the gypsy rover
Jeff Pike catches Rory on a rare 'day' off....
That's part of the attraction of touring the gypsy element of it. It goes back to my ideas when I was a kid, that romantic image of the Woody Guthries, The Bill Broonzys traveling around, the hobo thing. You never find me sitting in hotel rooms crying, " I wish I was at home..."
Rory Gallagher, the quiet Irishman, talking quietly about the touring life. And a better spokesman on the subject is hard to find, since the lad spends more time on the road than most commercial travelers, and looks faintly bemused if you mentions the word "holiday".
When I met him, he'd got his bags packed for yet another European tour ( Spain and Germany). Even though he's hardly shaken off the jet lag from his return from New Zealand. Before that it was Australia and before that, Japan. Japan? How on earth did the diminutive Orientals react to the wild rocking blues that Rory and his mates blast out?
“It was great this time. The first time we played Japan they were a little quiet: they seemed to enjoy the material, but they didn't show it much till the end. This time they were shouting out during the songs and calling for numbers.
“We're beginning to sell more records in Japan now, it's growing slowly. What happens with us is that we have to tour a country before the records really begin to spark because we just don't get a lot of radio play. And that's because we're not the sort of band that puts out singles. It's a bit slow that way."
Come to think of it , Rory, you don't get much airplay in Britain either. " Less and less. It's a drag. Ever since the end of the underground boom or whatever it was....well, you know what's happening to radio in this country. Yet it's opening up in Australia and places like that. I'd like to be on the radio every hour. But that comes back to the question of making a hit single.”
Jet lag aside, doesn't the pressure of intensive touring do nasty things to the creative side of the music? “I don't think so. I think it has a good effect on the performance of the band and the playing. It keeps us slick: the music doesn't get fat and Londonised and Speaky-ised. But I think in the past we could have done with a day or two extra sometimes for recording and rehearsing and so on.”
Ah yes, recording. It's a widely held view that Gallagher's’ studio albums don't even go halfway towards capturing the fire and drive of his stage performance. -(Sales Figures tend to confirm this: his live albums have always found more buyers, and the live double ‘Irish Tour ‘74’ brought the band their first American gold disc). It was something of a relief to learn that Rory feels the same way.
“There have been good moments that I've been happy with on all the albums, but it's a never-ending problem for me of setting the live excitement across in a studio thing."
“The trouble is, I like to record live vocals, live lead guitar, all at the same time. I'm going to have to come to terms with the idea of dubbing vocals and guitar. I've done that on some tracks, but in general I try to go for the whole thing in one take. And that's just not possible really, because you lose a lot of bass, you can't bring up the cymbals because it will clash with the vocals, however good the studio is ... things like that.
“The other big difference is that on a live album you're working in halls, and there's that natural echo. The drums can boom like crazy, the guitar can really flow out of the room. On the fourth side of the ‘Irish Tour’ album we used a hall like that and recorded in a very rough and ready way. It had that echo and a live sound, except that there was no audience. If you used that system and took it two or three steps further, used a couple of overdubs and so on, it shows you what could be done.”
I tentatively pointed out that it's a quaint way of approaching a recording these days, to try to lay down everything on one take. Surely everybody tapes the vocals separately? “Well, that's the way most modern people work and I admire it. But ‘I’m probably a traditional musician from way back somewhere. I've still got this horror of electronics.
“I'm probably too wrapped up in the old giants of music, the early Presley and Carl Perkins and the blues singers, which were obviously recorded live. But then, in 1975, with my material as it is now and the recording techniques that are available, it's probably time to try the overdubbing bit and see how it works for us. Let's put it this way: I'm giving my brain an overhaul on the whole question of studio albums, because I would really like to do a more satisfying album and one that does us justice.”
Rory’s next album isn't scheduled for release until September, but it's already half written. He intends to try recording with a mobile unit in Ireland. And possibly in an American studio, as the band will be in the States’ in the early Summer. And maybe get a few sessions somewhere in London too. You get the feeling that he's taking this one very seriously.
“Well, at least we've got plenty of breathing space this time. Basically it's giving yourself that extra two weeks in the studio so you get to feel so relaxed that you're happy singing the vocals after the instrumentals and happy with the whole overdub situation ... it'll be easier to talk about it when it's happened”
O.K. Let's talk about something else. How do you rate yourself as a composer these days? A cautious pause and a modest reply. “I think it's been developing .. suitably. There's more of a personal stamp on my writing now. I’d like to write more songs perhaps thirty every six months instead of about fif-teen. But considering the stuff I throw away, I suppose fifteen isn't bad.”
Considering most other people's output, and considering the amount of time he spends traveling and playing, fifteen new songs every half year is little short of phenomenal.. But, then, one might argue, a highly rated virtuoso of the guitar doesn't need to write a meaningful masterpiece every time he puts pen to paper. Fair comment?
“Well, I've never tried to be a profound writer. But at the same time I've never been satisfied just to write a vehicle for guitar improvisation. So the words are important to that extent. The lyrics often come first and I've often written songs without the guitar.
“Something like ‘The Seventh ‘Son Of A Seventh Son’, about the faith healing caper— that's not strictly a guitar song at all. Whereas something like ‘Cradle Rock’ is a number that is really driven along by the guitar ... even though I like that sort of Bo Diddley Cadillac lyrics. I suppose it depends on who influences you as a songwriter, the kind of songs you like.
