Gerry Rafferty: An appreciation of the late 'Baker Street' singer-songwriter
Image Credit: Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images“Baker Street” is easily the song most associated with Gerry Rafferty, who has died at the age of 63 after a long illness. Yet there was far more to the singer-songwriter than that sax-driven radio staple. In Rafferty’s long, if still sadly truncated career, he progressed from the U.K. folk circuit to worldwide rock fame. He also accrued a range of celebrity fans from Quentin Tarantino to the “Baker Street”-covering Foo Fighters.
Rafferty was born in Paisley, Scotland, on April 16, 1947. His father was a miner and a heavy drinker who had a habit of becoming violent when he returned from the pub. “There were lots of unhappy times spawned from that when I was a kid,” he later recalled. “His life was not great, his vision of the world was extremely narrow. It was an incredibly hard life.”
The teenage Rafferty formed a band called the Mavericks with his schoolfriend Joe Egan but the group struggled to find success and fell apart. In 1969, Rafferty attended a show by folk act the Humblebums and bonded with band member, and comedian-in-the-making, Billy Connolly. Connolly invited Rafferty to join the band. He recorded two albums with the Humblebums (The New Humbelbums and Open the Door) but the group split up when it became clear that Connolly’s ambitions lay more in comedy than music. “It was getting awkward on stage,” Rafferty would later recall. “When I did a solo piece, just voice and acoustic guitar, Billy would walk off stage. And his jokes were getting longer and longer while the songs were getting shorter and shorter. It made sense to part when we did.”
In 1971, Rafferty cut a solo album called Can I Have My Money Back? and then formed the pop-rock act Stealers Wheel with Egan. The band scored a huge hit with the track “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Later releases proved less successful and they too broke up in 1975.
Rafferty spent the next few years in limbo thanks to assorted legal problems. He returned in 1978 with the slickly honed set City to City, which propelled the singer-songwriter to stardom thanks to the chart success of “Baker Street.” While Rafferty’s next couple of albums (1979’s Night Owls and the following year’s Snakes & Ladders) were also fine collections, he would never repeat the commercial impact of that monster hit. Moreover, the singer-songwriter began to tire of the demands that fame had brought him. “It dawned on me that since “Baker Street” I had been touring the world, traveling everywhere and seeing nowhere,” he would recall. “It wasn’t difficult for to me walk away from the business. I could never live the 24-hour-day celebrity life.” The singer-songwriter also developed a drinking problem and after 1982’s Sleepwalking album, his releases and public appearances became sporadic.
Yet Rafferty continued to impact popular culture. He co-produced the Proclaimers’ U.K. hit “Letter to America” while “Stuck in the Middle With You” was used memorably by Quentin Tarantino in his debut movie, Reservoir Dogs. Then of course, there was, and is, “Baker Street”, a bona fide radio classic and one that seems destined to remain so for many years to come.
You’ll find “Baker Street” and several of Rafferty’s other tunes embedded below. Please do check them out.