Chris Rea

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Chris Rea
Chris Rea 01 AB.jpg
Chris Rea during the Santo Spirito Tour (2011).
Background information
Birth name Christopher Anton Rea
Born (1951-03-04) 4 March 1951 (age 64)
Origin Middlesbrough, England
Genres Pop rock, soft rock, blues rock
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano
Years active 1978–present
Labels Magnet, East West, Edel,
Warner, Jazzee Blue, Rhino
Notable instruments
1962 Fender Stratocaster

Christopher Anton "Chris" Rea (/ˈrə/ REE; born 4 March 1951)[1] is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist, recognisable for his distinctive, husky voice and slide guitar playing.[2] 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)".[3] As of 2009, he has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.[4]

In the U.S. he is best known for the 1978 hit song "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" that charted No.12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at No.1 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This success earned him the Grammy Award nomination for the Best New Artist in 1979.[5] His other hit songs include, "Let's Dance", "Josephine", "Driving Home for Christmas", "Tell Me There's a Heaven", "Auberge", "Looking for the Summer", "Winter Song", "Nothing To Fear", "Julia", and "If You Were Me", a duet with Elton John.[6]

Two of his studio albums, The Road to Hell and Auberge, topped the UK Albums Chart.[3] Rea was nominated three times for the Brit Award for Best British Male Artist: 1988, 1989 and 1990.[7][8][9] The book Guinness Rockopedia described him as a "gravel-voiced guitar stalwart".[10]


Chris Rea playing slide/bottleneck on his Italia Maranello Classic at the Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 5 March 2010.

Early life[edit]

Chris Rea was born on 4 March 1951, in Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, to Italian British father, Camillo Rea (died December 2010),[11] and an Irish mother, Winifred K. Slee (died September 1983).[12] The name Rea was well known locally thanks to the chain of Rea's Ice Cream café-shops and factory owned by Rea's father.[10][11] He has two brothers, Nick and Mike, and four sisters, Catherine, Geraldine, Paula, and Camille.[citation needed]

1972–82: Early career and "Fool (If You Think It's Over)"[edit]

After leaving school Rea worked in casual labouring jobs, including working in his father's ice cream business.[13] It was at the comparatively late age of 21-22 that Rea bought his first guitar,[14][15] the 1961 Hofner V3.[13] He is self-taught.[15] He listened to the Delta blues musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters,[16] also from opera to light orchestral classics.[12] Rea began his musical career inspired by the music, especially of Charlie Patton,[17][14] but also Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe,[17] as well by the success of then contemporary Ry Cooder and Joe Walsh.[18][14] He recalls that "for many people from working-class backgrounds, rock wasn't a chosen thing, it was the only thing, the only avenue of creativity available for them",[16] and that "when I was young wanted most of all to be a writer of films and film music. But Middlesbrough in 1968 wasn't the place to be if you wanted to do movie scores".[16] Due to his late introduction to music and guitar playing compared to Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton, Rea commented how "I definitely missed the boat, I think".[14]

In 1973 he joined the local Middlesbrough band Magdalene, allegedly replacing David Coverdale who went on to join Deep Purple.[10][13][15] He was writing the songs, and only took up singing because the singer in the band did not show up.[15] Rea then went on to form the band The Beautiful Losers with which in 1975 received the Melody Maker Best Newcomers award, but as he secured a solo recording deal with Magnet Records,[18] and released his first single entitled "So Much Love" in 1974,[19] the band split in 1977.[20] 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.[1]

