Rock ‘n’ wheel years

Stealers Wheel at the recording session for Stuck In The Middle With You.  From left, Geoff Emmerick,Tony Williams (back), Paul Pilnick (standing), Joe Egan, Gerry Rafferty and Tony Mehan (Shadows drummer)
Stealers Wheel at the recording session for Stuck In The Middle With You. From left, Geoff Emmerick,Tony Williams (back), Paul Pilnick (standing), Joe Egan, Gerry Rafferty and Tony Mehan (Shadows drummer)
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AHEAD of this Friday’s funeral, when hundreds of mourners will pack into Paisley’s St Mirin’s Cathedral to bid an emotional farewell to music legend Gerry Rafferty, veteran rocker and photographer Pete Shelton has been looking through his prized collection of pictures.

Among them are several informal photographs taken during the London recording sessions of Gerry’s group Stealers Wheel, which also featured bass player Tony Williams, now a leading Blackpool councillor – who is to attend the funeral.

Pete, who lives in Normoss, spent much of the late 1960s and early 70s in America.

He recalls: “It was around July/August 1972 and I was over from Chicago with my wife, Bonnie Herman, who was a part of a jazz vocal group called The Singers Unlimited.

“We’d come over with some friends who were recording their first album at Trident Studios.

“I was doing photographs and Bonnie was waiting to do background vocals.

“I took some time off and went to pick up Tony Williams in Blackpool and drive him back to Apple Studios, where he was a member of Stealers Wheel, who were finishing their first album.

“That particular day they were doing the vocals for the last track on the album, Stuck In The Middle With You.

“After they finished the track I managed to get a few pictures, including one of Gerry Rafferty listening intently.

“Another shows the album’s producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, regarded as one of the most successful writing teams in America throughout the 1950s and 60s, writing such hits as Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Loving You and others for Elvis Presley.

“They also wrote a string of hits for American vocal group The Coasters, such as Charlie Brown and Yakety Yak. They also wrote Stand By Me for Ben E King.

“At the end of the Stealers session I said that the track Stuck In The Middle With You was a hit. They disagreed and released Late Again.

“The first two releases failed to make any impact and eventually they turned to my pick and the rest, as they say, is history.”

After leaving Stealers Wheel, Gerry, who died earlier this month, enjoyed global solo success with his single Baker Street, which last October was officially recognised for surpassing five million plays worldwide.

Stuck In The Middle With You, which gained a new lease of life when featured in the 1992 movie Reservoir Dogs, has received more than four million plays worldwide.

Pete admits: “For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for music.

“As a youngster I would sit and listen to my big sister playing her records on the old wind-up gramophone, mostly Bing Crosby, or the Ink Spots.

“From there I progressed to Stan Kenton and big band jazz, and then onto Hank Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

“The more I listened to music, the more I was beginning to identify with differences in musical styles.

“I made my debut as a rock ‘n’ roll performer in 1960 at Blackpool’s Picador Club.

“From there I joined, in 1963, Marty Wilde and the Wildcats – who was still a big star at that time.

“Then I went to America in 1965 where I toured and played in almost every state between 1965 and 1970.

“I was a tour manager for one of America’s most successful bands from 1966 to 68, a group called The Buckinghams.

“They were the most-played recording artists on American radio in 1967. I went from that to music management and production, and photography, before returning to England where I now spend my days writing.

“I have a new book, Rock-N-Roll Fever: Blackpool in the 60s, available from next month about the resort’s music scene.”