Gerry Rafferty, who had Top 10 success with Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle” and his own “Baker Street,” died on Tuesday in London from liver failure after a long battle with alcoholism. The Scottish-born singer and songwriter had reportedly been hospitalized during November in Dorset, England, with a grim prognosis. He was taken off life support and showed some improvement until this week. He was 63.
His former manager Michael Gray, in an obituary for the British newspaper The Guardian, praised Rafferty’s voice as “redolent of both Lennon’s and McCartney’s, yet unmistakably his own” and his music as “a shimmering delta of sound…romantic yet pushily sardonic…thanks to Gerry’s gift of perfect pitch and an obdurate determination to stick to his guns.” The latter, Gray wrote, ultimately limited Rafferty’s musical achievements” “Behind an aggressive front, and a strong awareness of his own musical excellence, was fear. He turned down working with Eric Clapton, McCartney and others…”
Rafferty was born in Paisley Scotland, on April 16, 1947, to a Scottish mother and Irish father whose own drinking habit caused Rafferty’s mother to walk him around the town on Saturday nights so they wouldn’t be home when his father returned, drunk. Rafferty became a musician as a teenager, working days in a butcher shop and a local tax office while playing with friend Joe Egan in a band called the Mavericks and busking. Rafferty, who married Carla Ventilla in 1970 (they divorced in 1990), also worked with Billy Connolly in a Glasgow band called the Humblebums, recording a couple albums with the group before releasing his first solo album, “Can I Have My Money Back,” in 1972.
That same year Rafferty reunited with Egan to form Stealers Wheel. “Stuck in the Middle,” conceived as a light-hearted homage to Bob Dylan, hit No. 6 on the Hot 100 and was covered by Juice Newton, Jeff Healey, the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, the Eagles of Death Metal, Michael Buble and Sheryl Crow, among others, and was also used to memorable effect in a torture scene from the 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs.”
Stealers Wheel released three albums before splitting in 1975 (former members revived the group in 2008), and Rafferty, who’d left the band briefly at the start of its career, resumed his solo career with 1978’s “City to City.” The album sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide thanks to “Baker Street,” a song named after a London street and marked by Raphael Ravenscroft’s signature saxophone hook and hit No. 2 on the Hot 100. In October BMI announced that the song has been played more than five million times worldwide.
Rafferty had another minor hit, “All Down the Line,” from “City To City” but never achieved similar success over the course of eight more solo albums, including “Life Goes On” in 2009. He worked with Stealers Wheel partner Egan again on 1992’s “On a Wing and a Prayer” and sang on “The Way It Always Starts” from the soundtrack to “Local Heron” in 1983. Rafferty also co-produced the Proclaimers 1987 debut album, “This is the Story.”
His last couple of years were marked by strange reports, including being asked to leave the London’s Westbury Hotel for unruly behavior in July of 2008 and checking himself into a hospital for liver irregularities shortly thereafter. Rafferty was said to have disappeared that August, and at one point was said to be “extremely well and…living in Tuscany” where he was writing and recording new music. But Rafferty was actually back in Dorset, according to ex-manager Gray.
Rafferty is survived by his daughter Martha — with whom he lived during the early 90s in California — a granddaughter, Celia, and a brother, Jim.