Rod Stewart: Many Faces

From Gasoline Alley to Park Avenue

Rod STEWART, with The Faces, performing live onstage, United Kingdom, May 6th, 1972 Credit: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty

There's a finely scripted place card sitting on the tasteful common room bureau of Rod Stewart's elegant four-room suite. It invites him to "take full advantage" of New York's Hotel Pierre and all its accommodations. But right now that doesn't include having his picture taken in the oval lobby adjoining the main floor ballroom, currently overrun by members of the press waiting to record the black tie opening of the Republican Governors' Conference. No room for a bare-breasted London lad in a one-button leopard-skin suit and silver shoes, say the hotel security corps. If photos must be taken, he can stand out by the gold trim marble archway on 62nd Street. Sorry!

So the Faces, less bassist Ronnie Lane, who can't be found, pose as a quartet. After a quick session guitarist Ronnie Wood, keyboard man Ian "Mac" McLagan and drummer Kenny Jones excuse themselves to go do the things that musicians do to prepare for a trip to Philadelphia and Stewart is left in the hands of the photographer for the scheduled private session. Back in his room. Stewart is noticeably less at ease as a single subject. Posing for portraits is an occupational pain in the ass to him. He avoids scheduling them, has missed them and is rarely pleased by the results. He warms up slowly, begins to toy with his tongue, moves on to a new setting: the bed. He wears the prop well, running through a series of well-executed promise-me-anything poses.

For a final location Stewart agrees that the posh lobby will be suitable, although not ideal. "I don't care much for that chandelier. It casts a tone of fakery over the whole bloody place. They should have paid the difference and imported a real Georgian." And the lobby still overflows with Republicans. It is apparent even before it is made explicit that the photographer and subject will have to take their business out to the street.

The Pierre marquee faces a quiet block of expensive residences that run out to Central Park. There are only a few cars and less strollers using this street at the dinner hour, but it's enough to inhibit Rod. He wants to please, but the momentary pleasure of the game with the camera can't be revived. Instead he's gripped by this other feeling, which doesn't shake loose. "I feel like an old hooker," he mutters to no one in particular. Two days and two cities later, Stewart reflected on that theme.

"Did you enjoy the show last night? I really enjoyed doing it. It was great. But you know I had a weird feeling onstage last night. It was like I didn't know if I was male or female. It was funny. I just didn't know."

Can you explain what you mean by that?

"Just ... I don't know. You explain it to me. What do you think I meant. I felt like an old hooker last night."

You said you felt that way the other day too.

"Maybe it's my fantasy. No, not really, I don't think. Don't know why I told you that really. It just came out me mouth, with no explanation. Although there does seem to be a lot more 'take your trousers off' like that guy you saw yelling last night. Which is a mystery to me. It makes me feel like a stripteaser. I suppose someday somebody will just do it. Take off their bloody clothes. It's not going to be me. I'm a singer.

"I still think 60% of the people out there want to hear me sing, and hear the band play. I hope so anyway. If they just want to see me dance my ass around on the stage, Christ, I'd really be upset. That's just a way of projecting me music to a large number of people. I mean I'll admit I'm really wrapped up in being on that stage. That 90 minutes. I really live for that. Phew. What a buzz. Yeah, it is a sexual outlet for me. I mean it's that strong. We could have played for another hour last night, but we think, no, we musn't give them too much.

"I mean I can't explain what those 90 minutes are like. It's a rush. Like winning a soccer game. Being a soccer star. I really wanted to be a soccer star. I told you that. Being up there is as close as I'll ever come to that."

* * *

An arrangement had been worked out whereby the reporter would do his job as the Faces were driven by limousine to and from their jobs in Philadelphia. He was to ride down with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. Then drive back with Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan and Ronnie Lane. So, sandwiched between the team of Stewart and Wood, somewhere along the New Jersey turnpike, the reporter switched on his tape recorder and went to work.

