Rod Stewart Faces the American Dream - Rolling Stone
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Rod Stewart Faces the American Dream

A solo spotlight, a Hollywood mansion, a glamorous girlfriend and lower taxes . . . Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Rod Stewart and Britt EklandRod Stewart and Britt Ekland

Rod Stewart and Britt Ekland

Annie Leibovitz

By sundown the 55,000 people packed into the Los Angeles Angels’ Anaheim Stadium for this “sunshine festival” have stolidly endured six hours of a rather warm day, karmically dubious hot dogs and runny Cokes. According to opener Mick Fleetwood, the erratic sound system at the stadium began to function properly only at the end of his group’s set and was capable, during Loggins and Messina’s marathon performance, of creating the illusion in a listener of being simultaneously in two separate moments. Yet few leave the stadium. The thousands wait, restless but secure in the knowledge that sooner or later they will be treated to Rod Stewart and the Faces.

The 500 or so guests milling in the backstage visitors’ area are not so convinced of that eventuality, as bits of information quickly spread among them: The truck bearing Faces instruments and sound equipment from Barstow has broken down. A helicopter has been hired to airlift the guitars and amps. The helicopter will not arrive in time. The necessary equipment is hastily rented from Studio Instruments; but will Ron Wood deign to play a rented guitar? The 15-piece string section in attendance backstage is told it will not be needed this evening. The Tower of Power horns will go on as scheduled. But will the Faces?

The stage seems perfectly set for some sort of resolution – symbolic at least – of the rumors, suppositions and expectations swirling about this group since its inception and coming to a head in recent weeks. Rod Stewart, who has maintained a solo career throughout his tenure with the band, has just released his first solo album for Warner Bros., the Faces’ record company, ending the dual-label arrangement that had seen his own LPs released by Mercury and that had drawn attention to the disparity between his own well-focused output and the unevenness that has always marred the Faces’ recordings. The album, Atlantic Crossing, his first to be recorded completely in America and the first to be made without any assistance from the other Faces, is selling briskly in America and phenomenally well in England, where the Gavin Sutherland-written single from it, “Sailing,” is perched at Number One. Rod, during a four-month separation from the rest of the group preceding this tour, was quoted as saying the experience of working with the pros at Muscle Shoals had made him realize he had been wearing blinders for years, and that he had never been closer than he was right then to taking leave of the band.

Adding to the logic of a Faces rift is the unprecedented situation of their guitarist Ron Wood (“Woody” to one and all), who is also co-rhythm-lead with Keith Richards for the Rolling Stones. Surely, pundits insist, Woody (who also works at a solo career of modest proportions) must sooner or later make a choice – and who could refuse the chance to be a Stone? Then there is the factor of Rod Stewart’s new girlfriend, movie actress Britt Ekland, the former wife of Peter Sellers and former companion of Lou Adler. Gossips posit this relationship isolates Rod still more from the rest of the group.

Little details of the way this Faces tour is being handled do nothing to discourage the thought that Warners would welcome Rod’s cutting his group ties; the in house tour itineraries, for instance, are titled not “Faces” but “Rod Stewart.”

William Gaff, manager of both Stewart and the Faces claims that there is no truth to the rumors. In explanation for the itineraries he says, “Rod Stewart’s name might have been promoted more for this tour but that’s because he has a new album. If the Faces had a new album, we would have promoted them more.”

Rod and Woody, from the sanctuary of their dressing trailer backstage at Anaheim (which is being combed for signs of tension, for portents of the Faces’ fate) make faces for photographers through a window; Ron kisses the glass. Rod emerges a few moments later in full makeup, blinking his blue eyelids and swigging Courvoisier. He stands for more pictures, surrounded by admirers. Tetsu wanders through the crowd, nodding and grinning, a girl on each arm. An airplane traces Rod Stewart and Faces in white exhaust against a darkening sky and the multitude on the other side of the barriers shrieks when the final letter appears.

