Hercules, Rod Stewart and Me

Roddy’s new album rekindles a memory of one exceptional adventure

Rod Stewart on the cover of The Tears of Hercules (Image: Rhino)

I look forward to any new release from Rod Stewart with a huge amount of  anticipation.

Like most fans, I have hopes that he’ll somehow manage to reclaim his former glories. No small leap of faith considering his early triumphs with the Faces and seminal solo albums, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells a Story, Atlantic Crossing and Out of Order have given way to his decidedly dismal output in recent years.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

I have another reason for retaining a greater degree of optimism, one that goes beyond any combination of nostalgia and idle possibility. Before I go into that backstory, let me just say that Roddy’s new album, The Tears of Hercules, provides the possibility that Stewart just may have come within a tousled hair of recapturing his muse. Sure, it has its share of silliness — “Kookooaramabama” is an ode to sexual satisfaction that only succeeds in making its 76-year old singer sound like a horny old man, and his remake of “Some Kind of Wonderful” is useless and needless as well. As for his homage to Marc Bolan, “Born To Boogie,” well, suffice it to say, it does nothing to enact the late rocker’s legacy.

Fortunately, there are plenty of redeeming songs that, as Rod himself insists in the sleeve notes, makes this “by far my best album in many a year.” It certainly shines a light of what he does best, that is, singing a touching torch ballad with all the grace and conviction it deserves. “Touchline,” “These Are My People,” “Precious Memories,” and “The Tears of of Hercules” more than justify the pronouncement that indeed, in that arena anyway, Rod is still in peak form. The Tears of Hercules may not be a great album in the classic sense, but it sure as hell is one he can still stake his reputation on. 

 

 

So having laid to the premise for my personal connection, I’ll share my backstory of how I got to meet Mr. Stewart and share an amazing encounter that will stay with me my entire life. 

Of course, the backstory is always essential to any narrative and mine goes like this: The year was 1971, and I was planning my first trip to Europe with an extended stay in London being my first stop. I was a kid, still in college, and I was to meet up with a lady friend while there. (That didn’t happen, but that’s another story entirely.) Anyhow,  I mentioned my upcoming trip to a friend of mine whose dad was in the music biz, and as it turned out, he knew a person who was related to a person who was friends with Rod Stewart’s hairdresser. It seemed like a tangled trajectory, but regardless, I was given an address that was said to be Rod’s.

Once in London, I seemed to be making a habit of going in the opposite direction originally intended. Likewise, being the kid that I was at the time, I had no idea about decorum. So one morning, without offering any advance warning, I somehow made my way to the address I had been handed. As it turned out, it was his mum’s flat. And when she opened the door, accompanied by her little happy dog, she was actually delighted that a fan had come all the way from the U.S.A. to meet her talented son. 

Of course, Rod had seen success in the States, primarily with the Faces. However the release of “Maggie May” was still a few weeks away, so his solo stardom had yet to be secured. She invited me in and escorted me to what seemed to be a Stewart shrine. There was a huge life-sized painting of the back cover that had adorned Gasoline Alley and lots of photos of Rod and his pal Ron Wood. Naturally, Rod no longer lived there, but his mother was kind enough to call his house and inform the person that answered the phone that I would be visiting the next day. She also gave me the phone number so that I could call when I was nearby.

The next day, I duly set off on my mission, taking a bus to within blocks of his home in Highgate. Even at that point in his career, Rod appeared to be doing well. Highgate was a neighborhood favored by bankers and other people of wealth. When I was within a couple of blocks of his house, I rang him up to give him fair warning I would soon be arriving.

Rod answered the phone. “Yes?”

Me: Hello, Mr. Stewart, I’m Lee, the fellow your mother told you about.

Stewart: Yes.

Me: Well, I’m on my way over and I should be there shortly.

Stewart: Yes.

Me: Okay, see you soon.

Stewart: Yes.

It didn’t exactly sound like a welcoming reception and, naturally, I didn’t feel all that at ease. Nevertheless I began my trek down the block towards his home. True to form, I passed it once before realizing I had to double back. But there, sure enough, was Rod Stewart sitting in a front bay window speaking on the phone. Gathering my nerve, I rang the front door.

To my surprise, he was totally gracious and invited me in. We sat for a bit in his record room and talked about music until his girlfriend summoned us for breakfast. “You must be Crow,” I said to her, recalling the name I had been given.

That didn’t please Mr. Stewart at all. “Crow?” He muttered, obviously annoyed. “They never did like her!”

Oops!

I quickly changed the subject, mentioning a Faces concert I attended where bass player Ronnie Lane had allegedly been given some acid without his knowledge. Rod confirmed that fact, and the conversation continued without incident.

After our meal, Rod drove me to the train station in his Lamborghini, quite the luxury automobile and further proof that he seemed to be doing quite well for himself at this point. He played a tape of the then-recently released album Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. I mentioned that I wasn’t as enamored with it as I had been with Let It Bleed.

“I think it’s bloody stupid to compare albums,” Rod replied, to which I was obligated to agree.

Apparently and happily, he didn’t hold any of my beef against me. He invited me to be his guest at a Faces concert at a local polytechnic (kind of English junior college) the following Saturday and I eagerly accepted.

I arrived early and parked myself on the sidewalk outside the venue while awaiting for the band to arrive. (It still amazes me that I was able to find my way around.) Each member arrived separately, driving themselves separately in their own cars. Ronnie Lane drove an old VW bug, which I found to be a decided contrast to Mr. Stewart’s luxury transport. I asked keyboard player Ian McLagan about Rod’s whereabouts and he surmised he should be along shortly. 

 

VIDEO: The Faces Live 1972

As it turned out, Stewart was the last to arrive and when he did, he was accompanied by an official-looking gentleman who was likely his handler. Rod didn’t say a thing, but beckoned me to follow him as he slid in through the front entrance with the audience and attendees. We then went up a narrow staircase to a room that was literally lined with beautiful women where Rod and Ron Wood acted as the perfect gentlemen hosts, graciously serving each of the ladies a glass of wine and bowing nobly while doing so. 

Wow, I thought. This was indeed the epitome of the rock star existence.

I watched from the wings as the Faces played a spectacular performance, but sadly, I had to make my exit early to catch a train back to the youth hostel where I was staying due to the fact that they closed their doors early. I hated having to do so, especially because I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to my host. Had I chance to do it over, I probably would have foregone spending the night in the hostel in the hopes of partying with Rod and the lads. It was indeed my one regret.

Many years later, my mother met Rod by chance in an elevator in a Manhattan hotel and reminded him of our visit. He said he remembered our meeting, but whether he actually did, or if he was simply being polite, I really don’t know. But I do hope that one day I’ll meet him again and mention it to him in person.

And if you’re reading this, Rod, thank you for an amazing encounter. 

 

VIDEO: Carpool Karaoke with Rod Stewart and A$AP Rocky

 

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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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