Tim_Admin2 on Gerry Rafferty
Rafferty left St. Mirin’s Academy in 1963. He worked in a butcher’s shop, as a civil service clerk, and in a shoe shop, although as he noted in a later interview: “But there was never anything else for me but music. I never intended making a career out of any of the jobs I did.” On weekends he and a schoolfriend, future Stealers Wheel collaborator Joe Egan, played in a local group named The Mavericks, mainly covering chart songs by groups such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In the mid 1960s Rafferty earned money, for a time, busking on the London Underground. In 1966, Rafferty and Egan were members of the band The Fifth Column. The group released the single “Benjamin Day”/”There’s Nobody Here” (Columbia 8068), but it was not a commercial success.
The Humblebums/Stealers Wheel
In 1969 Rafferty became the third member of an existing folk-pop ensemble The Humblebums composed of future comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. Harvey left shortly afterwards, and Rafferty and Connolly continued as a duo, recording two albums for Transatlantic Records. A 1970 gig at the Royal Festival Hall, supporting Fotheringay with Nick Drake, earned a positive review from critic Karl Dallas, who noted that all three acts showed “promise rather than fulfilment”, and observed that “Gerry Rafferty’s songs have the sweet tenderness of Paul McCartney in his ‘Yesterday’ mood”. In his own stand-up shows, Connolly has often recalled this period, remembering how Rafferty made him laugh and the crazy things they would get up to while on tour. On one occasion Rafferty decided to look up the local Berlin telephone directory to see if there were any Hitlers registered.
Even though Rafferty and Connolly parted ways in 1971, they remained close friends until Rafferty’s death in 2011.
After the two decided to go their separate ways in 1971, Transatlantic owner Nathan Joseph signed Rafferty to a contract as a solo performer and Rafferty recorded his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, with Hugh Murphy, a young staff producer working for the label. The album was a critical success but did not enjoy commercial success. According to Rafferty’s daughter Martha, it was around this time that her father discovered, by chance, Colin Wilson’s classic book The Outsider, about alienation and creativity, which became a huge influence both on his songwriting and his outlook on the world: “The ideas and references contained in that one book were to sustain and inspire him for the rest of his life.” Rafferty, himself, later confirmed that alienation was the “persistent theme” of his songs; “To Each and Everyone”, from Can I Have My Money Back?, was an early example.
Rafferty with Stealers Wheel in 1973
In 1972, having gained minor airplay from his Signpost recording “Make You, Break You”, Rafferty joined Egan to form Stealers Wheel and went on to record three albums with the legendary American songwriters and producers Leiber & Stoller. The group was beset by legal wranglings, but did have a huge hit “Stuck in the Middle With You”. Twenty years later, the song was used prominently in the 1992 movie Reservoir Dogs, although Rafferty refused to grant permission for its re-release. Stealers Wheel also produced the lesser top 50 hits, “Everything’ll Turn Out Fine”, followed by “Star”, and there were further suggestions of Rafferty’s growing alienation in tracks such as “Outside Looking In” and “Who Cares”. The duo disbanded in 1975.
City to City/Night Owl
A street sign from Baker Street in central London, the inspiration for Rafferty’s famous song.
Legal issues after the break-up of Stealers Wheel meant that, for three years, Rafferty was unable to release any material. After the disputes were resolved in 1978, he recorded his second solo album, City to City, with producer Hugh Murphy, which included the song with which he remains most identified, “Baker Street”. According to Murphy, interviewed by Billboard in 1993, he and Rafferty had to beg the record label, United Artists, to release “Baker Street” as a single: “They actually said it was too good for the public.” It was a good call: the single reached #3 in the UK and #2 in the US. The album sold over 5.5 million copies, toppling the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in the US on 8 July 1978. Rafferty considered this his first proper taste of success, as he told Melody Maker the following year: “…all the records I’ve ever done before have been flops. Stealers Wheel was a flop. ‘Can I Have My Money Back?’ was a flop. The Humblebums were a flop… My life doesn’t stand or fall by the amount of people who buy my records.”
“Baker Street” featured a distinctive saxophone solo played by Raphael Ravenscroft, although the origins of the solo have been disputed. As the singer recalled in a 1988 interview with Colin Irwin: “When I wrote the song I saw that bit as an instrumental part but I didn’t know what. We tried electric guitar but it sounded weak, and we tried other things and I think it was Hugh Murphy’s suggestion that we tried saxophone.”
In a 2006 interview with The Times, Ravenscroft recalled the episode differently, claiming he was presented with a song that contained “several gaps”. “If you’re asking me: ‘Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?’ then no, he didn’t. In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff.” Ravenscroft, a session musician, was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and suggested that he record the now famous break using the alto saxophone he had in his car.
Hugh Murphy produced seven of Rafferty’s solo albums.
In his interview with Colin Irwin, Rafferty disputed this and noted that Ravenscroft had been his second choice to play the saxophone solo, after Pete Zorn, who was unavailable: “The only confusion at the time that I didn’t enjoy too much was the fact that a lot of people believed that the line was written by Raphael Ravenscroft, the sax player, but it was my line. I sang it to him.” When a remastered version of City to City was released in 2011, it included the original, electric guitar version of the song, confirming Rafferty’s authorship of the riff. In the liner notes to the album, Rafferty’s long-time friend and collaborator Rab Noakes commented: “Let’s hope [the Baker Street demo] will, at last, silence all who keep on asserting that the saxophone player came up with the melody line. He didn’t. He just blew what he was told by the person who did write it, Gerry Rafferty.” Michael Gray, Rafferty’s former manager, agreed: “The audible proof is there from the demos that Rafferty himself created the riff and placed it within the song’s structure exactly where it ended up.” Ravenscroft went on to play on Rafferty’s next two albums.
