Artists come and artists go - pop music is a fleeting business. There are musicians, however, who deserve never to be forgotten. One of those is the Irish guitar player Rory Gallagher. It's already five years ago since he died, but a lot of his fans continue to remember him as a great guitar player, an indefatigable stage beast, a tasteful songwriter and a sympathetic person. And this seems to work to help save him from oblivion. However, a lot is also thanks to the efforts of his brother Donal Gallagher, who has been responsible for the re-release of his brother's' whole catalogue.
Full time Job
"They have already been released on CD before," says Donal Gallagher. "But that happened with the technical possibilities available at that time. This time we wanted to present definitive versions: so a better sound, extra songs and a short story which places the CDs in a historic perspective. I think we succeeded pretty well." Donal Gallagher says that he would have preferred to release everything on LP, but that such an undertaking would of course be useless. "We did try to capture that velvet sound of vinyl as much as possible during the mastering. I am very happy with the success of the re-releases. We have sold tens of thousands of each title, which shows that Rory's name is still alive." Donal Gallagher’s full time job now is managing his brother's inheritance. He puts compilations together, contracts out songs for blues collectors and oversees all of the promotion.
"I am still happy to this day, that from his first album on Rory insisted on keeping the ownership of the master tapes," concludes Donal Gallagher. "The tapes of numerous other artists have been molding in damp archives for decades or have simply disappeared. We had never given away the tapes. So they were in perfect condition and everything was easy to trace. Also the songs that have never been released before. That has made my job a lot easier."
It is, however, not his first involvement in his brother's career. Donal Gallagher was, since the end of the sixties, his brothers regular tour manager, and has experienced everything, including the "ups and downs" of his whole career.
"Like so many Irishmen, Rory started by playing folk, initially on the mandolin. At the start of the sixties he formed a so-called skiffle band, with which he played a mixture of folk and rock 'n’ roll. Then, already, I looked after whatever had to be done. We toured the marine bases in Ireland regularly where a lot of American marines were stationed. There Rory learned how to get a shed full of noisy, thirsty men quiet."
During the second half of the sixties Rory Gallagher formed the three-piece Taste, who released their debut album in 1968. The guitar player was twenty years old then. Donal recognizes that Taste was heavily influenced by British blues bands, which were springing up in London, during that time. When I presumed that Taste was the Irish answer to Cream - Eric Clapton's band - Donal gently rapped me on the knuckles. "Taste was there earlier, so it might have been the other way around. Well, it's not that important. Rory, by the way, was a huge admirer of Eric Clapton.”
In 1970, Taste split up and Rory Gallagher decided to keep on going under his own name. The success, that has started slowly with Taste, now took bigger steps. A lot was due to the endless number of concerts. It was clear that the musician, Rory Gallagher, had many different sides: one moment he could be the tempestuous rocker, but a song further on it became clear he could be a sensitive folk singer just as easily. His real breakthrough came in 1972 with "Live in Europe", which was a perfect example of his live performances on stage.
The first records were quite bluesy. Later, at the end of the seventies, the emphasis turned more and more to full-blooded hard rock. That delivered, in my opinion, his best records in the form of "Photo Finish", "Top Priority" and the live record "Stage Struck". Donal has mixed feelings about those records. "I can imagine your preferences. It's just that I know the story behind them. The record company, Chrysalis, saw how the new wave of British Heavy Metal was spreading at that time. They tried to push Rory in that direction, and to make a real hard rock musician out of him. I think Rory tried the best he could, but his heart was much more in the traditional music styles such as folk, blues and country. I prefer a record such as "Jinx" a lot better myself. Most albums were hurried jobs, which had to be finished between tours. For "Jinx", we finally had the space to create a record that was more than an ennobled live recording. It's a well arranged and thought out studio record. It's my absolute favorite."
Rory Gallagher has had, throughout his whole career, the image of a simple, sympathetic countryman, who went to sleep and woke up in his check shirt and could do little more than play the guitar and sing. There were more aspects to his personality, emphasizes Donal. "It's just that Rory wasn't the kind of guy that would show off his other interests. He was a modest person, who was very protective of his private life. He was an introvert, someone who didn't divulge something very quickly. He read a lot, but his biggest passion - more than music, I suspect - was movies.
Every week he watched many movies, not only the big American cinema movies, but alternative movies from Europe as well. He had an encyclopedic brain of the history of movies. Rory was quite a cultural person. He loved literature and art. It's a side of Rory that was always a bit snowed under, which is a pity."
