Friday, August 21, 2020


Well there are a lot of those in the music biz, I thought, on a first mistaken hearing of the title of this piece. Maybe one, then, for another day. But count, that's whole lot trickier. Do I run with one, two, three or go for the title; digits or Dracula? When in doubt I plod my traditional route and ask my i-tunes search, today quite pleased with the outcome. Welcome back, Mr Rafferty, it being some time since he last featured, 2017, I think.

With a golden voice and a seemingly effortless gift for melody, Rafferty could bridge the worlds of folk and pop/rock without giving any clue they could be different genres, with often acerbic lyrics preventing any slide into saccharine. McCartney-esque is a description often given and one I dislike, as I prefer my tea and coffee without ten heaped spoons of granulated. This song, from his 1971 debut, Can I Have My Money Back, typifies my description. With a keening vocal over a strummed acoustic, there soon kicks in some more rhythmic backing, with delightfully choppy electric guitar underpinning the rest of the song. A plea for acceptance as himself, for himself, rather than any easy and more acceptable conformity, berating anyone who may feel a casual acquaintance may offer any deeper understanding of his psyche. This is a subject to which he returns throughout his recording career and nine subsequent albums. Brought up in the rough and tumble of Paisley, then a grim town in the central belt of Scotland, not far from Glasgow, he retained a life long loathing and suspicion of the trappings of fame and fortune, with the paradox that he ultimately did very well from both, at least financially. A grotesque irony comes in the second verse, wherein he passes comment around his fondness of alcohol:
"When the sun goes down You'll find me sitting in a bar in the dark side of the town And if you tell me that I drink too much and that it's going to be the death of me Hear me shout, don't count me out."
Given, nearly forty years later, it was alcohol related liver disease he died of, with his later years awash with disturbing tales of alcoholic mayhem, the runes were already being cast. Indeed, may have been cast long before, his father and brother both succumbing to similar.

This first LP came after his partnership with Billy Connolly, the Humblebums, had foundered, with Connolly, an extremely adept banjo player, finding he preferred the long between song anecdotes to the singing itself. The record was not then a huge success, if a critics favourite, and it might be that it was more the record company that would seek their money back. But these were different days, and record companies, even his label, Transatlantic, a small and predominantly folkie imprint, had more money and faith than now seems the norm. Hooking up with Joe Egan he then formed Stealer's Wheel, as outlined in the previous piece referenced above. Again, no fortunes then made: this was years before Reservoir Dogs, and the pair split in no small acrimony.

A prolonged delay, on legally binding requirements, meant Rafferty had plenty time to hone his craft, second solo record, City to City, not arriving until 1978. With both Baker Street and Right Down the Line present and featured as the lead singles, this was a turning point and he never much had to worry about money again. This was able to give hime sufficient security to increasingly turn his back on the "industry" he despised and to stubbornly do as he pleased. Refusing to re-record or re-release Stuck in the Middle With You when Tarantino could have allowed it to hit paydirt was one such obstinacy. Interestingly, as time went by, his endeavours to remove himself entirely from the control of others preface what is now increasingly everyday practice. 2000's Another World was made at home in his own (mobile) studio, and, to begin with, was only available via his website, an early adopter of this approach,, everything, even the promotion directly down to his own efforts. OK, it later received a release on the Hypertension label, but this style of working seemed to appeal to Rafferty, he using his website to be the conduit of new material and information for the next three years, if increasingly intermittently, perhaps as the booze was taking greater hold.

Rafferty has been sadly overlooked and undervalued since his demise. Seen as a two trick pony in hindsight, this simplification devalues the huge body of work up to a similar standard. I would go as far as to suggest he is one of the UK's finer songwriters, and certainly one of the better singers. He also was a capable record producer of others. Maybe it isn't news that he produced the first ill-fated version of Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, commonly referred to as Rafferty's Folly, the legacy of which suggests he wasn't up to the game. That is unfair, his style just not bleak enough for the songs. What is less well known is that he also produced the debut outing by fellow Paisley-ites, the Proclaimers. I really think he deserves a decent tribute album to remind how very much more to him than two singles there is. (In fact, there is one, if little known, featuring and performed by his friend, the singer Barbara Dickson, which is possibly worth seeking out, if a little M.O.R. in approach and audience intended.) There was, however, a 2012 tribute concert at Glasgow's Celtic Connections annual festival. Here's Ron Sexsmith:

Finally, and if only because I would be pilloried if I didn't mention the B word, I was uplifted to appreciate the end to the debate as to whether it the sax solo in Baker Street was Rafferty's idea or that of the player, the now also deceased Raf Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft was on record at one time to state it was of his doing, being asked to fill in between verses, and coming up with the iconic riff spontaneously, in the studio. Rafferty disputed this, citing Ravenscroft as not even being his first choice to play with him, although the two continued to work together, even after the argument, for his next few records. The answer to the quandary came with the release of the City to City remasters in 2011, including a pre-saxophone demo of the song. With the same riff on Rafferty's guitar. Like to hear it?

