Stealers Wheel / Gerry Rafferty

This is more about a song rather than a band, but two talented band members Joe Eagan and Gerry Rafferty would pen and record a great song “Stuck in the Middle with You” which reached # 2 in Canada in 1973.   In 1978 Gerry would write and record “Baker Street” which would become a # 2 hit around the world.  Gerry who always struggled with alcohol and would leave us in 2011.  Let’s take a look at Stealers Wheel and Gerry Rafferty.

Stealers Wheel

Videos:

1973 / Top of the Pop / Stuck in the Middle with You

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1974 / Joe Eagan and Gerry Rafferty / Star

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Music:

1973 / Stuck in the Middle with You / # 2 Canada

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1973 / Everything will turn out fine / # 25 Canada

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1974 / Star / # 12 Canada

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Biography

Stealers Wheel was a British folk/rock band formed in Paisley, Scotland in 1972 by former school friends Joe Egan (born 1944) and Gerry Rafferty (1947 – 2011). In the early 1970s, the band was considered to be the British version of American folk/rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They were initially joined by Roger Brown, Rab Noakes and Ian Campbell in 1972. However, that line-up only lasted a few months and by the time the band were signed to A&M Records later that same year, Brown, Noakes and Campbell had been replaced by Paul Pilnick, Tony Williams and Rod Coombes. This line-up recorded their eponymous debut album, Stealers Wheel and was produced by the influential American songwriters and producers Leiber & Stoller.  The album ‘Stealers Wheel’ (1973), became a commercial success. It contains their biggest hit ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’. Two more albums were released (‘Ferguslie Park’, 1974 and ‘Right Or Wrong’, 1975) before Rafferty and Egan broke up. It took several years to sort out the legal problems connected to their break-up. After that, Rafferty became a star with his hit ‘Baker Street’ from the album ‘City to City’ (1978).|Paul Pilnick’s early career was promoted and managed by Mr. George Roberts whilst Paul worked as lead guitarist for the band, “Vince & the Volcanoes”, led by Mr. Vincent Tow/Ismail; |(Vinnie was an early, informal & friend, guitar tutor to, Lennon & McCartney) |They all worked at and from Liverpool 8, ‘Granby’ during and including 1959 to 1963 and from 54 Huskisson Street Liverpool 8.

Gerry Rafferty:

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – April 01: Gerry Rafferty from Stealers Wheel posed outside Copenhagen, Denmark in April 1974 (Photo by Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

Videos:

1978 / Baker Street / 

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1978 / Night Owl / 

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Music:

1978 / Baker Street / # 2

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1979 / Night Owl / # 5 UK

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1979 / Get it Right Next Time / # 30 UK

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Biography:

Born Gerald Rafferty, 16th April 1947 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, he was raised by a Scottish/Irish mother and deaf Irish-Catholic father, the latter a lover of both hymns and traditional Celtic-folk. Along with schoolmate, JOE EGAN, Gerry went from performing with The Mavericks to releasing a single with The Fifth Column (`Benjamin Day’) for Columbia in 1966. 

Gerry’s first big break came about in early 1969, when his reflective songs persuaded The HUMBLEBUMS duo, Tam Harvey and comic/singer/banjoist, BILLY CONNOLLY, to become a trio; although Tam would duly bail out after a conflict of interest.

RAFFERTY stayed on for two LPs, “The New Humblebums” (1969) and “Open Up The Door” (1970), before parting ways with the Big Yin, who’d more to give than just a song and dance.

Sticking with London-based indie-folk/singer-songwriter label, Transatlantic (run by Nathan Joseph), RAFFERTY subsequently delivered his debut solo album, CAN I HAVE MY MONEY BACK? (1971) , a simple and sentimental record that also boasted the talents of Joe Egan (keyboards/vocals); his co-writer on the acerbic and cynical, `Sign On The Dotted Line’. This song, and others such as the title track, were aimed at the bough of the record industry bigwigs, while alienation and creativity (inspired by Colin Wilson’s book, The Outsider) brought about songs like `To Each And Everyone’; the semi-biographical `Mary Skeffington’ track paid homage to his mother.

It was inevitable that the pairing of Rafferty and Egan would surface again, this time as the London-based STEALERS WHEEL, who also comprised Paul Pilnick (lead guitar), Tony Williams (bass) and Rod Coombes (drums); RAB NOAKES was an early member but he left before they signed on the dotted line with A&M Records.

Overseen by veteran production duo, Leiber & Stoller, their eponymous debut album was characterised by gentle, folky harmonies and an unerring ear for pop melody; the DYLAN-esque shuffle of `Stuck In The Middle With You’, a transatlantic Top 10 hit upon its original release, and later an integral, ingeniously effective part of Quentin Tarantino’s infamous Reservoir Dogs movie.

There was almost as much confusion surrounding the identity of the STEALERS WHEEL line-up as there was among Tarantino’s panicked criminal pros; Gerry leaving for a couple of months before returning in time for a follow-up.

