful. 

RS: Thank you.

BA: Where were you when you wrote that song? 

RS: [Pauses and exhales, distracted by the football game] Jesus Christ! 

BA: With Jesus Christ? 

RS: Yeah, he comes and sees me now and then. We have a kick-about on a football pitch here in Beverly Hills. That was a foul, wasn’t it? Sorry, Bryan, where were we? 

BA: My question was where were you when you wrote The Killing Of Georgie

RS: I write lyrics all over the place. I could have been on a flight or I could have been in the toilet, or just getting out of bed. I don’t know about you, but lyrics don’t come to me that easy. I’m not a natural lyricist. I was reading something about that ginger bollocks Ed Sheeran writing four songs in an hour. Well good luck to him. I can’t do that.

BA: Not many can. I mean, you can write four songs, but are they good? 

RS: Yeah, exactly. That’s a difficult thing when you’ve got a lot of songs to finish: zeroing in on the ones you really believe in, the ones you think other people are gonna like. 

BA: I know what you mean. But that was a really really great lyric. 

RS: The words are good as well [laughs loudly]. 

BA: I wanted to say sorry about your mate Jeff [Beck, whose band Stewart was the singer with in the late sixties, who died in January]. That must have been really hard. 

RS: Yeah, it was. We’ve got his concert in a couple of weeks at the Royal Albert Hall with Clapton. It’s gonna be great, two sold-out two nights. The funeral was exceptional. Everybody got up and spoke, and Jimmy [Page] and Eric spoke very highly of him.

BA: Beautiful. Wow. Can you give me a funny story or a story from back in the day that nobody would know about you and Jeff? 

RS: Jeff was a great guy, but he wasn’t a great bandleader. I mean, you have to look after your band. I remember when me and Ronnie [Wood, who played bass in the Jeff Beck Group] were staying in New York, and we never got a per diem, we just got our money every week, and sometimes that money would be very late in coming. Not necessarily Jeff’s fault, but his manager. I think it was Peter Grant. 

So me and Woody would go up the corner from the Gorham Hotel where all the bands used to stay, and we’d go into shops and nick eggs – steal them. Sometimes Jimi Hendrix’s girlfriend would go and buy us breakfast because we had no money. It’s not exactly funny. 

BA: No, but it’s real. 

RS: Yeah, we had to steal. 

BA: Well, thirty-five quid a week… Oh, no, that was before this? 

RS: It was about the same time. But it was just slow in getting to us, you know? Do you have to pay your band for travel days? 

BA: I think we do. Yes. 

RS: I’m dead against that. You never got paid for travelling in my day. 

BA: You gotta pay everybody proper now, Rod. 

RS: Yeah. 

BA: I think it’s okay. You know, I don’t have a problem. I have a problem when they go three days beforehand. 

RS: Yeah, I stopped all that. I don’t even do rehearsals now. We’re on the road most of the time. I go: “Right. Soundcheck… That’s it. Finished.” And when we go down to Vegas we don’t even do soundchecks. 

BA: As long as the voice is okay when you get up there. 

RS: The only reason to do a soundcheck is to make sure that everything is working. 

BA: So what is next? You’ve got the touring. You’ve got the swing album. And that’s kind of it, isn’t it? 

RS: Well, next year [gets briefly distracted by football again] Oh my God! How did you miss that? I’m doing South America this year, I’ve just done Australia and New Zealand, I’ve got Britain to do, and I’m going down to Sao Paulo, another residency in Vegas. So that’ll take me up to December, then I’ll have a lie down.

Rod Stewart: Las Vegas Residency poster

(Image credit: Live Nation)

RS: Caesars Palace. I’ve been there for eleven years now. 

BA: Wow. I’ve started doing a residency at The Wynn. 

RS: Never heard of it. Where it is? [Laughs] I’m kidding! I was offered that place. It was a bit too small for me!

BA: I do a couple of weeks there in January now. I love it. 

RS: What is it, about eighteen hundred? 

BA: Yeah. It’s lovely. 

RS: You’ve just gotta get out of that frame of mind where you’re sometimes playing to the same people every night. They’re such huge fans. They sit in the front every night. 

BA: Have you ever thought: “Screw this, I’m tossing in the towel and moving back to Highgate to open a pub”? 

RS: I’ve never thought that. But I have moved back to England now, although I still have a house here in California. And my dear wife – who you know very well – comes out next week to join me for a week, leaves the kids behind. 

BA: I won’t keep you any longer. I want to say thanks for doing this. 

RS: Is that everything you wanted to know? You could have just Googled most of this stuff. 

BA: I mean, no one’s gonna know the story about you and Jeff, no one’s gonna know the stuff about the eggs. 

Classic Rock: Bryan, could you tell us why you wanted to interview Rod for this? 