When boredom has reached bursting point, suddenly the band is striding toward the stage and everything falls into place. The visitors all are caught up in the momentum. Those who were ready to give up and leave are running for positions: All sorts of precarious but plausible perches become apparent and groupies and stars alike scramble for a look at the show.

From the first, the sound is terribly muddy, with the guitar nearly inaudible. Indeed, Woody hardly plays his borrowed axe for the first tunes, seeming simply to hold it. The group is full of flash: Woody, cocky with cigarette and oversize sunglasses, wearing a white Japanese hapi over a blue Turkish blouse; Rod, peeling off silk to reveal his deeply tanned torso, darker than his madeup face. But the sound makes any kind of pacing impossible. The microphones of this hastily assembled system – some of it loaned by Fleetwood Mac – keep giving out, in a systematic fashion that Rod chooses for most of the concert to interpret as humorous. As soon as the band achieves a comfortable groove, his voice mike blows. Rod, laughing, runs to another at the side of the stage. It too goes out midchorus. Gamely he rushes to a third which is good only for another few bars. The sequence repeats itself mercilessly.

The worse it gets, the more Stewart works to keep the audience occupied and involved, to get them to create the experience the erratic electronics are denying them. “Come on, we really need you now,” he urges. He has them clapping in time and, for two numbers, singing the words with him. Between tunes he apologizes for the atrocious conditions. He bemoans the absence of the string section. He says how nice they wanted it to be and his distress is unfeigned. “How about Loggins and Messina, weren’t they great?” he asks, cuing applause and covering a lull during which technicians strain to patch up what can’t be; and, “Let’s hear it for the Tower of Power horns!”

Rod begins to be more at ease. He sits down to rest at two points, once during Kenny Jones’s drum solo. Now, reenergized, he dances forward in locomotive fashion, hands pumping in front of him like pistons; the audience roars. He turns a sitting somersault. He pulls Woody over to him and they make semihumping gestures at one another.

But the equipment, temporarily acquiescent, crankily reasserts itself and at last Rod gives in to his frustration. When the mike he is shouting into goes dead, he picks it up by the stand, lifts it above his head and hammers the stage with it, seven, eight, nine, ten times. A decidedly non-Faces moment, but cathartic. If the crowd has not yet realized the extent of the band’s effort to overcome conditions, it does now. As Rod and Woody, Mac, Kenny, Jesse and Tetsu jolt through their final songs, it all comes together in a jagged but coherent whole. The horns reappear for “Twisting the Night Away,” the last official selection, a rousing finale that has the stadium crowd and the band reeling and rocking as one. The Faces have somehow managed to make this potential disaster work for them. It’s been a strange performance by a headlining band but its final moments are powerful enough to carry us jogging into the parking lot, hearts singing, heads holding the memory of our last glimpse of the group: pushing their amps over in disgust on their way offstage.

Albuquerque, New Mexico; Saturday afternoon; five o’clock. Ron Wood, Rod Stewart and Ian McLagan sit on the beds in Ron’s room in the Hilton Inn, picking on guitars and singing snatches of what Ian (Mac) jokingly calls “authentic blues” – like the old Bob Dylan favorite, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down.”

“Yeah, those are the real chords,” Rod says. Rod is wearing a red suit and he hunches over the acoustic he holds, a beautiful black Gibson. “These are the folk chords.” He strums Dylan’s voicing. They do “Smokestack Lightning.” Rod asks, “How did you used to do this, Mac?” He plays a thumb-buster run and marvels, “Ooh – real John Baldry lick there!” Woody’s mobile face mugs outrageously, forming in rapid succession expressions of incredulity, absorption, glee. “That note is included in this chord,” he tells Rod, showing how to combine two versions of “Smokestack.” This does not look like a band that is on the verge of breaking up.

