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Gerry Rafferty

Gerry Rafferty was a popular music giant at the end of the '70s, thanks to the song "Baker Street" and the album City to City. His career long predated that fixture of Top 40 radio, however; indeed, by the time he cut "Baker Street" Rafferty had already been a member of two successful groups, the Humblebums and Stealers Wheel.

Rafferty was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1947, the son of a Scottish mother and an Irish father. His father was deaf but still enjoyed singing, mostly Irish rebel songs, and his early experience of music was a combination of Catholic hymns, traditional folk music, and '50s pop music. By 1968, at age 21, Rafferty was a singer/guitarist and had started trying to write songs professionally, and was looking for a gig of his own. Enter Billy Connolly, late of Scottish bands like the Skillet Lickers and the Acme Brush Company. Connolly was a musician and comedian who'd found that telling jokes from the stage was as appealing an activity to him -- and the audience -- as making music. He'd passed through several groups looking for a niche before finally forming a duo called the Humblebums with Tim Harvey, a rock guitarist. They'd established themselves in Glasgow, and were then approached by Transatlantic, one of the more successful independent record labels in England at the time, and signed to a recording contract. After playing a show in Paisley, Rafferty approached Connolly about auditioning some of the songs he'd written. Connolly was impressed not only with the songs but with their author, and suddenly the Humblebums were a trio. They were a major success in England both on-stage and on record, but not without some strain. Connolly was the dominant personality, his jokes between the songs entertaining audiences as much as the songs themselves.

Additionally, Rafferty began develop a distinctive style as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and this eventually led to tension between him and Harvey: the latter exited in 1970, and Rafferty and Connolly continued together for two more albums, their line-up expanding to a sextet, but their relationship began to break down. The records were selling well, and the gigs were growing in prominence, including a Royal Command Performance. Connolly, however, worked himself to the point of exhaustion amid all of this activity, and when he did recover, he and Rafferty ultimately split up over the differing directions in which each was going. Rafferty had noticed that Connolly's jokes were taking up more time in their concerts than the music he was writing. They parted company in 1971. Transatlantic didn't want to give up one of its top money-makers, however, especially if there was a new career to be started. Rafferty cut his first solo album for the label that year. "Can I Have My Money Back?" was a melodious folk-pop album, on which Rafferty employed the vocal talents of an old school friend, Joe Egan. The LP garnered good reviews but failed to sell.

Out of those sessions, however, Rafferty and Egan put together the original lineup of Stealers Wheel, which was one of the most promising (and rewarding) pop/rock outfits of the mid-'70s. Unfortunately, Stealers Wheel's lineup and legal history were complicated enough to keep various lawyers well paid for much of the middle of the decade. Rafferty was in the group, then out, then in again as the lineup kept shifting. Their first album was a success, the single "Stuck in the Middle with You" a huge hit, but nothing after that clicked commercially, and by 1975 the group was history. Three years of legal battles followed, sorting out problems between Rafferty and his management.

Finally, in 1978, Rafferty was free to record again, and he signed to United Artists Records. That year, he cut City to City, a melodic yet strangely enigmatic album that topped the charts in America, put there by the success of the song "Baker Street." The song itself was a masterpiece of pop production, Rafferty's Paul McCartney-like vocals carrying a haunting central melody with a mysterious and yearning lyric, backed by a quietly thumping bass, tinkling celeste, and understated keyboard ornamentation, and then Raphael Ravenscroft's sax, which you got a taste of in the opening bars, rises up behind some heavily amplified electric guitars. It was sophisticated '70s pop/rock at its best (and better yet, it wasn't disco!) and it dominated the airwaves for months in 1978, narrowly missing the number one spot in England but selling millions of copies and taking up hundreds of cumulative hours of radio time.

The publisher and the record company couldn't have been happier. Everyone concerned was thrilled, until it became clear that Rafferty -- who had a reclusive and iconoclastic streak -- was not going to tour America to support the album. The album, which finally reached number one, might've gone double-platinum and meant it (lots of records were shipped platinum in those days, only eventually to return 90-percent of those copies) had Rafferty toured. His next record, Night Owl (1979), also charted well and got good reviews, but the momentum that had driven City to City to top-selling status wasn't there, and Snakes & Ladders (1980), his next record, didn't sell nearly as well. Ironically, around this time, Rafferty's brother Jim was signed to a recording contract by Decca-London, a label that wasn't long for this world -- something that Gerry would soon have to face about his own situation at United Artists.

United Artists Records had seen some major hit records throughout the '60s and '70s, but by the end of the decade, the parent film distribution and production company was revamping all of its operations in the wake of the mass exodus of several of its top executives. The record label was one of the first things to go -- running a record company was a luxury that the current UA management felt it could do without. Rafferty was practically the last major artist signed to the label, and if City to City had been a hit when the label was sold to EMI, he'd probably have been treated like visiting royalty. But by the time United Artists Records was sold to EMI around 1980, his figures weren't showing millions of units sold anymore. His contract was merely part of a deal, and, in fact, almost none of the UA artists picked up by EMI fared well with the new company -- as with many artists caught up in one of those sale-and-acquisition situations, even if Rafferty had been producing anything comparable to "Baker Street" in popularity, it's doubtful the record would've gotten the push it would've taken to make it a hit.