Two years ago you made a statement about the Who, saying they were where you wanted the Faces to be in the future. Have you reached that point?
Stewart: Did I really say that? Obviously I didn't mean it in a musical context. I meant that we needed a bit of history like the Who. Every band needs that. And yeah, now I think we're nearly there. We're quite satisfied with our lot. As far as selling records I don't think we can reach a larger audience unless we started aiming for a younger audience. But we don't really want to try to relate to the 12- and 14-year-olds. We aim for the people our own age. Actually let me take that back. We don't mind selling our records to anybody who wants to listen. We heard a story about someone in Cincinnati who's 63 and plays her son's copy of "Twisting the Night Away" whenever he goes out. That made us happy.

Has fame and success made it harder for you to write about your personal life?
Stewart: Yes. Yes. I still like to relate back to all the things that used to happen, but now I'm trying to write about a wide variety of things. Anything except fucking revolution and peace and the black people and all that shit which isn't me at all. "Silicone Grown" is the best lyric I've written yet. It was damn hard writing a song about teats.

Has success changed Ronnie Wood any?
Stewart: Not one bit. And that's no bullshit just because he's sitting here.

Wood: Funny I said exactly the same thing to someone over the phone. They said, "How has Rod Stewart changed?" And I said, "Not one bit."

Stewart: As a person no, but maybe my outlook on presenting myself has changed.

When did you stop hiding behind amplifiers? When did you gain your confidence?
Stewart: When I did the first album. When it sold 30,000 copies and I realized somebody else must like what I'm doing. And when I joined the band ... same as Woody. Woody would push me forward and I'd push him forward. My solo albums are really his too, you know. I still do feel more responsibility in this band than any other I've been with. Taking on responsibility gives you confidence which grows as the audience becomes bigger and bigger and you become more sort of flamboyant ... When we get back home we still see each other as much as we ever did.

You used to say it bothered you that you get most of the attention from the press, and that there's always an ambiguity about whether people are coming to see Rod Stewart or the Faces.
Stewart: I don't think it's a very tangible thing. Don't think we'll ever know who they're coming to see. I'm pretty useless without them four and it probably goes the same way. You gotta be honest, lead singers and lead guitar players always get more attention. I think the boys are willing to accept that. We still split everything five ways, literally everything, even our girlfriends. It's not like some bands I used to play with where you collected a salary decided upon by the bandleader; where I could go on tour for two weeks and come back with $158 in me pocket. I could tell you stories about how Woody and me had to steal eggs for dinner while the roadies were eating steaks ... but I don't want to talk about Jeff Beck. Sometimes there are problems when I open my mouth too much. Like in the last interview.

Wood: That's why I'm here to watch you this time.

Stewart: We went through a bad stage about a week ago after I was interviewed by Melody Maker and I put down the group's album. I said Ooh La La was a stinking rotten album. Actually I'll take that back. That's what was in the paper. What I actually said was I think the band is capable of doing a better album than what they've done. I just don't think we've found the right studio or the right formulas. The misquote really pissed the band off.

You said the group has become bored by glitter?
Wood: Yes definitely. It sounds a bit corny, but I mean it was just getting on my nerves seeing everyone doing it all over the place. In their mouths and under their armpits. When we put it on it was because that was the way we really liked to dress. But when everyone else started, it just took the shine off.

Stewart: We're still dressing up. That's what the kids want to see. We haven't even started yet.

Wood: What we do now is pick on other things, like satins. They're a bit more subtle but they still shine.

Stewart: We'll always be the first. You can be bloody well sure of that. Shit, I'm sure we must have been one of the first with glitter.

What do you think of David Bowie?
Stewart: I love him and everything he stands for.

Wood: He can wear clothes. He's got a great figure for the clothes he wears.

Stewart: I don't listen to his records. I haven't got any of them. I don't think I even know any of his tunes, but I like what he's trying to put together. I admire the guy's courage.

