Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty was born 16 April 1947 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.Rafferty 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 in 1963 when Rafferty was 16. He learned both Irish and Scottish folk songs as a boy: “My father was Irish, so growing up in Paisley I was hearing all these songs when I was two or three. Songs like “She Moves Through the Fair”, which my mother sings beautifully. And a whole suite of Irish traditional songs and Scots traditional songs”. Heavily influenced by Irish and Scottish folk music and the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the young Rafferty started to write his own material.
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.
In 1969 He joined the folk-pop group 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.
After they disbanded in 1971, he recorded his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back? Rafferty and Joe Egan then formed the group Stealers Wheel in 1972, producing several hits, most notably “Stuck in the Middle with You”, “Star”, Right Down the Line” and “Night Owl”. Even though Rafferty and Connolly parted ways in 1971, they remained close friends until Rafferty’s death in 2011. 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. 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, himself, later confirmed that alienation was the “persistent theme” of his songs.
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.
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,
“Baker Street” featured a distinctive saxophone solo played by Raphael Ravenscroft, a session musician, who 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. 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. “Ravenscroft also 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 and 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. 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.
In 1982 Rafferty released the album Sleepwalking which used synthesizers 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. 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 and was now at the crossroads and looking to replace the treadmill with a new dimension in his life”.
In 1989 he released his next record, North and South and became 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. 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. Rafferty also 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).
Rafferty released two further albums in the 1990s in what musician Tom Robinson later described as “a major return to form”. On a Wing and a Prayer (1992) reunited him with his Stealers Wheel partner Egan on several tracks. It included three tracks cowritten with Rafferty’s brother Jim, also a singer-songwriter. Rafferty recorded a new version of his Humblebums song “Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway” on the album Over My Head (1994). These were the last two records Rafferty produced with Hugh Murphy, who died in 1998.
By the end of the 1990s, new technology enabled Rafferty to distance himself even further from the conventional approach of the music industry and work entirely on his own terms. Now based in London, he employed sound engineer Giles Twigg to assemble a Digidesign mobile recording studio and, with Twigg’s help, recorded the album Another World in London, Scotland, Barbados, France, and Italy with collaborators from previous albums, including Hugh Burns, Mark Knopfler, Kenny Craddock, and Mo Foster. Another World, featured an album cover illustrated by John ‘Patrick’ Byrne, who also illustrated the covers for Can I Have My Money Back?, City to City, Night Owl, and Snakes and Ladders, and all three Stealers Wheel albums. Byrne was also responsible for one of Rafferty’s most prized possessions: a hand-painted Martin acoustic guitar bearing his portrait and the name ‘Gerry Rafferty’, which features in many photographs of the singer. Thanks to the Internet, technology was allowing Rafferty to put his music directly in the hands of an appreciative audience. Rafferty also felt he had matured as an artist, Rafferty maintained his enthusiasm for this new approach to recording for the next three years. In a blog posting dated 31 March 2004 he wrote: “Let’s get back to music: after all that’s the only reason that this website has been set up.” Another posting announced that Rafferty would begin to release music regularly as free downloads: “In reality, Gerry could put a new track out every two weeks or so. We will keep you informed of developments as they happen. However Only a handful of tracks were ever released, however, and the website eventually closed down without any explanation. In 2009 Rafferty released Life Goes On, featuring a mixture of new recordings, covers of Christmas carols and traditional songs that had previously been available as downloads on his web site, and edited tracks from his previous three albums.
Gerry Rafferty sadly died4 January 2011, however this rekindled interest in the singer’s work. His daughter Martha relaunched Rafferty’s old website, gerryrafferty.com, with a full discography, rare photos, and new artwork by John ‘Patrick’ Byrne. She portrayed her father as an autodidact with an “incredibly strong work ethic” and passion for books (“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.”).In September 2011, EMI issued a remastered collector’s edition of City to City featuring previously unheard demo versions of “Baker Street”, “Mattie’s Rag”, “City to City”, and other tracks from the album.
Other artists continue to be inspired by Rafferty’s work. In 2012, Cuillin Recordings issued “Paisley Spin”, a remix of three tracks from Can I Have My Money Back? by Celtic fusion artist Martyn Bennett. Bonnie Raitt recorded a reggae treatment of “Right Down the Line” for her Slipstream album released 10 April 2012. Barbara Dickson released a tribute album of 13 Rafferty songs, To Each and Everyone: The Songs of Gerry Rafferty, in September 2013, including cover versions of “Baker Street”, “The Ark”, and “Steamboat Row”.