FAITH AND BEGOB! by
I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK bejasus - except for my rotting guitar, my dirty shirts and my salt-in-the-blood problem.....
It is popularly supposed that Rory Gallagher is the Morris Minor of rock ‘n’ roll entertainers.
So it is especially droll to note that John McLaughlin once took it upon himself to reprimand him for his attitude to his audiences.
Late last summer the two bands found themselves among the inventory of artistes booked for an open air fest in L.A.
One of Rory’s band had just tipped an ice bucket over the head of a passing roadie.
McLaughlin — who had previously remained mum to Gallagher’s ‘how you doing John?’ because the former had omitted the Mahavishnu prefix —--- sidled across, radiating his characteristic washday radiance, had taken Rory by the arm and pointed out that “as an entertainer, do you not realise that you have a responsibility towards uplifting the consciousness of your audience?”
Readers may note that several weeks later McLaughlin suffered a brain-storm and renounced his faith via a half bottle of Teachers.
While, Rory of course, soldiered on. With only a lumbercheck shirt, a Stratocaster and bills for broken seats to keep him company.
Why, only two weeks ago Rory played an entire set solo in Birmingham because his band couldn't get through the fog. The following morning he cut his index finger shaving. Undeterred, he took the stage that night with plectrum clutched between fore and third fingers.
“You go on stage,” says Rory modestly, “and the Judy Garland thing hits you and you don't feel the pain any more.”
The assembled company cracks up. Rory is not the grey dullard most people would have you believe.
“Essentially,” he adds, “I'm a solo artist anyway.”
And the Last Of The Progressive Blues Artistes to boot, eh?
“I'm a blues freak certainly, but I don't think you're doing The Blues a service by simply apeing old blues stuff.
“In any case ... some of the bands within the Blue Horizon School of Motoring didn't see us as Part Of It.
“They saw us as...
Rory Gallagher is sitting amongst the chocolate digestives in the boardroom of his new record company high above London's bustling Oxford Street ... etc. etc.
He has yet to claim that “the new record's really us, man,” mainly because he never addresses any one as “man”. Rather he comes over as a cross between venerable Chief Sub Jack Scott and the Peter Sellers caricature of the archetypal Blarney Stone Irishman.
His debut album for Chrysalis, “Against The Grain” is his seventh. While it reveals few changes in his rather conservative blues/rock/heavy metal musical formula, it does indicate for the first time that Rory is finally coming round to the idea that the recording studio can be honestly exploited — without pulling a fast one on the fans.
“This time we had a long gap. We rehearsed all summer in a nice roomy studio. The first two albums I did after Taste broke up were when we were a three-piece. We tried to do the vocals and the guitar live.
“It was an idealistic approach. But I’d still rather do that than put the lead guitar on in New York and the drums in L.A.
“I like to keep it gritty.”
When pressed on this rather nebulous point.. Gallagher refers you back to his Hamburg and Belfast pre-Taste days. (Although, at this point in the early sixties, Gallagher was hardly your average guitar greenhorn having purchased his first instrument for £4 10s from the Cork branch of F. W. Woolworth.)
“I remember we were depping for a group called The Fendermen in Hamburg,” he recalls, sipping Waitrose wine from a crumpled paper cup. “We had to pretend we were them for a night or two.
“To get the booking we'd sent them a photograph of us as a four-piece --— with a friend of ours standing at the organ like this” (he affects a Wakemanesque straining-and-soaring pose). “He was tone deaf. The thing was . . . the only trio popular at the time was the Big Three. The general idea was that the more players in the band meant the etter the band was.
“So we turned up and told the promoter that the organist got sick on the ferry.”
Prior to this Rory had raved the Irish ballroom circuit here within the Impact (nee Fontana) Showband. The drummer did a country and western spot “because he sang like Jim Reeves”, the bass player and the rhythm guitarist covered contemporary Top Twenty material, while one of the horn players took care of the Barron Knights routine.
Rory did Eddie Cochran impersonations.
“The Irish love to dance” Rory explains, “and they like bands who're versatile on a Saturday night.”
His next move was the formation of the Cream-orientated power trio Taste in 1965. They arrived here in 1969, signed with Polydor. Got big quick, their final album (they made three), a live set hitting the tail end of the charts. February 197 Rory forms new band — Wilgar Campbell, drums; Gerry McAvoy, bass. Band records “Rory Gallagher”. More restrained than Taste. “Deuce” and “ Live In Europe” follow. Latter charts, band go to States. Rory buys new jeans, combs hair, lays in extra Guinness rations.
1972, Wilgar leaves. Is replaced by Rod de’Ath and at some point augmented by keyboard player Lou Martin. “Blueprint”; “Tattoo” and “Irish Tour ‘74” are released, the latter to coincide with a film by Tony Palmer. “Live In Europe” goes gold, the double “Ir ish Tour ‘74” certifies silver. Rory buys Ford Executive and new set of guitar strings. Continues being non-present in Lisa Robinson’s column, fails to meet Cher and continues staying in Earls Court bedsit when touring here.
“Actually, it was a service flat.”
Well. alright. But what about this great story of the colourful landlady and frugal Rory living out of a guitar case and a Westerner carrier bag?