Faces was one of the first English bands to attract a transsexual audience. Onstage are you conscious of trying to appeal as much to men as to women?
Stewart: Oh yeah, I always want to be attractive to men. That's half the people who buy our records, men. Sometimes there are no women in the audience at all. Not true really.

Wood: We try to cover a pretty broad field.

Is it harder to satisfy your expectations onstage? Does the reaction have to be outrageous all the time?
Stewart: No, we expect the audience to be laid back for the first four or five numbers which is nice sometimes. I think we control them like that. I always tell the security that I take full responsibility for the crowd. Each time we come over I try to have something else to offer, something more than from the last tour. I'm very conscious of that. You've got to be.

So is Mick Jagger.
Stewart: I think Mick is more of a showman than I am. And I'm more of a singer than he is. That's not a put-down of either of us. I don't sit in front of a mirror and work anything out, they just develop and if people like something I leave it in. Jolson used to jump up on the piano. He's my hero. Al Jolson. It's just a way of putting a point across. Everybody's been doing it. Jumping up on pianos, sliding across the stage. Actually I've never seen anybody else slide across the stage. That might be just mine. I used to do it real low when we had a glass stage. I'd slide across on my stomach and get these huge red marks going up and down. Like I'd been whipped. Looked incredible ... So they tell me.

From your position now, is it difficult to deal with the people you started out with who haven't done as well? Like John Baldry?
Stewart: I owe literally everything to John, because he got me going. So does Elton John. So does Mick. So do a lot of people from the Beatles down. In England he's like the grandfather of us all. I don't think anybody will say a bad thing against him. I mean we're paying him back his dues. I am anyway. I produced his album, Woody and I are gonna write a song for him, "I'm His Landlord." We're doing the best things we possibly can for him.

Have you been enjoying playing outside of the group, Woody, on the Clapton Show at the Rainbow, and both of you the London Symphony 'Tommy' opera?
Wood: The Clapton thing was great, a real experience, but you know it was the opposite of playing with the Faces. I went back to standing still again. I kept feeling that I should lash out, but it just wouldn't have worked.

Stewart: The problem with Tommy was that some people took the whole thing too seriously. That's why I'm pissed off at it now. I don't want nothing else to do with it. To me it was a novelty like the circus coming to town; with a lot of people, though, it was deadly serious. Pete Townshend didn't take it seriously. Neither did Keith [Moon]. But a fucking lot of people did, especially the press.

I got severely knocked in the English press which hurt. They said "Stewart shouldn't come out being what he is." I'll be honest. I didn't know the words. We'd been touring heavily and I came out with a song sheet and read the words off and got really slated for it. And it was for charity as well. People shouldn't knock you when you're doing something for charity whether you do it good or bad. The press can hurt you sometimes.

You're 27 now. How long can you go on doing what you're doing?
Stewart: I'm fit to do a show on five hours' sleep. I don't have trouble going four nights straight except for my voice which I got to take care of. Don't smoke anything anymore. If you don't feel your age you can get away with murder. Mick's gonna be 30. I've still got a few more years to go yet. Even though I've burnt the candle at both ends for three years. Killed meself.

If I couldn't perform I'd give up. The recording side bores me stiff. I hate studios. I hate record company business. I hate writing songs. The only thing I get a buzz from is getting up and playing. When that goes I'll go with it. Do like the pro-footballers, retire at the top.

It's not a question of the money side of it. I don't have to work the rest of me life. I don't want to. But not having that 90 minutes up there anymore. Phew, Christ, I don't like to think about it. I don't think about it. It frightens me.

You were supposed to be getting married according to the papers.
Stewart: That frightened me, too. That just came out when I was spending most of me time with an English girl who lives in California. I'm still seeing her. But I don't feel I'll ever get married, you know. I wouldn't not get married because of me career. I think the days of that are gone. I'm not willing to get married because I feel there are some people who just shouldn't get married. Elvis Presley should never have been married. If I got married I'd feel settled down, given away. I think it might even start affecting me music. You've seen that happen. You're the one who said he didn't care for the McCartney album. It might be just completely psychological with me. I'd think, oh Christ, I'm married now. I'm sick, finished. Why'd you get married Woody?

