In 1976 Rea signed as a solo artist with Magnet Records. He got off to a flying start with the single "Fool If You Think It's Over," which charted in both the United Kingdom and the United States and earned him a Grammy nomination for best new artist. Unfortunately for Rea, he was making the right music at the wrong time. Soon after his initial burst of popularity, punk swept over England, overshadowing every other style of music. Rea slipped into a period of relative obscurity. He wrote some fine albums, such as Shamrock Diaries and Do You Like Tennis, but sales of these were far too small to satisfy record company executives.
During this period, Rea became quite disillusioned with the machinations of the recording industry. "I was very close to completely stopping music and opening an Italian restaurant," he told Kent Zimmerman of the Gavin Report. "I was sick to death of it. I didn't want to be a rock star. I just wanted to enjoy the music, which is what I started out doing.... Everyone wanted me to be the next Elton John or George Michael-type superstar. That's not where I come from. I come from the school of Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Lowell George."
Rea's label was as disenchanted with him as he was with them. When he delivered the demo tapes for the album Watersign, the company skipped over the usual remixing process and released the tapes untouched, apparently aiming to fulfill his contract and release him. The unexpected happened, however: Watersign became a respectable hit, selling half a million copies and producing a top single, "I Can Hear Your Heart Beat." Rea began touring heavily to bolster the album's success, and built up a loyal following in Germany and France as well as the United Kingdom.
Rea's greatest recognition in the United States came with his 1990 recording, The Road to Hell. Zimmerman stated that "Out of ... ten-plus years of recording music, Road to Hell stands out as his masterwork.... There's a feel of environmental politics threading its way, conceptually, through most of the songs.... Mixed in with the doomy lyrics and instrumentation are a few choice love songs."
Rea conceived of the album while trapped in an all-too-typical traffic jam in the south of England. The isolation of the thousands of commuters in their cars struck him forcefully, and within days he had written several songs concerning the ills of modern life. The music behind the lyrics has an ominous, eerie quality. "That's deliberate," Rea explained. "I'm trying to bring a bit of Alfred Hitchcock into the music... A lot of folks do think that we're on the edge of some terrible, impending disaster.
Rea had another success in America in 1994 with Espresso Logic, which showcased "a number of genres, from crunching blues, to Beatlesque pop, to fluent jazz," according to Steve White in the Lowell, Massachusetts Sun. The album consists of tracks previously included on European releases, one of which was also called Espresso Logic; the other was titled God's Great Banana Skin.
The U.S. album, however, included a duet by Rea with Elton John titled "If You Were Me." Reviewers commented on Rea's fluid slide guitar and praised his throaty yet polished vocals. In addition, Lee Barrish, writing for Cleveland's Scene, observed, "The elements of woe (thoughts of mortality and death) that coursed their way through the last three albums have finally been laid to rest." A Network Forty reviewer remarked that the release "is a bold milestone" in Rea's career and also noted that Rea's relative obscurity in the United States despite his immense popularity in Europe does not affect him: "He has always stood for quality music with intelligence, not just commercial appeal."
For the Record ...
Born in Middlesbrough, England, 1951; married.
Played with band Magdalene, later called the Beautiful Losers, 1970s; signed as solo artist with Magnet Records, 1976; released debut album, Whatever Happened to Benny Santini, 1978.
Deltics, Magnet Records, 1979.
Tennis, Magnet Records, 1980.
Chris Rea, Magnet Records, 1982.
Water Sign, Magnet Records, 1983.
Wired to the Moon, Magnet Records, 1984.
Shamrock Diaries, Magnet Records, 1985.
On the Beach, Magnet Records, 1986.
Dancing with Strangers, Magnet Records, 1987.
The Road to Hell, Atco Records, 1989.
Auberge, EastWest Records, 1990.
God's Great Banana Skin, EastWest Records, 1992.
Espresso Logic, EastWest Records, 1993.
La Passione, EastWest Records, 1996.
The Blue Cafe, EastWest Records, 1998.
The Road to Hell: Part 2, EastWest Records, 1999.
King of the Beach, EastWest Records, 2000.
Dancing Down the Stony Road / Stony Road, Jazzee Blue / Edel, 2002.
Blue Street (Five Guitars), Jazzee Blue, 2003.
Hofner Blue Notes, Jazzee Blue, 2003.
The Blue Jukebox, Jazzee Blue, 2004.
Blue Guitars, Ear Books / Edel, 2005.
The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes, Ear Books / Edel, 2008.
Source: Joan Goldsworthy
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