"For the time being I feel good — at the moment."
Fewer reservations and a bit more ebullience might be expected from a man with America's Number Two single, "Baker Street," and album, City to City (both have been Number One on some charts). But Gerry Rafferty is wearing a button warning, 'Dangerous Times Ahead,' and he's known bad times in the past as well. He may be sitting on top of the world as he gives interviews in his rumpled room at New York City's Plaza Hotel, yet he regards that world with a Scotsman's dour distrust. He has the cautious fatalism of a coal miner, the trade both his father and grandfather pursued.
Rafferty has been a one-hit wonder before, five years ago, when Stealers Wheel topped the charts with "Stuck in the Middle with You." Stealers Wheel was led by Rafferty and Joe Egan, friends since both were sixteen-year-olds playing in bands in their hometown of Paisley, a bleak industrial city near Glasgow. To Rafferty's utter disbelief, his parody of Bob Dylan's paranoia, tossed off as little more than a joke, struck pay dirt in the States — by which time he had already said goodbye to the band.
"I was going through a very strange period in my life right then," he explains with a burr that is thick yet as gentle as his large gray eyes. "I'd got married, had a child, I was twenty-four, and one day it was like I'd been living in a dream for six or eight years and suddenly I woke up. It was a pretty scary kind of feeling. Perhaps I was on the edge of a nervous break-down — that's how it felt, anyway. I just had to get away, away from groups, managers, record companies, the whole thing. So I picked up and moved [from London] back to Scotland to sort myself out."
Eventually Rafferty was prevailed upon to rejoin Stealers Wheel, and he resumed writing songs that conveyed "pretty scary kinds of feelings" and condemned "managers, record companies, the whole thing." (When I asked what he felt was the persistent theme of his music, Rafferty replied tersely and without hesitation, "Alienation.") Though he and Egan sugarcoated their bitter pills with sweet melodies and glossy pop arrangements, they were unable to repeat the success of "Stuck in the Middle."
Rafferty originally had conceived of Stealers Wheel — which he formed after spending three years as the better half of a folk-rock duo, the Humblebums — as a quartet of singer/songwriters, sort of a Scottish Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. ("Singer/songwriters were crawling out of every apartment at that time.") But two of the initial recruits deserted before they even recorded, and as musicians came and went, Stealers Wheel deteriorated into Rafferty and Egan backed by a cast of dozens. They never toured America because the band, according to Rafferty, when it existed at all, was "a fucking shambles," and they wrangled angrily with their managers.
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