born on 4/3/1951 in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Christopher Anton Rea (// REE-ə; born 4 March 1951) is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist, 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)". As of 2009, he has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.
In America he is best known for the 1978 hit song "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" that reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This success earned him a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist in 1979. His other hit songs include, "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat", "Stainsby Girls", "On the Beach" (Adult Contemporary No. 9), "Let's Dance", "Josephine", "Driving Home for Christmas", "I Just Wanna Be with You", "Looking for a Rainbow", "Tell Me There's a Heaven", "Auberge", "And You My Love", "Looking for the Summer", "Winter Song", "Nothing To Fear", "Julia", "Working On It" (Mainstream Rock No. 1), and "If You Were Me", a duet with Elton John.
Two of his studio albums, The Road to Hell and Auberge, topped the UK Albums Chart. Rea was nominated three times for the Brit Award for Best British Male Artist: in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The book Guinness Rockopedia described him as a "gravel-voiced guitar stalwart".
Christopher Rea was born in Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire to an Italian father, Camillo Rea (died December 2010), and an Irish mother, Winifred Slee (died September 1983). The name Rea was well known locally thanks to Camillo's ice cream factory and café chain. Chris has two brothers, Nick and Mike; and four sisters, Catherine, Geraldine, Stacey, and Camille. Chris was raised Roman Catholic.
1972–82: Early career and "Fool (If You Think It's Over)"
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 21-22 that Rea bought his first guitar, a 1961 Hofner V3. With regards to his guitar playing technique, he developed his own style by listening to Delta blues musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters, and opera to light orchestral classics to develop his style. Rea's early music career began with inspiration of Charlie Patton, Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well by the success of then contemporary Ry Cooder and Joe Walsh. 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", 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". 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".
In 1973 he joined the local Middlesbrough band 'Magdalene', allegedly replacing David Coverdale who went on to join Deep Purple. He began by writing the bands songs, and only took up singing because the singer in the band did not show up. Rea then went on to form the band 'The Beautiful Losers' with which in 1975 he received the Melody Maker Best Newcomers award, but as he secured a solo recording deal with Magnet Records, and released his first single entitled "So Much Love" in 1974, the band split in 1977. 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.
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. 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. However, as the record label had the idea of him being a mix of piano-playing singer-songwriters Elton John and Billy Joel, it gave the record buyers a different impression of him than what he felt was correct for three or four years. 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", 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 into people who mattered, like Ry Cooder or Randy Newman. But I was surrounded by pop stars".
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. 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
In 1983, Rea's fifth studio album Water 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.
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" (a tribute to the girls - including his wife - that he knew from Stainsby secondary modern school near Middlesbrough) and "Josephine" (a tribute to his daughter) that UK audiences began to take notice of him. His following albums were On The Beach (1986) and Dancing with Strangers (1987), 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.
His next studio album was Rea's major breakthrough. 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. 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, 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. 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
Rea had had peritonitis and stomach complications since 1994, as well as several operations. In August 2000, 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. Since having his pancreas removed, Rea has had problems with diabetes and a generally weaker immune system and has to take thirty-four pills and seven injections a day. He has since undergone several serious operations. Nevertheless, he found even greater appreciation for life and the things he loves.
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". Although the record company offered him millions to do a duets album with music stars, having promised himself that if he recovered he would be returning to his blues roots, he recorded Dancing Down the Stony Road (2002) and set up his own independent Jazzee Blue label in 2003 to free himself from the pressure of record company expectations. He has since released the Blue Street (Five Guitars) (2003), Hofner Blue Notes (2003), and The Blue Jukebox (2004), blues albums and in 2005 he released Blue Guitars, a 11 CD collection of 137 blues-inspired tracks, with his own paintings as album covers. Rea concluded: "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".
2006–present: The continuation of Blues albums and tours
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. 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. Two new songs were included, "Come So Far, Yet Still So Far to Go" and the ballad "Valentino". 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". His special guest on stage was Irish musician Paul Casey. The tour ended on 5 April at Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
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. In October and November, he underwent two surgical procedures. On February 3, 2012 the Santo Spirito Tour started at Congress Center Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany, with additional visits to Poland, Russia, 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.
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. He also performed at the 2014 Montreux Jazz Festival.
In 2016, Rea suffered a stroke, which left him with slurred speech and reduced movement in his arms and fingers. Soon after he quit smoking to deter further strokes, and gradually recovered well enough to record and tour.. The same year he released a re-recording of his 1996 album La Passione. In September 2017, Chris Rea released his twenty-fourth album, Road Songs for Lovers, and embarked on a new European tour starting on October 7 in Amsterdam, which included concerts in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Russia and the United Kingdom.
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. 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.
Rea is a fan of historic motor racing and races a Ferrari Dino, a Ferrari 328, and a 1955 Lotus 6, and managed to race at Monza circuit. He owned and raced the 1964 Lotus Elan 26R, and the well known Caterham 7 from the Auberge album cover, until it was sold in 2005 with all proceeds (£11,762) going to the charity NSPCC. 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. He is currently restoring an original replica of Ferrari 156.
He has taken the opportunity to get involved in Formula One on a few occasions, including as a pit lane mechanic for the Jordan team during the 1995 Monaco Grand Prix. He recorded a song, "Saudade", in tribute to three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna. It featured prominently in the BBC documentary movie.
When he is not writing songs, other interests include gardening and particularly painting. 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".
In August 2008, it was erroneously reported that Rea had donated £25,000 to the Conservative Party. This was followed by further claims in 2009 by The Times that Rea has been a longtime supporter of the Conservative Party, and 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.
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 remote from the common people. He is sceptical 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", recalling the downfall of Yugoslavia.
One of his childhood dreams was to become a film writer and film music composer. Rea wrote the title track and music score for the 1993 drama film Soft Top Hard Shoulder, 1996 film La Passione, and had a cameo role in it. Rea was the lead actor in the 1999 comedy film Parting Shots, alongside Felicity Kendal, John Cleese, Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley. 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. Afterwards, four hour-long films were made for the Blue Guitars album projects, while two feature-length films were made for the Santo Spirito Blues, just "so that I could do the music".
References in Rea's lyrics
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", the songs "Steel River" which refers to a nickname for River Tees, and "Windy Town, 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."
"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."
- 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)
- 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)
- Santo Spirito Blues (2011)
- La Passione (Remake 2016)
- Road Songs for Lovers (2017)
- New Light Through Old Windows (1988)
- The Best of Chris Rea (1994)
- The Very Best of Chris Rea (2001)
- Heartbeats – Chris Rea's Greatest Hits (2005)
- Chris Rea: The Ultimate Collection 1978–2000 (2007)
- Still So Far to Go: The Best of Chris Rea (2009)
- The Journey 1978-2009 (2011)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chris Rea.|
- Official site
- Chris Rea on IMDb
- Official site of Rea's record label JazzeeBlue