Wood: Because I knew it wouldn't feel like I was married.

* * *

Philly loved the Faces. They loved Rod's wrist-length white gloves, loved his red ostrich feather sash, loved his gold satin trousers—especially when they ripped. ("Uh oh, me trousers is falling. I told you we wanted to give you something special tonight Philly, but I didn't mean it this way. Don't worry, though, I take full responsibility for everything that happens up here. Just stay with us.")

At the finale, all five Faces locked arms around the bent remains of the soft metal mike stand that Rod had just crushed over his knee, and offered the "here's tears in your beer" refrain from "I Know We'll Meet Again Someday." Grand Ovation. Exit.

The brief finale was the only time all evening that Rod had embraced Ronnie Lane, who since the band's earliest touring days often seemed bound to Stewart's waist. Lane played aggressive bass lines all evening, crisscrossing the stage with an uncharacteristic soberness and none of his usual pratfall antics.

* * *

"There are some nights when I come off and go back to change and everybody's hanging around Rod. Sometimes that makes me start wondering, for a moment anyway, I start to wonder if maybe I didn't play so well tonight or something." Kenny Jones, the most serious Face, continues:

"It's so bloody difficult to explain. It's like all the people in the band are stars, and I probably think less about myself than the others do. I wish I had the thing that Rod has, because it would help me to get on a bit better talking to people. I'm not sure what exactly it is about Rod, besides the fact that he's got a lot of talent, and he started out eight years back with a lot of the people who've made it big today, like Jagger.

"I'm not complaining about my lot. I've been successful since I left school at 16. I feel I'm real lucky, being only 24 now and having been part of two successful bands, the Small Faces and the Faces. I mean how many people get a second go.

"For me Rod's still the same. It's natural to be affected by success, and Rod knows that. He's concerned about stealing too much of the show, being up in front of the rest of us. That's what I like about him. He relies on us to tell him that anything he wants to do is great. I don't think Rod or any of us have ever let our egos cause problems for the band.

"I know it's different elsewhere. I played on the Jerry Lee Lewis session, and he's a very weird guy. I'm kinda shy, so I just kept my mouth shut and most of the time things went fine. But he's got a really big ego, and one time he drank like a single glass of champagne and started whipping around at everybody, saying 'I can lick you around the block boy.' I tried to ignore him, but he started at me anyway. 'Do you think you can lick me boy? Do ya?' I told him I wouldn't try and just left it at that. He's bigger than me.

"This tour's been the hardest for me. I'm sure of that. The reason being, that just as I was leaving for the tour, my son who's 11 months old started to walk. At the bloody airport he takes his first steps and I have to get on the plane thinking about what I'm missing by being gone. What I'll miss forever."

"Yeah, the kid won't be the same again." This is McLagan now, the least serious Face. "You won't even recognize him. He'll be going out by himself for cigarettes by the time you see him again. Nothing stops kids from growing anymore.

"For me the last tour was the worst. I thought every day was going to be my last. No, I wasn't thinking about quitting, I thought I was going to get the boot. I figured the others were trying to figure out the kindest way to tell me.

"I was playing god awful, and nothing I tried worked. I just couldn't get myself together. Sure I knew why. I was in misery ... over losing a five pound note. That does it to me."

Finally Billy Gaff, brandy snifting philosopher, and the manager of the Faces for the past four years: "Changed? Not at all. Not one of them. Oh, they've got bigger houses and bigger cars and more money, but temperament wise they're just as big bastards as they were four years ago. They give me just the same hard time as they did four years ago.

"And there's an awful lot I can still do for them. One of the most important things any manager can do for a group is keep the morale. You know there are so many people, and it's very depressing, who become terribly famous and suddenly, right, they're on an incredible drug kick and suddenly they are totally destroyed.