RS: [Mocking] Yeah, come on, Bryan. 

BA: I love Rod’s voice. Classic. Simple as that. Your voice is just so identifiable and inspiring to so many people. It’s a classic rock voice. 

RS: Thanks, mate. Thank you very much. 

BA: It is. 

RS: You’re not doing too bad yourself. 

BA: I’m tryin’, man. 

CR: Can you remember the first time you heard Rod sing? 

BA: Well, it might have been back in… 

RS: …your mother’s womb, probably. 

BA: It would definitely have been the early seventies. I saw Rod play with The Faces in 1975 in Vancouver. It was either the Agrodome or the Colosseum. I’ve always loved Rod’s voice, so the first time I heard it it would have been on the radio somewhere. 

RS: [Gently mocking] It captured you, did it, Bryan? 

BA: [Equally mocking] Yes, I was enthralled

CR: What about favourite albums? 

BA: Every Picture Tells A Story. A Night On The Town

RS: I did love doing those swing albums. The American Songbook. They sold thirty-seven million. Five discs. So I was very happy with that. 

BA: That would explain the Botticelli over your shoulder [referring to the rather large painting adorning Rod’s palatial apartment]. 

RS: I wish it was. No, it’s a Victorian painting. 

BA: Beautiful.

CR: Bryan, apart from albums and singles, are there any moments in Rod’s career that you look at and think: “Yeah, that’s the way to do it”? 

BA: It could have been the leotards in Do Ya Think I’m Sexy

RS: That was inspired by Olivia Newton John, who’s no longer with us. Did you know her, Bryan? 

BA: I did, yeah. 

RS: Great girl, wasn’t she? 

BA: Beautiful. 

RS: Beautiful soul. 

BA: Best Rod moments? Just all the songs that keep coming. 

RS: They did one of your songs on American Idol the other night. 

BA: Which one? 

RS: [Struggling to remember the song title] She Was Only… 

BA: [singing Sam Cooke’s song] ’She was only sixteen, only sixteen…’ 

RS: …She was only a pilot’s daughter but she kept her cockpit clean. 

BA: There’s one that should open the story. 

CR: Bryan, your parallel career is as a photographer. Rod, you’re a railway modeller. Is it important to have things that you do away from music? 

RS: [Excited] Is it important? You’ve got no idea! Absolutely! A man without a hobby – not those sort of hobbies, Bryan, the ones you’re thinking of – is lost. When I’m on the road I take projects in great big suitcases. I take paints and tools and everything. The hotels give me a special room – they clear it all out – and give me a great big table to work on. I don’t know what I’d do – and I’m sure you must agre. There’s so much wasted time on the road if you haven’t got anything to do. What do you do? Go out shopping? I’ve got my model railroad to keep me warm. 

BA: I don’t know how you find the time. I find being on the road that I just end up wanting to sleep half the time. 

RS: I’m not a great sleeper. As long as I get seven hours I’m fine.

BA: And then you set it up in the room? 

RS: I don’t set it up. We travel on a private plane so I don’t have to go through check-in or anything like that, and it gets all set up for me. I can spend seven hours building something, then it goes into a big crate and then it goes all the way back to London, and I put it on the layout. 

BA: Do you have a photo of that? I’d love to see that. 

RS: I’ll send you some. 

CR: What about you, Bryan? Do you take your camera on the road? 

BA: I kind of do. I have a camera too out there, but with photo sessions it’s usually more of a team effort, much like doing a gig. So I’ll set something up. I know if I’m going to LA, for example, I set something up on my days off. So my days off are usually filled with things like that. But I don’t know if I could carry a bunch of stuff with me. It’s too much of a hassle. 

RS: Do you consider that your hobby, then? 

BA: I don’t consider myself to have much of a hobby life. It’s just something else that is part of the work, you know? I think you have to continue to be creative. It’s not just about having a hobby, it’s about occupying your time with something that you love. 

RS: Something you enjoy. Absolutely. I would have thought that would have been a nice hobby. It is for Penny [Lancaster-Stewart, Rod’s wife]. 

BA: She did the cover of your album, didn’t she? 

RS: Yeah, she’s done the last three or four. 

BA: I think it’s really important to have a diversion from what you do. If you did the same thing all the time it really would get tiring. 

RS: Yeah. I love the two hours we’re on stage and the drink with the band afterwards. It’s great. It’s just everything in between. But that’s what we chose to do, Bryan, when we were little kids. 

BA: I ain’t complaining. 

RS: Me neither. 

BA: I consider myself one of the lucky ones. 

RS: Me too. I’m lucky as well.

Tickets for Rod Stewart's residency in Las Vegas are on sale now.
Brian Adams tours Europe in April and May 2024. Tickets are on sale now

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.