Sleepwalking (1982), issued on the Liberty label, ended that round of Rafferty's public music-making activities, and he was little heard from during the mid-'80s, apart from one song contributed to the offbeat comedy Local Hero, a producer's gig with the group the Proclaimers that yielded a Top Three single ("Letter from America") in 1987. A year later, he released his first album in more than five years, North & South, which failed to register with the public. By that time, Transatlantic had begun exploiting his early recording activity, reissuing his early solo and Humblebums tracks on CD. On a Wing and a Prayer (1992) was similarly ignored by the public, although the critics loved it, and Over My Head (1995) was an attempt to reconsider his own past by rethinking some Stealers Wheel-era songs.

In January 2011, Gerry Rafferty died of liver disease at the age of 63 in Bournemouth, Dorset, England. At the time of his death he was still remembered primarily for "Baker Street" and City to City, which had been released as gold-plated audiophile CDs. And one might reasonably expect that when some Stealers Wheel track gets picked up for a soundtrack (as "Stuck in the Middle with You" was for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs) or commercial, his voice and guitar will continue to get a fresh airing. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Comments

Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorow will be the best day of your life however if you don't post this you will die in two days. Now you started reading this so don't stop . This is so scary put this on at least 5songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary because it actually works.
Bittersweet, but I could listen to it over and over and...
high school days how i miss the music
I love his music! He is missed and I hope his music will last forever. Rock and roll music has lost a great artist!
This guys had so many great solo albums none of which I see listed here. Too bad, lots of great music Pandora is missing. - Posted this 3 years ago and Pandora still hasn't added any more of his music. Pay the d#@n fees and get his other CD's on here!
Listening to Baker Street as a 12 year old in the back of my dad's camper pulling the boat headed to Lake Don Pedro! Awesome memories!!!
When did he pass ?
The list is to long, to mention all of them, but every now and then,an artist comes along, and for whatever reason,songw r i t i n g , t h e way he sings,or the way he plays, he stands out,just a little more then the rest. Yes, we lost a true talent. R.I.P.Gerry you will be missed, thank GOD, you left us with some great music, and memories.
depaulo67
One of the best voices and songwriters. Like very much!
So agree with you jwalk482 his voice just awesome
i just love his voice!! even as a little kid i remember listening to him and loving his voice!!
Good nastalgic tune 1970s I'm sure was much better time than now screw these complicated days
RIP brother, we lost you too soon for the wrong reasons...
He'll yes
char7ieboy
LOVE THIS SONG...R.I.P . GERRY RAFFERTY.
This Scottish brother rocked ever so smoothly and softly. Thank you Gerry, RIP
Awesome song
F**kin masterpiece! ! ! Brings back so many memories of my childhood jus roller skating at roller world in waipahu, HI
alohakghi
Ok, one of the few masterpieces in modern music history, Baker Street.
HEAVEN!!!
BAKER STREET---ONE OF MY TOP 3 SONGS FOR THE PAST 40 YRS.
late 70's growing up un Miami, Florida, Kendal skating center slow skate song, remember?
I get flashbacks to that time whenever I hear Gerry on the radio. Thanks for the memories and RIP Gerry.
stayoutofmym a i l b o x
RIP, wish i'd got to see you.
solandnoopti o n s
Smooth like wax on a hand made Morgan
djetmach
They don't make music like this anymore! Great tune and so many good memories to go along with that era.
ice55pick3
Where's "DAYS GONE DOWN"? His best song IMO.
Classic music GR
elcue
So, so good
riverman172
Right down the line is a timeless work of art. Thanks GR
Right Down the Line... a replica of our luv....
mar10131
Lovin It!!!
Thank you for the great music...
One of the greatest songs of all time, bar none!
jalepard
City of City is an AWESOME CD. I would highly recommend it. All wonderful songs.
YEAH BABY!!!
SONG NUMBER ONE, ON RADIO FOR A LONG TIME. VOLPE,f.r.c.
kvons1
Hard to imagine he's gone too---RIP: G. R.
A great and unique talent. City to City was huge in the summer of 1978, every time I hear the opening strains of Baker Street I'm transported back to that time. Too bad John Barleycorn got the better of him. RIP Mr. Rafferty
Incredible saxophone playing!
ddecker57
Great song, great artist...but a very complicated and tortured soul. RIP Mr. Rafferty!
sarawat12078
the ark was also a great one! LOVED Baker Street - and almost all of Rafferty's stuff. We lost a great talent.
robin21699
back in '94 I had Baker Street as my ring tone (which I may incorporate again!). A guy in the cubicle next to me, said what is that song? I told him and he said it was one of his all-time farvorites (how he didn't know who it was, was beyond my understandin g ) . That haunting sax and his voice on lyrics, along with one of the greastest guitar solos ever, put it at the top of my list as one of the best blues songs ever!
I love the lyrics to almost all of the songs I've heard by Gerry Rafferty. The music is just as great.
raleigh_c73
sweet
An amazing vocalist. Sadly missed by his many fans. I have always loved Baker Street.
I have always loved Baker Street and Right Down the Line. I am really enjoying my Gerry Rafferty channel on Pandora. I am now listening to Home and Dry which is also a great song. What a talent he was. A loss to us fans when he passed away. Rest in Peace Mr. Rafferty. Your music lives on.
two magical songs- Baker St. and Right down the line - just amazing - well said below Octavio
Underrated. Good to see Bonnie Raitt cover Right Down the Line on her new album.
Great song, great album, great artist. RIP Gerry!
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