Chris Rea (/ˈriːə/ REE-ə; born Christopher Anton Rea, 4 March 1951) is an English singer-songwriter, recognisable for his distinctive, husky voice and slide guitar playing. The British Hit Singles & Albums stated that Rea was "one of the most popular UK singer-songwriters of the late 1980s. He was already a major European star by the time he finally cracked the UK Top 10 with his 18th chart entry; 'The Road to Hell (Part 2)'." By 2009, Rea had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.
He is well known for his 1978 hit song "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" that charted #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard adult contemporary chart. The song was later covered by Elkie Brooks and was a top 20 hit in the UK.
Although Rea had limited success in the United States, two of his albums, The Road to Hell and Auberge, topped the UK Albums Chart. The book Guinness Rockopedia described him as a "gravel-voiced guitar stalwart".
Rea was born in Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, the son of ice cream producer Camillo Rea who together with his brother Gaetano owned an ice cream factory and ran 21 cafés.
After leaving school Rea worked in casual labouring jobs, including working in his father's ice cream business. It was at the comparatively late age of 22 that Rea bought his first guitar and began his musical career, inspired by the music of Joe Walsh and Ry Cooder. A natural left-hander, Rea nevertheless learned to play the guitar right-handed. In 1973 he joined the Middlesbrough band Magdalene, replacing David Coverdale who later created Whitesnake. Rea then went on to form the band Beautiful Losers which he left when he secured a solo recording deal with Magnet Records and released his first single entitled "So Much Love" in 1974. In 1977 he performed on Hank Marvin's album The Hank Marvin Guitar Syndicate and also guested on Catherine Howe's EP The Truth of the Matter.
Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? was Rea's debut album. It was released in June 1978 and produced by Elton John's music producer Gus Dudgeon. The title of the album was a reference to "Benjamin Santini", the stage name that Rea's record label suggested he should adopt. The first single taken from the album, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)", was Rea's biggest hit in the US, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching #1 on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart. "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" was nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, losing out to Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are". Like most of Rea's early singles, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" failed to appear on the UK Singles Chart on its first release and only reached #30 when re-released in late 1978 to capitalise on its US achievement.
The singer Elkie Brooks enjoyed greater success with the song in 1982 when she charted her cover version at #17. It was also the first record played by Radio Caroline after a long period off the air. Another cover of "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" by Kenny Craddock was used as the theme tune for BBC sitcom Joking Apart.
Dudgeon went on to produce Rea's next album Deltics. Rea has since spoken about the difficult working relationship he had at the time with Dudgeon who he felt 'smoothed out' the blues-influenced elements of his music in order to make it sound more like that of Elton John or Billy Joel.
Rea's second and third albums failed to provide further hit singles. By the time his fourth album was released, Rea's relationship with his record company had deteriorated to the extent that it was not even given a title but was simply called Chris Rea.
By 1983 Rea's record company had become so uninterested in him that they released the raw demo tapes as his fifth studio album. The album "Water Sign" (likely a nod to Rea's Pisces star sign) became a surprise hit in Ireland and mainland Europe, selling over half a million in just a few months and the single "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" taken from it entered the top 20 across Europe.
With the success of "Water Sign" Rea began to focus his attention on touring continental Europe and built up a significant fan base. It was not until 1985's Shamrock Diaries and the songs "Stainsby Girls" and "Josephine" that UK audiences began to take notice of him. His following albums were On The Beach (1986) and Dancing with Strangers (1987). The Dancing with Strangers tour in 1987 saw Rea sell out stadium size venues for the first time across the world, and Rea played Wembley Arena twice. His following album was the New Light Through Old Windows compilation album which saw studio re-workings of his earlier work.
His next full album was to be his major breakthrough.The Road to Hell (1989) enjoyed massive success and became his first #1 album in the UK. This accomplishment could not be mirrored in the US where it only reached #107 in spite of the single track "Texas" achieving extensive radio airplay. The title track was released as a single and reached the UK Top 10. Rea appeared on the Band Aid II project's single in December 1989. His next album Auberge was also a European hit, reaching the top spot in the UK.
