[Fox News] Rod Stewart embraces swing, country music as rock legend reinvents himself at 79

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Rod Stewart is reinventing himself at age 79 with forays into new musical genres.

The rock legend recently teamed up with Jools Holland and the bandleader’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra to create a new swing album titled “Swing Fever” that is racing its way up the Official U.K. Album Charts and on track to claim the number one spot.

“Swing Fever” will mark Stewart’s first number one album in five years, following 2019’s “You’re In My Heart” and Holland’s first-ever release to top the charts. During an interview with The Associated Press, Stewart recalled sharing the vision he had for the album with Holland at the beginning of their collaboration.

“I’m not going to do any slow songs,” Stewart said. “I want all upbeat happy [claps his hands], which we need in these grim times that we live in.”

“Swing Fever” is a 13-track album featuring covers of classic songs from the Big Band era of swing-jazz, including “Pennies From Heaven,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Aint’ Misbehavin’” and “Sentimental Journey.”

Paying homage to the Great American Songbook, a canon of influential American jazz standards, pop songs and showtunes from the early to mid 20th century, was not unfamiliar territory for Stewart.

In 2003, Stewart released “It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook,” the first in a five-part series featuring the singer’s covers of American pop and jazz standards. 

However, Stewart wanted to tap into the dancehall energy of the swing era with his latest release.

“They make you tap your feet. They make you smile. Both of us [Holland] were brought up on this music. I did ‘The Great American Songbook,’ so for me this was a natural progression,” Stewart told the AP.

Prior to collaborating with Holland, Stewart had started recording a swing album in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t pleased with the initial results, noting that the music was “stale.”

 “I’d already started making a swing album, but it didn’t turn out how I wanted it. It was more Frank Sinatra than it was Louis Prima, let’s say…,” he told the magazine Radio Times, via GBN.

He continued, “Nothing wrong with Frank at all, he’s the greatest. But the arrangements were very, very polite.”

“I could see while I was there [in the studio] the guys reading the music. And that’s not how I wanted it,” Stewart added.

“It’s OK to read the music. But it was stale, and it was White, to be quite honest with you. So I said to myself: now, who can I turn to?”

“And the Right Honourable Jools Holland OBE came up. And Jools will take it from there…”

Holland, 66, an original member of the British rock band Squeeze, is also a pianist, composer and vocalist who has collaborated with a number of artists, including Beatles legends Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Bono, Sting and Eric Clapton, among others.

During his interview with the AP, Stewart enthused about working with Holland for the first time.

“I love the whole process of doing live shows,” Stewart said. “I love recording. I loved when we put this album together. It was such a joy.”

He continued, “We didn’t have any arguments or fights or anything like that. It was pure pleasure and I think that comes across when you listen to it. The whole thing was recorded live in Jools’ studio, which is not a big studio. We had 18 people crammed in there, so all the solos were played live.”

The Grammy Award winner told the outlet that not having to write any of the songs for “Swing Fever” was another perk.

“I’ve always found songwriting a bit of an agony, really,” he admitted. 

“It’s like going back to school. In fact, when I was in the Faces, they used to lock me in a hotel room with a bottle of wine and say, ‘You’re not coming out till it’s finished.’ Because I was notorious. I wanted to go out and enjoy myself alone. 

“I didn’t want to sit in a room and write lyrics and it’s always been a bit of like pulling teeth for me. The joy of this album, obviously, is I didn’t write any of the songs, I had a burning ambition to sing them and I picked the right guy.”

Ahead of “Swing Fever’s” release last Friday, Stewart and Holland embarked on a whirlwind tour in support of the album. 

In one headline-making moment that emerged from the tour, Stewart stripped off his shirt to reveal the tattoo that he got in honor of his favorite soccer club Celtic F.C.

During an appearance on the Australian talk show “The Project,” Stewart mentioned the “Glascow Celtic” tattoo that he had inked on his shoulder while in Melbourne.

“I can show it to you if you want but I’ll have to get undressed,” he told host Sarah Harris.

“Go on, go on! I’ll say yes to that,” Harris replied.

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Stewart then removed his long-sleeved shirt and displayed the tattoo on his shoulder. “Do you see it?” he asked with a smile.

“Looks good! You look good,” Harris said while laughing. “I got Rod Stewart to take his shirt off.”

“Don’t tell any of your viewers,” Stewart quipped.

When “Swing Fever” claims the number one spot on the U.K. chart, it will mark another milestone for Stewart. The singer will become the 10th on the U.K.’s list of artists with the most career number one albums and the fifth solo artist with that achievement.

In addition to venturing into swing, Stewart confirmed that he also has a country album in the works.

“I plan on doing it. We actually started it. We started making a country album. And I went off and made another solo album, but yeah, it’s in the pipeline,” he told the AP.

“The record company would like me to do it,” he added. “They don’t push me to do it. You know, there will come a time.”

The U.K. native also shared his thoughts on why the country music genre appealed to him.

“Once again. it’s what I grew up with,” he said. “You know, not so much country music, but folk music. You know, the likes of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan.” 

He continued, “Of course, I loved all that stuff. That’s all. That’s why I learned how to play guitar, because I wanted to sing the songs.”

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Stewart’s musical pivot comes after he reportedly sold his interests in his publishing rights and recorded music, as well as some name and likeness rights, to music mogul Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group for nearly $100 million earlier this month, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“This year marks my 60th year in the music industry. The time is right, and I feel fortunate to have found partners in Irving and his team at Iconic that I can entrust with my life’s work and future musical legacy,” Stewart said of the sale in press release.

“We are thrilled to welcome one of the most celebrated singer-songwriters of our time, Rod Stewart, to the Iconic family,” Chairman and CEO of Iconic Azoff said. 

He continued, “Our new partnership with HPS provides us with the resources and flexibility to make blockbuster signings like this one and to continue the success of our legendary artists and their legacies.”

As the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee nears his 80th birthday, Stewart has dismissed the possibility that he has plans to retire anytime soon.

“Not really,” he told the AP of potential retirement plans. “I suppose, I mean it wouldn’t be for me to judge, but I imagine if people stop buying tickets for concerts and don’t buy records anymore, maybe that’s a sign. I don’t know.” 

“The word retirement is not in my vocabulary at the moment because I’m enjoying myself,” Stewart added.

During an interview with CBS, Stewart was even more emphatic when asked about whether he was slowing down.

“No, I’m not winding down!” he replied.

When asked if he was instead “speeding up,” Stewart said, “No, I’m not speeding up. I mean, I’ve got 60-odd concerts this year. It’s not time for the pipe and slipper club yet, you know?”

After the interviewer noted, “Everybody seems to hit a point where they say, ‘All right, enough’s enough, it’s been fun.'”

“No. Not at all,” Stewart responded. “It’s a drug. It’s addictive in a way to get up and sing in front of, you know, 5, 10, 20 thousand people every night, send them all home happy, smiling. It’s wonderful. What a job! I don’t want to give it up!”

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