The son of a Scottish plumber and raised in North London, Rod Stewart was obsessed with two things: football and R&B. Discovered by singer Long John Baldry on a train platform playing “Smokestack Lightining” on the harmonica, Stewart went on to front the Jeff Beck Group and Faces and launched a successful solo career with hits like “Maggie May.” With genial wit and entertaining energy, Stewart writes about how he seduced women with Ronnie Wood and how the rumor of him “orally servicing a gang of sailors” started.
‘Events Most Grave’
In 1963, Stewart met an art student named Susannah Boffey. The two of them were 18, and Boffey, to their surprise, got pregnant, “and certainly not in bed,” Stewart said. Abortion was illegal until 1967, and anyway neither of them ever suggested it, and she decided to give the baby up for adoption. He never saw the girl who became Sarah Streeter.
Meeting Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck
Stewart had been singing clubs in the London scene for a few years when in 1966 he saw a guitarist who recently flew in from the U.S. play. He was Jimi Hendrix. The next year, in the same club, the Cromwellian, he would meet another shredder, Jeff Beck. Stewart recalled that the first conversation started like this: “Me: ‘Are you a taxi driver? Him: ‘No, I’m a guitarist. Are you a bouncer?’ Me: ‘No, I’m a singer.’” Beck, who was considered as hot or hotter than Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, had left the Yardbirds to start his own group. Stewart joined him, and the band took off.
Meeting Janis Joplin
Stewart first toured the U.S. with the Jeff Beck Group in 1968. There he met Janis Joplin, who was by “no means a shy or retiring kind of woman” and “was always chasing us around the place, trying to shag one or the other of us, though without success. We were terrified of her.”
Womanizing With Ronnie Wood
His best friend at the time was the guitarist of the group, Ronnie Wood, who’d go on to be a member of the Rolling Stones. The two of them would seduce groupies, but they had to share a hotel room. So they built a wall between the beds with suitcases and furniture. “But then, in the dark, behind the screen, going about our fumbly business, the schoolboy gene would kick in and Woody would make a ridiculous noise, and I would make an even more ridiculous noise, and then an escalating ‘ridiculous noise’ war would break out, culminating, frequently, in one or the other of us knocking down the barrier and burying the adjacent couple in a mound of luggage and chair legs. The extent to which our companions for the night found this as amusing as we did tended, I suppose, to vary. Frankly, in retrospect, to be a groupie attached to me or Woody on those nights, you would have needed the patience of a saint. Very often we got more pleasure out of each other than we did out of the girls.”
In 1969, Beck fired Wood for “complaining too much,” and soon Stewart followed his friend to join a new band called Faces. “I hadn’t touched cocaine before the Faces, but on tour it became freely available. Mac (Ian McLagan, the keyboard player) had a fake carnation in his buttonhole, which he’d sprinkle with cocaine before a show, thus enabling him to inhale a reviving draught of powder during the performance.” Faces were “bloody awful” some nights, Stewart said. “To give us the necessary courage to go on, slightly under-rehearsed, we used alcohol. We were the first band to have a bar on stage.”
In 1971, Stewart struck out on his own with the solo album Every Picture Tells a Story. On it was a little song called “Maggie May.” “Maggie May was a nice enough song but it went on a bit: I even wondered about leaving it off the album. Good thing I didn’t.” The single shot to No. 1 on the charts in Britain and in the U.S., as did the album, a feat that Stewart said not even Elvis and the Beatles could do.
Friendship With Elton John and Freddie Mercury
In the early 1970s, Stewart lived down the street from Elton John, and the two became best of friends. They called each other Phyllis and Sharon, or just “Dear.” “Whether it was drink or cocaine, he could see me right under the table every time. One night at his house, we were applying ourselves to the medicinal powders and it got to six in the morning, at which point I tendered a short letter of resignation,” Stewart wrote. He felt like he “had been run over from a number of different directions by a number of different traction engines,” found a bed to sleep in, but four hours later his friend was thumping at the door, “bright of cheek and white of smile,” telling him they’ve got a football match to go see. Stewart even wanted to form a supergroup with John and Freddie Mercury, whom they liked very much also. “The name we had in mind was Nose, Teeth & Hair, a tribute to each of our remarked-upon physical attributes. The general idea was that we could appear dressed like the Beverley Sisters. Somehow this project never came to anything.”
Ever since the 1980s, a vicious rumor has been circulating that Stewart had to have his stomach pumped for performing oral sex on a group of sailors. Stewart says the man who started the lie was Tony Toon, his late assistant and publicist, who Stewart said was a great publicist because he made so much stuff up. By 1982, Stewart was married to actress Alana Hamilton, ex-wife of actor George Hamilton. They went on vacation in Hawaii, and Toon came along. The hotel was overbooked, so Toon and Alana’s son Ashley, who was 7, shared a room. “Toon, of course, couldn’t resist pulling some bloke in the bar that evening and taking him back to the room. I fired him in the morning. Toon’s revenge was absolutely inspired. He fed the press a story in which, as a consequence of an evening spent orally servicing a gang of sailors in a gay bar in San Diego, I had been required to check into a hospital emergency room to have my stomach pumped ... I have never orally pleasured even a solitary sailor, let alone a ship’s worth in one evening. And I have never had my stomach pumped, either of naval-issue semen or of any other kind of semen. With minor variations ... this story has stayed with me ever since. Say what you like about Tony Toon—and God rest his soul—but he was good at his job.”
“The general idea was that we could appear dressed like the Beverley Sisters. Somehow this project never came to anything.”
Meeting Rachel Hunter
In the summer of 1990, six years after divorcing Hamilton, Stewart found himself addicted to a commercial for a fitness video that starred the model Rachel Hunter. So when Stewart ran into her at the Roxbury Club one Saturday night, what did he do? Instead of using his usual icebreaker, “Hello darlin’—what you got in that handbag?” he actually mimed one of the exercises she’d done on the video. “Rachel attempted a sympathetic smile as a cold wind whistled and a ball of tumbleweed blew through the club. Still, at least she didn’t turn away.” The two soon married—she was 21; he was 45. They had two children, but separated in 1999.
The separation with Hunter left Stewart emotionally broken. “I tried therapy. This had never appealed to me. For me, it was a bit like a Chinese meal: very filling at the time, but then an hour later you’re hungry again. Plus, of course, I’m British: we don’t do therapy. We do strong cups of tea, a couple of ginger nuts and a stiff upper lip.” He’s now married to model Penny Lancaster.
“As I was attempting to master a beginner’s level ‘balancing table’ position, I fell over into the fireplace. Surely if God had meant us to do yoga, he would have put our heads behind our knees.”