"That really becomes the row when they get that big, because you can't dictate what they are going to do, although Rod is a marvelous listener. They all are really, Rod in particular. He likes your point of view, likes to listen and hear things. Never comes around and says that an idea is lousy because it wasn't his.

"There is nothing very deep about Rod Stewart. I mean he's a very ordinary entertainer who happens to be quite clever at his craft. I mean he is one of the two artists in the ten-year history of rock, no make that three, I forget poor Janis since she's gone, but Cocker, Joplin and Stewart are the only three artists in rock who can interpret other people's songs and do it very well. But at the same time he might as well be a footballer or a toolmaker. He probably would be just as good at it. ...

"Half the magic is in the five of them onstage together and the way they get off on each other, offstage and touring as well. Remember Rod's terribly dependent on those four.

"They're all terribly sensible though and I'm sure not a single one imagines they'll all stay together forever. Eventually it's likely, I'm sure it's in the cards, and they're all aware of it, that somebody might want to go their own way. They're very practical. They've established themselves financially, and really don't have to worry, and I'm sure that eventually they'll want to go on to separate things. For each of them it's been eight years. Rod and Woody have been together for eight years as have Ronnie, Mac and Kenny. They get terribly homesick. And after eight years. ..."

The card turned far swifter than the manager seemed to be prophesying. Less than a week after the Faces' 12-city tour was completed in Indianapolis the following statement was released:

"Ronnie Lane, founder and original member of the Small Faces has announced his intentions to separate with the band, effective immediately. 'It's time for me to move on. I feel the need for a change,' he said upon departing for a vacation in France. He added that he will make another statement on his return.

"The Faces and their manager Billy Gaff have promised that this news will have no effect on their planned European tour. A replacement bass player is presently being sought. Speaking on behalf of the group, drummer and original Face Kenny Jones said 'Ronnie obviously wants to do something or his own. There's no reason for us to stand in his way.'"

* * *

T

he Nassau Coliseum on Long Island is a dead ringer for the Philadelphia Spectrum. Its seating capacity rivals Madison Square Garden, and it's a lot cheaper to rent. On their last tour the Faces played Madison Square Garden carrying a video projection system that cost $10,000 a night for operation and transportation. They carried a side show called The Rock and Roll Circus which cost less than the video but added nothing to the show. They failed to sell out Madison Square Garden (it was close) and failed to make any money. At Nassau they sold out, and produced their highest profit margin to date.

The show was a repeat of the night before in Philly, with the exception that the seam sewn into Rod's gold satins held. There was, however, an unscheduled performance by Gypsy Frog Records recording star, Chris Robinson, which took place in the 12th row. Robinson wrote all the songs and plays all the instruments on his self-produced album Chris Robinson and the ManyHand Band. The songs he sings ("Lookin' for a Boy Tonight") deal exclusively with his experiences being gay and on the streets.

For his Nassau debut Chris did only one number, but it was enough. From the moment the first laser spot hit Rod Stewart, Robinson (accompanied by his boyfriend), stripped and spent the entire set screaming to Rod: "Take it off Rod. Take your clothes off. Do it now Rod. Pull down your pants. Do it now Rod!" The April issue of After Dark claimed: "Chris Robinson has talent. That talent deserves to be developed."

The final surprise of the evening came just before the Faces' encore. Warner Brothers rented a fleet of can-can girls and inserted them into the program to accent the Ooh La La album concept. A blind horse would have been less disruptive to the pacing of the show. But the crowd had been won long ago.

To accommodate all the people who managed to get their names on the fourpage backstage guest list (Ryan O'Neal plus six ... Chris Robinson plus one ...) a cocktail reception was held at the ritziest canteen in the whole Nassau Coliseum. There the reporter spotted Rod Stewart pinned up against a wall somewhat uncomfortably with a volley of flash cube explosions bouncing off his head. Stewart was motioning for the reporter. "I've got to get out of this," he said. "Can you help me?"

"We've got a car."

"Then take me with you. Wherever you're going. I don't care really."

