Deserving Voices

I’ve got a piece up at WNEW.com today about Gerry Rafferty’s career. (Link just added.) In my role as chief historian over there, I thought it was important to make clear that his career did not begin and end with “Baker Street.”

Can’t remember where I read it exactly, but I saw a piece suggesting that while “Baker Street” was about leaving behind rock-star craziness (“he’s got this dream about buying some land/he’s gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands”), its success threatened to make Rafferty into the very thing the protagonist of “Baker Street” didn’t want to be. And he resisted. There was no big tour in the wake of City to City, no slot opening for the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers or the like, as far as I know. What Rafferty did instead was go back to work, and it would be barely a year before he released Night Owl.

That is not to suggest that he never played live, ever. The fabulous ROIO bootleg archive dug up a show recorded in Hamburg, Germany, in 1993, in which Rafferty plays a handful of hits (“Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line,” and “Get it Right Next Time”), but mostly ignores the rest of his hitmaking period, playing just one other track from City to City, nothing else from Night Owl, and nothing from the 1980 album Snakes and Ladders. He does, however, perform a changed-up version of Stealers’ Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.”

The ROIO archive is quite something, featuring an array of concert recordings, studio outtakes, and other ephemera by artists of all sorts, Gerry Rafferty to Miles Davis, classical to world music. Postings sometimes stick around for a while and sometimes they disappear quickly, and not every one of them will be of interest to everybody. But holy cow, the stuff you’ll find over there.

On Another Matter: The Internet nearly collapsed next week under the weight of the Ted Williams story—the homeless guy with the amazing pipes. Millions of Americans got all happy when Williams landed a couple of jobs utilizing his talents, although a few dissenting voices have been heard. Legendary DJ Dan Ingram is one of them, shooting a  note to Ken Levine complaining about the way Williams got a job at the expense of union voiceover artists. Commenters to Levine’s post are upset with Ingram, although many of them take shots at the idea of union voiceover artists in general rather than addressing Ingram’s broader point—that there are many skilled and experienced voiceover artists out there who are just as deserving of the sort of gigs Williams got, but their hard work and dedication has gone for naught. Ingram’s not the only person who’s made this point in the last week, and it can’t be entirely dismissed. But neither can the role of serendipity, as some of the commenters observe. We’ve all gotten breaks. In the end, it’s up to us to make the best of what we get. If Williams is deserving, he’ll make a life out of it. If not, he’ll be back on I-70 before too long.

“Stuck in the Middle With You”/Gerry Rafferty (live in Hamburg, 1993; bootleg)

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4 responses

  1. Apparently Mr. Williams had a run-in with the police last night. That didn’t take long.

  2. I misinterpreted the Williams story. I thought he was a homeless guy with great pipes so he got hired to do voice-work. I didn’t know (initially) that he had a radio background. Would have changed that story’s unique-ness a little bit.

    In a somewhat related matter (substance abuse) a friend pointed out that Gerry Rafferty was much like the Byrds’ Gene Clark in that steady royalties allowed the pair to drink themselves to death. Clark had a late in life windfall from Tom Petty covering “I”ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” on the multimillion selling “Full Moon Fever.”

    1. I don’t believe very many people knew Williams had a background in radio–it wasn’t reported in the stories I saw about him. It’s a better story if he’s just this guy blessed with great pipes from out of nowhere, and our media tends to prefer the better story to the accurate one. With the economy and the industry being what it is today, I suspect he’s not the only homeless ex-radio guy out there.

  3. Yep. Another take on the old “when the facts contradict the legend…print the legend anyway” story.

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