By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rod Stewart would rather play with his toy trains than write a hit song, but his domestic distractions did not prevent him from getting a top songwriters' award in Hollywood on Wednesday.
The 66-year-old rocker received the Founders Award for lifetime achievement at an annual dinner organized by ASCAP, a firm that collects royalties for songwriters whenever their compositions are played in public.
Stewart attended the event, towered over by his wife, Penny Lancaster, and accompanied by five of his eight children. He has not written a hit song since "Forever Young" in 1988, and the seven albums he has released since 2001 have been covers of other peoples' songs.
He is perhaps better known as an interpreter of material written by renowned musicians such as Tim Hardin ("Reason to Believe"), Cat Stevens ("The First Cut is the Deepest"), Tom Waits ("Downtown Train") and Van Morrison ("Have I Told You Lately").
"I never saw myself as songwriter," Stewart confessed in an interview with Reuters. "Then I look back on the catalog and there's been some big songs. It was always a struggle for me, writing songs, almost like being at school."
After his turn in the late 1960s with the Jeff Beck Group, which established him as one of England's premier R&B singers, Stewart enjoyed solo success with such songs as "Maggie May" and "You Wear It Well" (both written with Martin Quittenton) and "Every Picture Tells a Story" (written with Faces bandmate and future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood).
During the awards ceremony, Stewart recalled that his first songwriting attempt with Wood was a dismal failure, with Wood's mother noticing their blank writing pads and remarking, "I don't think the Beatles have got anything to worry about."
Stewart went on to write or co-write such big '70s hits as "Tonight's the Night," "You're in My Heart," "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" and "Young Turks." He said he was proudest of his gay rights-themed ballad "The Killing of Georgie," a bold declaration in 1976.
But his albums during the 1980s and 1990s were largely desultory affairs, and he spent less time writing his own songs even while remaining a popular touring act.
Stewart enjoyed a career renaissance in the new century with his "Songbook" series of albums paying homage to such songwriters as Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin.
Stewart is currently working on a blues album with Jeff Beck, covering such tunes as Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" as well as a few curveballs.
He said the ASCAP honor will "maybe give me a push up the bum to start writing again."
On the other hand, it's not easy being a songwriter when he is savoring his gilded family life in Beverly Hills. His top priority when he awakened earlier in the day?
"I couldn't wait to get up and work on my model railway," he said with a boisterous laugh.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)