https://www.bbc.com-By Mark Savage-BBC Music Correspondent
Image source, Penny Lancaster
Sir Rod has sold more than 100 million albums in his career
Live Aid was one of the defining musical moments of the 1980s.
The gargantuan charity concert, held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia in July 1985, raised more than $127m ($326m in today’s money) for famine relief in Africa.
A who’s who of rock music, the 16-hour show included performances from Queen, Madonna, Bob Dylan, George Michael, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Paul Simon.
But Sir Rod Stewart was conspicuously absent, even though he’d recently scored a major transatlantic hit with Some Guys Have All The Luck.
For years, the story has gone that he couldn’t get a band together in time for the show (even though he’d wrapped up a world tour just three months earlier). But the star has recently discovered the real reason he was left off the bill.
“We actually were supposed to do it,” he tells the BBC, “but a few guys in the band told me that our ex-manager turned it down because I wasn’t getting the right news coverage.
“He only wanted me to do it if I got on the CBS news at 10 o’clock. He said, ‘If not, he’s not doing it.’
“And that’s not what it was all about. It was to raise money for kids. It wasn’t about what news channel you were going to be on in America.
“I only just found this out,” says the star. “I thought it was weird that I didn’t do it.”
Sir Rod is speaking to the BBC as he releases his 31st studio album, The Tears Of Hercules, the follow-up to his platinum-selling, Christmas number one record You’re In My Heart.
Written with his longtime band member Kevin Savigar, it’s an eclectic record that attempts to balance the 76-year-old’s rascally youth with his older, more sentimental side.
It opens with a suite of libidinous love songs – One More Time, Gabriella and Kookooaramabama. The latter is as dopey as the title suggests – a risible celebration of carnal love in which the star declares: “Sex is cool and sex is nice/ Sex will lead you to paradise / I love it.”
Things improve on the touching love song I Can’t Imagine, dedicated to his wife Penny Lancaster, and the closing track Touchline, which fondly remembers his father through their shared love of football.
Sir Rod called the BBC to discuss the stories behind those songs, the 1970s hit he got bored of playing, and the rumour that he styles his hair with mayonnaise.
Hello Sir Rod, how are you?
Jolly good, mate, and you?
I’m really well, thanks. Whereabouts are you today?
I’m at home in Essex and looking across my wonderful lawns and enjoying life absolutely.
Do you cut those lawns yourself?
Bugger off! No, I have three or four gardeners. It’s a massive property.
You wrote a lot of the album at home during lockdown. What was that like?
I think the lockdown gave me the opportunity to really zero in and get personal with the tracks. But I was very fortunate – lockdown was a lot easier on me than it was for families who had three or four kids in two rooms in a high rise. Yes, we had our moments of tears but, by and large, we got through it pretty easily.
And I also had time to take care of some medical problems. I had a knee replacement in my right knee, which has been giving me gyp for the last six years. So I’m very sprightly now. It’s the best thing I ever did.
You’ve just done some gigs in Las Vegas. Were you able to move around the stage more than you could before?
Oh God, it was like I was in my 20s. Just unbelievable. Before, I had trouble running because of the pain of the bone [grinding]. It was only the adrenaline that was getting me through shows – and some anti-inflammatories. Now I don’t need any pills whatsoever. It’s just a second lease of life.
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One of my favourite songs on the new album is I Can’t Imagine – which you wrote for Penny, right?
I did indeed. We’ve been together 23 years now. It’s amazing.
She’s recently trained as a special constable. How is that going?
She absolutely loves the police work. She did eight months-worth of studying and physical exercise, and I supported her all the way.
Now she works Thursday nights, and she goes around Tower Bridge and that side of the city, so she’s fairly safe. Then she’ll call me when she’s done and I send a driver to pick her up.
When she says she’s on the way home, I can go to bed. Otherwise I don’t sleep, obviously. But she could be in the station until two o’clock in the morning because if something happens, she has to fill in all the forms. But she’s loving it.
The song Born to Boogie is an affectionate tribute to Marc Bolan. What are your memories of him?
We were drinking buddies and we had a lot of things in common. We all liked the same blues artists and we all shopped at the same place – Granny Takes a Trip on the King’s Road – so we’d bump into each other a lot.
We were on a festival with him, called the Weeley Festival, in 1971. It was one of the first gigs for (Rod’s former band) The Faces and we wiped the floor with him. And he was brave enough to come in and say, “Guys, I can’t follow you. You were that good”. I was very impressed with that. I hope his fan club love this song.
