Rod Stewart would have you believe that every bit of his success, from 1970s glam rocker to his new century makeover as a 32-bar standards crooner, is all about luck. Luck that his mother went ahead with a fourth pregnancy at the age of 39. Luck that German bombs spared his family's London home (but not their windows) in the waning days of World War II. Luck that's been able to evolve with success. Luck with the ladies, again and again.
Good fortune, perhaps. Timing, absolutely. Stewart rode the wave of the second British music invasion in the early 1970s, his raspy voice, rooster hair and slinky moves becoming a hallmark of those predisco days. Despite what he says was a hazy, crazy time, he still remembers a lot, especially the 1960s, when as a teenager he gravitated toward America's great R&B artists, including B.B. King and Otis Redding.
Rod: The Autobiography is a he-said romp through a five-decade music career that spawned a string of enduring pop classics, among them Maggie May, Tonight's the Night, Every Picture Tells a Story and Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? The book doesn't list a co-writer, and if there wasn't a hired pen, Stewart might have another career brewing. He's an entertaining storyteller who admits that at age 67 he still spends time on that bottle-blond, high-maintenance hair. We love him for that.
There's not much too terribly revealing or surprising about Stewart's rock 'n' roll recount, accustomed as we are these days to tales of musicians behaving badly. Yes, there were booze and illicit drugs, and plenty of sex with beautiful blonds, several of whom Stewart married. Elton John could party him under the table; famous ex-flame Britt Ekland won't speak to him; he dabbled with cocaine suppositories; and Mick Jagger lied about his intentions to lure Ronnie Wood away from Faces, Stewart's band.
The juiciest tidbit is that Stewart addresses a titillating story that has stuck with him for years about how his stomach had to be pumped after a night of "servicing a room of gay sailors." He blames that tale on late publicist Tony Toon, who had a penchant for spinning wild yarns. "He was good at his job," Stewart writes.
Through his early days growing up the son of a Scottish plumber up until today as a dad (eight kids!), grandfather and guy who likes to fiddle with model trains (really), Stewart comes off as a normal bloke. He's the guy the guys want to head to the pub with to watch soccer. He says bad words and he's a babe magnet. In his memoir, he never comes off as introspective or even wise, but that's not why we invite him to the party anyway.
Thyroid cancer and a period of no singing put a serious scare into him in 2000. Stewart regained his rasp and began an encore career crooning the 1930s and '40s songs his parents might have listened to. So far, he has released five volumes of The Great American Songbook and won a Grammy for Vol. 4, something he never did at the height of his rock fame, though he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. A cheerful holiday release, Merry Christmas, Baby, which sold 24,000 copies in an hour recently on HSN, opens another chapter.
Stewart is still in the game and rolling in the dough. And, he writes, still having the time of his life.
Janet K. Keeler, the Times' food and travel editor, can be reached at [email protected] Follow @roadeats on Twitter.