As someone who has never been quiet about having a difficult relationship with the music industry, Chris Rea has made a career out of following his own path as a musician. In fact, it could well be argued that his third album, Tennis, released in March 1980, was the first of many shifts in sound and style that allowed the Middlesbrough-born singer-songwriter to explore his creative freedom and develop a more mature sound.
Listen to ‘Tennis’ here.
Despite its relative lack of commercial success compared to his later works, Tennis was highly acclaimed by critics upon its release and has since developed a cult following among fans. Imbuing the authenticity of rhythm’n’blues music with blues-based slide guitar, it’s clear from the offset that Rea was striking out in a new direction – one that would ultimately become an important part of his legacy. Here is the story of how Tennis gave Rea a sporting chance in the 80s…
The backstory: “He’d been told to turn me into the next Elton John, which couldn’t be further away from what I was”
Having worked with Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon on his previous albums, Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? and Deltics, Chris Rea couldn’t escape the feeling that his success had come at a cost. Despite being nominated for a Grammy Award for his 1978 single Fool (If You Think It’s Over), Rea wasn’t happy with being pigeonholed into the 70s singer-songwriter bracket, and he felt uneasy with how he was being moulded by music industry bigwigs. “I was told by a huge producer, and he’d been told by the record company to turn me into the next Elton John, which couldn’t be further away from what I was,” Rea told Songfacts.