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Rod Stewart: 'I've been one lucky guy'

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Rod Stewart's new 'Soulbook'
  • For Rod Stewart's latest he sings R&B classics
  • Stewart has had success with "Great American Songbook"
  • "I'm very, very glad I've kept my hair," says the shaggy singer
  • Stewart, 64, says a reunion with the Faces is possible
  • Rod Stewart
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Music

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- When Rod Stewart walks into the bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, he's greeted by an enormous blow-up of his face on the cover of his new CD, "Soulbook."

"How do you like it?" asks his publicist.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer shrugs.

"At least it's not too airbrushed like some of the other ones," he says. "It's embarrassing when they do that."

At 64, Stewart is still the charming, self-deprecating dandy he was when he started out in the music business 40-odd years ago, gaining progressive fame with the Jeff Beck Group, the Faces, and finally as a solo artist -- where he's sold most of his estimated 250 million in album and singles sales.

After three decades of churning out such rollicking hits as "Stay With Me" (with the Faces), "Maggie May" and "Hot Legs," he re-invented himself as a crooner with his wildly popular "Great American Songbook" series. For his new album, "Soulbook" -- out Tuesday -- he mines the rich R&B catalog, re-interpreting gems like "Tracks of My Tears" and "Rainy Night in Georgia."

On this particular press day, Stewart is accompanied by his third wife, Penny. She looks like a Rod Stewart wife -- a blonde Amazon in a very short dress, with impossibly long legs. Penny pulls out a make-up bag and quickly dusts a powder brush over her husband's face before disappearing into the next room to go over his schedule with his manager.

Interestingly, for a man known for his high style, Stewart has no stylist. He runs his fingers through the rooster mop that famously sits atop his noggin.

"OK, let's go," he exclaims, impatient to tackle the first of a half-dozen interviews. It's been about two minutes since he walked through the door. Five minutes before that, he was sitting in his home at the top of the hill. The following is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: When you walked in, you said you were happy the album cover wasn't too airbrushed.

Rod Stewart: It's always been a thorn in my side when they try to make you look 16. I'm very proud of my well-earned wrinkles, so show 'em.

CNN: You're 64.

Stewart: Yes, it's great, isn't it! (Cracks up) Yes, 64 now.

CNN: You don't look 64 at all, and you don't act a day over 17.

Stewart: Oh, behave yourself.

CNN: Your last five albums have done very well.

Stewart: Three number ones and two number twos, which is pretty phenomenal, if I say it myself.

CNN: Now it looks as though you've exhausted the "Great American Songbook," so you're taking on the "Soulbook."

Stewart: Actually, I've done a fifth "American Songbook." We just didn't think now was a time to release it -- and it really is so much better than the other four. But "Soulbook" -- this is an album I've waited a lifetime to record. It's a dream come true -- and to have Smokey Robinson on the album, and Stevie Wonder, and Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige -- I grew up listening to Smokey.

CNN: You can really hear those old R&B influences in the way you sing.

Stewart: I grew up listening, molding my vocal style on this in the early '70s. Now, it's Rod Stewart's style. But I do owe them a great deal.

CNN: James Brown has been quoted as saying you're the best white soul singer he'd ever heard.

Stewart: James was another big influence. I did get to spend some time with David Ruffin, who was the lead singer of the Temptations. Every time we went to Detroit, David and I would get up and sing. I've got one great picture of us looking down each other's throats in profile, comparing the white vocal box to the black vocal box, and trying to see if there was any difference.

CNN: And was there?

Stewart: No. I think we were drunk at the time, and it was a silly operation.

CNN: How much do you attribute your longevity in this business to having a sense of humor?

Stewart: More importantly, I'm very, very glad I've kept my hair.

CNN: How's the family?

Stewart: Kids are good. There's six of them all together. The youngest one will be 4 this November. They're all chiseling away at their little careers. ... They're all in great health, which is the most important thing, and I think they're all very happy, which is important. They're happy, I'm happy.

CNN: Your son, Sean, was on "Celebrity Rehab," dealing with his addiction.

Stewart: He's doing good. You know, we have our rows, Sean and I -- over private matters, I should say.

CNN: Is there a Rod Stewart reality show in the making?

Stewart: I don't think so. My kids have dealt with reality, and I don't want to go down that [street]. Listen, if my career was to end tomorrow, I would have no complaints whatsoever. I've been one lucky guy I'll tell you, when you look at my gorgeous wife and my six gorgeous children. Just a marvelous career.

Like everybody in show business, you think you're going to wake up one day, and it's all going to be taken away from you. I think we all share an insecurity in that way, everybody in show business -- the ones I talk to, anyway.

CNN: What frightens you most? That people aren't going to buy your records anymore?

Stewart: Ill health. Without a doubt.

CNN: Will there ever be a reunion with the Faces?

Stewart: [They had] a reunion on the 23rd of October in London without me because I'm promoting this album, and they're got Paul Rodgers to sing -- who is the lead singer of Bad Company, and Free, and of course with Queen. Hopefully, I'll get me old job back. It's on the cards. I'll do it eventually.

CNN: Are you going to take it on the road, or is it just going to be a special one-off concert?

Stewart: I think we'd start by doing a good charity show. Show some goodwill. You know, we've all done very well off the business, and you can never stop pulling back in.