If the tables were turned, who would you want to sing a Rod Stewart tribute song?
Paolo Nutini would be good. He’s a Celtic boy, so he’d cover it well. But he’s gonna have to wait. I’m not gonna knock it on the head just yet.
You can’t imagine doing a farewell tour like Elton John?
Naaaaah, I don’t do farewell tours!
But in the song All My Days, you talk about retiring to Mexico.
That’s all dream stuff, not to be taken seriously, buy there are countries I’d like to go to – North Africa, Libya, Egypt. I’d like to see that part of the world.
What’s the attraction of those places?
Maybe World War Two? I’m a World War Two fanatic because I was born in 1945, when it was just over, and I’d hear such wonderful stories from my brothers and my mum and dad and my sister. So I’d like to go to El-Alamein. Casablanca, place like that.
I’m sure everybody is asking you about the song Kookooaramabama. Where does that term come from?
We were in the studio and we’d laid down the track, and I had the [backing singers] in there and I just started singing it: “Kookooaramabama!” It just was so rhythmic and catchy – and that’s the wonder of making music. Suddenly you think of this idea, and you can go and do it.
The song is an ode to the joys of sex, which is something you’ve never been shy about talking about in your music.
There’s a few sexy tracks on the album, you know? One More Time is about when you break up and you say, “Oh come on, let’s have one more shag,” although I’ve never done that myself.
And the second track [Gabriella] is about a girl who decides to give up her virginity and goes out to choose the right guy. They’re all sexy tracks.
If it’s not a rude question, what is your libido like now you’re in your 70s?
[Laughing] You just mind your own business! It’s okay – but I’m not going to tell you any more than that!
Artists like yourself and Madonna and Prince used to sing about sex all the time – but it seems less common now. Why do you think that is?
We live in a different world to when I was rampant. There was no pornography – all we had was Penthouse and Playboy – so I think the romance has gone out of it somehow.
I would always put women first. Women were more important to me than my mates. My 15-year-old son is totally opposite. If a girl hangs around, within about 20 minutes, he’s like, “Well, I want to go out with my mates instead.” So that has definitely changed, because I was never like that.
Why do you think that is?
No idea, my friend. But I’ve got a 10-year-old, too, and he got engaged last year to a girl at school. He made her a paper ring, cheeky little sod.
The album has a lot of tender songs about your children and your parents. You’re clearly a family man at heart.
Very much so, although my eight children are all scattered. I’ve got two in Los Angeles, I’ve got one in Texas, I’ve got one up in Milton Keynes playing hockey, I’ve got two living with me here, and I’ve got my 58-year-old daughter, Sarah, who’s down on the south coast.
Will you spend Christmas together?
Virtually impossible. The tradition is that I spend Christmas Day with their mums and then we all get together in Florida for New Year’s Eve and my birthday. But they’ve all got their own careers and schedules so if it happens, I’ll be over the moon.
Two years ago, your Christmas present was to have the number one album in the UK – beating Harry Styles and Stormzy. Are you hoping for that again?
No chance this year! Not with Adele, Abba and Ed Sheeran releasing albums. I’ll be happy if this one gets to the top five…. Actually, no I won’t. I want it at number one!
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You’re heading out on tour again next year… Do you know which song you’ve played the most in your career?
Oh, that would be Maggie May without a doubt. That never gets dropped.
Correct! But what about the top five?
It would probably be Tonight’s The Night, Do You Think I’m Sexy, Some Guys Have All The Luck, Forever Young…
That’s close, but You’re In My Heart actually comes third.
Does it really? You know this to be a fact?
That’s according to a website called setlist.fm, that keeps track of all your concerts. They reckon you’ve played Maggie May 1,500 times in total.
Wow. 1,500 times? I’ll have to have a look at that.
Do you ever get sick of a song on the 1,500th attempt?
No, because you get a different reaction every night. The only one I used to get tired of was Do You Think I’m Sexy. That song was like having a pink toilet seat hung around your neck. But it’s part of that whole disco era, so I don’t mind doing it, really.
Before I go, I have to ask one thing. Steve Marriott of The Small Faces once claimed you achieved your famous hairdo by massaging mayonnaise into your scalp, then rubbing it with a towel. Please tell me that isn’t true.
No, that’s a load of bollocks. Absolutely not true. The only thing I used to use when I first started getting this ‘bouffant’, as they call it in France, was warm water and sugar. So no, I’ve never used mayonnaise. That’s ridiculous. Can you imagine the smell?