Stealers Wheel was a Scottish folk-pop band that released three albums on A&M: Stealers Wheel (1972), Ferguslie Park (1973), and Right or Wrong (1975). They scored an international hit with “Stuck In the Middle With You,” performed by their original five-piece lineup. After the first album, songwriters Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty maintained the band with backing players. Rafferty later achieved transatlantic fame as a solo artist.
Members: Gerry Rafferty (vocals, guitar), Joe Egan (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Roger Brown (vocals, 1972), Rab Noakes (guitar, vocals, 1972), Iain Campbell (bass, 1972), Paul Pilnick (lead guitar, 1972), Tony Williams (bass, 1972), Rod Coombes (drums, 1972), Luther Grosvenor (vocals, guitar, 1972-73)
Stealers Wheel was the final and most successful pairing of Paisley songwriters Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, who first made music together as teenagers during the mid-1960s. After a sequence of bands (The Sensors, The Maverix), they formed The Fifth Column, which issued the 1966 Columbia single “Benjamin Day” (b/w “There’s Nobody Here”). Five years passed before their next collaboration on record. In the meantime, Rafferty released two albums in 1969/70 in The Humblebums, his folk duo with future comedian Billy Connolly.
In 1971, Rafferty debuted as a solo artist with Can I Have My Money Back? Egan, who sings backing vocals, co-wrote the track “Sign On the Dotted Line.” Another track from the album, “Mary Skeffington,” was covered the following year by Hollies vocalist Allan Clarke for his solo album My Real Name Is ‘Arold, which also includes a cover of the Egan-penned “Walpurgis Night.”
Early in 1972, Egan and Rafferty teamed with St Andrews folkie Rab Noakes, singing on one track (“Just Away”) on his eponymous second album. Collectively, they formed the initial lineup of Stealers Wheel with two other musicians. Later that year, however, the pair signed to A&M as Stealers Wheel with three new players: guitarist Paul Pilnick, bassist Tony Williams, and drummer Rod Coombes.
Pilnick hailed from ’60s beatsters Tony Jackson & the Vibrations with drummer Paul Francis (The End, Tucky Buzzard, Fuzzy Duck, Tranquility). He then played in The Big Three with bassist John Gustafson (Quatermass, Hard Stuff, Roxy Music, Ablution). Williams played in The Executives, a Blackpool mod band with bassist Glen Cornick (Jethro Tull, Wild Turkey, Paris).
Coombes did stints in Juicy Lucy, Trifle, Riff Raff, and Paul Brett’s Sage. Just prior to joining Stealers Wheel, he cut an album with Alan Ross as Ro Ro and played on Whistle Rymes, the second solo album by Who bassist John Entwistle.
1972: Stealers Wheel
Stealers Wheel released their self-titled debut album in October 1972 on A&M. It features two songs by Rafferty (“Outside Looking In,” “Johnny’s Song”), four by Egan (“Another Meaning,” “I Get By,” “José,” “Gets So Lonely”), and four Egan/Rafferty co-writes: “Late Again,” “Gets So Lonely,” “You Put Something Better Inside Me,” and “Stuck In the Middle With You.” The last of those became a transatlantic chart hit (UK #8, US #6).
Stealers Wheel was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, an American songwriting team behind numerous soul and pop hits of the ’60s (The Drifters, Ben E. King, The Shirelles, The Ad Libs). This marked an early foray into UK trimax rock by the pair; they later worked with Procol Harum and Elkie Brooks. Sessions took place at Apple Studio, London.
The engineer on Stealers Wheel, Geoff Emerick, had a string of ’60s credits (The Beatles, The Zombies, Tomorrow, Koobas) and a wealth of recent work (Badfinger, Fanny, Paladin, Wallace Collection). His tech assistant, John Mills, produced Capability Brown and worked with American hard rockers Bang.
Stealers Wheel sports a distinct cover by John Patrick Byrne. The painting depicts a wildlife park with a group of exotic animals, each with the face of a different band member: Egan (lion), Rafferty (tiger), Pilnick (bird), Williams (cow), and Coombes (zebra). Aside from the nameplate in the lower left, the words “Stealers Wheel” are embedded multiple times in the fur, stripes, and surrounding flora. Patrick also did the covers for the self-titled Humblebums album and Can I Have My Money Back?
