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Interview:
Rod Stewart goes walking in a winter wonderland on latest album
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

As it's getting near holiday time, Rod Stewart has made his list, checked it twice -- and knocked a couple of things off it.

The veteran singer and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (on his own and with the band the Faces) is having a busy fall. Last week he published "Rod: The Autobiography," a frank and charming memoir. And on Tuesday, Oct. 30, he releases "Merry Christmas, Baby," his first-ever holiday album, which features one new song -- "Red-Suited Super Man" -- and a variety of favorites such as "Winter Wonderland," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Auld Lang Syne" and the title tracks, as well as duets with Michael Buble, Cee-Lo Green, Mary J. Blige and, virtually, the late Ella Fitzgerald.

"It's a project that, like the book, I've been putting off for some time," explains the British-born Stewart, 67. "I don't know; I think maybe I thought it was beneath me years ago to do a Christmas album since I'm such a dyed in the wool rocker.

But what with the American Songbook and the success of that, it seemed a naturally progression.

"And I'm so pleased I did it."

"Merry Christmas, Baby" follows and is done in the style of the five "Great American Songbook" collections Stewart has recorded since 2002. Four of them were certified platinum or better and all five debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200 chart -- with two hitting No. 1. So for "Merry Christmas, Baby," Stewart reconnected with "Great American Songbook" producer David Foster -- who he considers "as near a genius as you're going to get" -- recording during August at Foster's home studio in Malibu while "looking out over the ocean and the sky and the beach and the sun's shining, and then there's Christmas trees in the living room. I knew it was going to be odd, but it was more odd than I thought it would be."

Nevertheless, Stewart says he's proud to have his own entry in the holiday catalog.

"It's some beautiful songs, and it was a challenge, like the American Songbook," says Stewart says. "I can't wait to play the album in Christmas to my two little kids (aged 18 months and six years old). They still believe in Christmas, and they're gonna hear their dad sing all the Christmas songs. I'm really looking forward to that."

A bit less wholesome, perhaps, is Stewart's book, in which he writes openly about his drug and alcohol use, hard partying, womanizing and jet-setting image, as well as his personal and musical relationships with Jeff Beck, his bandmates in the Faces and particularly good friend Elton John. Stewart also comes clean for the first time about the famous urban myth that he had to have his stomach pumped during the 70s for a particularly distasteful reason, explaining that it was a spiteful story spread by a publicist after Stewart fired him.

"The good thing about an autobiography is you can actually straighten out all these myths," Stewart notes. "There's that one, the one about me gravedigging, the one about playing professional (soccer). They're all half truths, but they've been blown totally out of proportion over the last 35 or 40 years."

Nevertheless, Stewart contends, "it really isn't a book about drugs and alcohol and whoring it up. It's essentially a book of fun and sunshine, really. The overall feel I get from the book...is, 'You lucky bastard. You've had some life,' which I really have had."

And it's hardly over. Even as the book and holiday album come out, Stewart has nearly completed his next release -- his first new rock album since 2006's "Still The Same...Great Rock Classics of Our Time" and his first to feature original material since 2001's "Human." He's calls it "just a good, old-fashioned Rod Stewart," which he hopes to have out during the spring of 2013 with some touring to follow.

The songs just keep going...just flowing like a river," Stewart reports. "The themes are a little more adult now. There's no 'Hot Legs' or 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy.' But they're, I think, songs people can relate to.

"I'm thoroughly enjoying it. An issue which I thought had long passed and which I'd given up. songwriting, has come back. It feels great."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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