It's been another long day for Rory Gallagher on this, one of the more trying tours in his 13-year-long career. For the first time, this soft-spoken, hard-working Irish guitarist – a veteran of eight lengthy concert tours in America alone –has had to meet a grueling schedule and leave his axe behind.
The event – a promotional tour for his seventh solo album, “Against the Grain”. The album is his first for Chrysalis, a label eager to finally crack Gallagher’s rising career wide open.
This morning Gallagher had awakened in Detroit.
Now after an early flight to Chicago, he sits in the wood-paneled office
of Irv Rothblatt, Warners-Elektra-Atlantic regional branch manager.
The 40-ish executive welcomes Gallagher to the fold with a crushing handshake
and, before taking him on a tour of the pressing plant, offers some observations:
Gallagher listens wearily. Within the next hour he will have met and chatted with tens of workers and secretaries, thanking them all for their support. It is an interesting drama, Gallagher surviving in an environment so different from his own natural habitat. He succeeds not by a magnetic personality, but with the subtle charisma of a devout musician.
Such has been Gallagher’s appeal from the beginning. Perhaps through his own quiet nature as well as a general lack of promotional fanfare, he has always maintained an attractively low profile. In concert, the juxtaposition between the man and his music is incredibly effective. When he slips on stage in Levi's, tennis shoes, and the ever-present flannel shirt and plugs in his battered Stratocaster, the audiences explode in anticipation of the fiery rock and roll to follow.
“I've never been that career-conscious,” Gallagher admits over a brandy the next day in St. Louis. “All I really want to do is play, that's all that matters. I don't think I've ever really tried to cultivate an image. Everything has been on instinct. The flannel shirts and jeans for example…those are the clothes I wear. If I wore anything else on stage, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
The fact that his European following fanatically wears the same uniform to his shows is shrugged off with the typical Gallagher humility. “In the first band I was ever in, we all had to wear a matching Grey suit”, he says in a thick Irish brogue. “I hated that.”
Gallagher spent close to three years in
that first group, which was actually a full-scale showband called The Impact.
The venture proved uncommonly successful. So much so that the troupe
traveled all over Ireland and much of Europe, playing everything from country
and western to rhythm and blues. When The Impact broke up in 1965
though, 17-year old Gallagher – already in his eighth year of guitar playing
– headed straight for rock and roll. “That was the music of my heroes…Eddie
Cochran, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly…” He socks a fist into his hand.
“Those were the men.”
Taste had built themselves a solid reputation across the continent on two well-received LPs, “Taste” and “On the Boards”, and a powerful stage presence before splintering late in ’70. Gallagher wasted little time in regrouping. With fellow Irishmen Wilgar Campbell on drums and Gerry McAvoy on bass, he cut his first solo effort for Polydor, “Rory Gallagher”, and took to the road. He has stayed there since.
“So many bands conform to this rule book way of touring and behaving,” Gallagher says. “The destruction and all that. I don't know. I don't feel that close to the rock scene. I feel much closer to the blues players and the folk players. I'm not really knocking the rock scene…I’ve stayed up all night many a time. I just think every band can find it's own pace. Touring doesn't have to be a harried, cliched way of life.”
It took the success of “Live in Europe”,
Gallagher’s third solo album to bring him American headliner status in
the spring of ’72. By then, with the additions of keyboard player
Lou Martin and a new drummer, Rod De’Ath, Gallagher had settled upon his
permanent unit. Four more albums followed in the next three years
(“Blueprint”, “Tattoo”, “Irish Tour ‘74”, and the repackage of his early
solo material, “Sinner and Saint”), all of them coming close, but none
of them bringing the “inevitable” massive breakthrough.
Which raises the question of how much Rory Gallagher, still bubbling under at 28, is willing to sell himself. “Well,” responds the artist, “I've done interviews all through the years. I wouldn't say I'm conforming. I don't know if I’d particularly go through a tour like this again, but I do remember what it was like before. We'd come over for a long tour and never see anybody from our label for weeks and weeks. This time around, if they want to send me out right, I’ll give them their shot…out of appreciation, if nothing else.”
And with that he glances down at a sheet
that lists his other promotional activities for the day. “I just hope I’ll
still remember how to play.”
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