Mac leaves first, with a joke: “Love your hotel room – especially the decor!” Rod departs a moment later. The room is a comfortable mess, cluttered with antique Fifties Fender practice amps, equipment cases stamped Ron Wood/If You Give Him a Chance, guitars, clothes and assorted debris. The litter makes it practically habitable. Woody phones down for tea. He’s dressed in a kind of tie-dyed shirt, tan leather pants, matching tan ankle-top lace-up zipper boots thin bone bracelets and discreet tooth necklaces. He admits to one night’s sleep in every three, although he caught up on rest a few days ago in Hawaii. For three months he has played with the Stones, for six years he has played with the Faces, and as far as Ron Wood is concerned, he’ll continue to play for both groups as long as they both want him.

“They do talk to me about it, yeah,” Woody says. “Keith does. He’ll say, ‘Ball’s in your court. Can’t go on with both groups forever you know.’ With Mac, it’s like, ‘Do what you want. But – what we gonna do when . . . ‘ Making me think ahead, so if I was thinking of leaving I’d be forced to say, ‘Oh I won’t be around then.’

“The thing is, both groups know I’m not leading’em on a merry journey. I’m just trying to fit in both categories, as long as it remains comfortable. If it ever gets uncomfortable in either one, I’ll get out. The Faces know that I’m with ’em, you know? And the Stones know I’m always there when I’ve got that time off. The Faces part, that’s sort of taken for granted. I’ve always thought of meself as a member of the Faces for the duration.

“I don’t want to make the choice, particularly. It’s just something that’s brought up a lot, by people in between, especially. It’s only the people who talk about it who make me think of it. Otherwise I wouldn’t.

“I have to . . . defend the Faces, sort of thing, because I could very easily say, ah well, fuck that, I’ll just run off with the Faces – Stones rather, I mean. Getting the groups muddled up now. But I feel a loyalty to the Faces that’s very strong. Mac and Kenny. Tetsu. And now Jesse . . . “

The telephone rings, with a request for penicillin. “What’s that – ‘Someone sucked my knob last night’? Sounds like an Elton John song! Well, I don’t know. Try the manager.” The tea arrives and Woody clears a place for it on the cluttered bureau. Someone else knocks at the door with a tin of bourbon-flavored tobacco. Woody has taken to smoking a pipe in an effort to cut down on cigarettes. He has eliminated another vice as well, he says, putting a finger to his nose and snorting significantly. “Had to. You know? Can’t carry on like that for long. I mean, I really tore me ass out!” After closing the door, he stretches out on one of the beds, cup in hand.

What about the rumors, then? Is the band breaking up? What about Rod’s quoted remarks?

“The tour is going well. It’s picking up excitement. By the end we should exceed the last one, which was the best one. We’ve got a new permanent member as well, in Jesse Ed Davis. Everything augurs well for the future.

“As far as what Rod said … about enjoying so much working with the band he had on his album … that needn’t be a put down. All he meant was, he didn’t realize he’d have so much fun with another bunch of musicians as he does with us. That’s all that meant. And the other things…. Maybe he said them during a particularly depressed time in his life.

“I don’t think this band will ever break up, not unless everyone wants it to.”

Does he feel their record company is pushing Rod to be a solo artist? “We’ve always felt that, yeah. Even Mercury, when they had him – he was the only thing, for them. Warners is doin’ the same. We just deal with it as if it isn’t there. There’s six guys, you know. It really is on a cooperative basis. Once we’re all together.

“But Rod does allow it to go on, doesn’t he?” Woody muses, as if thinking of it for the first time. “I mean, Mick could have that with the Stones, if he wanted, but he doesn’t allow it. Still, they’re different people, with different views.”

But what of those trappings of the solo star, the things Rod allows to go on?

“Well that’s all part of the . . . It’s a morale boost, isn’t it? If you’re successful on your own, so to speak . . .  If my records skyrocketed to Number One I suppose I’d feel the need to keep that up. Maintain my sales. That’s purely a harmless ego thing. And, you know, an incredible amount of bread! The most of his income must come from his solo efforts.”

Ron also has a solo career. Two Ron Wood albums have been released, featuring fellow Faces and Stones as well as well-known players from both continents. Critics have been enthusiastic, while sales have been less than phenomenal. How important is that part of his work to Woody?