Whisked away from it all, Stewart finally relaxed. A fellow passenger asked him, "Are you friends with all the other English rock stars. I mean, do you hang out with them?"

"Well, Mick was staying at the same hotel as us the night before last, here. We all went up to Woody's room and jammed till six in the morning. It was great. If someone had it on tape it would be worth a million bucks. Woody was playing the guitar, and Mick plays a pretty fair guitar, and Kenny was pounding away on a telephone book. Mac kept calling down to have a Steinway sent up, but room service was useless that night.

"Mick and I sang 'Love In Vain' together. It was great. We hadn't done anything like that since a jazz festival in 1966. We tried to persuade him to come to our show, but he couldn't.

"Keith rang him up from London saying, 'You've gotta be in the studio tomorrow night' and he couldn't let him down. Which is great after all this time. I don't think Keith had phoned him up in five years."

"What about the Beatles? Do you speak to any of them much?"

"Woody spoke to George Harrison on the phone the other night. George asked him, 'Hey is Rod with the band on this tour?' if that's any indication of how close he's been following us."

The car slowed down, and Stewart seemed to panic: "You're not gonna leave me alone in the street, are ya?"

"We'll take you wherever you want to go."

"As long as I don't end up alone on the streets tonight. I'm scared of that."

"Do you want to go back to the hotel?"

"No ... the bloody chandelier depresses me. Where else is there to go in New York?" We ended up heading back to the Pierre.

Just outside the hotel, the entourage rounded the Pierre's white marble corner and barely avoided colliding with Bob Hope, just leaving the Republican Governors' banquet.

"Hi Bob," said Stewart.

"Hi," Hope responded.

"Do you know him?"

"That's Bob Hope isn't it? Everybody knows who he is. I say hello to everybody."

Getting into the elevator Rod said hello to Ryan O'Neal and his daughter Tatum. Ryan was still wearing the backstage identification tag that had gotten him into the Coliseum party. It said RYAN O'NEAL and had a star under the name. Tatum had taken hers off.

"Do you know him?"

"Not really. I don't go to the movies hardly ever. The last movie I saw was A Night to Remember. It was about the sinking of the Titanic."

Rod was still about half a corridor away from his own suite when an arm reached out from a door and pulled him into a room. It was Jim Ladwig, working on a jacket design for Stewart's next album, a greatest hits package for which Rod selected the cuts, chose the order and produced new segues. The album was to be called Play It Again Rod, but was changed to Sing It Again Rod when it was learned that Fats Domino was releasing Play It Again Fats.

The jacket was the shape and likeness of a loaded shot glass with Rod's face superimposed on the ice cube. The inner sleeve pulled out to reveal a duplicate of the face on the ice cube. "Well, what do you think?" Ladwig prompted. Stewart hemmed. Looked at the picture, pulled out the ice cube and then hawed. But he could not be committal.

After a quick conference with a female visitor—"What do you think?" "It doesn't make you as attractive as you really are." "Hmm. You're right, but I don't think I could say a thing like that ..."—Stewart gently asked Ladwig to hold off. "I'll just make an appointment to re-shoot," he said.

Upstairs in Woody's and Mac's suite a party was in progress. John Barnes had supplied all the Faces' favorite booze, and Exile on Main Street was on a cassette machine. After five minutes of partying, Rod Stewart sat in a stuffed felt chair and yawned. It was 2 AM, 36 hours, before his next show, in Virginia. He looked up. "I'm bored. Where can I go?"

* * *

The next day, around sundown, Stewart sits in his room, an unkept jungle of leopard skins, lion skins, silks and feathers, gloves and shoes. The only item in any sort of order is a pair of cutoff jeans, folded into a suitcase next to his soccer shoes. Stewart sulks, swearing he'll have to miss Ian McLagan's 28th birthday party "because I can't decide what to wear." But Rod Stewart will not be bored two nights in a row, and he slips away with—as Ron Wood would put it the next day—"the love of his life ... last night."