Backstage in South Florida: At Home With Rod Stewart
Rod Stewart: This one's for an American bloke
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: Lee hops across the pond and invites himself to breakfast at Rod Stewart's.
During the summer of 1971, I traveled overseas on my own, landing in London with plans to eventually hook up with a female friend from home. She never showed up, so I was left to explore the city on my own. I was just a kid, but being an avowed music junkie, I was determined to soak up as many sounds as possible. I caught one of the earliest concerts held in Hyde Park, which was headlined by Grand Funk Railroad with special guests Humble Pie. (The Rolling Stones and Blind Faith had pioneered the venue two successive summers earlier.) I somehow also gained entry to London's Speakeasy, an exclusive rock star hangout, and although I didn't see anyone special during that visit, I did witness a spectacular set by a jazz-rock band called If.
My biggest ace in the hole was an address furnished by a friend of a friend of a friend who happened to be Rod Stewart's New York photographer. Determined to meet him and wholly oblivious to the fact that it's awkward to simply show up on someone's doorstep, I duly set off in search of his abode. I eventually ended up at a modest row house where the kindly little old lady who answered the door -- with her yapping little dog in tow -- turned out to be none other than Rod's mum. Unaccustomed to Americans coming around in search of her son, she was nevertheless thoroughly delighted that I had come so far to offer homage.
This was, after all, prior to the success of "Maggie May," which had only recently been released in the States, and Rod's U.S. popularity was still limited to little more than the cult following he had accumulated as singer with the Jeff Beck Group and, more recently, as part of the Faces. Once she invited me in, I was treated to what amounted to be a veritable Stewart shrine. There were photos everywhere of Rod posing with his buddy, guitarist Ron Wood, and presiding over it all was a giant oil painting showing a sprawled-out Rod, resplendent in his red suit -- the same pose captured in a photo that graced the back cover of his second album, Gasoline Alley. Needless to say, my eyes were glazed over in awe.
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Mrs. Stewart was more than willing to share her son's address, which was situated in the London neighborhood known as Highgate, and then handed me his home phone number, kindly calling ahead to his housekeeper to let him know of my impending visit. The next day, I set off early, and after various delays caused by my propensity for always moving in the opposite direction (an unfortunate habit I couldn't shake), I found myself around the corner from Stewart's manse. I rang up the number I had been given and found myself on the opposite end of the line from Rod himself. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Hello, Mr. Stewart. This is Lee Zimmerman, the American referred to you by your mother.
Rod: (coolly) OK.
Me: Well, I think I'm only a couple of minutes away. Would it be all right if I stopped by?
Rod: (coolly) OK.
Me: Well, then, I'll see you shortly. I look forward to meeting you!
Rod: (even more coolly) OK.
It wasn't the most promising exchange, and in fact, I was beginning to think I was intruding. I walked down a street lined by one impressive mansion after another and actually passed the house I was searching for before realizing I had gone too far. But on doubling back, I spied Stewart himself sitting in the bay window and chatting on the phone. I nervously rang the door, and he quickly answered. Happily, he was both warm and friendly, a stark contrast to the dryly distant individual I had encountered on the opposite end of the phone.
We spent some time in his den listening to records and chatting about music before his girlfriend called us into the kitchen for a breakfast of soft boiled eggs. "You must be Crow," I remarked, referring to the nickname I had been told was her nom de plume. A look of disgust crossed Stewart's face, and I immediately realized that the tag was meant in a decidedly derogatory sort of way. "Who called her Crow?!" he demanded. Sensing there was some nasty history being bandied about, I quickly disavowed any knowledge of the offending name's origins.
Fortunately, Stewart didn't hold me personally responsible for slinging that handle, and after breakfast he drove me to the train station in his Lamborghini and graciously invited me to be his guest at a Faces gig taking place at a local college the following weekend.
Without hesitation, I gratefully accepted and so I went to the venue on the evening of the concert and awaited my host. As I was doing so, I witnessed the arrival of the various band members, all of whom drove up individually and unceremoniously, parking their own cars and walking into the venue one by one. I was struck at how ordinary it all seemed, right down to their shabby-looking older automobiles. I lingered and spoke with them briefly, marveling at bassist Ronnie Lane's lime-green suit, the only real hint of any rock star regalia.
As befitting his star status, Stewart was the last to arrive, accompanied by a man I presumed to be either a handler or his manager. Rod recognized me but said nothing, motioning for me to follow him inside. I was surprised that he entered from the front, right along with the fans. He motioned to the ticket taker that I was with him, and I trailed him upstairs to a large waiting room. It was there that Ron Wood had set up a reception area to accommodate a number of beautiful women who had taken their places in a row of chairs that lined the walls. Once Stewart arrived, he and Woody happily served glasses of wine, making grandiose gestures and acting the role of gallant gentlemen out to impress their female admirers.
The concert itself was fantastic, a perfect example of the Faces at their most entertaining and energetic, especially as viewed from my backstage vantage point. Sadly, I had to leave prior to the final encore to catch the tube back to the youth hostel where I was staying. I still curse the fact that the London underground never operated after midnight!
Consequently, I never had the opportunity to thank Rod for his hospitality, although my mother told me that when she chanced to meet him in a New York hotel elevator some years later, he claimed that he recalled our encounter. Whether he was simply being polite to boost the ego of her boy or actually remembered, I'll likely never know.
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