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RIP Gerry Rafferty

Gerry Rafferty dies @ 63
(Photo: GARCIA/Getty Images)

Gerry Rafferty has died at age 63.  The Scottish Singer/Songwriter who produced 1970s hits like “Stuck in the Middle With You,” “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line” died yesterday in Dorset, England.  

His death was confirmed by Michael Gray, his former manager, in an obituary he wrote for the London newspaper The Guardian, and later by his agent, Paul Charles, in a report by The Associated Press.  Various news reports said Mr. Rafferty had been hospitalized for severe liver and kidney problems.

Mr. Rafferty’s 1978 album, “City to City,” reached No. 1 in the United States. One track, “Baker Street,” made the Top 10 in both Britain and the United States.  So did “Stuck in the Middle With You,” a song Mr. Rafferty and Joe Egan recorded with their group Stealers Wheel in 1972.  That song reached a new generation of listeners when Quentin Tarantino used it in the notorious ear-slicing scene in his 1992 movie “Reservoir Dogs.”  Mr. Rafferty sold more than 10 million albums over three decades.

But Mr. Gray, writing in The Guardian, said Mr. Rafferty’s success was a shadow of what it might have been. At the peak of his popularity, Mr. Rafferty declined to tour the United States and turned down chances to play with Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. In his later years his output declined, then stopped altogether as he “spiraled into alcoholism,” Mr. Gray said. Mr. Rafferty himself said in a rare interview in 2009 with The Sunday Express that he suffered from depression.

But at his peak Mr. Rafferty drew rave reviews for his synthesis of country, folk and rock music. Reviewing “City to City” in Rolling Stone, Ken Emerson said Mr. Rafferty “writes with the sweet melodiousness of Paul McCartney and sings with John Lennon’s weary huskiness.”

Mr. Emerson discerned “a prayerful quality” in Mr. Rafferty’s voice, reminiscent of “the dim dawn after a dark night of the soul.”

Almost from his birth in Paisley, Scotland, on April 16, 1947, Gerald Rafferty knew plenty about life’s dark side. He and his mother would hide from his father to avoid being beaten when he stumbled home drunk, Mr. Gray wrote. But music pervaded the family’s life, as young Gerry assimilated Roman Catholic hymns, traditional folk music, 1950s pop and even the Irish rebel tunes his deaf father bellowed.

Mr. Rafferty dropped out of school at 15 and went to work in a butcher shop. On weekends he and a friend, Mr. Egan, played in a local group, the Mavericks. After bouncing about a bit, Mr. Rafferty and Mr. Egan reunited in Stealers Wheel, whose debut album included “Stuck in the Middle.”

“Stuck in the Middle,” written as a parody of many of Bob Dylan’s songs, ridiculed a music industry cocktail party, complaining, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

By 1975, Stealers Wheel had broken up after recording three albums, and Mr. Rafferty spent the next three years in legal disputes over contracts. Finally, in 1978, he was free to record again and signed with United Artists. “City to City,” a solo effort, was his first album for the label. Its centerpiece song, “Baker Street,” featured a saxophone solo by Raphael Ravenscroft that became so popular it was said to spark a global increase in saxophone sales.

Mr. Rafferty went on to record several more albums, including “Night Owl,” which made it to the Top Five in England and the Top 20 in the United States in 1979. Other albums followed, some of which garnered good reviews but none of which approached Mr. Rafferty’s earlier success.

He contributed a vocal to the soundtrack of the 1983 film “Local Hero,” and produced the Proclaimers’ 1987 hit “Letter From America.”

Mr. Rafferty’s marriage to Carla Ventilla ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughter, Martha, a brother and a granddaughter.

In the 2009 interview, Mr. Rafferty called the music industry “something I loathe and detest.” Nevertheless, he earned nearly $125,000 a year in royalties for “Baker Street” alone.

(Douglas Martin for the New York Times)

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