Remembering Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011)

Another notable musical talent has left the earth.  Scotsman Gerry Rafferty has passed away at the age of 63.  From the perspective of songwriting, he was brilliant with his lyrics, but he was considered a one hit wonder.  Because I grew up in the era of his popularity, I appreciated his five prominent singles.

After his debut run with the Humblebums, a folk rock group in the sixties, he and his good friend Joe Egan put together a new group called Stealers Wheel.
Lightning struck for them when they scored a number 6 Billboard hit, “Stuck In the Middle” in 1973.  It was a very catchy melody with quirky lyrics and was recorded whimsically as a homage to Bob Dylan’s singing style.  Back then, AM radio played the hell out of the Top 20, and this song is still stuck in my head with other songs like “Summer Breeze”, “Do It Again”, and “Crocodile Rock”.  But “Stuck In the Middle” would be their only hit and the group disbanded quickly.  They gave it one more honest try, but by 1975, they called it off for good.  I still like the tune, though.  Years later, it got the opportunity to be bronzed for posterity, because Quentin Tarantino chose to use it in his movie Reservoir Dogs (It’s played during the scene where Michael Madsen gets his ear cut off.  Cool.)  It has also been covered by artists Juice Newton, Eagles of Death Metal, Jeff Healey, Louise, Collin Raye, and even Canadian crooner Michael Bublé.  The last five names are a testimony that reheating a song by putting in a film can give it a new life, as long as it’s done right.   Based on his body of his work, Tarantino seems to revere the old hits as pop-culture milestones.  I agree with the sentiment.

Now comes the part in the story where Gerry Rafferty goes solo.  Anybody who remembers his biggest single, “Baker Street”, will definitely reminisce on the lustrous sax solo.  That sparkling riff was performed Raphael Ravenscroft and without it, the song might have been little more than an ordinary folky tune, as some critics have said.  The saxophone made it special.  But it became an ongoing gentleman’s disagreement between Rafferty and Ravenscroft.  With royalties and all, “Baker Street” has given Gerry an annual income of £80,000.  Raphael seems to have been a good sport considering that in 1977 he was paid £27 for his work, and the check bounced.  He chose to swallow this matter and move on, figuring that he may not have handled the riches in a responsible fashion.  Who knows?  They never resolved it.  Money is a tough issue in the music world, but credit is a valuable prize as well, and he gets praise for that, if only.

That song was also given a booster shot in 1997 when Gus Van Sant used it in his movie Good Will Hunting, and it has also been covered by numerous atrists.  Gerry Rafferty’s solo success never matched “Baker Street”, and he walked away in 1983.  But he left a trail of minor hits on the way out the door, and they sounded pretty good but faded away as did he.  By the way, just so you know, those hits were “Right Down the Line”, “Days Gone Down”, “Get It Right Next Time”, and “The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’)”.  He wouldn’t hire a manager and did not like to tour, and though he drew a good paycheck from his most famous song, he didn’t try to capitalize on its success.  He had been performing for about ten years, but was working on releasing one more album in 2009.

Though he chose to devote the rest of his life to his family, he also battled the bottle, and it was alcoholism that finally did him in.  He died at his home of liver failure on January 4.  It’s a sad ending, but his contributions made a lot of us smile.  Rest In Peace, Gerry Rafferty.

Dean