“Baker Street” remains a mainstay of soft-rock radio airplay and, in October 2010, it was recognised by the BMI for surpassing 5 million plays worldwide. “Stuck in the Middle With You” has received over 4 million plays worldwide, and “Right Down The Line” has had over 3 million plays. In a 2003 interview with The Sun (Scotland), Rafferty revealed just how profitable his biggest song had been: “Baker Street still makes me about £80,000 a year. It’s been a huge earner for me. I must admit, I could live off that song alone”. The “£80,000” figure has been widely repeated in newspaper articles ever since. Rafferty reputedly loathed the 1992 dance music cover version of “Baker Street” by Undercover, but it earned him another £1.5 million, selling around three million copies in Europe and America. He never allowed “Baker Street” to be used for advertising, despite lucrative offers.
“Right Down the Line” was the second single from City to City. The song made No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts in the US. It remained at the top of the adult contemporary chart for four non-consecutive weeks. The third single from the album, “Home and Dry”, reached No. 28 in the US Top 40 in early 1979. One of the lesser known songs from that time is “Big Change in the Weather” (the B-side of “Baker Street”).
The lyrics of “Baker Street” reflected Rafferty’s disenchantment with certain elements of the music industry. This was elaborated on by music journalist Paul Gambaccini for BBC World News:.
“ His song “Baker Street” was about how uncomfortable he felt in the star system, and what do you know, it was a giant world hit. The album City to City went to No. 1 in America, and suddenly he found that as a result of his protest, he was a bigger star than ever. And he now had more of what he didn’t like. And although he had a few more hit singles in the United States, by 1980 it was basically all over, and when I say ‘it’, I mean basically his career, because he just was not comfortable with this. ”
His next album, Night Owl, also did well. Guitarist Richard Thompson helped by performing on the track “Take The Money and Run”, and the title track was a UK No. 5 hit in 1979. “Days Gone Down” reached No. 17 in the US. The follow-up single “Get It Right Next Time” made the UK and US Top 40.
Snakes and Ladders/Sleepwalking/North And South
Several of Gerry Rafferty’s solo albums, including City to City and Night Owl and parts of Snakes and Ladders and Sleepwalking, were recorded at Chipping Norton Recording Studios, which occupied this grade II listed building at 28/30 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, from 1972 until its closure in 1999.
Subsequent albums, such as Snakes and Ladders (1980), Sleepwalking (1982), and North and South (1988), fared less well, perhaps due partly to Rafferty’s longstanding reluctance to perform live, which he felt uncomfortable with.
The 1982 album Sleepwalking saw Rafferty taking a very different approach to his work. Christopher Neil replaced Hugh Murphy, Rafferty’s usual producer, introducing synthesisers and drum machines that give the album a harder, less acoustic sound, and apparently eschewing the richly detailed arrangements notable on Rafferty’s three previous records. According to Murphy, interviewed a decade later: “Gerry had made three albums on the trot and I think he was pretty jaded at that time and feeling the pressure and he just thought, ‘Well, I’ll try another tack,’ which is understandable”. Instead of a cover painting and hand-lettering by John ‘Patrick’ Byrne, who had illustrated every previous Rafferty and Stealers Wheel album, Sleepwalking featured a simple, stark photograph of an empty road stretching to the sky. There was change too in the songs. The deeply introspective lyrics of Sleepwalking suggest Rafferty found success far from glamorous: tracks like “Standing at the Gates”, “Change of Heart”, and “The Right Moment” suggest the singer was exhausted, burnt-out, and desperately seeking a new direction – and continued his long-running theme of alienation. Liner notes for the compilation album Right Down the Line (prepared with Rafferty’s close co-operation) confirmed this several years later, noting the singer was now “finding himself at the crossroads and looking to replace the treadmill with a new dimension in his life”. In 1983, Rafferty announced his intention to take a break and devote more time to his family: “It dawned on me that since Baker Street I had been touring the world, travelling everywhere and seeing nowhere. Whatever I do in the future, it’s at my own pace, on my own terms.”
Based at 16th-century Tye Farm in Hartfield, near the Kent-Sussex border, Rafferty installed electric gates to protect his privacy, built a recording studio, and worked largely by himself or with Hugh Murphy. According to his former wife Carla, who discouraged visitors: “He was just stalling for time. Maybe some new project would suddenly happen, but I knew he’d crossed the line as far as the record business went.” It was six years before he released his next record, North and South. In his 1988 interview with Colin Irwin, to promote the album, Rafferty mentioned that he was interested in doing more production work, writing film soundtracks, and even floated the idea of writing a musical about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson. Reviews of the album were mixed. In The Times, critic David Sinclair was particularly scathing: “On North and South, it sounds as if he has thumbed a lift up the road to a mock-Texan bar somewhere in his native Scotland. There is a mid-Atlantic blandness lurking behind the rococo roots veneer.”
Rafferty collaborated with several other artists during this time. In 1980, he and Murphy produced a record for Richard and Linda Thompson; though never released, it eventually evolved into their album Shoot Out the Lights. It was also during this period that Rafferty sang the Knopfler-penned song “The Way It Always Starts” (1983) on the soundtrack of the film Local Hero, and co-produced The Proclaimers first UK hit single “Letter from America” in 1987 with Hugh Murphy. In the early 1990s, Rafferty recorded a cover version of the Bob Dylan song “The Times They Are a-Changin’” with Barbara Dickson, who had contributed backing vocals to both City to City and Night Owl. The track appeared on Dickson’s albums Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right (1992) and The Barbara Dickson Collection (2006).