Born in Middlesbrough in 1951, Chris Rea didn't even learn the guitar until he was 22, joining his first band, Magdalene, in 1973 (replacing David Coverdale). He was given his first record contract a year later, as a solo artist, and released his first single, “So Much Love” in 1974. Over the next few years, he guested on albums by acts like Hank Marvin and Catherine Howe, before releasing his debut album, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? in 1978. The lead single “Fool (If You Think It's Over)” was a big hit in the States (and remains his biggest there to date), reaching No.12 in the Billboard Hot 100, and was Grammy-nominated (losing to Billy Joel's “Just The Way You Are”). The song has also been covered many times, most notably by Elkie Brooks.
Rea's next three albums were not commercial successes, and his relationship with his record label was so bad by 1983, that his fifth album consisted of a bunch of demo tapes the studio preferred to release instead of listening to what Rea himself wanted. Ironically, then, that Water Sign (1983) was a success, and led to Rea touring extensively across Europe, where he built up a solid and loyal fanbase. His next album, Shamrock Diaries (1985) at last produced the UK hits that he craved, including “Stainsby Girls” and “Josephine”. On the Beach (1986), with its haunting title track, and Dancing With Strangers (1987), made Rea a household name and he began to fill out stadiums.
The Road To Hell (1989) was his first UK No.1 album, and was followed by another chart-topper,. Auberge (1991). God's Great Banana Skin (1992) and Espresso Logic (1993) gave him more success, and were released at around the same time that Rea began indulging his other great love – racing cars – competitively. Rea suffered ill health through the rest of the decade, before releasing the albums The Blue Cafe (1998), The Road To Hell Part 2 (1999) and King Of The Beach (2000).
Near-fatal pancreatitis in 2001 inspired Rea to get back to his blues roots, and Blue Guitars (2005) was released to great critical success, not least because it consisted of eleven CDs and cover artwork by Rea himself (an accomplished painter). Despite announcing his retirement in the same year, he nevertheless came back in 2008 with a tour and an album of new tracks, The Return of The Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes, followed by a compilation album, Still So Far To Go in 2009. Rea toured in 2010 to back that album, and in 2011 he released The Santo Spirito Project, a DVD and CD collection of songs and two full-length films written by Rea himself.
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