Airbrushed out: the band that got rid of a “gruff voiced” Rod Stewart

Jimmy Powell and the five Dimensions with Rod Stewart. Picture: Ron Howard
Jimmy Powell and The Five Dimensions with their young vocalist Rod Stewart. Picture: Ron Howard

OK, confession time! I rather enjoyed Alan Yentob’s Rod Stewart documentary Can’t Stop Me Now. It’s been accused of being an unashamed piece of hagiography. Well perhaps it did veer towards the uncritical. But it did the trick and it told a kind of truth. So I can’t help feeling that the claim from the man at Metro that Stewart had Yentob  “slobbering all over him like an overheated spaniel” was perhaps just a little unfair.

I felt the programme provided a reasonable insight into Rod’s bizarre journey from his early years in North London living over the family sweetshop to that curious state known as superstardom. From weekend beatnik to national treasure via some of the best rock and R&B outfits in the world and a long lost decade wallowing in the dreadful excesses of the Hollywood Hills.

On the face of it little that viewers  expected was left unexplored, except of course Rod’s model railway which he apparently banned the BBC from filming. There was some splendid early footage and it was good to see Long John Baldry given credit for mentoring the young Rod as an emerging blues talent. Great stuff too of The Faces and the brief but brilliant time he and Ronnie Wood spent with the Jeff Beck Band. It was a pity drummer Micky Waller, who was featured in the clips, never got a mention.

However some of  Rod’s less successful attempts at stardom were airbrushed out of the story. Like his short-lived vocal residency with Jimmy Powell and the Five Dimensions. My old friend Ron Howard who was a house photographer on Top of the Pops from the mid sixties to the early seventies remembers being taken aside by Powell and told: “Don’t take too many pictures of our singer. He’s got a very gruff voice. We’re going to get rid of him.” It was a story he enjoyed sharing a few years later when Rod returned to perform Maggie Mae.

Meanwhile the implication was that the early LA years were an endless party. In fact that came much later. A couple of years ago I interviewed Britt Ekland for some magazine or other and she told me that the public image of Rod with his sizeable snout in a bucket of cocaine was way wide of the mark

“He loved the quiet life,” she told me. “I think it’s to do with the rock and roll lifestyle, all that touring, all those hotels. People have this idea that we had a wild  relationship. In fact Rod’s idea of the perfect evening in was to flop out in front of the TV wearing a pair of disgusting old sweatpants and having a cup of tea while I did his ironing.”

Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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