The Rebirth of a Legend
REMASTERED, REPACKAGED AND REVEALING PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED MATERIAL, RORY GALLAGHER'S BACK CATALOGUE IS SET TO GAIN A WHOLE NEW LEASE OF LIFE. JACKIE HAYDEN TALKS TO RORY'S BROTHER AND MANAGER DONAL GALLAGHER ABOUT THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A TRUE ROCK LEGEND, WHILE COLM O'HARE CHECKS OUT THE FIRST FIVE ALBUMS IN A SERIES WHICH WILL MEAN RORY'S WORK BECOMES AVAILABLE IN ITS ENTIRETY ON CD FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Sweat was arguably as much of a trademark for Rory Gallagher as his check shirt or Fender Strat. It was the mark of someone who shed every drop for the fans. Easy options that might have short- changed the fans were never on Rory's calling card. They were never part of his blueprint.
That single-mindedness and dedication was present from the beginning. "Rory's first guitar was a plastic one, and once he got it he hardly ever left it down," Donal Gallagher, Rory's brother, best friend, business manager and biggest fan recalls. "We still have it at home. Once he decided that guitar playing was the life for him, there was no stopping him. He never mentioned any other career, only music."
Rory grew up in a musical family. His mother still sings whenever she can, while the boys' father played accordion, so Rory's musical interest was encouraged -although the guitar wouldn't have been his parents' first choice as an instrument for Rory - back then it was seen as a symbol of rebellion. Undaunted, it did not take long for him to move into electric mode with a Selmer Solid 7 and then came the famous Fender Stratocaster, the one he played throughout his life.
"Rory actually got that guitar partly by accident," Donal recalls. "It was probably the first Fender Strat ever in Ireland. It had been ordered for a showband guy, but he didn't like the finish on it and the shop in Cork sold it to Rory after about two months, so it was nearly new. It cost him £100, a small fortune for a family like ours."
According to Donal, Rory would spend hours trawling the airwaves on the house radio for his music. "He was very serious about it. He was especially into skiffle music. He liked its mix of folk and blues and the strong rhythm, and Lonnie Donegan was one of his real life-long heroes. He also began developing an interest in painting and art as well, ignoring the traditional calls to get some qualifications he could fall back on -and even the usual advice to get a proper job!
"Of course: Donal adds, "there were members of the wider family who had less time for music-making, certainly not where making a career out of it is concerned, and the Christian Brothers regarded pop music as the work of the devil, so he got no encouragement from some quarters at all."
But the single-mindedness that later drove Rory to even greater artistic heights was already there, and, ignoring any pleadings to the contrary, he started to build on his stage craft through local gigs and talent competitions whenever he got the chance, playing anything from Leadbelly to Bob Dylan. He entered a talent competition in Cork with a skiffle-inspired band called The Vipers, and Donal remembers playing tea-chest bass himself with one of Rory's fledgling bands when the future rock hero was still very young.
"It wasn't that I had any great designs on playing myself," admits Donal, "but if you hung around in Rory's gang you played music, as simple as that. Nothing else mattered, even at that early age."
While only in his teens, Rory joined the Fontana Showband, where he confirmed the stage was his natural home and the guitar his natural means of communication. But showbands were hardly the ideal environment if you wanted to turn up the volume and lay down some real blues, and so Rory hit on a novel solution. "It was always expected that a proper showband would have at least six musicians," Donal explains, "so Rory persuaded some like-minded band members to become The Impact, which was effectively a six-piece rock outfit cunningly disguised as a showband!"
Donal still has the acetate of a never released single by The Impact covering Buddy Holly's 'Valley Of Tears', plus Rory's own 'You Fooled Me All The Time'. "It was recorded in Dublin, and I can still remember the buzz of excitement in the house when we first heard it: says Donal.
In a situation that presaged his later pairings with legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Lonnie Donegan, Muddy Waters and others, Rory was also getting session bookings for various records, all eagerly lapped up as opportunities to gain studio experience.