A&M issued three songs from Stealers Wheel: “Late Again” (b/w “I Get By”), “You Put Something Better Inside of Me” (b/w “Next to Me“), and “Stuck In the Middle With You” (b/w “Jose”). They mimed “Stuck” on Top of the Pops in May 1973. The song appears on numerous comps, starting with the 1972 K-Tel release Gems of the ’70s, which also features cuts by Cliff Richard, Diana Ross, Labi Siffre, and The Stylistics.
“Late Again” appears on the 1972 Ariola comp Pop Eye 2, a two-LP set with tracks by Bill Withers, Billy Preston, Blackfoot Sue, Elton John, Free, Humble Pie, Strawbs, Sutherland Brothers, Uriah Heep, and Vinegar Joe.
Rafferty left Stealers Wheel just before the album’s release. They toured briefly with guitarist Luther Grosvenor, an alumni of Spooky Tooth who released the 1971 solo album Under Open Skies on Island Records. Encouraged by sales of Stealers Wheel, Rafferty rejoined the band. Williams cleared out for ex-Gass bassist DeLisle Harper, who served out the tour. As promotions wrapped, Stealers Wheel shrunk to the duo of Egan and Rafferty.
Pilnick joined Yes-spinoff Badger for their 1974 second album White Lady, written and sung by Jackie Lomax. In 1976, he surfaced in Liverpudlian art-rockers Deaf School. He played on their debut album, 2nd Honeymoon, and later toured with singer Bette Bright as part of her backing band, the Illuminations, which also featured the Rich Kids rhythm section: bassist Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and drummer Rusty Egan (Skids, Visage).
Coombes played on 1973/74 solo albums by guitarist/songwriter Paul Brett (Fire, Velvet Opera) and singer Keith West (Tomorrow, Moonrider). He joined Strawbs for a five-album run, starting with the 1974/75 titles Hero and Heroine and Ghosts. In 1978, Coombes played on Brett’s instrumental opus Interlife. As Harun Coombes, he engineered 1985/86 releases by IQ (The Wake), Drum Theatre, and 3 Mustaphas 3.
1973: Ferguslie Park
Stealers Wheel released their second album, Ferguslie Park, in December 1973 on A&M. It features 12 songs in the 2–4-minute range: four apiece by Egan (“Star,” “Waltz (You Know It Makes Sense!),” “Nothing’s Gonna Make Me Change My Mind,” “Back On My Feet Again”) and Rafferty (“What More Could You Want,” “Over My Head,” “Steamboat Row,” “Who Cares”), plus four joint-written compositions (“Good Businessman,” “Wheelin’,” “Blind Faith,” “Everything Will Turn Out Fine”). The album is named after the residential suburb in the duo’s native Paisley where Rafferty grew up.
Leiber and Stoller produced Ferguslie Park with engineer Phill Brown, whose prior credits included albums by Amazing Blondel, Atlantis, Dear Mr. Time (Grandfather), Harry Nilsson, Hunter Muskett, Jeff Beck Group (Rough and Ready), Mott the Hoople, and Third World War. His assistant, 24-year-old Rhett Davies, earned his first technical credits in 1973 on titles by Silverhead, Free (Heartbreaker), and Genesis (Selling England By the Pound).
Stoller plays harpsichord and handles horn arrangements on select passages. The string arranger, Richard Hewson, also orchestrated early ’70s recordings by Al Stewart (Past, Present and Future), Aubrey Small, Bronco, Claire Hamill, Clifford T. Ward, Fleetwood Mac (Mystery to Me), Jigsaw, Lesley Duncan, and Renaissance (Ashes Are Burning).
Bassist Gary Taylor (The Herd, Fox, Yellow Dog), who also plays Minimoog synthesizer, later appeared on Rafferty’s 1978/79 solo albums City to City and Night Owl and the concurrent debut album by Gerry’s brother, Jim Rafferty. The horn section includes tenor saxophonists Steve Gregory (Chicken Shack, Bell + Arc, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Russ Ballard) and Chris Mercer (Hemlock, Jonathan Kelly’s Outside, Keef Hartley Band, Locomotive).
Stoller’s wife, famed harpist Corky Hale, plays on “Waltz (You Know It Makes Sense),” a misty piece that segues from the harmony-laden “Wheelin’.”
Additional musicians include guitarists Bernie Holland (Jody Grind, Back Door, Hummingbird, Stomu Yamashta) and Joe Jammer (Cesar 830, Olympic Runners, Nobody’s Business), keyboardist Peter Robinson (Quatermass, Rupert Hine, Shawn Phillips, Zakarrias), and percussionist Andrew Steele (The Herd, Laurie Styvers), a sideman on Can I Have My Money Back? who later backed fellow Scot Chris Rainbow.
