Joe Egan, singer and songwriter who partnered Gerry Rafferty to success in Stealers Wheel – obituary

Joe Egan, left, and Gerry Rafferty, performing as Stealers Wheel in 1973
Joe Egan, left, and Gerry Rafferty, performing as Stealers Wheel in 1973 - Alan Messer/Shutterstock

Joe Egan, the singer, guitarist and songwriter who has died aged 77, was Gerry Rafferty’s partner in the band Stealers Wheel, who had a global hit in 1973 with Stuck in the Middle with You, which found renewed fame 20 years later when it was used to extraordinary effect by Quentin Tarantino in his feature-film debut Reservoir Dogs.

The duo’s song smacks of showbiz disillusionment, telling the tale of a music-industry cocktail party (“clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”); Gerry Rafferty pitched his lead vocal somewhere between Bob Dylan and John Lennon, with Egan providing sweet harmonies: Rolling Stone called it “the best Dylan record since 1966”, and it reached No 8 in the UK and No 6 in the US.

When Quentin Tarantino was thinking about the music for Reservoir Dogs he had to have Stuck in the Middle. “The song came first,” he recalled, and when he was casting actors for the part of Mr Blonde he advised them to use it as part of their audition.

But when he approached EMI for the rights to the song, their executive Pat Lucas asked him what his music budget was. When he told her it was $13,000, she replied that that was the entire cost of the song. He agreed anyway, and managed to raise funds for the rest of the film’s music by convincing a record company to release a soundtrack album.

Michael Madsen won the part of Mr Blonde, and Stuck in the Middle was famously deployed in the scene where he tortures the tied-up rookie cop Marvin Nash (played by Kirk Baltz). “Do you ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70s?” he asks, turning on the radio before taking his razor blade to the policeman. “It’s my personal favourite.”

On stage in Amsterdam with Stealers Wheel in 1973
On stage in Amsterdam with Stealers Wheel in 1973 - Gijsbert Hanekroot/Alamy

Joseph Egan was born into an Irish Catholic family on October 16 1946 in Paisley, near Glasgow. He attended St Mirin’s Academy, where he met Gerry Rafferty, though their musical partnership only got going when Egan abandoned his dreams of making it as a professional footballer.

They played together in local bands, including the Sensors, the Mavericks and Fifth Column, while Egan also worked as a session musician. Rafferty joined Billy Connolly in the comedy/folk outfit the Humblebums, and in 1970 Egan sang backing vocals on Rafferty’s debut album Can I Have My Money Back?

Michael Madsen and Kirk Baltz in Reservoir Dogs
Michael Madsen and Kirk Baltz in Reservoir Dogs - LANDMARK MEDIA/Alamy

The pair then formed Stealers Wheel, recruiting backing musicians and securing a deal with A&M. Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller produced their self-titled debut album, although as it started to make waves, Rafferty quit – only to return when Stuck in the Middle was looking like a hit.

They recorded a follow-up album, Ferguslie Park, named after an area of Paisley, which was critically acclaimed (and boasted cover art by their fellow St Mirin’s alumnus John Byrne) but only scraped into the charts. The duo fell out with Lieber and Stoller, and with each other, and by the time their third album, Right or Wrong, was released in 1975 they had parted company.

Even the Stealers Wheel website admits that they are “a perfect example of a group who threw it all away – their history is one of turmoil and internal dissension, when it could so easily have been one of considerable success”.

Their friendship recovered and proved lasting, however, and Rafferty’s death from liver failure in 2011 left a “huge gap” in his life, Egan said.

He released a solo album, Out of Nowhere in 1979 – delayed for three years because he and Rafferty were contractually forbidden from releasing new material – and Map in 1981. Neither of them troubled the cash registers, and he left the music business as a performer, aside from contributing backing vocals to Rafferty’s 1992 solo album On a Wing and a Prayer.

In later years Joe Egan lived in Renfrewshire, running a publishing company from home, Baby Bun Music, with his wife Sylvia.

Joe Egan, born October 18 1946, died July 6 2024

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