LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - It’s easy to forget, but Rod Stewart used to be a big songwriter. In the 1970s, the British rocker wrote, or co-wrote, such hits as “Maggie May,” “You’re in My Heart” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
His last big original tune was 1988’s “Forever Young,” for which Bob Dylan received a credit. Stewart moved even further away from his rock roots in the past decade by successfully reworking standards by the likes of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael.
So some eyebrows were raised when Stewart recently received a lifetime award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. Recent recipients have included Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.
Q. Few people describe you as a singer/songwriter. They’re more likely to consider you an interpreter of songs or simply a pop star.
A. “I agree with you. I never saw myself a songwriter either. Then I look back on the catalog and there’s been some big songs in there. But it was always a struggle for me, writing songs, almost like being at school. I’d be locked in a room. ‘Don’t make any noise, Daddy is writing a song.’ But this is lovely to get recognized and maybe it’ll give me a push up the bum to start writing again.”
Q. I realize that the songs you wrote are like your babies and none is more special than the other. But is there a song that maybe right now catches your fancy?
A. “If I was to say one song I was really proud of it would be “The Killing of Georgie” because it dealt with a very difficult subject (homophobia) in 1976, which is a long time ago.”
Q. What is the songwriting process? Are you locked up in a room and forced to write lyrics on a piece of paper?
A. “It usually goes the other way round. The guitar player will start strumming and I’ll go (makes babbling sound) and words will appear. It’s very unorthodox. I don’t know if everybody writes like this. I never sit down with a pad and try and write something before I go in the studio. Invariably the song is finished and I’ll put the bits and pieces in the jigsaw.”
Q. When you do get inspired, do you have a notebook to write stuff down?
A. “If I was in that mode, yeah. I usually keep a little tape machine by the side of my bed. But usually the titles come first. Good title, and you think, that’s the hook.”
Q. You’re an heir of sorts to Sam Cooke. But you never covered any of his gospel stuff from the Soul Stirrers. Is that something you’d be interested in?
A. “I always find when I do a Sam Cooke song, I’m a poor imitation of him. I just hear myself trying to sound like Sam Cooke. It’s a waste of time. I’ll never do a Sam Cooke song again. There’s honesty for you!”
Q. You’ve also covered a lot of Bob Dylan tunes (“Girl from the North Country,” “If Not For You”). Has he ever phoned or written to say, thanks a lot?
A. “Nah, it don’t work like that in the business! I wish it did. It would be lovely.”
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)
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