January 4, 2011 – Gerald “Gerry” Rafferty was born on 16 April 1947 into a working-class family in Underwood Lane in Paisley, Scotland, a son and grandson of coal miners. He grew up in a council house on the town’s Foxbar estate and was educated at St Mirin’s Academy. His Irish-born father, a violent alcoholic, was a miner and lorry driver who died when Rafferty was 16. His mother taught him both Irish and Scottish folk songs as a boy; later, he was influenced by the music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
In 1963 he left St. Mirin’s Academy and had several jobs while playing in a local group, the Mavericks. In 1966 Gerry and his school friend Joe Egan released a single, “Benjamin Day”/”There’s Nobody Here”, as members of The Fifth Column.In 1969 he joined comedian Billy Connolly in a folk band The Humblebums, recording 2 albums, ‘The New Humblebums‘ and ‘Open Up the Door‘. A 1970 appearance 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, telling how Rafferty made him laugh and describing the crazy things they did while on tour.It was Gerry who urged Connolly to go it alone as a comic, after which Gerry recorded a first solo album, ‘Can I Have My Money Back’. Billboard praised the album as “high-grade folk-rock”, describing it as Rafferty’s “finest work” to date: “His tunes are rich and memorable with an undeniable charm that will definitely see him into the album and very possibly singles charts soon”.
Yet although the album was a critical success, it 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 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.
In 1972, having gained some airplay from his Signpost recording “Make You, Break You”, Rafferty joined Egan to form Stealers Wheel and recorded three albums with the American songwriters and producers Leiber & Stoller. The group was beset by legal wranglings, but had a huge hit “Stuck in the Middle With You”, which earned critical acclaim as well as commercial success: a 1975 article in Sounds described it as “a sort of cross between white label Beatles and punk Dylan yet with a unique Celtic flavor that has marked all their work”. 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 and what followed was three years of legal misery, before he smashed the world with the mega hit Baker Street.
According to producer 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.”
The lyrics of “Baker Street” reflected Rafferty’s disenchantment with certain elements of the music industry. “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.
Gerry Rafferty was an anti-superstar, one that can only be described by the people that lived with and around him. Following is from his website biography, maintained by his daughter.
How do you put into a few lines the sum of a persons life and their work? Many of you will already know and have read the ‘Wiki’ version of events, which seems to be where we are supposed to turn for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but etc… And yes, times, dates and places are all present and correct and it’s definitely a useful reference point.
But when looking through that window at the life and work of Gerry Rafferty, or ‘Faither’ to me, there is so much more to say. So here’s my own, more personal summing up, which hopefully will resonate with some of you out there, to whom his music and song have meant so much.
My earliest memories are of hearing my Dad sitting at the piano late into the night, singing his heart out. He was always alone, just his voice and the piano. Listening through the walls, it didn’t seem strange that he was alone, beacuse there was definitely an interaction going on, a giving and receiving, at some level. He was much more of a night person than a day person. He seemed to long for the darkness to come down and shroud him with it’s anonymity. It was in that darkness that he could open up, let his light shine. He didn’t need or want anyone in that space, his songs were mainly born out of those long nights, alone at the piano.
Daytimes were my Mum’s responsibility, which is just as well, otherwise I’d never have gone to school. Father would appear late afternoon, exchange a few pleasantries, generally crack a few jokes but the main event was when he would get back to work.
He had an incredibly strong work ethic and had little respect for those that didn’t share that drive. He hated the waiting around bits in life and was incredibly impatient. He despised the mindless passing of time and the general level of mediocrity which he witnessed in society. Perhaps as an antidote to that general malaise, he read.
He was incredibly well educated, all off his own back. Having left school at 15 years old and, by his own admission, having learnt nothing, he went on to be able to converse on pretty much any subject thrown at him. There were literally whole walls of book shelves at home and he’d read every single word. Mainly Philosophy, Art, Religion, Psychology and many a Biography.
He loved to talk, not shallow, party chit chat, which he loathed, but long, intelligent and illuminating conversation. Conversations which inspired you to strive and live and laugh and left you with the warm glow of possibility and that deep down knowledge that everything was, is and always will be, just fine.
He identified with the struggles and creativity of other artists, with their pain and often with their sense of isolation. That was one of the big themes in his life, isolation. Whether self imposed or just an awareness of the reality of the human condition, it’s hard to say, probably a bit of both. In that respect, a key book he discovered at the age of 23 was Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’. He often told me the story of how we’d just moved into a house in Sandhurst Road, near Tunbridge Wells and one morning as he lay in bed he leaned over the side and found that book lying there.
It was a pivotal moment. The ideas and references contained in that one book were to sustain and inspire him for the rest of his life. The album ‘City to City’ which was namely about travelling from London to Glasgow, was largely influenced by this book. Wilson, only 24 at the time, wrote the book in The British Library whilst sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath. Its themes are alienation, creativity and the banality of the modern mind-set. It was exactly these themes which my Father experienced during those frequent trips down to London to deal with the machinations of the music business and it was ‘The Outsider’ which introduced him to the possibility that there was a way out, the means to transcend the ordinary. Hope.
‘Baker Street’ was born directly from these experiences and in that saxophone solo one can hear the soaring, transcendent optimism of the promise of a new life, a new way of living, the discovery that life could, indeed, be ultimately meaningful.
He would have loved to have written that book, I’m sure. But, having received very little by way of a formal education, he used the medium of the popular song, in very much the same capacity. His music has left an indelible mark on the lives of many and so, I hope, it will continue to do so far into the future, wherever that is…..
Thanks for listening
October 10th 2011.
Gerry Rafferty was 63 years 8 months 19 days old when he died on 4 January 2011. His liver just gave out.