Saturday, September 19, 2009

Clowns, Jokers And The Enigma.....Gerry Rafferty

Imagine that you're talking to me, maybe at a party where music is played and people dance. At some point in our conversation you will get the feeling that I'm not listening to you any more. You might see my head nodding, or my hips keeping time to the music. The expression on my face might indicate to you that I am someplace far away from where I'm standing, lost in the words of the music. You'd be wrong. I am not hearing the words of the music, I'm listening to you as you speak to me, I'm FEELING the drums or the sax, or the sound of the vocalist as he sings. It might even be the cowbell that I am physically keeping time with. I don't know why it's like that, it just is. Most of my friends, that have known me for years, have called it my motor running.

Music triggers something in me. All kinds of music can do that to me if the arrangement of the instruments played and the quality of the vocal instrument used when right. I'm no music critic, it's a matter of my brain supplying what should be there next. Since this is all an automatic response that happens from some point in my subconscious, I can't ever define what is or isn't there. But, this post isn't about me and how I enjoy music, it's about Gerry Rafferty. It's too bad he didn't get to enjoy what should be there next.

Gerry was born in Paisley, Scotland the son of a Scottish mother and a deaf, singing Irishman. He was raised on Irish rebel songs, traditional folk music, Catholic hymns and 50's pop. By the age of 21 he was playing the guitar and composing and singing his own songs as a busker on the London Underground. That experience was most likely the inspiration of one of his most poetic and popular songs released in 1978. Busking is the act of performing on street corners where one hopes passerby's will put money in your container if they like what they hear. Sort of an interesting start to a music career.

His first recording contract came as the result of his joining a duo who played music and told jokes onstage. They were called the Humblebums. Following a performance by them in his hometown of Paisley he approached their leader and asked him to listen to his compositions. The duo was impressed and they became a trio. Unfortunately, differences in direction drove them apart. He wanted to play music, they wanted to tell jokes and use the music as a counterpoint of sorts. They parted ways and the record label that had signed them up tried releasing a solo album with him, but it just wasn't very successful.

Next he joined forces with an old School friend, Joe Egan and created a band called Stealers Wheels. Reports were that there were a lot of problems with the lineup of the band and a lot of legal matters that needed work. Despite the unsettled atmosphere they did manage to release a hit single called "Stuck In The Middle With You". There was no mention of what the problems were, just that they were lengthy and numerous and resulted in Gerry's first being with the group, then not with the group and then with the group again. When I was reading about the upsets there, I kept thinking if that was what he meant by "Clowns to the left, jokers on the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

In 1975, Stealer's Wheels broke up finally, but the legal wrangling lasted for another 3 years, making no one but the lawyers happy. Certainly didn't make Gerry happy as he was constrained from recording for the entire time. When the lawyers finally got everything straightened out in 1978, Gerry went back to work and recorded a solo album. Titled City to City it contained the only almost perfect song I've ever felt in my life, "Baker Street". It lifts, it supports, it gently caresses. It has, for me, the single most spine tingling saxophone solo ever recorded. It glistens, it's graceful and if any part of it is disappointing, it is that it ends.

From the same album he also had a hit single with "Right Down The Line". Like "Stuck In The Middle With You" it has merit, but it's not "Baker Street". After "Baker Street" maybe I expected too much of him, because I just didn't breathe in any thing else he recorded in the same manner. His second album did well, but he seemed to have lost his momentum and no successive album charted as well as the first one did.

In 2008, he may...or may not...have disappeared. Reports were that he had been living in the Westbury Hotel in London and had been asked to vacate. His room was in deplorable, nearly unlivable condition and the other guests were bothered by his habit of relieving himself in various corners and other places throughout the hotel. In July of that year he checked himself into St. Thomas Hospital suffering with a chronic liver condition. By August he had disappeared leaving his belongings behind. There was no missing persons report filed by the hospital.

After months of unconfirmed sightings and rumors that he'd been in touch with his family, his spokesperson, Paul Charles told the Independent Newspaper in February of this year that he'd been in touch with Jerry who was living in the south of England with a friend. Mr. Charles said he was alive and well with no further plans to record or tour. This was contradicted the very next day by the Daily Telegraph who reported a portion of a statement made to Channel 4 news in England by Gerry's solicitor. "Contrary to reports, Gerry is extremely well and has been living in Tuscany for the last six months......he continues to compose and record new songs and music......and he hopes to release a new album of his most recent work in the summer of this year".

The truth? I don't think we'll ever know. It appears that possibly Mr. Charles was more accurate in his claim. Summer has come and gone and we've not heard from Gerry Rafferty. Did his downfall occur due to drug or alcohol addiction? Was it simply a matter of too much life and a mental breakdown? I don't know, but I suspect there won't be anything coming next.


  1. This is a wonderfully written piece. Were it not written about Rafferty, it could apply to so many that have come and gone.

    What makes it great is your hook at the end.

    When you say you don't see anything coming next, I believe you....

    Excellent writing, on par with "The Storytellers".


  2. Thanks, this one kind of wrote itself.