Following a German tour, The Impact, in 1965, downsized to become Taste, who, with a revised line-up, later became one of the most potent, if sometimes underrated power-rock trios of the '60s, and Donal was co-opted in as road manager. Apart from anything else, it was a great chance for Donal to see all the bands that Taste played support to, ranging from the Everly Brothers to The Animals -before the band earned serious headlining status for themselves with two dynamic studio albums and some power- house live performances at mega gigs, like the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival.
But when Taste broke up in 1971, Donal was out of a job. "Taste broke up because there were too many recording commitments and the management weren't investing any money in new equipment or anything; "and this was frustrating Rory. The proof that Rory made the right decision in splitting is in the fact that the two others guys (Wilson and McCracken -J.H.) formed another band, Stud, with the same manager: and the same thing happened to them!"'
In contrast, with Donal taking on a new role as manager, Rory's solo career blossomed and he became one of the most revered blues-rock guitarists in the world, surpassing Eric Clapton and others in various polls and earning accolades from fellow musicians, including Clapton himself and John Lennon" Many justifiably rated him alongside Hendrix and Clapton as the third force in an elite force that transformed electric guitar-playing in the late '60s and early '70s. After Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones in 1974, Rory was invited to replace him, but because of tour commitments in Japan, which Rory was reluctant to alter because it was not in his nature to discommode the fans, the move fell through.
"Mick Jagger was really keen to have Rory, and I think the Japanese situation could have been sorted out; Donal remembers, "but there was some ambiguity on both sides. I think Keith Richards was supposed to sort everything out with Rory, but was comatose or something at the time!"
Although the notion of Rory and Keith trading blues riffs is an intriguing one, it's difficult to imagine the Corkman accepting the compromises he would've had to make, and he never expressed the slightest regret about passing up on the Stones gig to Donal, although he was a big Stones fan, especially of Brian Jones, and he later did some stuff with Charlie Watts and there was talk of a collaboration with Bill Wyman.
Many fans reckoned that Rory Gallagher was the ultimate rock festival act, although others will argue that his talents were best experienced in more intimate surroundings. In fact, he was a master of both. So incendiary a performer was he that there was even a major riot at one of his outdoor gigs in Greece. But at home many will forever associate Rory with the legendary Macroom festivals of 1978 and 79, which Donal had a major hand in organising.
"Macroom had an annual Mountain Dew Festival and they wanted Rory to play in a marquee which Rory wasn't into. So we decided to run a separate rock gig, probably the first big open-air gig of its kind in Ireland The site was perfect for it, with the castle and the river, and we did it two years in a row, mostly using bands we'd met on the rounds as our support, like Sleepy Hollow, Joe O'Donnell's band and Nutz from Liverpool."
These and other fond memories of the man and his remarkable impact will undoubtedly be rekindled by the upcoming reissue of most of Rory's extraordinary back catalogue, but Donal still hurts from the loss of someone he obviously loved dearly. In a sense, the existence of the albums is both a sad reminder of his loss - and a help in coping with it.
"After Rory died it was very hard at first to listen to any of the music, but you can't isolate yourself from it forever. You hear it on the radio, or in a shop or in someone's house, so it's a bitter-sweet thing in a way. In some ways it becomes part of the grieving process, listening to the tapes and finding that some of the lyrics become more poignant and more meaningful, and as time goes by you realise how deeply important Rory's music was to so many people."
That importance is
certain to grow in the wake of the re-releases and Donal reveals that
are still warehouses full of unissued material, some with Rory's
instructions as to how he planned to finish them. Donal hopes that all
of the recordings will see the light of day -sweat and all.
And so say all of us.
But it's the music of Rory Gallagher that will endure long after the memories of those classic Christmas shows in Dublin's National Stadium have faded. Between 1971 and 1990 he released fourteen albums, including two live concert recordings. Though some of his albums have been licensed out and re-issued on various labels over the years, his entire back catalogue has never been available on CD.
Now starting with five titles released on September 7th, BMG Records plan to re-vitalize his back catalogue and make it available in its entirety. All of the albums will be digitally remastered from the original tapes and issued with previously unreleased bonus tracks taken from the original recording sessions. All of the albums will have enhanced artwork, in some cases, previously unpublished photographs, as well as extensive sleeve notes.
