'Great American Songbook' set for Feb. 1

Rod Stewart already knows what his Valentine’s Day present will be: a new son. Wife Penny Lancaster is due with their second child on Feb. 16.

However, he’s hoping everyone else will receive a copy of his new album, “The Best of … the Great American Songbook,” for the Hallmark holiday’s Feb. 14 celebration. Out Feb. 1, the collection serves as the finale for the five-edition series.

Stewart’s “Great American Songbook” compilations have sold more than 18 million copies worldwide, according to J Records, and brought the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer his first Grammy in 2004. In December, “Fly Me to the Moon …the Great American Songbook Vol. V” received a Grammy nomination for best traditional pop vocal album. It’s no wonder that Stewart has fond feelings about his musical trips into the past.

In a recent interview with Variety, Stewart talks about the series, the Vegas factor and the possibility of reuniting with his old band mate Jeff Beck.

Variety: The first “Songbook” came out in 2002. How has the series opened a new career chapter for you?

Stewart: They have brought me a new audience. I’ve had a wonderful long career, and I think the “American Songbook” could add to that. I don’t know when my rocking days will be over, but always in the back of my mind, I’ve dreamed of doing an “American Songbook” tour, with a full orchestra and a full band and make it a most glamorous evening. I’ve never played Carnegie Hall. I’d love to do it with the “American Songbook.” … As it stands now, I’m booked up all the way until 2012 (on a world tour), so I don’t know when I’m going to squeeze it in.

Variety: What kind of creative journey has this taken you on?

Stewart: (When) I listen back to the first “American Songbook,” you can hear in my voice that I’m a bit tentative and a little nervous of singing these songs after some of the greatest vocalists who have ever lived: Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. So I’ve grown in confidence. Obviously that comes with selling a lot of records as well.

Variety: In November, you did a residency at Caesar’s Palace that sounded like a trial run to do a longer stint there like Celine Dion. What’s the latest on that?

Stewart: I didn’t enjoy the first night. It took me a bit by surprise. The audience has a mental block when they go to (what) I call Caesar’s Salad. They have to sit in their seats, they can’t sing, they can’t enjoy themselves. And by the time we’d done the eighth show, we had half the audience on the stage. It was just a wonderful party, and I want to go back and do it. They’ve made an offer for, I think, 30 or 40 shows.

Variety: Are you going to say yes?

Stewart: Oh yeah. I love it. I definitely want to do it.

Variety: What do you get out of performing now that you didn’t get earlier in your career?

Stewart: I say with all sincerity when I get up on the stage, I’m smiling from ear to ear. I just love it. It’s never been work to me. We earn a living getting up on stage and doing what we like to do. We’re privileged, and we should be eternally grateful.

Variety: In October, you talked about recording a blues record next. What’s the status of that?

Stewart: Since then, Jeff Beck, my old boss, and I had lunch (in early December) in Los Angeles, and we’re thinking of working together, so everything’s tentative at the moment. … Whatever album I do, whether it’s with Jeff or whether on my own, will probably go in that blues direction.

Variety: So you and Beck could do a full album together again?

Stewart: Yeah. We had a most jolly lunch together, a couple of glasses of wine, remembering the old days when we first started in the late ’60s. Those were two landmark albums, you know, “Beck-ola” and “Truth.” So I’m sure we can do it again.

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