In 1978, Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? was Rea's debut album. It was released in June and was produced by Elton John's record producer Gus Dudgeon. The title of the album was a reference to "Benjamin Santini", the stage name that Rea sarcastically invented but the record label insisted that he should adopt.[1][16] The first single taken from the album, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)", was Rea's biggest hit in the US, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart. 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 No. 30 when was re-released in late 1978 to capitalise on its US achievement.[3] However, as the record label had the idea of him being a mix of piano-playing singer-songwriters Elton John and Billy Joel,[16] it gave the record buyers a different impression of him than what he felt was correct for three or four years.[14] Rea noted that the hit song "is still the only song I've ever not played guitar on, but it just so happened to be my first single, and it just so happened to be a massive hit",[14] and that he "always had a difficult relationship with fame, even before my first illness. None of my heroes were rock stars. I arrived in Hollywood for the Grammy Awards once and thought I was going to bump in to people who mattered, like Ry Cooder or Randy Newman. But I was surrounded by pop stars".[21][22]

Dudgeon went on to produce Rea's next studio 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.[23][16] Rea's second, and following third (Tennis) and fourth (Chris Rea) studio albums failed to provide further hit singles.

1983–00: European breakthrough, The Road to Hell and Auberge[edit]

Chris Rea in the early 1980s

In 1983, Rea's fifth studio album Water Sign (likely a nod to Rea's Pisces star sign) became a surprise hit in Ireland and 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.[19]

With the success of Water Sign and Wired to the Moon 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" (written about an abandoned hamlet near Middlesbrough and the school named after it) and "Josephine" that UK audiences began to take notice of him. His following albums were On The Beach (1986) and Dancing with Strangers (1987),[10] both went Platinum and Dancing with Strangers reached No. 2, being behind Michael Jackson's Bad. 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 his first compilation, New Light Through Old Windows, which sold very well and included re-workings of his then hit singles.[10]

His next studio album was Rea's major breakthrough.[10] The Road to Hell (1989) enjoyed massive success and became his first No. 1 album in the UK. This accomplishment could not be mirrored in the US where it only reached No. 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 and performed on the Band Aid II project's single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in December 1989.[10] His next album Auberge was also a No. 1 UK and European hit album.

After Auberge, Rea released God's Great Banana Skin which reached No. 4 in the UK,[10] while 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 and sixth Top 20 position. The album was part promoted by Rea taking part in the British Touring Car Championship, although he was eliminated in the first round.[10] A period of ill health meant his next album did not appear until 1998, when The Blue Cafe made the UK Top 10. In 1999, 10 years after Road to Hell, Rea released electronica album The Road to Hell: Part 2, which never made the UK Top 40. In 2000, he released King of the Beach, which hit the UK Top 30.

2001–05: Pancreatic cancer and return to the roots of Blues music[edit]

Although he had had peritonitis and stomach complications since 1994 as well as several operations over time,[21][24] in August of 2000,[25][26][27] Rea underwent a Whipple procedure after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, by which he lost the head of the pancreas, and part of duodenum, bile duct and gall bladder.[13][21] Because of pancreas removal Rea has problem with diabetes and generally weaker immune system, and has to take thirty-four pills and seven injections a day,[28] and since then followed several serious operations.[13][21] Nevertheless, from that he found even greater appreciation for life, and care about what he loves.[13][21]

In an interview 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".[13] Although the record company offered him millions to do a duets album with music stars,[12] having promised himself that if he recovered he would be returning to his blues roots,[17] it resulted with the Dancing Down the Stony Road (2002) and setting up his own independent Jazzee Blue label in 2003 to free himself from the pressure of record company expectations.[13][12]

Since then were released the blues albums Blue Street (Five Guitars) (2003), Hofner Blue Notes (2003), The Blue Jukebox (2004),[13] and in 2005 the Blue Guitars, a 11 CD collection of 137 blues-inspired tracks, completed with his own paintings as album covers.[22] Rea concluded how "I was never a rock star or pop star and all the illness has been my chance to do what I'd always wanted to do with music [...] the best change for my music has been concentrating on stuff which really interests me".[22]

2006–present: The continuation of Blues albums and tours[edit]

Santo Spirito Tour (2011)
Santo Spirito Tour (2011)

In February 2008, Chris Rea released a new album, The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes (a dedication to the 1960s Hofner) guitar, featuring 38 new tracks on three CDs and two vinyl, which included a hardback book of his paintings.[13] 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.