The first five titles to be issued are Deuce, Irish Tour, Calling Card, Photo-Finish and Fresh Evidence. The next batch will be released in january 1999, with the remainder of his catalogue expected to be available later the same year.
For long-time fans of this Irish guitar legend, it's a unique opportunity to replace worn vinyl copies of long-cherished albums. For new fans, it's a chance to fully appreciate the breadth and mastery of Rory Gallagher's playing, and the sheer quality and consistency of his recorded output. The following is a guide to the first five albums in the new series.
Originally released in November 1971 and available now for the first time ever on CD, Deuce was the follow-up to Gallagher's eponymously titled debut, which came out just six months earlier. The line-up of Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums would remain the same for his first three albums.
Deuce was written, produced and performed by Gallagher, no mean feat for a 23-year-old and reflecting a level of artistic control that was highly unusual at the time. Gallagher was anxious to capture a live sound and most of the sessions were recorded either before or after gigs. Featuring both hard-edged, high-energy blues and more subdued acoustic tracks, the album's key strengths lie in its minimalist, pared-down approach and straightforward no-nonsense playing.
Highlights include the acoustic opening track 'I'm Not Awake', the more up- tempo 'Whole Lot Of People' featuring Gallagher's stinging slide playing, and the out and out rocker 'In Your Town' which would become a firm live favourite -it appeared on Live In Europe, the follow- up to Deuce. Also included is the Muddy Waters influenced slow blues cut 'I Should Have Learned My Lesson' and 'Out Of My Mind', inspired by the Nashville country picking of Doc Watson. The bonus track on the CD Is 'Persuasion', a mid-tempo rocker with a strong Celtic feel, which finds Gallagher scatting frenetically with his guitar -another characteristic trademark.
The album was recorded at Tangerine Studios in North London (built by the legendary '60s producer Joe Meek, who tragically shot himself a few years earlier) .
Johnny Marr, the
Smiths guitarist once cited Deuce as a major influence on his guitar
"I spent a day just playing along with the album", he said. "It was a
turning point for me."
The original title of this double live album was Irish Tour '74, but it has been shortened to Irish Tour- possibly due to the fact that the tour actually took place in late '73. This was Rory's second live album -Live in Europe came out two years earlier -and is arguably one of his greatest ever recordings. It was certainly one his most commercially successful albums, going on to sell over two million copies worldwide.
Compiled from live recordings made at shows in the Ulster Hall in Belfast, the Carlton Cinema in Dublin and Cork's City Hall, Irish Tour featured songs from his previous five albums, including three from Tattoo and several covers, including Tony Joe White's 'As The Crow Flies' and Muddy Waters' blues classic 'I Wonder Who'.
The album is a tour-de-force from beginning to end -right from the moment the MC (could it be Jim Aiken?) introduces Rory, who promptly launches into a blistering 'Cradle Rock'. Highlights include 'Tattooed Lady' and 'Too Much Alcohol', with the climax coming towards the end of the eleven minute 'Walk On Hot Coals'. Incidentally, the track 'Just A Little Bit', which appeared on the original vinyl album, is omitted here, replaced by a short instrumental 'Maritime', a tribute to the Belfast Club where Rory had played many times.
Irish Tour also forms part of the sound track to a documentary film made by noted rock film-maker Tony Palmer. Originally envisaged as a TV special, it soon became clear that the vitality and energy of Gallagher's performance, deserved a bigger stage. On its release it played to packed cinema houses in Ireland, the UK and around Europe. The original film is currently being restored and the sound track is being upgraded for possible future release on video.
Most of the recording was done on Ronnie Lane's Mobile studio, but a problem arose with insurance cover in Ireland for such an expensive set-up and some of the tracks had to be recorded directly from the mixing deck to the film crew's tape machines.
The band included
Gerry McAvoy on bass, Rod de' Ath on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards.
Piano supremo Micheal Q'Sulleabhain was in the audience at the Cork gig and he recalls Gallagher's performance vividly: "The guitar seemed to sing in his hands. His improvisations were constantly moving, reaching out, going somewhere, extending the potential of the instrument itself."
