Take off the tux. Put on the jeans.
Rod is rocking again.
After four platinum-or-better Great American Songbook albums of pop standards, the Rod Stewart delved into the (mostly American) rock songbook for his latest release, "Still the Same: Great Rock Classics of Our Time," covering songs by Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Van Morrison and, as the title indicates, Bob Seger.
"It feels good," says the London-born singer, who started his career with Long John Baldry's Hoochie Coochie Men and Steampacket before fronting the original Jeff Beck Group and the Faces and then becoming a superstar, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted solo artist.
Rock, Stewart adds, "was where I was born, the thing I do best, probably. It's just wonderful."
Ironically, however, it may something of a risk to return to rock at this stage of his career.
Suggested by music biz mogul Clive Davis, the Great American Songbook series was a career reviver for the 61-year-old Stewart. Since releasing the triple-platinum "Volume One: It Had to Be You" in 2002, Stewart has sold more than 16 million copies of the four albums worldwide.
"Still the Same...," meanwhile, debuted at No. 1 when it was released in October and has sold ore than 600,000 copies so far -- not bad, but certainly a bit of a letdown.
Nevertheless, Stewart felt that "I'd done the (American Songbook) thing long enough. It was time to give it a rest -- maybe permanently. I wanted to do a blue-eyed soul album, really, of obscure songs from the '60s. But that got washed aside by Mr. Clive Davis; he said, 'No, you should do a rock album.'
"So that's what we did. He was right about the American Songbook stuff, after all. He's earned a bit of trust."
Song selection, Stewart says, was done by committee -- including Davis and his manager -- and narrowed from more than 50 down to 30, 20 of which were recorded (Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally" and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" were among those that didn't make the final cut). The criteria, Stewart explains, was "you gotta just feel it. We didn't go ahead and do obvious rock classics like 'Stairway to Heaven' or 'Alright Now' or 'Brown Sugar.' They're perfect. You don't touch those."
There's a bit of irony to Stewart recording Seger's "Still the Same" and using it as the album's title -- which he says was his manager's idea. Back in 1989, the Seger camp was angry with Stewart and his minions when he recorded a version of Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" -- which he took to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- after hearing that Seger was planning to do the song.
Stewart has always disavowed any knowledge of Seger's intention and says he chose "Still the Same" purely out of respect for both the singer and the song.
"Bob and I have similar vocal styles," he says, "and it's a song I've always loved. It's a wonderful set of lyrics, a good melody, good groove.
"When it first came out, I thought, 'Oh, I'd love to sing that song. So I had to wait all that time."
Another ironic choice for "Still the Same..." was "It's a Heartache," which was mistaken for a Stewart song in 1978 when throaty Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler's version hit the Top 5.
"When it first came out," he recalls, "I was getting calls, people going 'Why didn't [i]you[/i] do that song? She's ripped off your style!' I had to wait some considerable time to be able to get my teeth into it."
But the most challenging of the batch, Stewart reports, was John Waite's 1984 chart-topper "Missing You."
"John's a good singer," says Stewart, who plans to marry this year for a third time, to model Penny Lancaster, the mother of his seventh child, 14-month-old Alistair. "He might be a one-hit wonder, but that song has a tremendous groove, and I just found it difficult to capture what he captured. But I think I did in the end."
"Still the Same..." does mark six straight albums that Stewart has focused on others' songs rather than any of his own. He's comfortable interpreting, of course; some of his career landmarks include renditions of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" (with the Jeff Beck Group), the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man," Mike D'Abo ("Handbags and Gladrags"), Tim Hardin ("Reason to Believe") and the Temptations ("(I Know) I'm Losing You").
And at this point, Stewart -- who says he'd like to tackle a country album next -- acknowledges that his ego isn't vested in how many songs he's written, even though is own credits include hits such as "Maggie May," "You Wear it Well," "Hot Legs" and "tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)."
"I enjoy songwriting -- well, let me say I enjoy songwriting when it's finished," he explains with a laugh. "I don't enjoy the process of it; it's too much like being back at school. You have to be disciplined, and I'm not the most disciplined person on this earth.
"And I know (covers) are what got people's attention on my first couple albums. It wasn't necessarily my songwriting; it was the style of my singing and the odd cover versions and the wide range of material that my voice would allow me to cover.
"I don't think anyone's ever kept tabs on whether I've written the songs or not, so I can pretty much sing what I want to."
TAKE THOSE OLD RECORDS OFF THE SHELF
Rod Stewart isn’t the only one dipping into the classic rock songbook these days. Already two more albums by rock veterans will mine past favorites and influences in the coming weeks.
Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Night Ranger’s Jack Blades strike first on March 6, when they release “Influence,” a collection of 11 of their personal inspirations. The harmony-heavy set ranges from pop — Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” Orleans’ “Dance With Me” — to prog-rock fare such as Yes’ “Your Move” and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” to classic hits by Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan and Buffalo Springfi eld, among others. Samples are already available at www.myspace.com/shawblades infl uence.
And Eddie Money taps the rock and soul songbooks on “Wanna Go Back,” which comes out March 13. The 12-song set includes a duet with daughter Jesse on the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell Motown hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as well as covers of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels’ “Jenny Take a Ride,” the late James Brown’s “Please Please Please” and “Oh Baby Don’t You Weep,” the Foundations’ “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” the Young Rascals’ “Good’,” Jackie Wilson’s “Higher & Higher” and more.
Rod Stewart performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 23) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. tickets are $127.50, $97.50 and $55. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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