In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked him the 17th most successful artist on the “The Billboard Hot 100 Top All-Time Artists”. A Grammy and Brit Award recipient, he was voted at No. 33 in Q Magazine’s list of the top 100 Greatest Singers of all time, and No. 59 on Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Singers of all time.
As a solo artist, Stewart was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and was inducted a second time into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, as a member of the Faces.
Stewart worked in the family shop and as a newspaper delivery boy. He then worked briefly as a labourer for Highgate Cemetery, which became another part of his biographical lore. He worked in a North Finchley funeral parlour and as a fence erector and sign writer.
In 1961 he went to Denmark Street with The Raiders and got a singing audition with well-known record producer Joe Meek, but Meek stopped the session with a rude sound.Stewart began listening to British and American topical folk artists such as Ewan MacColl, Alex Campbell, Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and especially Derroll Adams and the debut album of Bob Dylan.
Stewart became attracted to beatnik attitudes and left-wing politics, living for a while in a beatnik houseboat at Shoreham-by-Sea. Stewart was an active supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at this time, joining the annual Aldermaston Marches from 1961 to 1963 and being arrested on three occasions when he took part in sit-ins at Trafalgar Square and Whitehall for the cause.
He also used the marches as a way to meet and bed girls. In 1962 he had his first serious relationship, with London art student Suzannah Boffey (and a friend of future model and actress Chrissie Shrimpton); he moved to a bed-sit in Muswell Hill to be near her.
She became pregnant, but neither Rod nor his family wanted him to enter marriage; the baby girl was given up for adoption and Rod’s and Suzannah’s relationship ended.
In 1962, Stewart began hanging around folk singer Wizz Jones, busking at Leicester Square and other London spots. Stewart took up playing the then-fashionable harmonica. On several trips over the next 18 months Jones and Stewart took their act to Brighton and then to Paris, sleeping under bridges over the River Seine, and then finally to Barcelona.
Finally this resulted in Stewart being rounded up and deported from Spain for vagrancy during 1963. At this time, Stewart, who had been at William Grimshaw School with three of their members, was briefly considered as singer for the embryonic Kinks; though, despite rumours that he performed with them, Stewart has no recollection of doing so.
In 1963, Stewart adopted the Mod lifestyle and look, and began fashioning the spiky rooster hairstyle that would become his trademark. (It was made possible with sugar water or large amounts of his sisters’ hair lacquer, backcombing, and his hands holding it in place to protect it from the winds of the Highgate Underground station.)
Disillusioned by rock and roll, he saw Otis Redding perform in concert and began listening to Sam Cooke records; he became fascinated by rhythm and blues and soul music.
After returning to London, Stewart joined a rhythm and blues group, the Dimensions, in October 1963 as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. It was his first professional job as a musician, although Stewart was still living at home and working in his brother’s painting and picture frame shop.
A somewhat more established singer from Birmingham, Jimmy Powell, then hired the group a few weeks later, and it became known as Jimmy Powell & the Five Dimensions, with Stewart being relegated to harmonica player.
The group performed weekly at the famed Studio 51 club on Great Newport Street in London, where The Rolling Stones often headlined; this was Stewart’s entrée into the thriving London R & B scene, and his harmonica playing improved in part from watching Mick Jagger on stage.
Relations soon broke down between Powell and Stewart over roles within the group and Stewart departed. Contrary to popular legend, during this time Stewart likely did not play harmonica on Millie Small’s 1964 hit “My Boy Lollipop”.