“I’d just like it to be an outlet for me. When I get a stack of songs that I want to express in my own way, it’s nice to be able to do it. And though I don’t want ’em to be soaring up the charts, I also don’t want ’em to skyrocket to obscurity. I gave more thought to the vocals on this last one.

“I was just a bit annoyed at first because they didn’t seem to be being distributed properly. I feel like Warners is trying to clamp down on me, same as they’re trying to promote Rod. Dunno why.”

Yet the concern he betrays is fleeting. Touring with the Stones (with whom he gained weight) and the Faces (with whom he’s lost it) would seem to leave little time for fretting over such details.

“Why do I do it to death?” muses Ron, whose name draws the nearly unanimous response, “Oh, Woody – Woody’s great.” “Yeah, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, combined with . . . escapism. Escapism from what, I don’t know. If I have three days off I usually get really bored. I like to fill up my time to the full.” While touring he works sporadically with Rod on a book of drawings and poems they’ve made on the road over the past six years. “Long as you get a bit of time off, for your family.

“I’m a great believer in fate. I just trust fate. I plan my initial move – do a tour, finish an album – but it’s not very often I’ll get into, say, planning an album’s release with a tour. No, I’ve got me own way of thinking.”

Before getting ready for the gig, he shows his visitor a volume entitled A Solution for Any Problem. It opens to reveal not a book but a box filled with pipes, papers and pens. On the inside cover is inscribed a message which Woody reads aloud: ” ‘Let be with me until the end, a book, a bottle and a friend.’ “

At midnight, Rod and Britt sit in a corner booth of the Hilton’s all-night coffee shop, eating Mexican suppers and consuming two bottles of red wine with Rod’s publicist, Tony Toon. The Albuquerque concert, at modest-sized Johnson’s Gym (capacity 7400), has gone well – perhaps the second- or third-best date of the tour so far, Rod says. Rod is in a good mood, thoughtful and open. Tonight he is talking about Paul Nelson.

Nelson is a critic whose Sixties folk publication, The Little Sandy Review, numbered Stewart among its ardent readership.

Rod has fond memories of Nelson. He says now, “I admire Paul Nelson more than anyone. He’s always been the one who’s best understood what I’ve been trying to accomplish. He still does – look at the review he just did of my album in Rolling Stone. Yeah, I really love Paul. Let’s all drink to Paul Nelson tonight,” he says, raising his wine glass, and everyone at the table follows suit.

Word of Rod’s presence in the coffee shop has attracted a group of fans, students from the university who have attended the concert. They cluster around the corner booth, asking questions, basking. Rod treats them with good-natured generosity. The music enthusiasts get a bit of chat about players, songs, recordings. The flirts are handled gently. The overly eager he pleasantly deflects.

To see him interacting like this is to approach some core of his talent as a performer: his ability, as writer Bud Scoppa says, “to be Mae West and then be Everyman. To pull off the paradox of being a superstar who can still do ‘Only a Hobo.’ ” He needs this contact. Later he says of it, “You gotta keep in touch with the people you’re making records for. Some people can get away with not doing that. Obviously, Dylan – it’s in him. I have to keep in touch. Whether it’s just to boost my ego, to let me know it’s still there, I don’t know. But I need to do it. I enjoy it, anyway. I’m basically a showoff.”

When the students leave, Britt is discussing tomorrow’s travel arrangements with Toon. She wants her ten-year-old daughter, Victoria (Peter Sellers’s child), to be allowed on the private jet. “The one time, Tony, the one time in her whole entire little life that I take her on a little gig, she’s got to fly the Lear. Don’t you think it’s fair? And besides . . . Her father will only take her on TWA.”

Someone laughs audibly and Rod mimics him, unamused. “Let’s go,” he says, and as everyone prepares to get out, he adds of Sellers: “He’ll be dead before the end of this tour, anyway.” Everyone laughs at that, including Britt. Rod says, “You see? Don’t mess with the Kid.”