In October 2009, Rhino released a new 2-disc best of compilation Still So Far to Go which 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.[22] Two new songs were included, "Come So Far, Yet Still So Far to Go" and the ballad "Valentino".[22] The album was a success as it reached no. 8 and was certified Gold by BPI. In January 2010 Rea started the European tour, called "Still So Far to Go".[22] His special guest on stage was Irish musician Paul Casey. The tour ended on 5 April at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland.[22]

In September 2011, Chris Rea released Santo Spirito Blues, which contained two feature-length films on DVD written and directed by him, and two accompanying CDs of the soundtracks, and one regular CD of studio album songs.[29] In October and November, he underwent two surgical procedures.[30] On February 3, 2012 the Santo Spirito Tour started at Congress Center Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany, with additional visits to Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Hungary, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and France. The United Kingdom part of the tour commenced in the middle of March and finished on April 5 at Hammersmith Apollo in London.[29]

In November 2014, Rea embarked on a European tour called The Last Open Road Tour, while the UK part of the tour commenced on 1 December in Manchester and ended on 20 December in London.[31] He also performed at the 2014 Montreux Jazz Festival.

Personal life[edit]

Family life[edit]

Rea is married to Joan Lesley, with whom he has been in a relationship since they met as 16-years-olds in their native Middlesbrough.[22] They have two daughters, Josephine, born 16 September 1983, and Julia Christina, born 18 March 1989. Rea used to live at Cookham, Berkshire, where he owned Sol Mill Recording Studios and produced some of his later albums.[13][17]

Other interests[edit]

Chris Rea racing in his Lotus 6 at the Goodwood Revival 2009.

Rea is a fan of historic motor racing and races a Ferrari Dino,[28] a Ferrari 328,[32] and a 1955 Lotus 6,[33][32][34] and managed to race at Monza circuit.[35] He owned and raced the 1964 Lotus Elan 26R,[36][32][37] and the well known Caterham 7 from the Auberge album cover,[38] as it got sold in 2005 with all proceeds (£11,762) going to the charity NSPCC.[39] He also owned Ferrari 330 which was used as a donor car for the replica of Ferrari 250 Le Mans used in the 1996 movie La Passione.[40] He is currently restoring an original replica of Ferrari 156.[14] He recorded a song, "Saudade", in tribute to three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna. It featured prominently in the BBC documentary movie.[41]

When he is not writing songs, other interests include gardening and particularly painting.[35] Rea says that he likes to "read a lot and even though I chose music, journalism was my first passion. I wanted to be a journalist and write about car racing [...] somewhere deep down I believe I could have been a decent journalist".[30]


In August 2008, it was erroneously reported that Rea had donated £25,000 to the Conservative Party.[42] This was followed by further claims in 2009 by The Times that Rea has been a longtime supporter of the Conservative Party,[43][verification needed] and incorrect reports in April 2010, just weeks before the UK general election, that Rea had donated a further £100,000 to the Conservatives.[44] The donations were in fact made by a businessman called Chris Rea and not the musician.[45] This error has been acknowledged by The Daily Mail newspaper, which printed a retraction.[46]

In an interview in 2012, Chris Rea denied those claims and noted that this was a classic example of how dangerous the internet can be, while criticising the politicians and government of the UK and EU as remore from the common people.[30] He is skeptical about the idea of unification of Europe because with a common European market "you cannot force different people to live together [when] they simply do not want to",[30] recalling the downfall of Yugoslavia.[30]


One of his childhood dreams was to become a film writer and film music composer.[15][16] Rea wrote the title track and music score for the 1993 drama film Soft Top Hard Shoulder.[47][48] He wrote the script as well composed the soundtrack for the 1996 film, La Passione, and had a cameo role in it.[10] Rea was the lead actor in the 1999 comedy film, Parting Shots, alongside Felicity Kendal, John Cleese, Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley.[15] Rea, ironically, 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.[10][15] Afterwards, for the album projects Blue Guitars were done four hour-long films, while for the Santo Spirito Blues two feature-length films, just "so that I could do the music".[15]

