A Rockapaedia Obituary
<<go to audio control>>
Gerry Rafferty died aged sixty-three of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, U.K. on 4th January 2011.
Over four hundred attended Gerry Rafferty's funeral. A Requiem Mass was held for him at St Mirin's Cathedral in his native town of Paisley on 21st January 2011. The service was streamed live over the Internet. Politicians in attendance were the First Minister of Scotland the Right Honorable Alex Salmond MSP, Wendy Alexander MSP, Hugh Henry MSP, and Robin Harper MSP. The musicians present included Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, former bandmates Joe Egan and Rab Noakes, Barbara Dickson, and Graham Lyle. The eulogy was given by Gerry Rafferty's longtime friend John Byrne. His remains were then cremated at the Woodside Crematorium in Paisley and his ashes scattered on the island of Iona.
Gerry Rafferty was born on 16th April 1947 into a working-class family in Paisley, Scotland, a son and grandson of coal miners. Gerry 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 when Gerry Rafferty was sixteen. Gerry Rafferty learned both Irish and Scottish folk songs as a boy. He recalled that growing up in Paisley he was hearing all these songs when he was two or three, songs like "She Moves Through the Fair", which his mother sang beautifully and a whole load of Irish traditional songs and Scots traditional songs". Heavily influenced by folk music and the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Gerry Rafferty started to write his own material.
Gerry Rafferty left St. Mirin's Academy in 1963. He then worked in a butcher's shop, as a civil service clerk, and in a shoe shop. However, as he explained in an interview, there was never anything else for him but music. He never intended making a career out of any of the jobs he did. On weekends he and a classmate, future Stealers Wheel collaborator Joe Egan, played in a local group named The Maverix, mainly covering chart songs by groups such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In the mid 1960's Gerry Rafferty earned money, for a time, busking on the London Underground. In 1966, Gerry Rafferty and Egan were members of the band The Fifth Column.
In 1969 Gerry Rafferty became the third member of a folk-pop group, The Humblebums, composed of comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. Harvey left shortly afterwards, and Gerry Rafferty and Connolly continued as a duo, recording two albums for Transatlantic Records. A 1970 appearance at the Royal Festival Hall, supporting Fotheringay with Nick Drake, earned a positive review from a critic 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, telling how Gerry Rafferty made him laugh and describing the crazy things they did while on tour. Even though Gerry Rafferty and Connolly parted ways in 1971, they remained close friends until Gerry Rafferty's death.
After the duo separated in 1971, Transatlantic owner Nathan Joseph signed Gerry Rafferty as a solo performer. Gerry Rafferty recorded his first solo album, 'Can I Have My Money Back?', with Hugh Murphy, a staff producer working for the label. Billboard praised the album as "high-grade folk-rock", describing it as Gerry 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 Gerry 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." Gerry Rafferty later confirmed that alienation was the "persistent theme" of his songs.
In 1972, having gained some airplay from his Signpost recording "Make You, Break You", Gerry Rafferty joined Egan to form Stealers Wheel and recorded three albums with the American songwriters and producers Leiber & Stoller. The group was beset by legal wranglings, but had a huge hit "Stuck in the Middle With You", which earned critical acclaim as well as commercial success: a 1975 article in Sounds described it as "a sort of cross between white label Beatles and punk Dylan yet with a unique Celtic flavour that has marked all their work". Twenty years later, the song was used prominently in the 1992 movie 'Reservoir Dogs', although Gerry 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 Gerry 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, Gerry 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 Gerry 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 number 3 in the UK and number 2 in the USA. The album sold over 5.5 million copies, toppling the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in the USA on 8th July 1978. Gerry Rafferty considered this his first proper taste of success.
'Baker Street' featured a distinctive saxophone solo played by Raphael Ravenscroft, although the origins of the solo have been disputed. As Gerry recalled in a 1988 interview; when he wrote the song he saw that bit as an instrumental part but he didn't know what for. They tried electric guitar but it sounded weak, and they tried other things and he thought it was Hugh Murphy's suggestion that they tried saxophone.
In a 2006 interview with The Times, Raphael Ravenscroft recalled the episode differently, claiming he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps" and most of what he played was an old blues riff when he 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.
The lyrics of "Baker Street" reflected Gerry Rafferty's disenchantment with certain elements of the music industry. This was elaborated on by music journalist Paul Gambaccini for BBC World News saying Gerry's song "Baker Street" was about how uncomfortable he felt in the star system.
