Playing In The Band

Where ego they go...

with no complaints

... a story of ordinary, unpretentious people, unconcerned by the fact that stardom is passing them by. REX ANDERSON talks to ROD DE'ATH, LOU MARTIN and GERRY McAvoy-  Rory Gallagher's back-up men and a credit to the profession.

I'VE OFTEN wondered what it's like to be the band behind the man. I mean, how does it feel not being the star and watching all the accolades and bouquets going to some cat who shares the stage with you.

I suppose it was the split in the Elton John set -up that brought it to my mind just now. Backing musicians must get to feel, "Well, I'm as good as he is at what I do. What. can't I be the star?"  

Much of it is down to musicians wanting to express their own music, and you can understand Nigel Olsen and Dee Murray feeling like doing their own thing instead of somebody else's all the time.

But there are plenty of bands that centre around one person where this sort of professional jealousy never seems to arise. It's particularly interesting because so many bands that are just forming or just starting out on the road to stardom must be faced with a similar problem.

I mean, you may be realistic about it and accept that because the guy has the charisma and the sex appeal, and he's something of a technical show-off, the band deserves to be centered on him - because that is the easiest way to get known and put a good image across to the punters.

But the truth seems to be that he has to be a helluva nice guy for the rest of the band to tolerate being constantly upstaged.

This seems to be the case with Rory Gallagher. I just spent an interesting lunch hour conversing and drinking- . mainly drinking - with Rod de’Ath (drums), Lou Martin (keyboards) and Gerry McAvoy (bass) who form the band behind Rory.

They've been together for three years now, and known each other a lot longer. They are contented with their lot because they say they respect Rory as a bloke and as a musician and are contented to take a back seat.

I think it comes down to an attitude of mind. None of the boys behind Rory, competent ,though they are as musicians, have got upfront personalities. They don't want to be the king-pin. They are born back-liners.

Rod, for example, explains his attitude to drums in terms of keeping things simple and driving and not attempting to show off his technique all the time. He sits behind his Slingerland kit (don't forget the Paiste cymbals) and rattles out a beat that is highly complementary to Rory's upfront work . 

Interesting sideline here - Rod reckons that new drums  are worthless.

Most drummers I have met have use such-and-such a brand of drum,  but really any drum would do because it's all down to how it is set up and tuned.  

Rod disagrees. He says he is very particular about his drums and prefers old Slingerland. He has had offers from most of the major drum manufacturers, but prefers to stick to this kit.

He puts it down to the wood shortage, a sentiment echoed by Gerry who plays an ancient Fender he picked up for a song in the States. Gerry is the archetypal bass player.... he really did play lead guitar in a band and was switched to rhythm because he wasn't any good, and he really was threatened with the sack unless he packed in rhythm and took up bass.

His attitude is similar to Rod's. Keep it simple. Lou, of course, also tends to keep it simple, complementing Rory's guitar and vocals with fill-in piano riffs and block organ chords which every band seems to need nowadays for something they tell me is called a "thicker sound".

These are bread and butter musicians. They all get on well together and they all groove on the same plane as Rory. They get a good screw (old-world, slang for adequate conkers) because of Rory's pulling power and they are becoming increasingly aware that they are among the few successful blues bands left on the road.

But what about the writing? Surely everyone contributes an equal part. Don't they get an urge to contribute their own material, do their own thing, take the front spot on occasions?  

Apparently not. Rory is the creative source. They consider their own contributions so minor they don't even want co-credits on songs. This is despite the fact that very often Rory writes a new song in the middle of a blow on stage.

This, apparently, is how "Hot Coals" was written, although they can't be sure what they were playing at the time.

Rod: "I realised he was playing something new.  I looked at Gerry and he looked at me and we were into it. We are that together musically."

At other times the songs will be written at rehearsal. Rory will tell the individual members of the band the sort of thing he wants, but he doesn't dictate to them how they play it - so that everyone's creativity really contributes.

But the guys don't seem to see it that way. Rory is a good mate and his ideas are all the initial ones. The fact is, I think, that to these fellows, being a musician is being creative on your instrument, but being a writer is something else that Rory has and they are content to be without.

It is a very unusual, though highly satisfactory, situation I think. When a band splits, over 'musical differences" it invariably means that someone with a backline sort of job wishes to make more of a contribution or receive more recognition for his contribution.

It can also mean that someone in the front line wants to move in a musical direction that no one else is particularly grabbed by.

And how often do bands split? And often are musical differences given as the reason? Perhaps a lot of bands can learn something from studying the attitude of the Gallagher line-up.

I' d like to say I think they are talented and all capable of far more than they appear to believe. But I won't because they might get big-headed and I'd blow the whole thing.

From the May 17, 1975 issue of New Musical Express
background is a photo from an unidentified 1975 Dutch magazine that I modified
reformatted by roryfan

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added 9/24/06