Britt and Rod’s own interaction seems to involve much petty sniping and elaborate making up. “What’s that?” he will ask in dismay as she applies ointment to her mouth. “It’s a cream,” she counters nastily. “My lips hurt.” They are like fans at a concert who treat the show as an elaborate setting for their own personal fantasies and intrigues.

A prolonged low-toned discussion takes place in public view outside the hotel lounge; it ends with his leading her off, her neck in the crook of his arm. A noisy, giggly scuffle ensues around the hotel pool. “Don’t you dare – I’m wearing my watch!” They go through the archetypically familiar motions, making them believable to anyone chancing by and making them believable to themselves.

Rod and Britt descend to the Cabaret Lounge, a lavender-lit cavern nearly empty of customers, where a tuxedoed house band is playing “Love Train.” They sit down at the deserted bar and order a glass of white wine and a beer, in their mink and satin, in the ghoulish light. A teenaged girl runs up to him, runs her hands over his clothes. “Is it really you, are you really Rod Stewart? God, you’re so beautiful!” She tells of missing his concert – the tickets she’d bought blew out the window of her girlfriend’s car.

“Ah, yeah,” he says, narrowing his eyes and peering with a smile into the past. “How many times I’ve missed soccer matches that way . . . ” Whether or not that’s true needn’t matter. It might be true. He can imagine it. He can mingle his reality with someone else’s.

The girl leaves as Rod writes her a personal message on a cocktail napkin. She returns with her mother. “Mom, this is him, he’s the one I’m always talking about. Oh, you’re so neat! You’re the neatest thing ever to come to this town.”

“Oh, Ah dunno,” Rod mumbles, loving every second. “Sliced bread . . . “

She leaves for good, replaced immediately by a hearty guy who gives credentials of having partied for two weeks with the Stones during their recent American swing. “That Woody, he must be made outa steel, he was up all night every night, him and Keith both.”

“They try and outdo each other.”

“Well, Woody’s about the greatest guy I’ve ever met. So down to earth . . . Say, you know, Rod, ‘I wanna get lost in your rock & roll’ – you really did it to me with that one, Rod.”

“Mentor Williams – he’s the boy who did the lyrics, and the lyrics are all of that song.”

“Hey Rod, that ‘Three Time Loser’ – You really singin’ jackin’ off to Playboy’?” He had read this in the Rolling Stone review. Rod laughs. “Paul Nelson didn’t miss that one, did he?”

The man lingers for a brief discussion of Sam Cooke’s breathing technique (“You know as much about it as I do, mate,” says Rod) and then begins to edge away. “Real nice talkin’ to you, Rod.” He is preparing a parting remark. “You know, Rod – ” Britt, staring straight ahead, knows what’s coming. “I tell you what, you couldn’t get a better lookin’ woman.”

“Oh,” Rod says softly, watching her face as the fellow trots away, “Ah dunno . . . “

“Where did you and Britt meet?”

Rod is sitting in the back of a small Lear jet flying between Albuquerque and Tucson. He glances at where Britt sits a few feet away, near Victoria, and lowers his voice. “Well. Coupla times. In London. Coupla functions, just to say hello to. Then she came to the Forum, last time we played L.A., last March. Did you go? And I took her to the all-night laundry. We watched her bra go ’round in the machine . . . ” He laughs at his joke; then, with a serious face, says in even softer tones: “Good person. Knows music very well. She’s only been with us for a coupla gigs. She’s going back tomorrow. She won’t get a chance to see us anymore, unless we do the Forum. That’s why I wanted her to . . . just catch these two shows.” It’s an odd thing Rod seems to be saying, for Britt has been traveling almost constantly with the Faces throughout this tour, missing by her own count only three dates.

Rod and Britt live together in Los Angeles’s Holmby Hills, where Rod moved to avoid England’s personal income taxes, which can escalate to a staggering 98%. The tax subject is one Rod is eager to discuss. “You know, they don’t seem to understand. You only get one bite of the apple. I can’t be doing this for the rest of me life. I don’t want to do it for the rest of me life. You do an apprenticeship for seven or eight years, like I’ve done – well, like everyone’s done – an’ then you earn a lot of money in one year and they want to take 90% away. I mean, I’d stay. Just leave me a little bit; just enough to get by on. But 98% – Christ!

