Close Encounters of the Rock Star Variety

Meeting Rod Stewart becomes both a blunder and a blast

Small Faces in Vancouver

Here’s a word to the wise: Always check your sources. There may be ulterior motives involved with what you’re told.

In 1971, I made my first visit to London. I was just a kid, but my intention was to hook up with a gal pal from back home who suggested we tour the continent together. She went over before me and sadly, by the time I arrived, she had decided to stand me up. It wasn’t that we were romantically involved, but still, I was unprepared to be left on my own.

Still, I made the best of my time there, given that I was a very young hippy boy and totally naive about all things in general. What I did have was an address for none other than Rod Stewart, which had been passed to me through a long string of references. It seemed that a friend knew a friend who had a sister who had a boyfriend who knew a woman who had been his photographer. I didn’t know anyone in this chain of connections other than my buddy, but being an ardent fan of Rod’s, I eagerly accepted the information and decided to pay Rod a visit.

The address turned out to belong to his mother, but when I showed up at her door unannounced, she couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, she was delighted to meet a fan who had ventured all the way over from the States. Bear in mind,  this was immediately prior to the release of his breakthrough hit “Maggie May.” So with her wee dog barking away at her feet, she eagerly invited me in, showed me a multitude of memorabilia — among the items, paintings and photos that adorned Rod’s early album covers — and, after a brief visit, gave me Rod’s current address. She even called ahead on my behalf to let him know I’d be coming by.  

I set out the next morning to make my way to the posh Highgate neighborhood where Rod lived. Sadly, my sense of direction failed me several times on the way. It was London after all. They drive on wrong side of the road, so I could hardly be blamed for going north when I needed to go south? Regardless, I finally found my way and I decided to stop at a phone booth to let Rod know I was only minutes away.

He picked up the phone right away.

“Hello,Mr, Stewart,” I stammered. “This is Lee, the boy you mum told you was going to visit.”

“Right,” he replied. That was it. Nothing more. No, “Come on over, I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

“Well, I’m right around the corner. I should be there in a few minutes.” Hey, at least I was giving him some warning.

“Right,” he responded, sounding very terse. This didn’t seem to be working out too well.

“Okay then. See you shortly.”

“Right.” And that was it. I hung up the phone and set out on my way.

Even though it was still early in his career, Rod had already reaped the benefits of rock stardom. After seizing he spotlight with the Jeff Beck Group, he was now working with the Faces (formerly Small Faces) and had a pair of solo albums to his credit as well. “Maggie May” would be released a few weeks later and make him an international superstar, but at this particular juncture, he was best described as simply a journeyman musician. Nevertheless, he lived in a neighborhood that was clearly home to individuals of substantial wealth, likely bankers, investors and business executives.

In a few minutes I found myself walking by his house, a respectable looking Tudor mansion with a big bay window in front. And there, sitting in that bay window, was Rod Stewart, talking on the telephone. Perhaps he was telling his security people to be on the ready.

I walked up to the front door and rang the bell. And in split second, there he was, bidding me to come in.

Fortunately, he was as gracious in person as he had been curt on the phone.

After some shyness and awkwardness on my part – after all, what could be weirder than inviting yourself over to the home of your favorite rock star – we started chatting, and he led me down to his den where he stacked some of some of records on the stereo. His girlfriend then appeared and ushered us into the kitchen where she served us breakfast. We talked some more and I mentioned a recent Faces concert I had seen, where it was rumored that bassist Ronnie Lane had been slipped some acid.

Rod nodded, but I don’t recall if he confirmed that report. But the meal was good, so I turned to his lady friend, hoping to bring her into the conversation.

“Oh, you must be ‘Crow,’” I said, referring to her by the nickname my sources told me that she would respond to.

She and Rod looked at me with a mixture of surprise and consternation. Clearly I had touched a nerve.

“Crow?” he said.

“Yes, I was told that was her nickname.”

At this point, I knew the conversation was going south very quickly. Rod was obviously upset. “They never did like her,” he replied, glancing her way. “They were always so jealous and resentful. That’s just like them, coming up with a nasty name like that.”

Suffice it to say, it was a bit awkward after that, but once the meal concluded, Rod offered to drive me to the tube/subway station for my ride back to the youth hostel where I was staying. We rode over in his Lamborghini, another early perk of his budding stardom.

We talked for a moment about the latest Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers. I remarked that I didn’t think it was as good as its predecessor, Let It Bleed.

“I think it’s bloody stupid to compare albums,” Rod remarked. There was that attitude again! And with that, we arrived at the station and he let me off. However he did invite me to a Faces show taking place at a local university — or polytechnic as the Brits referred to them — the following Saturday night.

Naturally, I took him up on his offer. When I arrived, I waited out by the curb on the side of the building for Rod’s arrival. In due time, his bandmates showed up one by one, and I was struck by the fact that they drove rather ordinary looking cars. I recall Lane driving up in a rather shabby looking green Volkswagon. Nevertheless, each pulled up to the curb, got out and walked into the building on their own. No limos. No ceremony. No pretense whatsoever.

The only one who hadn’t arrived was Rod himself, and I asked one of the musicians when they thought he would make his entrance. I was assured he would be along soon.

Indeed, a short time later he drove up, accompanied by a man who looked like he might have been his manager. Rod signaled for me to follow as he made his way into the venue’s front door, past a group of milling fans. He didn’t say a word, but I trailed him as he walked inside.

I remember that we walked up a flight of stairs that led to the stage area and from there we went into a large room which looked like it doubled as a green room. There were rows of beautiful women seated against two of the walls, and Rod and guitarist Ron Wood acted the role of dutiful gentleman attendants while serving each lady a glass of champagne in an elegant display of chivalry. It was pretty decadent but clearly impressive all the same.

The concert itself was terrific, of course, especially from my vantage point in the wings. Unfortunately the hostel where I was staying made it a policy to shut its doors at midnight, so I had to slip out before the end of the show and make my way to the tube station. I still feel the disappointment of not being able to bid farewell to my host and perhaps hang around for a post-concert celebration.

Regardless, suffice it to say this was one rock star encounter I’ll remember my whole life.

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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