By this point, it was down to just the core duo of Gerry and Joe, who roped in a crew of session players to complete “Ferguslie Park” (1973). Another set of consummate folk-pop, the record was nevertheless a commercial disappointment save for a minor Top 30 hit, `Star’.

Disillusioned, the pair completed one further set, the equally impressive “Right Or Wrong” (1975), before permanently parting company and embarking on respective solo careers.

After a number of years grappling with business problems, RAFFERTY emerged in early ‘78 with United Artists Records and the CITY TO CITY album. Changing tack to a more contemporary, MOR style, the cool star scored a massive international hit (including a US No.2) with the aforementioned `Baker Street’; a single defined as much by the man’s lush vocal chords as Raphael Ravenscroft’s  famous sax riff which formed the basis of this world-weary classic. The track’s success saw album sales go through the roof, RAFFERTY becoming something of a reluctant overnight superstar. The equally touching `Right Down The Line’ and `Home And Dry’ both hit the US charts, easing the pain of missing out on a chart placing in his homeland for the former and also `Whatever’s Written In Your Heart’.

Shunning the limelight and choosing not to promote the album in America (where it went No.1 and platinum), RAFFERTY instead began work on a follow-up, NIGHT OWL (1979) . While failing to scale the commercial heights of its predecessor, the heartfelt record was a sizeable success nonetheless, Gerry’s inimitably understated approach again delighting fans who put it into the UK Top 10 and US Top 30. Intimate and relaxing, the nocturnal approach was all too apparent on the smooch-y and sophisticated title track, a Top 5 smash in Britain; the moving `Right Down The Line’ and `Days Gone Down’, followed it into the charts.

Subsequent albums such as SNAKES AND LADDERS (1980) and the below-par SLEEPWALKING (1982) lacked an attendant hot single, although there were the odd songs of retrospective passion; `The Royal Mile’ and `The Garden Of England’ (both from the former set) only a train journey between them.

When his label duly concentrated on other aspects of their enterprise, RAFFERTY was squeezed out of the equation, leading to the man taking a welcome sabbatical during the mid-80s; although he did contribute to MARK KNOPFLER’s 1983 “Local Hero” soundtrack.

On the back of a production credit for fellow-Scots, The PROCLAIMERS, on their 1987 smash `Letter From America’, RAFFERTY was ready to leave the ghosts of “Baker Street” behind him on comeback set, NORTH & SOUTH (1988) . Showcasing ten silky self-penned songs with a relatively DIRE STRAITS-esque approach (from the Celtic-like `Tired Of Talking’ to flop single, `Shipyard Town’), there was no real “North & South” divide for the Sunday morning sounds of the man who’d long since settled in Hampstead, London.

In 1990, divorced from his wife of twenty years, Carla Ventilla (they had a daughter Martha May), increasing but reclusive drinking binges started to affect his lifestyle and productiveness; alcoholism and depression soon followed.

RAFFERTY continued to record, if sporadically, in the 90s, such seasoned hands as pedal steel player, B.J. Cole, lending their expertise to 1993’s ON A WING & A PRAYER ; the record also featuring the backing vocal and co-writing talents of JOE EGAN and brother JIM RAFFERTY; the latter a solo recording artist in the late 70s. Lending his weight to tracks `I See Red’, `Don’t Speak Of My Heart’ and `The Light Of Love’ (there was also a cover of ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Get Out Of My Life Woman’), a nice family and friends cohesion was re-installed. But it was Gerry’s final chart entry at a lowly No.73.

For 1995’s OVER MY HEAD , guitarist RAB NOAKES and songsmith EGAN were on hand on a few of the cuts (`Clear Day’ was the most noteworthy), while there was room for improvement on cover versions of JOHN LENNON’s `Out The Blue’ and Johnny Mercer’s `Lonesome Polecat’.

Originally issued on his own website imprint, his ninth set ANOTHER WORLD (2000) featured MARK KNOPFLER on fretwork; the song `You Put Something Better Inside Of Me’ from his salad days with STEALERS WHEEL. Re-released for commercial purposes a few years later (for Hypertension Records), it also gleaned the talents of usual suspects, BRYN HAWORTH, Mel Collins, Julian Littman, Pino Palladino, Kenny Craddock, Mo Foster, et al.

A decade blighted by binge-drinking, alcoholism and private visits to rehabs (from London to California), his disappearances and admissions to hospitals around the country were becoming more frequent. Yet, there was a glimmer of hope when a new album (well, sort of six fresh songs and recordings from his previous set) was unveiled in November 2009. LIFE GOES ON  – possibly dedicated to recent Italian girlfriend, Enzina Fuschini – was a poor shadow of his once great self.

Admitted to the Royal Bournemouth hospital almost exactly a year later for multiple organ failure, although in remission, he passed away (of liver failure) on 4th January 2011 at his daughter’s house in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

–o–