References in Rea's lyrics[edit]

Rea has acknowledged that several of his songs were "born out of Middlesbrough", his home town. The verse "I'm standing by a river, but the water doesn't flow / It boils with every poison you can think of" from "The Road to Hell",[13] the songs "Steel River" which refers to a nickname for River Tees,[49][50] and "Windy Town,[13] reflect Rea's feelings about the industrial decline of Middlesbrough and the re-development of the town centre while he was out of the country touring through the years:

"I went back to see my father after my 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."[51]

"I miss the bits of Middlesbrough that aren’t there any more. It’s very hard to accept that Ayresome Park no longer exists. I know I sound very old when I say things like that. Those terraced streets are no longer there. But I miss the old character of the place, the guys with the fruit barrows and all that."[13]


Main article: Chris Rea discography

Studio albums[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]


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  2. ^ " • Update on 2006 tour". 15 November 2005. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
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  19. ^ a b Record Collector, December 1986, No.88, p.39
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  25. ^ "Chris Rea operato d' urgenza: tolto il pancreas" (in Italian). Corriere della Sera. 4 August 2000. p. 34. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
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  27. ^ Rebecca Fletcher (28 September 2002). "Interview: Chris Rea - My Road To Hell; How a Near-Death Experience Made Singer Chris Rea Realise What He Really Wanted out of Life.". The Mirror. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Gavin Martin (2 October 2009). "Chris Rea's fighting fit and raring to go". Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
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  30. ^ a b c d e "Chris Rea: There's no escape from the road to". Kyiv Weekly. 13 February 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  31. ^ "Chris Rea Announces December 2014 UK tour". 8 April 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  32. ^ a b c Rob Widdows (September 2009). "The Racing Bluesman". Motor Sport. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  33. ^ "The aim is to beat Chris Rea". Stirling Moss. 25 July 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  34. ^ "Chris Rea". Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  35. ^ a b Paula Kerr (20 April 2012). "My haven: The musician and aspiring painter, Chris Rea, 61, draws inspiration from the garden of his Berkshire home". Daily Mail. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
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  37. ^ "1964 Lotus 26R". Jan B. Lühn. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  38. ^ Martin Buckley (11 December 2009). "Graham Nearn: Engineer and businessman behind the Caterham Seven sports car". The Independent. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  39. ^ "Lot 229: 1987 Caterham 7 Sprint 'Blue Seven'". Taer limited. 29 September 2005. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  40. ^ Don Standhaft. "Ferrari 250 TRI61 Le Mans". DMark Concepts. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  41. ^ "the career and life of Senna". BBC News. 1 May 2009. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  42. ^ Kirkup, James (28 August 2008). "Chris Rea among high-profile donors to Conservative Party". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  43. ^ Baldwin, Tom; Sherwin, Adam; Simpson, Eva (14 November 2009). "Not the X Factor — more the Why Factor as celebrities snub parties". London: The Times. 
  44. ^ "Tories raise twice the amount of big donations given to Labour in first week of campaign". London: The Guardian. 20 April 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  45. ^ "The seal of success: Chris Rea". agendaNI. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  46. ^ Doughty, Steve (21 April 2010). "Tories bank £1.45million in donations in first week of election campaign – twice that of Labour". London: Daily Mail. 
  47. ^ "Soft Top, Hard Shoulder - double BAFTA-winning comedy starring Peter Capaldi". Vimeo. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  48. ^ Jim White (28 January 1993). "Hello? Is anybody out there?: Chris Rea: Wembley Arena". The Independent. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  49. ^ "Middlesbrough History". 17 October 1911. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  50. ^ "Chris Rea plays North East gigs". BBC News. 18 March 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  51. ^ Auf Wiedersehen, Pet... , Q Magazine, February 1988, p.34

External links[edit]