R.I.P. Gerry Rafferty
Gerry Rafferty—the Scottish singer-songwriter who had a string of 1970s hits in “Baker Street,” “Right Down The Line,” and “Stuck In The Middle With You”—has died after a long kidney-related illness. He was 63. Rafferty, who had battled alcoholism for years, had been put on life support in November after his kidneys failed, but survived being taken off the machines and returned home, where he died.
Rafferty was a former subway busker who had his first recordings under the name The Humblebums, a group that he co-founded with comedian Billy Connolly, followed shortly by his solo debut, Can I Have My Money Back. In 1972, Rafferty formed Stealers Wheel with school friend Joe Egan, releasing a critically and commercially successful self-titled debut later that year under the direction of influential producers Lieber & Stoller. That record featured the hit “Stuck In The Middle With You,” a song whose intentionally Dylanesque style still causes some confusion, and which later garnered a totally different kind of unshakable mental connection when it soundtracked a scene in Reservoir Dogs.
Stealers Wheel disbanded in 1975, and Rafferty embarked on a successful solo career with his second album, 1978’s City To City, and notably its single “Baker Street,” an ever-crescendoing portrait of urban inertia that would become both Rafferty’s signature song and an adult-contemporary staple thanks to its huge, sweeping saxophone solo, which instantly conjures a sort of sunglasses-at-night, back-alley romanticism. The song reached No. 2 on the charts and, according to some sources, led to “The Baker Street Phenomenon,” a resurgence in sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream rock and pop songs. (The solo is so legendary, it even has its own Facebook page.) According to Rafferty, “Baker Street” still earned him £80,000 a year some 30 years after it was released.
City To City also spawned the lesser hit “Home And Dry,” but most notably it produced “Right Down The Line,” a song that topped even “Baker Street” in America by going straight to No. 1 on the adult-contemporary charts, the only song of his to ever do so.
His follow-up album Night Owl also boasted the hit title track, as well as guest guitar work from Richard Thompson on “Take The Money And Run.” Here’s a video of Rafferty and his backing band recording that album’s “Get It Right Next Time,” which is pretty much four minutes of pure 1970s.
Rafferty’s 1980s records—Snakes And Ladders, Sleepwalking, and North And South—saw a general decline in sales, exacerbated by a growing general disinterest in smooth, soft-rock sounds as well as the fact that Rafferty rarely performed live. His drinking and legendary rows with record companies over his contracts contributed to a general falling-off in his later years, and after 2000’s self-released Another World, Rafferty wasn’t heard from much until a 2008 report that he had “disappeared” from a London hospital.
After months of speculation, his management issued a statement in February of 2009 saying that Rafferty was indeed alive, that he was being cared for by a friend in Tuscany while attempting to treat his alcoholism, and that he was also writing and recording new music. The result of those final sessions, the 2009 release Life Goes On, was a compilation of remastered tracks from his ’90s albums On A Wing And A Prayer and Over My Head alongside six “new” songs—all covers, including The Beatles’ “Because” and “Silent Night.”