“Inflation there is 35% now. The unemployment figures are enormous. That’s why I’m so proud that I’ve sold . . . I think it’s a quarter of a million albums in three weeks. That’s ridiculous for England. The average sales for an album there is about 7000. And ‘Sailing’ has been Number One for three, four weeks now. It’s done half a million copies. The last time I sold that many singles was with ‘Maggie.’ ‘Sailing’ is like the national anthem over there. It’s the Number One single in Holland, in Sweden . . . And they’re gonna put it out here. I don’t think it’s an American single, though. I think ‘Three Time Loser’ should be the single. Of course I’d love to be proved wrong . . .

“You’ve never seen one of our concerts in England, have you? I want so badly to play there. It takes on a completely different light there. It’s absolute bedlam. Very emotional crowds we play to. Incredible. They know every word of every song. When we do ‘Angel’ or something like that, they sing it all the way through. I don’t sing it. We let them sing it. Woody just strums along. If I was to stop them from singing, I’m sure they’d want their money back.” He mentions his huge hit record again. “I just want to get back there and sing ‘Sailing.’ Let them sing it for us, you know?”

Though Woody and Rod are the only ones faced with the tax dilemma, Stewart thinks the entire band should move to America. “I’d like to keep us all together in L.A. The band’s so good now. It’s gettin’ better every night. You know, we’re a lot better together than we ever would be apart.

“It dawned on me last night,” Rod says, “how good everybody else in the group is. I can’t think of a drummer who can put as much strength into a solo as what Kenny does; he’s like Buddy Rich . . . And Mac, Mac’s an incredible pianist . . . Tetsu – I mean, Tetsu, some nights, I stand there in awe of him . . .  So I’ll tell you what. I’ll change me mind from what I said a few nights ago. I’ll be as bold as to say that even if Woody does leave – and he should make up his mind sooner or later, though I think genuinely he does want to tour with both bands – even if he did join them, I think I would stay with the band. Find somebody else. Even if Woody does go. I’d miss him. Christ. But I’ve realized how good the others are . . . “

What of his own career, then, and the pressure to become a soloist, sans Faces – isn’t that what Warners wants?

“Yeah. Oh yeah. I think that’s what they want. Well they won’t get it. As long as the band’s there, I’ll be there . . .

“I mean, I’d be willing to have a go at a Faces album. If I get another solo album done in December and if we go to Australia and Japan . . . I think we should record there. Australia. There’s one incredible studio in Sydney. If we did it nice an’ quiet, an’ thought about it. I just don’t want anyone to be waitin’ for it, so they can knock it, which is what’s always happened.

“Well, I’ve got to get one more album out on my own, soon as I can. I owe it to Warner Bros. I just do. There’s been so much fuckin’ about over the last year . . . I just want to keep them happy. They’ve done a good job for me. I think so. I’ve got no complaints against them whatsoever. I mean, I’ve never really had a record company behind me.

“As for the Faces . . . I think now we’ve had enough time to think about it, to look back at what we’ve done, we could create something really good. But someone’s got to take the helm . . .

“I’d give anything to produce it. Or even get Tom Dowd or somebody in to produce it for us. I’d do it if I was asked. I really would, and I think I could get an album done in a month. But I gotta be asked. Yeah. Like I said . . . it’s not a dictatorship. I can’t tell them what to do. They all live their own lives. I’m willing to try.”

A formal invitation is necessary, then? Short of that, would he himself consider making the proposal?

“Well . . . ” He turns again to the security of the window. “It’s far from the time to do it now. I mean, I’d love to do it in Sydney. When we get to Australia . . . “
“Recording in Australia?” Drummer Kenny Jones’s eyes grow large. “He says things all the time, but I’ve never . . . never heard that one yet.” He laughs. “You’re the first. I don’t know a thing about it.”