"Like Bo Diddley's 'Who Do You Love' or 'No Money Down' by Chuck Berry is still worth ten of so called profound numbers to me. So many of the supposedly 'meaningful' lyrics in rock are very weak compared to some Old Irish ballads, which are really strong. I don't always try to write things that are directly related to me - I still like songs about trains, jailbreak songs, Woody Guthrie things like that.
"I never get much kick out of writing 'moon and June', "you and me' type of lyrics."
Nobody's mentioned it much lately, but there was talk of a documentary film directed by Tony Palmer which followed Rory on his tour of Ireland in January '74. Whatever happened to it?
"It took the Pink Floyd - three years to get the Pompeii one going. Anyway, it's starting at last this week in Dublin and Cork. Then it'll do its thing in Ireland, forty-four cinemas or whatever it is, and hopefully get going in England in early Summer."
I was tempted to ask "What's it like being a film star?" But you don't ask Rory Gallagher questions like that. He's simply never fallen into the habit of thinking of himself as a star of any sort. So I asked him if he likes the film. The answer is that he does, yes, well, mostly. Anyway, more than when he first saw it. "That was nine months ago and I was still remembering all he things that had been left out and I'd been working on the 'Irish Tour' album, so I had the whole thing up to here.
"I couldn't view it with any objectivity. But when I saw it the other day after months of being away from it, I thought it was a good record of that tour. It shows you a fairly unglamorous view of what it's like on the road, which hasn't really been done before. They're usually afraid to show the warts."
Unless you've been living in a cave on the Isle of Mull (or possibly touring Japan and Australasia), you can't have failed to notice a faintly hysterical wave of soul music sweeping the land. Now Rory G. has been playing music with a strong black influence for as long as any of us can remember. So what does soul '75 mean to him?
A polite smile "Everyone's talking about funkiness, but....if you're going to get funky in 1975, what were you doing in 1970? I hope I was always funky. I don't let this whole soul thing, whatever it is; take me over and change the way I play. It's the same as the rock and roll revivals, although I'm a great rock and roll fan. I think you should let these things temper your music certainly, but you should really plough ahead with what you want to do, rather than follow any trend.
'"Everyone's getting funk on the brain in this country. It's a bit late to be picking up on it now."
If there's one thing Rory likes to talk about, it's guitars. He loves them and he knows a helluva lot about them. But, unlike most other star axemen, he's not a freak about collecting as many as he can. In fact, he's using the same Fender Stratocaster since he was fifteen! And, sadly, it's beginning to show. "Yeah, it's getting a wee bit. .. past its best.
"After twelve years, or whatever it is, the treble pick-up and the bass pick-up went, so I had to replace those with new ones, which luckily sound just like the old ones. The bridge goes every couple of months, it gets rusted up and the machine heads too....the nut goes a lot, sinks quickly, you know? So the old Strat's not exactly breaking up, but it's nit what it was.
The conversation wandered on to acoustic guitars ( his favorite is a 1969 Martin D-35 which he rates very highly) ... on to amps ( he's currently using a Fender Bassman 4x10)...on to string benders or the Clarence White type and a somewhat cruder device said to be used by Carl Perkins ( "you stick this 6 inch nail up against the head and pull it against the third string")...and on to the old Burns Bison guitar.
"I'm trying to pick up one of those. You haven't seen one around have you? It's an absurd looking job, huge golden tremolo arm - it looks like a tractor, but it's a fine piece of work. Very strong pick-ups. I suppose you could find one in a pawn shop in Scunthorpe or somewhere."
Oh yes, this lad will talk guitars all day, given the chance. I mentioned Tony McPhee's experiments with a synthesizer fretboard and Rory recalled that Tony had jammed with the Gallagher band on their last British tour. Back to serious SOUNDS interview business. You don't get much chance to play with other musicians, do you? "No this is one sad thing about touring so much. I'd like to do more stuff with other people."
"Certain sessions come into the air occasionally and I'm away on tour. So I'm cutting my throat musically like that. There was a Mickey Baker album being done in Paris that I would have loved to play on....I've been luckier than most people though. I've been on a few good sessions. But I would like to be freer to do not necessarily big star sessions, just little odds and end things that were slightly off the beaten track for me musically. It would be good for me. But I can't do that...except for the odd thing with the Stones."
You mentioned it, not me. I wasn't going to ask that question, honest I wasn't. Ah well, here we go. I know you're not going to join the Stones, but when you did the session was there any suggestion in the air that you were being tried out as a replacement of Mick?"
"I really didn't think about it. I was in Ireland when the phone rang up and said they were going over to Rotterdam with their mobile unit and would I come over for a few days. I said sure. Then the mobile was being converted from 12 track to 24 track, so there was a delay and it was getting closer to my departure for Japan."
"I ended up with two days over there. I just blew with them, went down at midnight and played 'til four or five in the morning. Nothing very organized.
"I guess they were for trying to get on with the album, to get on with something. Obviously, it would be naive not to imagine that some people would think there was something in the air, but there was never any suggestion of me joining them. I just went over and played with for two days. I would have liked to stay longer and do the five days, but I had to move on......"
Spends a lot of
life moving on, does Rory. Now there was a great silver bird waiting at
Heathrow to carry him to Spain. The gypsy rover was on the move gain.
you want to see him soon they'll be a lightning tour of Britain next
Ten gigs in twelve days. Typical.
This article is
the 3/15/75 issue of Sounds.
Thanks to Neil and Eddie Christman for passing it along to me
reformatted by roryfan
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