- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
Even before he became a successful and respected musician, Gerry Rafferty had developed a loathing for the often-underhanded machinations of the pop-music industry.
He was born in 1947 in Paisley, Scotland, a town that borders Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Rafferty came from a working-class family, where his mother taught him Scottish and Irish folk songs. As he grew into his teens, he became influenced by the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
His father was a hot-tempered alcoholic who died in 1963, when Rafferty was 16. That year, young Rafferty left school to work in a butcher store and a shoe shop, although deep down he wanted only to earn a living by making music.
On weekends, he and best pal Joe Egan played in a local rock band called the Maverix, primarily offering up covers of Beatles and Stones hits. Rafferty later joined a folk-pop group called the Humblebums, which included future comic star Billy Connolly. The Humblebums cut a pair of albums for Transatlantic Records, which received critical appreciation but sold poorly.
When the Humblebums disbanded in 1971, Rafferty continued with Transatlantic as a solo performer and recorded his first album, Can I Have My Money Back? His creation received enthusiastic praise but was ignored by the record-buying public.
In 1972, he and Egan reunited, this time to form a soft-rock outfit called Stealers Wheel. They promptly struck gold with “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which became a Top 10 single in America, the U.K., and Canada. That hit 45 gave Rafferty a chance to vent his spleen against the negative forces that controlled the music business.
In a voice that mimicked his idol Bob Dylan, Rafferty set the scene for his tune at a record-company party that made him uncomfortable being in the midst of the power people he always preferred to avoid:
Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain’t right
Rafferty just wanted to make music, revel in the satisfaction of its creation, and ignore that part of the picture that included insensitive bean-counters and “friends” who were supposedly furthering his career:
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
He found his frustrations maddening:
Trying to make some sense of it all
But I can see that it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
’Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Stealers Wheel cut a trio of albums, but by the time the first one was issued, Rafferty had already left the outfit. Stealers Wheel officially disbanded in 1975, and for three years Rafferty’s creative hands were tied by legal hassles that prevented him from releasing new material.
In 1978, his 6-million-selling LP City to City featured his signature song, the worldwide hit “Baker Street.” As a result, his success brought Rafferty financial independence — thanks, ironically, to the industry that he despised.
Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at email@example.com.