Jones, diminutive and soft-spoken, has been with the Faces some six years, since their earlier configuration as the Small Faces, that swell little group whose records he remembers with justifiable pride. His self-esteem seems important to Kenny and he takes his job seriously. Onstage he is ever alert, attentive to the moves of every member of the band: ready to accent some gesture of Rod’s, watching for one of Woody’s telepathic signals to extend a solo. The addition of Jesse Ed Davis on rhythm guitar has altered that interplay, eliminating the holes that formerly existed for Kenny (and everyone else) to fill and, for the time being, making the equilibrium of the set less flexible.

“I don’t give a shit where it is, as long as we do it.

“The breakup talk,” Jones offers, “is because Rod said it in the paper. It was Rod’s creation. Rod’s baby, that was. Rod says a lot of things. I mean, in the national newspapers . . . I did an article myself, actually, to be fair . . . In one paper he said, ‘If the Faces are gonna split up, it’ll be now or never, ’cause this is the closest we’ve ever been to it.’ But he tells some other newspaper, ‘I’ll never leave the Faces, they’re a great band.’ Came out the same fuckin’ day and everything.

“He just likes to confuse the press,” Kenny says, with some confusion of his own. “I think he does it harmlessly . . . jokingly, not realizing that the other side of the fence takes it seriously . . . I suppose it keeps the interest going or something. I don’t know. Who knows?”

The next scheduled Faces album, Kenny says, is a “best of” package. It will include, for those who missed it twice as a single, “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing or Anything.”

“The one thing I’ve really neglected the past three months,” Britt Ekland says, “is my own career.” She sits on a metal folding chair in the locker room of Tucson’s University of Arizona Stadium. In another chamber, a lavatory away, the band is tuning for the concert. Daughter Victoria is being interviewed across the room by a college journalist who has happily accepted her in lieu of a Face. At his feet is Britt’s camera case, covered with the backstage passes she collects as souvenirs of her travels with Rod; they have been together, she estimates, nearly every hour of the past six and one-half months. (Of her new hobby, Woody has said a bit cattily, “We were all surprised to find out that Britt was a photographer now. But . . . she can take photographs, so . . . once again . . . nothing wrong with that!”) While still allotting time to Victoria and two-year-old Nikolai (“That’s, uh . . . Lou”), she has devoted the rest of her energy during that period to Stewart.

“It’s really worth it. I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t. I mean, I know how important I am. I am my own product. I have two children and I have a career. But he’s, he’s really worth it, he’s . . . a unique person. I don’t think I would say that just because I love him. If you stand out there every night and watch him work . . . He just knocks me out. I think he’s incredible. Even when they’re down and they can’t get anything going and they just go through it, he’s still good. He’s very consistent. Very consistent person. Very dedicated. He’ll sit in that hotel room before a gig, sour faced, thinking what a creepy hole he’s in; but once he’s out there, it’s the most important thing in his life. I admire that.”

Rod walks through the room in his preshow white terrycloth robe, stopping to ask Britt, “You lying?”

“No, I never lie,” she says, reaching out to touch him. “What you got in your pocket?”

“It’s a phone number,” he answers, rolling his eyes significantly.

“Oh, yeah?

“It’s Paul Nelson’s.”

He shucks his robe in the next room and returns to pose for local photographers in his stage suit. Enjoying himself, he blows the whistle he wears around his neck and waves at Britt. “Hi, cutie!” she calls. “Look at you! Yards and yards of silk.”

A moment later, she is saying of him, “He’s very spoiled. He really is. Like a spoiled kid. ‘Cause everybody loves him. They really do, let’s face it. He’s like my son. My son, he’s so pretty and cuddly – he’ll throw his arms around you, he loves everybody. It’s easy to love somebody like that. Oh, sometimes he’s a bit moody, but very little. But he is very demanding.”

“And you?”

“I don’t think you can be, once you have children. I am when I’m working, I’m very egotistical; but no, I’m not spoiled, I don’t think. There’s no time for it. If I want something done, I’d better do it myself. Rather than asking other people to do it, and asking them, and asking them again. It’s usually quicker to do it yourself.” Those who have seen Britt demanding small things be done for her – a glass of wine to be poured and brought, say, from a bottle a few yards away – may not hold the same image of her as she does. She was heard to explain why she couldn’t fetch her own wine: “Because I’m a lady.

