By Kristine McKenzie
Rod Stewart has been entertaining fans with his raspy voice and rocking music for more than 40 years. He got his first big break singing and writing songs with The Jeff Beck Group in the late ’60s. Guitarist Ron Wood and Stewart then joined the band Faces and scored a Top 40 hit in the U.S. with “Stay With Me.”
Stewart embarked on a solo career and in 1971 released the album “Every Picture Tells a Story.” The B-side of the song “Reason to Believe,” “Maggie May,” hit No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. and skyrocketed Stewart to stardom. The song eventually was named to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
A string of hits followed for Stewart over the next several years including “Tonight’s the Night,” “You’re In My Heart,” “Hot Legs” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
He stayed steadily on the charts throughout the ’80s with songs like “Tonight I’m Yours,” “Young Turks,” “Infatuation” and “Baby Jane.” In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, presented by Jeff Beck.
By 2002, Stewart changed course dramatically and concentrated on singing 1930s and 1940s pop standards for “It Had to be You… The Great American Songbook,” written by songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwin, with great popular success. He released a second successful album in the series, “As Time Goes By…The Great American Songbook 2.”
In late 2004, “Stardust…The Great American Songbook 3” was released, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. charts and earning Stewart his first Grammy Award. “Thanks for the Memory…The Great American Songbook 4” included duets with Diana Ross and Elton John.
In late 2006, Stewart made his return to rock music with the release of “Still the Same… Great Rock Classics of Our Time, “an album featuring rock standards from the last four decades.
Stewart turned back to the music that first inspired him to sing for 2009’s “Soulbook ,” an album featuring songs by the likes of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.
Stewart signed on for a two-year residency at Caesars Palace this year with his show “Rod Stewart: The Hits.” The production showcases all of the popular songs his fans want to hear, a few covers and some surprises, presented with a live band, back-up singers and visual effects on the Colosseum’s massive video screen.
VEGAS.com recently had the chance to talk to Stewart about his show in Las Vegas and his plans for the future.
Q: How is your show at Caesars Palace different than your touring show?
“After playing huge arenas all my life it’s truly a luxury to play Caesars Salad, as I fondly call it. The sound in the Colosseum is second to none and there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. It’s an intimate, rock’n’roll show from start to finish.”
Q: Did you have to adapt it at all to fit the Colosseum stage?
” No, we built the show for that stage. And with enough lights to fill a stadium.”
Q: The Colosseum is a much more intimate venue compared to the big arenas you usually play in. Do you like that aspect of being closer to your fans?
“I love it. On Fridays and Saturdays the crowds are usually drinking so sometimes a few of them even end up on stage with me.”
Q: Are Las Vegas audiences different than other audiences?
“They’ve come from all over the world so I really try and give it my all, especially for the mid-week crowd, which sometimes takes a little more to get going. But they can also surprise me– sometimes a Wednesday night audience is my best of the week so you don’t ever really know what to expect. My job is the same each night though, to make them leave feeling like they’ve just been at a great party at my house.”
Q: You’ve had so many hits over the years – how do you choose which ones to include in your show and do you ever change the songs from night to night? Do you have any favorites that you always have to include?
“This show is 90 percent hits, the ones that made me famous. It’s the songs the fans love and I love to sing. You can pretty much always count on ‘Maggie May,’ ‘Sexy’ and ‘Hot Legs.’ We’ve tried to put in some of the standards but it slows down the show too much. For Vegas, we have added a cool unplugged section and dug out some special rarities that the fans don’t often get to hear live like ‘The Ballad of Georgie’ and ‘Broken Arrow.'”
Q: Caesars has brought in a lot of big name entertainers for long-term residencies like Celine Dion and Elton John. Why is it appealing for performers to do a long-term engagement here and why did you decide to do it?
“It’s a great showroom first off – for the fans and for us. And it’s about the only place where fans from around the world all love to come. Plus for me it’s an hour flight from home so I can actually eat dinner with the family, spend a couple hours on stage with the fans, and be home again by night’s end and sleeping in my own bed. It’s the perfect fit for me right now.”
Q: Do you remember the first time you ever played in Vegas?
“Oh yes, it was with the Faces in 1972 and it took an interview with Mike Weatherford in Las Vegas and an old press clip but the memories of Lear jets and playmates have returned. Elvis was even performing next door, I’m told. ”
Q: Do you ever have a chance to do anything fun when you’re in town?
“For me, the best fun is being up on stage. I can’t wait to get out there every night. There are also some great restaurants, when I get the chance.”
Q: You have children at home and you just became a grandfather yet you definitely don’t hold anything back in your show. Where do you get your energy?
“I keep fit, performing, working out and playing football but it also comes from a passion for doing what I love to do. I still feel that spark every time.”
Q: I read recently that you have been writing some original music, which you haven’t done in awhile. What inspired you to do that?
“Life! Writing is such a personal thing and I suppose it has a good deal to do with getting older and not being afraid to bare the soul.”
Q: You’ve collaborated with a lot of great musicians on some of your records. Is there any artist that you haven’t worked with yet that you really want to?
“Well of course the greats like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Muddy Waters would have been my dream but unfortunately they’re on the wrong side of the daisies. But yes, there are a number of young new talents that I’d love to try a collaboration with.”
Q: You recently announced that you’re writing a memoir – what persuaded you to do that? I imagine you’ve got some great stories to tell.
“Yes, there have been many offers but I’ve never been interested in giving the fans froth or vanity so I waited until the timing felt right. That’s what the fans deserve and that’s what I intend to give them. Like I’ve joked – forget skeletons in the closet, I’m going for knickers under the bed with this one.”