The backstory: In the early Seventies, Paul Nelson accepted a publicity job at Mercury Records. One of the artists with whom he worked closely, and with whom he became good friends, was Rod Stewart. During Paul's five-year tenure at Mercury (he eventually was promoted to A&R, in which capacity he would sign the New York Dolls to their first recording contract), Stewart produced some of his best albums, including Gasoline Alley
, Never a Dull Moment
, and one of the best rock & roll albums of all time, Every Picture Tells a Story
In 1975, the same year Paul resigned from Mercury and returned to writing full-time, Stewart switched labels and landed at Warner Bros. where his first album was Atlantic Crossing
. Writing in Rolling Stone
, Paul gave the album a rave review
, concluding: "If Atlantic Crossing
isn't Rod Stewart's best record—and it isn't—it at least comes within hailing distance of earlier masterpieces."
In 1978, Paul wrote one of his best articles, a lengthy, praising piece that sympathetically depicted Rod at odds with his ex-lover, actress Britt Ekland, who was suing him for $12 million, at odds with the burgeoning punks, who had singled him out as their anti-poster boy, and at odds with the critical mass in general, who were of the opinion that he'd sold out and gone Hollywood (which he literally had, having relocated from England).
In 1981, Paul co-wrote a book with Lester Bangs that pilloried Stewart and his music, with Paul recanting much of his earlier praise. He wrote: "As a young man in his twenties, Rod Stewart seemed to possess an age-old wisdom: some of the things he told us we could've learned from our grandfathers. In his thirties, however, he suddenly metamorphosed into Jayne Mansfield."
Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon when I received a phone call that asked: "Can you meet Rod Stewart for drinks tonight?" I'd been trying to secure an interview with him for almost a year and a half. Four hours later, I found myself at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, across the table from a very dashing and dapper-looking Rod Stewart. (Due to a miscommunication between his manager and publicist, he'd been waiting for me for twenty minutes there in the sedate Astor Court—while I'd been waiting for him for twenty minutes around the corner in the rowdy King Cole Bar and Lounge.) Looking still very much the young rogue on which he'd made his reputation, the 63-year-old Stewart was charming and funny and, of course, occasionally bawdy. My scheduled fifteen- to twenty-minute interview ended up lasting almost forty-five minutes.
Stewart fondly remembered Paul Nelson as I did my best to stir up his memories and remind him of incidents that had occurred more than three-and-a-half decades ago. As I sipped on my Bloody Mary (which, according to legend, had been invented by King Cole bartender Fernand Petiot, circa 1939) and he on his martini, we traded stories: his about the Paul he knew, me about what had happened to Paul in the many years since Stewart had seen him last.
I even quoted Paul's contention that Stewart had "metamorphosed into Jayne Mansfield" and asked him how it had felt having his friend savage him in book form. I asked him if there had been any validity to what Paul had written. And he answered every question honestly and to the best of his ability.
What he had to say will appear, of course, in the Rod Stewart chapter of Everything Is an Afterthought
When Stewart's twenty-seven-year-old wife Penny Lancaster arrived, he announced that the interview was over and rose to greet her. When he introduced us, he told her, "We've been talking about a dear old friend of mine." And before we parted, he wished me luck with the book and added, "Thank you for just doing it."Copyright 2008 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.