Rod’s First smash: The song that launched Rod Stewart’s solo career and became one of his most enduring hits actually started out as a B-side to the single ‘Reason to Believe’, taken from 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story. Radio DJs began opting to play ‘Maggie May’ instead, and it soon became the more popular song – so much so that it topped the charts in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.
Thankfully, this is the Rod Stewart tune that seems to appear most often on set lists that I’m faced with rather than his questionable disco smash ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’. The less we say about that, the better.
Although the recording is dominated by the signature mandolin part, there’s plenty of interest for us bass players. The bass on ‘Maggie May’ was actually played by Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood, who met Rod Stewart while they were both part of the Jeff Beck Group, and his part contains some great melodic flourishes (not to mention some very questionable note choices…).
‘Maggie May’ begins with a lyrical bass melody, performed up an octave on repeat; pay attention to the use of slides and legato playing which lend the line a more ‘vocal’ quality. This melody reappears towards the end of the tune (bar 71 of the transcription), where Ronnie Wood develops the line further with the addition of double stops and 16th-note legato runs.
I’ve elected not to transcribe the entire tune note-for-note because much of the content gets repeated with minor variations and there’s not much merit in recreating Ronnie’s wrong notes. The key features of the song are fully notated, and the first verse has been written out to give you an idea of the type of fills that Ronnie was playing.