ROCK AROUND THE WORLD®
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by Jim Kozloswki
The Sixties altered forever the concept of rock music and its validity; the advent of The Beatles and the ensuing British Invasion helped catapult rock music to a place of pre-eminence in the music industry. The musicians who made the music and took it out on the road became the new idols of the young, replacing movie stars.and athletes on the Adolescent Pedestal. As one might expect, given the large amounts of money that could be made, the bottom line replaced the time signature as The Main Thing; artists who innocently embarked on a career in music in the middle Sixties quickly found themselves embroiled in a corporate stew without a spoon. The business killed some of rock's finest performers: Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson, the role call goes on and on. The ones who kept their heads together and made it into the Seventies were often befuddled, bitter, or, worse yet, cynical to the point of total distrust of everyone, not a good attitude for someone to be carrying when they go on to a stage. In a recent Rock Around the World radio special, Donovan, one of the Sixties' leading figures, expressed relief that the Seventies had finally arrived: "I've been tryin' to get over The Sixties . . . thank goodness it's gone an' we've been able to shake the Sixties off. . . ."
Rod Stewart, like Donovan, is Scottish, but in the melting pot of the British Invasion, he became British, and in that lies an indication of the somewhat dehumanized process that reduces artists to 'personalities.' It's important to realize just what the music industry went through in the Sixties, 'cuz it's impossible to understand where Rod is now without knowing how he got here.
To begin with, then: a war baby, Rod's early talents included fence mending, grave-digging (two days), and football (soccer to you Yanks). In short, he was the typical working-class youth that the Beatles made fashionable. As the Liverpool Scene bubbled up and eventually relocated in London in 1963, Rod found himself drifting there as well, looning about and checking out the music in his own nonchalant way; one evening, he found himself on a train platform in London, singing and playing harmonica, when all of a sudden, his career started: "I had been to see The Yardbirds or The Stones, an' I was goin' back to Waterloo . . . . John (Long John Baldrey) was standing on the other platform. I was yodelin' and singin', playin' harmonica" with a mate of mine, an' John came over the bridge and said, `I'm forming a new band. Would you like to join in?" I said yes: I was paid 35 pounds a week, which in those days was like gettin' 200 quid a week . . ."
A pattern was set: good-humored Rod, rock's answer to Everyman, had been invited to join Long John Baldrey's Hootchie Cootchie Men, and with the exception of his solo career, he was to be invited to join every band he was in thereafter. It was more a case of the music needing Rod, a point that should be kept in mind for future reference.
1965 brought to life The Steampacket, notable in that it combined, on one stage, Rod, Long John Baldrey, Mick Waller, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and others; it was a learning time for Rod, learning about group singing, different types of music--and business hassles. The Steampacket never quite got up that head of steam required to transport them to America, and the band split.
Rod did the odd session here and there until 1967, when he was asked to audition for the archetype British rock band-The Jeff Beck Group. Says 'The Mod': "That was probably the finest band I was ever in. Very good band: Ron Wood was on bass, Micky Waller on drums, Nicky Hopkins on piano, me singin' and Jeff Beck on guitar. That's a fairly good line-up. . . ."
Indeed. The Jeff Beck Group made headlines, both on and off the stage; touted as a `superstar' band, The JBG ultimately was turned into a vehicle for Jeff's nimble fingers when it was corporately realized that the kids were flocking to guitar heroes. It was a posture that Jeff didn't like (to say nothing of the band), yet in the end there was nothing to do for it except follow the formula as prescribed by The Business. Given the talent in the band, and the resultant individual pride due to that talent, it wasn't too surprising that the on-stage camaraderie turned into a musical version of 'King Of The Hill' before long. The strain was becoming enormous mentally, something that wearied Rod enough to want to leave. His opportunity came when Ron Wood, Beck's superb bass player, left/was sacked and joined The Small Faces as lead guitarist; the departure of Steve Marriott left a huge gap; Ron Wood asked Rod to fill it.
The Faces were the epitomy of the band next door that made it to the top. Another in the first line of Britain's young bands, The Small Faces were coming off a bad burn from their record company; the meeting with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart forever solidified their image as a Working Class band. "The band, when it started out, was one big fellowship . . . we were all great pals . . . " In truth, the spirit was not unlike the original feeling on stage generated by The Jeff Beck Group. But Rod, perhaps remembering that a good thing has too many chances to blow up, decided to embark on a concurrent solo career; the dual roles, and the variance in success between solo lps and Faces lps, started to eat at the band:" . . . I found I couldn't record with them anymore, because I wanted to push the band a lot further than it wanted to go . . . we tried six times to record a successful album, and only came up with it one time out of six (`A Nod's As Good As A Wink'). I finally had to tell them, " Look, I can't afford to make two albums a year and have one fail . . . "
There were other problems aside from business; as Rod said, the band had a fellowship, a drinking-buddy atmosphere about them, and that excess good cheer became misinterpreted and misrepresented to the public: "It (the excessive drinking) was an image that was put upon us; nine times out of ten, we used to have a little drink before we went on, but I can honestly swear that the band was never that drunk. We must've just left everybody with . . . 'cuz we used to be so happy when we were playing, that we must've just left everybody with that picture."
"It's difficult to live in a goldfish bowl, especially if you aren't getting on with the other goldfish; the fact that tensions developed among band members only proved Rod's fear that he ". . . didn't expect any band to last longer than five or six years. . . ." Full attention to his solo career and an ultimate return to the road seemed the proper option to Rod.
To follow that option, however, it would be necessary for Rod to reestablish, as it were, his initial credibility. In ten short years, he had gone from a simple lad from Tartan-Land, happily singing, to an international rock celebrity, mingling with royalty as a paid-up member of rock's royalty, and singing more reflectively; in short, it was time for the man to get in touch with the man again, instead of the image. Rod Stewart's songs have never been too obscure; he writes about love, about friends, about the good times. Everyone can relate to what he's singing: in addition, he writes tunes with singalong choruses, as he strikes the common chord. ("Sailing" and "Angel" are good examples.) After all, this is the type of music that Rod Stewart does best, from "Drinkin' Again" with Jeff Beck, to "Had Me A Real Good Time" with The Faces, to "Maggie May," "You Wear It Well," and now "A Night On the Town," Rod's essential earthiness has been his key to survival. No matter what king he might have tea with, or where he's jetted off to now, he'll still, underneath all the finery, be the guy who once spent an hour after a gig with The Jeff Beck Group at The Boston Tea Party kicking an old soccer ball off a wall, and chatting with the kids.
Elsewhere in this issue, Mike Patto of Boxer agreed that an artist had to get shafted three or four times by the business before getting set; when an artist of the stature of Rod Stewart is involved, the money under discussion is quite significant. There will, of course, be times when separate business deals each designed to achieve an individual end will cross on one artist; the problem becomes one of maintaining some sort of `DAZ (Definancialized Aestetic Zone) to prevent the business from destroying the essence of the artist with whom it's concerned. The material output of songs isn't worth the ultimate ruin of the singer; Rod himself believes most of his best work to lie before him. Given his track record and quality level so far, it would be a shame to disillusion him from producing that material.
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