Ferguslie Park features another Patrick Byrne cover painting, which shows the pair reclined on a cow under a name-spelling arbour, occupied with frogs, snails, chimps, snakes, and hybrid critters. A skull-headed banjo dangles from Rafferty’s right arm. The title appears at the top (tiny twigs), middle (snakes and glasses), and bottom (blue ribbon).
A&M issued two singles from the album. “Star” (b/w “What More Could You Want”) was a transatlantic Top 30 hit. It appears on multiple 1974/75 Ariola and K-Tel comps, including the Ariola release Super 20 International, which also has cuts by Cat Stevens, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Hudson-Ford, Ike & Tina Turner, Roxy Music, Sahara, and Uriah Heep. “Everything Will Turn Out Fine” was retitled “Everyone’s Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine” and placed on 7″ with the prior album’s “Next to Me.”
1975: Right or Wrong
Stealers Wheel had already disbanded over managerial problems by the time of their third album, Right or Wrong, which appeared in early 1975. Rafferty contributed one sole-write, the side two centerpiece “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” The remaining nine songs are Egan/Rafferty co-writes, including “Benediction,” “Wishbone,” “Found My Way to You,” “Home from Home,” and the title track.
Right or Wrong was produced by American country songwriter Mentor Williams, best known for penning “Drift Away” for his main client, soul singer Dobie Gray. Williams, who recently made his only album as a performer for MCA, later worked with Kim Carnes and Scottish singer Barbara Dickson. The engineer, Phil McDonald, earned his first credit on Abbey Road and worked on early ’70s titles by Barclay James Harvest, Linda Lewis, Deep Purple (In Rock), Forest (The Full Circle), Nilsson (Son of Schmilsson), and Life (Life After Death).
The duo are backed on this album by Holland, Steele, Mercer, guitarist Hugh Burns (Marsha Hunt, Maggie Bell), and bassist Dave Wintour (IF, Leo Sayer, Peter Straker, The Wurzels). String arrangements where handled by Williams associate David Briggs, a Nashville keyboardist with numerous credits, including albums by Dan Fogelberg, J.J. Cale, James Gang, and Pearls Before Swine. Joe and Gerry are credited collectively as Geraldine & Josephine for their own instrumentation (piano, guitar, Clavinet).
Patrick Byrne painted the cover of Right or Wrong, which shows the pair conjoined in a baggy denim outfit, walking out to the distance on an orange trail. Byrne’s art surrounds a photo of the duo in the flesh, taken by rock photographer Roger Stowell (Jackson Heights, Refugee, Chris De Burgh, Squeeze), who also took the tree-side back cover shot. Byrne illustrated the entire inner-sleeve in a style reminiscent of his prior covers, with the conjoined pair grass-seated with a dog, surrounded by disembodied heads, coiled branches, and odd embedded lettering.
After Stealers Wheel
Due to contract stipulations, Egan and Rafferty were unable to record for three years after the demise of Stealers Wheel.
Gerry Rafferty first resurfaced as the producer of the 1977 release “Good Day Go By,” the debut single by his brother Jim Rafferty. The following year, Jim’s album Don’t Look Back appeared on Decca and London Records, half-produced by Gerry with backing by keyboardist Francis Monkman (Curved Air) and guitarist Tim Renwick (Quiver).
Meanwhile, Gerry released his second solo album, City to City, in January 1978. The album knocked the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack off the Billboard Albums Chart and spawned two transatlantic hits: “Baker Street” (US #2, UK #3) and “Right Down the Line” (US #12), both evergreens of American FM radio. His 1979 third album, Night Owl, continued the charting streak with the title track and “Get It Right Next Time.” Both albums, plus his 1980 fourth release Snakes and Ladders, feature cover art by Patrick Byrne.
Joe Egan resurfaced with the 1979 Ariola release Out of Nowhere, which includes the singles “Back On the Road,” “Freeze,” and “The Last Farewell.” Pilnick played on the album along with guitarist Phil Palmer (Bliss Band), keyboardist Billy Livsey (Jess Roden Band, Kevin Ayers, Sandy Denny) and the rhythm section of Lazy Racer: bassist Dave Markee and drummer Henry Spinetti. Egan’s second album, Map, appeared in 1981, accompanied by the singles “Survivor,” “Stay As You Are,” and “Tell Me All About it.”
- Stealers Wheel (1972)
- Ferguslie Park (1973)
- Right or Wrong (1975)
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