“Oh, that was nothing. She was just a bit . . . well. I won’t call her insane. She was just a little extreme. . .“
What a myth-exploder this Gallagher is! I had contrived this wonderful image of him from conversations with his previous press officer who assured me that Rory spent all his time here in a thirty-bob bedsit. When he wasn’t dropping by to leave tapes of a new album with reception.
I had determined to investigate the Rory Gallagher Phenomenon (cf Demis Roussos) on the strength of this.
I mean, apart from the fact that Gallagher is so- obviously “frugal” and “unpretentious’, there’s also- the fact that his —to me — dated approach to music has assured him a fanatical following of bedenimed teenage lathe-operators whose fervour nearly caused my wife a miscarriage two years ago at Reading.
Rory had just reached one of his sweat-popping climaxes when suddenly the press enclosure had been overrun, barriers and all, by the aforementioned lemming-like hordes, who-tried to- swarm overthe 12-foot high stage undeterred by the roadie patrolling its leading edge in a pair of Doc Martins. As each pair of hands grasped the stage’s leading edge, the aforementioned gentleman would step on them.
Hence the bills for broken seats.
Hence this article.
BEAR WITH us as we investigate The Rory Enigma.
Uh, Rory, are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?
“No-,” (blushes). “I'm on the loose. Free.”
A sympathetic workman in an adjoining room nixes this Embarrassing Moment by drilling noisily.
“Hah,” notes Rory, “They’re extracting evidence from a bass player upstairs. It happened to me only the other day, you know. I woke up in the hotel in Birmingham at 10.30 in the morning to find a drill coming through the wall. Made a terrible fuss. Went straight to the manager and asked him why they couldn’t be doing it at 5.30 in the afternoon.
“‘Son,’ he said, ‘you’ve got your job to do; we’ve got ours’.”
Do you find that a roving image tends to attract the kind of ladies who want to domesticate you?
“You mean wash shirts for me? We all get that. Any touring band. Particularly in the States. You know: let me take your laundry home with me.’ That kind of thing. It makes no difference whether you're a blues band, a rock band, a folk band . . ."
Oh Rory. Puh-leeze!
What’you spend your money on, then?
“I buy a couple of records” (bashful); “I really don't know.”
Do you invest it? “No. I buy
a newspaper, a meal, a guitar, a Ford
Executive . . .
"I haven’t got a licence, though. My brother drives it. The band uses it.”
But you must be making a fair amount of dough?
“I don't think anybody makes much money nowadays. Very few people make that much money from touring the US.”
Home is his parents’ house in Cork where his antidote to endless touring is — preparing for the next tour.
“Guitars are my hobby. I suppose I should play golf, or something.
“I hate new guitars."
In showbands you see guys turning up every January with a new guitar. It’s like a new shirt.
“I hate new shirts, new clothes . . ."
Rory has a Telecaster for slide, a National Steel aeolian (one resonator), a 12-string Harmony Sovereign (“the best 12-string you can get, although you might have to take the neck off and put it back on to lower the action”), a 15-dollar Silvertone (“for that really cheap sound”), an old Burns up in the attic with the pickups hanging off — and another Strat. (“heir apparent for when the current one falls to pieces”).
“I mean,” he continues, “when I get off the road I'm more interested in checking out this pickup on that guitar, getting my amps fixed, getting my shirts washed.
“I used to do drawing, but it’s gone by the wayside. At one point I was going to paint some album sleeves for a series of blues albums.
“One of my ambitions is to paint my own album sleeve.
“Movies I like.”
Haven’t Fender got onto you for touting such a disreputable looking Stratocaster? (the latest publicity pics revolve around a montage of windswept shirtsleeved Rory and chipped damaged Stratocaster).
“No,” replies our anti-hero laughingly. “In fact they’re the only company who haven’t. I must get on to them.”
I notice all the screws are rusted.
“Well, I’ve been playing it since 1963 and it’s only a very light varnished finish. Between the sweat and-the alcohol . . .
“You see I’ve a lot of salt in my blood. Yes, I’ve had trouble with those screws before. Last time I had one of the bridges changed they had to saw it off. There’s so much salt in my blood, it’s not true.”
Surely, I hazard, somewhere along the line someone must have tried to impose the Current Image on Rory?
“Not really. It’s never been a problem. I had my picture in Billboard for the new record deal signing but it didn't infringe on my whatever-the-word-is. One does interviews and says hello to people after a gig, but that’s as much as I do.
“No one says to me ‘if you're not seen with Alice Cooper down at the Roxy it’ll be bad news!’
"People know where I'm at, sort of thing. They gave up trying to put an Image For June on me long ago.
Likewise, passing trends have never dented his live drawing power. On the contrary, it might even be said he has become something of a refuge from the results their transient excesses.
“I mean, people have said to me ‘by 1975 jeans’ll be out of date’, but it’s only in fun.
“I’ve always thought that music that’s vital, with a lot of verve and a knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, will never date. Without being corny, mine’s like a kind of electric folk music.”
And Rory, of course, is the penultimate electric folk hero-— ever mobile, ever stuffing crumpled shirts in his suitcase.
“I love the feeling when you're past
Potters Bar. There’s a kind of openness about it.”
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