Part of the appeal of traveling with Rod, though, is in discarding some aspects of her familiar role. “I, like . . . well, like, I do his makeup. I take care of things. I like to see that he goes on looking his very best and I worry when I’m not there. In Denver, when I didn’t go along, they had me on the phone ten times before the gig, asking, ‘How do you put the mascara so you get it so?’ They had the makeup ladies from the hotel to do it but they didn’t know how. It’s . . . kind of nice. Makes you feel . . . needed.” She giggles self-consciously. “I enjoy that. I enjoy being this . . . person who belongs to another person and not a . . .  movie star. I can just . . . be someone else. It’s really nice . . .

“When we met, it was suggested that it was a publicity stunt. I was very shocked. My God, how could anyone think that? I mean, not from my side. Whenever you see a picture of us in print, it’s either ‘lovely Britt Ekland and ex-gravedigger Rod Stewart,’ or . . . the other way around. I don’t think much about it. When we appear in public, that’s okay; but when we don’t, I like us to be private.

“We have had offers – it’s the obvious thing, isn’t it – for us to do films together. Yeah, he’s . . . he’s . . . you just know he could, I mean, he’s really talented.” She clucks her tongue. “I’m so pro him it’s ridiculous but . . . If you know him, you have to be. He could do it, but I think it would be a mistake right now. I think he should stay out of the movie industry, he should stay out of the talk-show circuit, he should just really be what he is. Doing the records he wants to and doing this. He should have a little mystery about him. He shouldn’t be that accessible to the Beverly Hills circuit, like a lot of rock stars are today. You know which ones I mean. I don’t think that’s good.

“I suppose we are a fairly interesting couple. I guess we are, or people wouldn’t want to write about us or photograph us. That’s okay. I don’t mind. I think my life is really exciting. As long as . . . as long as you don’t have to work hard for it, or . . . give up anything that you really want to do. It is necessary. It is part of the job one’s doing. It is important that people should know about you. Obviously they think that your life is a little more exciting than theirs, otherwise they wouldn’t want to read about you. And if it isn’t – you should make it a little more exciting.”

In the rehearsal room, the Faces are having their nightly preconcert jam. Kenny beats time with aluminum sticks on a rubber practice pad fitted over his snare. Mac Plays a portable keyboard. They do “Tracks of My Tears,” with Rod standing next to the guitars, head thrown back, bent like a convex pole, legs moving in a standing puppy trot. Motown gives way to Muddy Waters, then a Chuck Berry riff asserts itself. Woody takes the opportunity to run over some tricky fingering with Jesse, who is still learning subtleties in the arrangements. Charlie, the road manager, keeps popping into the little room, blowing a whistle and shouting, “Come on let’s go!” to little effect. Rod and his whistle duet with him. It’s taking Charlie longer each night to get them out of the dressing room. The band is having too much fun now, and besides, as Woody yells into Charlie’s ear, this is an important rehearsal. But the moment inevitably comes and then the Faces troop in darkness to the stage, where they’re greeted by the blare of David Rose’s “The Stripper.”

Tucson’s show is a corker. The Faces are presented at true worth and their worth is much more than most groups. They have something to say and are sure of themselves but never arrogant or overconfident. They look so delighted when their moves draw shouts – as if pleased to see these simple tricks still work. It’s partly as if they’ve taken the aggressive hedonism of the Stones and tempered it with their own good humor, played with it and presented it as a reflection of the audience. Their “messages” are basic ones that need restating from time to time: that it’s all right to have a good time, all right to move your body below the waist, all right to look pretty and bat your eyes, all right to hug your friends, all right to clench your fist, all right to rock & roll. “All right,” as the Stones said, “all night long,” and as the Faces say, “All right for an hour.”

This story is from the November 6th, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.

In This Article: Faces, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood


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