Go, Gerry, R.I.P., I did count on you.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Count/Counting: SCTV's Count Floyd

My last post, about the TV show The Great has, so far, turned out to be one of the least popular things that I’ve ever submitted to this blog, so it seems like a really, really good idea to follow that up with another TV related post. 

I’m not sure why The Theme Picker chose this theme, and frankly, I argued against it, but because I’m only a Theme Suggester and Backup Theme Picker, I lost this round. The first thing that popped into my head was to write about the SCTV character Count Floyd, memorably portrayed by Joe Flaherty. And when I read the Wikipedia article about the character, I was laughing out loud, which I think we can agree is unusual when reading Wikipedia, and that convinced me to follow this route, even it ends, like my last TV related post, with almost universal indifference. 

I’ve written about SCTV before, so I won’t repeat all of the background stuff about the show, but you are, of course, welcome to read that post before continuing.  And I'm still doing this after reading the article in Sunday's New York Times about the racism in the Second City organization.

One of the basic conceits about SCTV is that it is about a generally low budget TV network. There was a time, which I’m old enough to remember, when local TV stations ran shows featuring usually bad , low budget horror movies and/or cartoons, hosted by someone who might be vampire, a clown, an astronaut, or something else. Usually, to save money, these characters were portrayed by employees of the station. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the “horror host” tradition, and here’s the recent obituary for Bob March, who portrayed “Captain Satellite” in the Bay Area for decades. And here’s an interview with the late Frank Avruch, who was a staff announcer at a TV station in Boston before becoming probably the most widely seen Bozo the Clown. 

Count Floyd was created to host SCTV’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater, and was the alter ego of (fictional) SCTV newscaster Floyd Robertson, also played by Flaherty. Although Count Floyd was a vampire, his lack of commitment to the character often led to him howling like a werewolf. The main running joke in the sketches was that the movies tended to be awful, and often unrelated to the horror genre, forcing Count Floyd to struggle to make them seem scary, and often ending in him getting frustrated and breaking character. Count Floyd also tried to sell his supposedly young audience overpriced items, maybe hearkening to the time when Soupy Sales, a children’s show host in New York, on New Year’s Day, 1965, asked his viewers to send him “little green pieces of paper” from their parents’ wallets. 

In addition to the fact that Flaherty was hysterical, SCTV used these sketches to show bits of movie parodies, often badly executed “3D” films. such as Tip O’Neill’s 3-D House of Representatives, Dr. Tongue's 3D House Of Stewardesses, Dr. Tongue's House Of Cats, or Dr. Tongue's Evil House Of Pancakes. (Dr. Tongue was played by John Candy, and his sidekick, Bruno, was played by Eugene Levy, who has been nominated for an Emmy this year for Schitt's Creek).  And even when the movie failed to show up, Count Floyd simply made up a plot and described it. They also used the character in a “Siskel & Ebert” style review show called Scary Previews. There was even a Count Floyd album, featuring, among other songs, “Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania.” It was the only non-Bob & Doug McKenzie album related to SCTV

Like the vampire/werewolf that he was, Count Floyd didn’t die when SCTV went off the air. Rush used a Count Floyd video to introduce “The Weapon,” on tour in the early ‘80s (see the video above). And fellow SCTV alum Martin Short included new Count Floyd segments in his late 80s animated series, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. But that’s not all. There’s a funny Count Floyd video about how to make funny videos. A Count Floyd video about smoke detectors. And the character popped up elsewhere, mostly in Canada, promoting various things. 

Flaherty, who played Harold Weir in the great series Freaks & Geeks, wore a vampire costume in one episode, which you can see about 24 seconds into this compilation clip, and that had to be a callback to Count Floyd. 

As recently as 2014, Canadian band The Wet Secrets used Count Floyd in their video for “Nightlife,” although strangely, he looks a little like Grandpa Munster in some of the shots.