His eighth solo album, Calling Card, released in October 1976, was also Gallagher's most critically acclaimed in the US with Rolling Stone magazine praising it for its craftsmanship and diversity of material. It certainly marked a shift in focus for Gallagher, from a strict heads-down blues approach into a more varied rock, pop and jazz-oriented direction. Significantly, it was also the first time he'd called on the services of an outside producer -Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, whom he'd met while touring the US.
Calling Card features some of Gallagher's most accomplished work -the complex chord structures and jazz phrasing on the best known track, 'Moonchild', being a perfect example. The title track too, with an impressive piano solo by Lou Martin, is also heavily jazz-influenced.
include the gorgeously melodic acoustic number 'I'll Admit You're
another classic acoustic track 'Barley And Grape Rag', which was
in the dining room of
the studio, and the melancholy 'Edged In Blue', which the record company wanted to release as a single (Rory refused!)
Two bonus tracks
included here 'Rue the Day', recorded in San Francisco, and an earlier
version of 'Public Enemy' which appeared in a different incarnation on
his Top Priority album.
Calling Card was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, where the Stones recorded their Black & Blue album, also released that same year. The final mix was by Chris Kimsey who had worked extensively with The Stones. It was around this time that Gallagher was being mooted as a replacement for Mick Taylor who had recently departed the Stones. But Rory declined the offer, opting instead to sign a six-album deal with Chrysalis Records.
Released in 1979, this was the followup to Calling Card and is now also available for the first time on CD. Photo Finish (so-called because it was delivered to the record company at the eleventh hour, just making the deadline) is also the first album to feature Rory's new line-up, with former Sensational Alex Harvey Band drummer, Ted McKenna joining long-time bassist Gerry McAvoy. Recording sessions for the album began in San Francisco, but Gallagher was unhappy with the results and decided to move the project to Dieter Dirks' studio in Cologne.
The album contains
one of his best known songs, the riff-driven Gallagher classic 'Shadow
which was also, incidentally, one of his few single releases. The influence of the then growing punk movement can also be heard throughout the album, which is faster-paced and more energetic than its predecessor. (Two interesting cross-overs here. while in San Francisco Rory had attended a Sex Pistols concert, and the guitar riff on 'Shadow Play' turned up on the Only Ones' single 'Another Girl, Another Planet' two years later.) Another highlight on Photo-Finish is 'Mississippi Sheiks', as is the beautiful closing ballad, 'Fuel To The Fire', which is heavily
reminiscent of Thin Lizzy's 'Still In Love With You'.
Two bonus tracks taken from the original sessions are Included: 'Early Warning', a chilling anti- nuclear song, and 'Jukebox Annie', a southern honky-tonk influenced number with Rory playing dobro, slide and harmonica. The sleeve notes to Photo-Finish are written by Donal Gallagher, Rory's brother and long time manager.
Gallagher's final studio album and one of his best, Fresh Evidence was released in June 1990. It came out in the wake of a revival in interest in the blues and the success of artists such as Robert Cray. The most instrumentally diverse of all his albums, it features a brass section, accordion and keyboards along with usual guitar, bass and drums backdrop.
The band feature long-time sidekicks, Gerry McAvoy and drummer Brendan O'Neill, the same line-up that had featured on his previous two albums, Jinx and Defender. Gallagher is also much more adventurous here, playing dulcimer, electric sitar and mandola, while he swaps his trademark Fender Stratocaster for a vintage Gretsch guitar. It also sees the return of pianist Lou Martin, back playing with Rory for the first time in ten years. The brass is played by John Earl, Ray Beavis and Dick Hanson variously known as the Irish Horns or the Rumour Brass, while harmonica player Mark Feltham also fearured on several tracks.
The brass, in particular, adds depth to tracks like the opener, 'Kid Gloves' and 'Walkin' Wounded'. "Alexis' the first full instrumental track he'd recorded, is a tribute to Alexis Korner, the father of the early '60' blues boom who had died around this time, while "The King of Zydeco' is another tribute , this time to Louisiana legend Clifton Chernier, who had also recently passed away. (It's sadly ironic that Gallagher should pay tribute to these two music legends on the last album he would make before he himself died.)
Incidentally, 'The Loop', a Chicago blues influenced instrumental, became the signature tune to the BBC Fry & Laurie comedy series.
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