Gerry's 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 Number seventeen in the USA. The follow-up single "Get It Right Next Time" made the UK and US Top forty. Gerry Rafferty drew a clear distinction between the artistic integrity of a musician, on the one hand, and the music industry's need to create celebrities and sell products, on the other. In an interview with Colin Irwin in 1988, he said that there is a thin line between being a songwriter and a singer and being a personality and if you feel uncomfortable with it you shouldn't do it.
Generally an autobiographical writer Gerry Rafferty returned to this theme often, in the lyrics of Stealers Wheel songs such as "Star", "Stuck in the Middle With You", and "Good Businessman", and later solo tracks like "Take the Money and Run" (from Night Owl), "Welcome to Hollywood" (from Snakes and Ladders), and "Sleepwalking" (from the album of the same name). The liner notes to the compilation album Right Down the Line, written by Jerry Gilbert with Rafferty's close co-operation, note his consistent refusal to tour the United States and "generally 'play the industry game'." It was ironic that Gerry Rafferty, a lover and collector of religious icons, who would later name one of his publishing companies "Icon Music", was also an iconoclast. ] According to Michael Gray, Gerry Rafferty's personal manager at the height of his success, Gerry turned down many opportunities to work with other artists. He retained a healthy scepticism not just about the music industry but about society, money and politics in general. His background was soaked in Scottish socialism and poverty, his mind sharp and his personality acerbic, and he wasn't going to be dazzled by the glamour of success.
Gerry Rafferty never changed his mind about the music business; if anything, his views hardened. In 2000, he told the Paisley Daily Express that the second Stealers Wheel album, released in 1974, had been named Ferguslie Park, after a deprived area of Paisley, to get as far away as possible from all the bullshit of the music industry in London. Monsignor John Tormey, celebrating Gerry Rafferty's funeral mass, suggested the singer's attitude to fame was an indication of his spiritual integrity and that he always searched for a more authentic way to live his life, shunning the outward trappings of celebrity so that he might live as he chose to live his life.
In 1965, eighteen year-old Gerry Rafferty had met fifteen year-old Carla Ventilla, an apprentice hairdresser from an Italian family in Clydebank, at a dancehall, a story he later recounted in the song "Shipyard Town" on North and South. They married in 1970 and lived in Scotland with their daughter, Martha Mary, before moving to the south of England in the late 1970s, where they divided their time between their farm near the Kent–Sussex border and a home in Hampstead, London. Gerry Rafferty's lengthy commutes from London to Scotland inspired some songs on the album 'City to City'.
Gerry Rafferty enjoyed alcohol from a young age, and early songs, such as "One Drink Down", "Baker Street", and "Night Owl", freely mention the subject. According to Michael Gray, the singer's personal manager in the early 1980's who said that it never occurred to him in all the time he knew Gerry that he was heading for alcoholism.
While the news stories focused on Gerry Rafferty's binges, they revealed nothing of the impact on his family and friends. His girlfriend Enzina Fuschini said that she felt that he was under some sort of evil spell and he felt crippled by it.
In 2008, Gerry Rafferty moved away from California and briefly rented a home in Ireland, where his drinking soon became a problem again. In July that year, he flew to London, where he stayed in the five-star Westbury Hotel in Mayfair and began a four-day drinking session that left his room extensively damaged.
There were conflicting reports about what happened next. The newspaper Scotland on Sunday reported that Gerry Rafferty had been asked to leave the hotel and had then checked himself into St Thomas' Hospital suffering from a chronic liver condition, brought on by heavy drinking. The same report claimed that on 1st August 2008, Gerry Rafferty had disappeared, leaving his belongings behind, and that the hospital had filed a missing persons report.
On 17th February 2009, The Guardian reported that Gerry Rafferty was in hiding in the south of England, being cared for by a friend. Subsequently, Gerry Rafferty's spokesperson Paul Charles told The Independent that he had been in touch with Gerry Rafferty two weeks previously and that he was alive and well but had no plans to either record or tour. This was contradicted by a report in The Daily Telegraph on the following day, which quoted a statement his solicitors made to Channel 4 News that contrary to reports, Gerry is extremely well and has been living in Tuscany for the last six months and 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.
After leaving St Thomas' Hospital, and while claiming he was in Tuscany, Gerry was moving from one London hotel to another. During this time, he met Enzina Fuschini, an Italian artist living in Dorset. Gerry Rafferty and Fuschini rented a large home together in Upton, near Poole. Fuschini claims she cared for the singer during 2009 and tried to help him overcome his alcoholism, and that he proposed to her at the Ritz Hotel in Paris on Christmas Eve that year.
In November 2010, Gerry Rafferty was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he was put on a life-support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, Gerry Rafferty rallied for a short time, and it seemed that he might recover.