“In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff,” he once explained. “If you’re asking me: ‘Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?’ then no, he didn’t.”
The testimony of Ravenscoft, who died last year, seems to be refuted by the existence of an early demo of the song, where the guitar replaces the sax. That’s not to diminish Ravenscroft because, denuded of the sax, “Baker Street” sounds like another middling acid trip of a song in a decade full of them.
Given the song’s ubiquity and influence, it’s understandable that Ravenscroft might later fib about his role. Also, according to legend, he was only paid £27 for his contribution, while Rafferty was said to have made £80,000 in annual royalties until his death in 2011. But the song did benefit Ravenscoft’s career, and he went on to work with Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, and Daft Punk.
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The guitarist Hugh Burns has scored movies like Die Another Day and The Hobbit, and played with the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Jack Bruce, and George Michael throughout his storied career. Burns is responsible for the blistering guitar solo on “Baker Street ” and considers working with Gerry Rafferty one of his life’s great honors.
“Quite frankly, I loved his songs. I regard it as a great good fortune that I was able to meet and contribute something to Gerry’s music,” he told me over the phone from England. “I did six albums with him. I probably did more music with him than any other musician.” He was also friends with Ravenscroft and toured with him.
Burns was performing on the road with Jack Bruce in 1978 when he made arrangements to visit the London studio where Rafferty’s album City to City was being recorded. “I went to the studio after I played the gig and I think one of the first songs we played was ‘Baker Street.’ And I said, ‘This is fantastic. This is a great song.’”
Burns told me that there’s no question that Rafferty came up with the music that became the famous riff line on “Baker Street.” After Burns laid down the solo, Rafferty asked him to “have a go at what obviously became very famous, which was the sax line.” Burns tried it on guitar, but the two men agreed that it would be better on the saxophone. “That’s the way I always saw it,” he remembers Rafferty telling him at the time.
“It’s important to say that in the case of that particular instrumental opening to ‘Baker Street,’ it was entirely Gerry’s line,” said Burns. He also referenced the demo, explaining that it was Rafferty himself playing the line on guitar.
Then, in the most offhand, glory-belying way, Burns dropped in this aside:
Strangely enough, another record that I played on, which was a massive hit, certainly in this country and I think in America as well, was called “Careless Whisper,” that also had a massive opening solo. And the interesting thing is that that sax solo, the line itself, was also given by the singer [George Michael]. There’s no question about that either.
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