Five of Rod Stewart’s last seven albums have been of “The Great American Songbook” variety, collections of pop standards that have been some of the most successful of his career.
But when he takes the stage Sunday night in Detroit, it’ll be rockin’ Rod who commands the spotlight, singing hits such as “Maggie May,” “Hot Legs,” “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” with the Songbook material left on the sidelines.
“Four years ago we tried to do the two, the rock stuff and the Songbook stuff, and it didn’t quite blend, somehow,” says Stewart, 66, who played at the Palace of Auburn Hills on that tour. “It didn’t quite work. So one day I’d like to do a big orchestra and a big American Songbook tour, but right now ... ”
Stewart is hardly slumming with the more mainstream pop material, of course. The British-born singer has, after all, sold more than 100 million albums during the past 43 years, from his tenures with the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces to a solo career that’s earned him spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame and made him a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). His 1994 New Year’s Eve concert drew 3.5 million fans to the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — the largest concert audience ever.
But the Songbook albums have put a different wrinkle on that laudatory career. Starting with “It Had To Be You: The Great American Song Book,” all five have debuted in the Top 5 of both the Billboard 200 and the U.K. charts — with last year’s “Fly Me to the Moon ... The Great American Songbook Volume V” bowing at No. 4. The first four went platinum or better in the United States, while 2004’s “Stardust: The Great American Songbook 3” debuted at No. 1 and scored Stewart his only career Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
And Stewart, who released a compilation called “The Best Of ... The Great American Songbook” in February, is not at all surprised by their enduring success.
“They’re just great songs,” explains the thrice-married singer, whose current wife, Penny Lancaster, gave birth to their second son in February. “I just think they’re wonderful songs and they’re just beautifully crafted, beautifully written, beautiful lyrics. They’ll live. They’ll still be around when you and me are pushing up daisies.”
Stewart had actually figured he was finished with the Great American Songbook after 2004’s “Thanks For the Memories,” although he continued on the covers path for 2006’s “Still the Same ... Great Rock Classics of Our Time” and 2009’s “Soulbook.” But “an addiction to these songs” brought Stewart and producer Richard Perry back for “Fly Me to the Moon.”
“We had already started preparing — just for our own benefit — and recording a few songs,” Stewart recalls. “One thing led to another, and we realized we had 10 or 12 songs, so we finished it off.
“We tried to emphasize a bit more tempo on this album than the other ones,” he adds. “It’s just an inexhaustible supply of songs, but I think this is by far the best of the whole lot. I’m very comfortable with these songs now.”
Stewart says that his Great American Songbook tour might take place in 2012, but it’s one of a pile of things he hopes to accomplish in the near future. His “Heart & Soul” tour with Stevie Nicks wraps up on April 22 and he has a few solo dates this year as well, including a show at the Hard Rock Calling festival during June in London. He and Jeff Beck have been circling each other about recording together again, and while he knows to “never say never” about another Songbook album, Stewart has some other musical targets in his crosshairs, too.
“The next thing I want to do is a blues album,” he says, “and do some of the wonderful old blues stuff I grew up with — Elmore James, Slim Harpo, Howlin’ Wolf. ... Not necessarily just the 12-bar stuff but anything that’s got a blues feel to it, maybe a little more sophisticated. I’ve got a good list of the stuff I want to do, so hopefully we’ll get going on that one.
“A country album’s something I’ve always wanted to do as well. I’m lucky; I’ve got a voice that can more or less adapt to anything.”
The Faces may be in Stewart’s future as well. Three of his mates from the ’70s group — guitarist Ron Wood, keyboardist Ian MacLagan and drummer Kenney Jones — reunited last year with Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall filling in for Stewart, who wasn’t available. But the prospect remains open — and, he admits, tantalizing.
“I wouldn’t mind me old job back,” Stewart says with a laugh. “I think Mick Hucknall did a good job. The big hang-up for me is that Ronnie’s got this other group he’s in (the Rolling Stones). We’re continually waiting to know what they’re gonna do, and I can’t put my career on hold waiting for Ronnie who’s waiting on them. That’s the way it goes, on and on.
“Maybe one day when they pack it in we’ll have a bit more time together. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty to do on my end, and I’m happy for that.”
Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $49.50, $95 and $125. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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