After Auberge Rea released God's Great Banana Skin which reached #4 in the UK. The album returned Rea to the rockier sound of Road to Hell and the single "Nothing to Fear" gave him another Top 20 hit. A year later Espresso Logic hit the Top 10 and "Julia", written about his second daughter, gave him his eleventh Top 40 position. The album was part promoted by Rea taking part in the British Touring Car Championship, although he was eliminated in the first round. A period of ill health meant his next album did not appear until 1998. The Blue Cafe made the UK Top 10. In 1999, 10 years after Road to Hell, Rea released The Road to Hell: Part 2, which never made the UK Top 40. In 2000, he released King of the Beach, receiving critical praise and a respectable Top 30 placing in the UK.
In 2000 a remix of Rea's 1986 "On the Beach" single by York was released and enjoyed moderate success on the dance floor.
Pancreatic cancer and return
In 2001, Rea underwent a Whipple procedure, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Having promised himself that if he recovered, he would be returning to his blues roots, the resulting Blue Guitars eleven CD collection of 137 blues-inspired tracks recorded in eighteen months, complete with his own paintings as album covers, is seen by himself as his finest work to date. In an interview with The Britsound Radio Show, Rea revealed that "it's not until you become seriously ill and you nearly die and you're at home for six months, that you suddenly stop to realise that this isn't the way I intended it to be in the beginning. Everything that you've done falls away and start wondering why you went through all that rock business stuff." In 2002, Rea released Dancing Down the Stony Road following recording sessions in France and the UK. (An abridged version of the album was later released under the title Stony Road.) The album was followed by a DVD of the same name, comprising a documentary and footage from a concert in Cologne. Rea set up his own JazzeeBlue label in 2003 to free himself from the pressure of record company expectations. Since then he has released the blues albums Blue Street (Five Guitars) (an instrumental jazz-blues album) and then The Blue Jukebox. He has worked with David Knopfler for two albums: Wishbones (2001) and Ship of Dreams (2004).
Blue Guitars and retirement
Following the release of the box set, Blue Guitars, in 2005, it was announced that Rea would not record any further solo albums. He has stated that he would continue to make records with some of his favourite players under the name The Memphis Fireflies. A double DVD set and a separate double CD set was released in 2006, including live selections from Rea's farewell tour entitled The Road To Hell & Back.
In November 2007, Rea announced a new tour and a new album featuring 38 new tracks on three CDs and two vinyl, which included a hardback book in the style of a slightly tatty 12" vinyl sleeve. The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes (a dedication to the 1960s guitar of the same name) was released in February 2008. In writing the album, Rea dreamed up a band that had never existed — a pastiche instrumental group from the late 1950s called The Delmonts.
The release of the album was followed by a European tour. The band was introduced as "The Delmonts featuring Chris Rea", and played in various venues across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall in London.
His song "Driving Home for Christmas", which originally reached #53 in the UK chart when first released in 1988, re-entered at #33 nineteen years later in December 2007, making it the first time the song had made the UK Top 40. In a live interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today on 16 December 2009 Rea said he wrote "Driving Home for Christmas" many years before he first recorded it. His wife, a vegetarian, had come down to London to drive him home to Middlesbrough in her Austin Mini to save money because it was cheaper to drive than travel by train. Inspiration for the song came as she and Rea were stuck in heavy traffic heading out of London with a long drive to Middlesbrough ahead of them. Rea said "Driving Home for Christmas" is a "car version of a carol".
In October 2009, Rhino released a new 2-disc best of compilation. Still So Far To Go – The Best of Chris Rea contained some of his best known (and lesser known) hits over the last thirty years, as well as more recent songs from his "blues" period. Two new songs were included, "Come So Far, Yet Still So Far to Go" and the ballad "Valentino", a song about his dog that had died. In actuality Chris had to give the dog to a friend as the dog was "loopy". The album was Rea's highest charting album in 15 years, reaching #8 and staying in the Top 50 for four weeks. In 2010 Rea performed on a European tour called Still So Far to Go. His special guest on stage was Irish musician Paul Casey. The tour ended on 5 April in Belfast, United Kingdom.
