Rod Stewart's Secret Passion

Excerpted from the magazine for

Rod Stewart is a classic vocalist -- a rock staple. So it stands to reason that when he decided to tackle a collection of covers, it would be gleaned from the songbook of great rock tunes, right?

Wrong. Stewart is fulfilling his dream of interpreting pop standards by such legendary songwriters as Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter with "It Had to Be You: The Great American Songbook," due Oct. 22 via J Records.

So, what's a nice rocker doing on an album like this? "Oh, I don't know," Stewart says with a laugh. "A couple of days ago, I felt like a terrible traitor. But it's all connected to rock'n'roll through jazz. If you consider some of these songs to be in the jazz idiom, it's connected. If it weren't for jazz, there wouldn't be any rock'n'roll. It's a great challenge for me."

It's a challenge that Stewart has believed in for some time. "I told Rod the time's not right to do this album -- of course, that was in 1983," longtime manager Arnold Steifel recalls. "The time is right now, simply because Rod wasn't going to wait any longer; he was going to do this record."

Indeed, Stewart actually went out of pocket by $320,000 to begin this record a few years ago with producer Richard Perry. Stewart was still signed to Atlantic and was completing an album for the label. But this labor of love would ultimately lead him not only in a new musical direction but also to a new label: He left Atlantic and signed with Clive Davis and J Records.

Taking a rock singer and creating an album that is truthful and reverent to these songs was no small feat. Phil Ramone, who worked on the Frank Sinatra Duets project, was called in to assist.

"We wanted to be careful to not date the material, even though they are standards," Ramone says. "In the early Sinatra days, when standards were addressed, they had a slight groove -- a slight edge -- that people had forgotten about because society bands and other bands took them away. How Rod treated the melody in his interpretation was so crucial. He read the song as if he were born in that period, and he brought his own unique voice and inflections to the songs."

Excerpted from the Sept.28, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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