For a long time the story of Rory Gallagher almost being a member of The Rolling Stones did the rounds. At the end of 1974, Mick Taylor left the band and Keith and Mick had to look for a replacement. "In January 1975, I got a phone call from The Stones management wondering if Rory might be interested, because Mick saw a lot in Rory. That was the case and of course it also made my mouth water. The auditions took place in The Hague, in The Netherlands. Rory went there on his own, and to this day I regret that. He was put up in a hotel, jammed a bit with the band, but no decision was forthcoming. Even then The Rolling Stones were an unassailable mega act and could have everything they wanted and keep everybody waiting. Rory on the other hand had a tour of Japan in his agenda and those dates kept getting closer. The Stones’ management knew that, but probably thought that Rory would cancel it. However they didn't count on Rory’s stubbornness, as well as his loyalty to his fans. He kept waiting to the end, but finally packed his bags and left a note at the reception: "If you still want me then I will hear from you" and he left for Japan. If I had been there I would have tied him to his chair if I had to. I wonder sometimes: what would have become of him if he had become a member. Would he be alive still? There was never any word from The Stones. They were probably offended to death by his perceived impertinence."
During the years that followed Rory just kept on doing what he was good at: playing gigs and releasing records. During the eighties the success subsided a little, but a nucleus of loyal fans made sure that the halls were always full when the Irishman passed through. At the end of the eighties it became clear to the audience that Rory Gallagher was not doing well. The number of concerts declined and when the musician appeared he looked bad: fat and tired. More and more rumors abounded about his heavy drinking. "Rory wasn't averse to a drink", admits Donal. "And that became a bigger and bigger problem. Over the years he had become more and more dependent on medication that he took for all sorts of ailments. They ruined him from inside, poisoned his blood. He retained water and that's how he became heavier."
Saying Good-bye to the Stage
"It's still hard for me to talk about his final days. It was so painful. We didn't succeed in getting a grip on Rory and his lifestyle. It was necessary that he took a rest and purge everything from his system. We tried numerous times. Rory however was a pure musician: he was only happy on stage, with a guitar in his hands. When he was at home he was okay for the first couple of days. He read a bit and rented some movies, but very soon he started to itch. That restlessness killed him. It was a dilemma: he needed rest, but was only happy when he was on tour. He had no personal life that gave him fulfillment, that was the big tragedy. In 1994, it got rapidly worse. He succumbed to more and more physical ailments. Still he insisted on doing a short tour of The Netherlands at the start of 1995. Against our advice. It became a drama. Already during the first gig it became clear that he was much too sick to give a coherent show. I canceled the tour, but Rory wanted to continue. It was the only time in thirty years that we had a big fight. I drew back and went home. Rory still did a couple of gigs but eventually was sent home. It's painful that such a dedicated artist had to say good-bye to the stage in this way."
photo by Scott Pickard in Ohio, 1979.
"After that it got worse real quick. I visited him several times in his apartment, but he acted like a man who wanted nothing else other than to die. It was a mess and you could not talk to him. He was lonely and depressed. There was nothing that I could have done. Did we settle the fight? I tried, but coherent communication was hardly possible anymore. That still bothers me a lot. He refused to go to a hospital for a while, but eventually we got him there anyway. Rory needed a liver transplant, which succeeded wonderfully well. He recovered fast, but a day before he was due to be released it all went wrong. A virus, which can be found in older English hospitals, cropped up. Rory had already taken so much medication during his lifetime that the antibiotics didn't help and after a day he was dead. Of course I ask myself regularly if I should have done certain things differently. I don't know. An adult who resolutely ruins himself can not be stopped. However the doubt stays. Just like the pain."
"I am glad that I can look after
his inheritance. We have really succeeded in introducing Rory to a younger
audience. And that's what his music deserves. I regularly visit fan club
days everywhere in the world. Recently I was in Leeuwarden. I noticed that
a lot of young people were there. We are not finished yet, not by a long
shot. All his official albums have been re-released now. Later this year
we will release an album with only acoustic songs, a folk album. We have
plans for a so-called anthology, which will be a box with several CDs.
Furthermore we are busy trying to collect concert recordings for possible
DVDs and videos. We have already traced material from the Montreux Jazz
festival, RockPalast and The Old Grey Whistle Test. You'll hear, also in
the coming years, that I still have my hands full with Rory.”
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