When the billboard in front of Caesars Palace says “THE HITS,” you know Rod Stewart is back in Vegas. He’s 50 years into a career that has spawned such a long list of top songs that even he can barely remember them all … until the audience sings along. They know all the words and the moves.
Rod’s trademark hair is always spiky, his costumes glitter in the spotlight, and he’s as flirty as ever. He flashes a big grin when he asks the question, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” The answer comes in a wave of cheers and whistles. No wonder he can’t think of a future without a crowd to please.
Jeanne Wolf: You are just FUN on stage. Are you having as good a time as it seems?
Rod Stewart: I have been doing it a long time, but it still doesn’t lose its magic or its freshness, especially going out and performing live. I may be doing the same songs, but it’s different faces every night, quite a few young ones I might add. I get them to sing along. You go out there and make a few hundred or a few thousand people happy. That’s all I do. I’m so lucky. And it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.
I’m a bit wiped out after a show because I only know how to give a hundred and ten percent. And remember, it’s not like it used to be where you got up and performed for an hour. You’ve got to do at least two hours now. Obviously at 77, I don’t have the energy that I had when I was 26, but I’m still pretty good. At Vegas I keep an exercise bike in my dressing room, and I work out. It’s important to keep your legs strong. That’s what my father told me. I always compare it to football, which I’ve played all my life. It’s an ugly game if you’re not fit and everyone’s running past you. But if you’re keeping up, it’s beautiful.
I concentrate on my voice now, so I protect it. I could never live like I did starting out when there was a lot of drinking and lovely ladies. It’s funny because early in my career I got turned down by some execs in a big record company who thought my voice was too rough and raspy. A few other guys came into the studio after me. They were all like really pretty boys. But they couldn’t sing. So, I had the last laugh because I got a contract. In the early days it was all about throwing the microphone about and showing my ass and dressing up in some pretty wild outfits. Now I want people to listen. I usually warm up for three or four takes, then I’ll have a little rum and Coke, and I’m in the mood immediately. I’m easy to please.
JW: I understand you’ve been making music since you were a boy.
RS: I certainly didn’t hear, “You’ll never make it Rod,” from my family. I remember when I was 14, I wanted a model train for Christmas and my Dad gave me a guitar instead. He didn’t say why. And I just learned to play. I come from a family of singers. None of them were professional, but they all thought they could sing. We used to have parties when I was just a tiny kid, and all the relatives would come over. It would turn into a big singalong, and there was a little getting drunk and falling down. I was surrounded by music, but I was the one that was very lucky about making it a career. My big brother always thought he was a better singer than me.
When you’re young and starting out, you’ve got to have a commitment, a burning desire to succeed. You shouldn’t be in the music business if you’re just posing. There’s a lot of posing going on nowadays among young performers instead of gettin’ down to the hard stuff and writing songs. Doing a song that comes from your heart is the best part.
I was really shy as a kid and I still basically am, believe it or not. I don’t walk into a room full of people one hundred percent comfortable. I’m not that confident. I don’t think a lot of people in show business are. I think under all of it they think, “Jesus, I’m lucky. Is anybody gonna take this away from me?” The funny part is [that] going up on stage in front of thousands is easy for me, but sometimes I can be nervous going into a restaurant. Don’t ask me to explain it. I just am.
JW: You seem to look back on all the ups and downs with more grins than regrets.
RS: I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but as you get older you hopefully have learned from them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned and tried to pass on to my kids, it’s to listen. Listen to the other person, especially women. Honesty is very important too. But listening, listening to the other side of the story first, ranks right up there. I try to give advice and some people listen, some people don’t, especially in the music business. They already think they know it all.
I had thyroid cancer. Had it diagnosed one day, the next I was in hospital, and they got it in time. I was extremely lucky. But I lost my voice for a few months and that was really tough. I’m not always the most optimistic person in the world. There’s a downside to me. I get “me” moments like anybody else does.
Retirement is not a lovely word to me. I know that I’m lucky to love what I do. As long as I enjoy it and people are coming out in droves to the shows, then I will go on. When I first got into the business, I thought, “I’ll be happy if this lasts a couple of months.” I don’t know what the secret is to still being here. I have a ton of songs, and some very loyal fans. As long as people still want to hear them, I’m going to be there.
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