In September 2011, Chris Rea released "The Santo Spirito Project" containing two feature-length films on DVD written and directed by Chris and two accompanying CDs of the soundtracks and one CD of songs.
Rea is the son of the late Camillo Rea (died December 2010) and Winifred K. Slee of Irish descent (died September 1983). He has two brothers, Nick and Mike, and four sisters, Catherine, Geraldine, Paula and Camille.
He is married to Joan, with whom he has two daughters (Josephine, born 16 September 1983, and Julia Christina, born 18 March 1989). He used to live at Cookham, Berkshire. The Sol Mill Recording Studios was where he produced some of his later albums. He also produced albums for other artists such as Sylvin Marc, and Robert Ahwai on his JazeeBlue label. The property was sold in 2006.
The name Rea was well known locally thanks to the chain of Rea's Ice Cream shops owned by Rea's father. In later years the chain folded except for one shop operated by Camillo himself. Chris Rea holds a season ticket with Middlesbrough F.C.
Rea is a fan of motor racing and races a Ferrari Dino and a 1955 Lotus 6. He recorded a song, "Saudade," in tribute to three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna. It featured prominently in the BBC documentary that can be watched in full here (UK users only) and was released on The Very Best of Chris Rea (2001).
In August 2008, it was erroneously reported that Rea had donated £25,000 to the Conservative Party. This was followed by further incorrect reports in April 2010, just weeks before the UK general election, that Rea had donated a further £100,000 to the Conservatives. The donations were in fact made by a businessman called Chris Rea and not the musician. This error has been acknowledged by The Daily Mail newspaper, which printed a retraction.The Times reported in 2009 that Rea has been a longtime supporter of the Conservative Party. Rea supported the Conservative Candidate for Middlesbrough in the 2010 general election by allowing use of his song "Steel River" to highlight the plight of the local Corus steel workers who had lost their jobs.
Rea has also been an actor, playing the lead in the 1999 comedy film, Parting Shots, alongside Felicity Kendal, John Cleese, Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley. Rea played a character who was told that cancer gave him six weeks to live, and decided to kill those people who had badly affected his life.
He also had a cameo role in the 1996 film, La Passione, for which he wrote the soundtrack.
References in Rea's lyrics
Rea has acknowledged that many of his songs were 'born out of Middlesbrough,' his home town. Perhaps the most famous of these is the song "Stainsby Girls," from the album Shamrock Diaries, which he wrote and composed in tribute to his wife Joan, who had attended Stainsby Secondary Modern School years before it was renamed Acklam Grange Secondary School. The song "Steel River," on the same album, reflects Rea's feelings about the re-development of Middlesbrough town centre while he was out of the country touring:
"I went back to see me father after me mother had died and the fuckers had knocked the whole place down. I'd been gone three years, hard touring in Europe. I literally went to drive somewhere that wasn't there. It was like a sci-fi movie. The Middlesbrough I knew, it's as if there was a war there 10 years ago."
"Steel River" is also another name for the River Tees. In the song there is a mention of 'salmon who have lost their steel mother' and, in the 1980s, it looked like they were gone for good. However, salmon stocks are slowly beginning to recover.
- Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? (1978)
- Deltics (1979)
- Tennis (1980)
- Chris Rea (1982)
- Water Sign (1983)
- Wired to the Moon (1984)
- Shamrock Diaries (1985)
- On the Beach (1986)
- Dancing with Strangers (1987)
- New Light Through Old Windows (1988)
- The Road to Hell (1989)
- Auberge (1991)
- God's Great Banana Skin (1992)
- Espresso Logic (1993)
- La Passione (1996)
- The Blue Cafe (1998)
- The Road to Hell: Part 2 (1999)
- King of the Beach (2000)
- Dancing Down the Stony Road / Stony Road (2002)
- Blue Street (Five Guitars) (2003)
- Hofner Blue Notes (2003)
- The Blue Jukebox (2004)
- Blue Guitars (2005)
- The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes (2008)
- Still So Far To Go: The Best of Chris Rea (2009)
- Santo Spirito Blues (2011)