The Last Tour

I had been a devout fan of Rory Gallagher since early 1973 due to my appreciation at the time for the band Deep Purple, and I first saw Rory when he opened for them (and naturally stole the show).  Eighteen years and 15 concerts later, I anxiously anticipated the arrival of my hero during his 1991 Fresh Evidence tour.  Rory had not been to the States in over five years, and he had not been to San Diego for even longer than that.  I had first seen Rory in San Diego while in college in the early seventies, and had faithfully attended every one of his shows that he held in that area ever since.  Back in those days, prior to the advent of the internet, it wasn't so easy to determine the touring schedules and know for certain when bands were going to be coming to town to play.  When I discovered that Rory would be coming to southern California in early ’91, I made a vow to myself that I would see him as many times as possible.

For a true Rory Gallagher fanatic like myself, six years without seeing the man was like a practicing alcoholic going without booze for a month.  I had never gone more than a couple of years not seeing my man in person until the stretch of time between 1985 and 1991.  I needed my Rory Gallagher fix and I needed it in a big way!  Rory had been touring in Australia prior to his arrival in San Diego, and indeed the San Diego show would be his first in America since 1985 or ‘86.  I felt privileged to get to see Rory the very first night of his triumphant return to the USA.  The San Diego show was to be held in a local dive called the “Bacchanal,” a place I had never seen or been to before.  As it turns out, it was a dumpy little joint in the corner of a strip mall in suburban San Diego.  When I arrived I remember thinking to myself, “Rory's type of place!”  After parking the car and walking up to the venue, I figured that arriving two hours early would guarantee me the best seat in the house.  To my horror, as my friend and I walked up to the club, there was a queue of people about 40 meters in length!  I couldn't believe it!   But I shouldn't have been surprised…….Rory was back!

I remember that evening, March 6, 1991, standing in line waiting to enter the show.  Those of us in there waiting were treated to a special gift from Rory….. his sound check.  They had the front door of the house opened up and Rory played “The Loop” and an instrumental version of “Don't Start Me Talkin;” to get warmed up.  It was pure pleasure for me.  Rory was back in my town!

I entered the venue and my buddy and I scrambled to get the best seats we could, which happened to be in the second row from the stage.  Most of the time when I attended Rory's shows, the people in front would be standing and crowding the stage.  The configuration of this venue was such that there were rows of seats packed into the place which meant standing and fighting  one'sway to the front of the stage was out of the question.  So we settled into our seats.  The show was vintage Rory, although he looked older, heavier, and more ragged than in the past.  The man could still play.  The night was pure heaven for me, and to this day I have a constant reminder of that evening due to the tininitus in my ears.  I hear the ringing as I write this, and I owe it all to my hero, Rory Gallagher!   Man was that show loud!

The next day, March 7, was my birthday, and I would have liked nothing better than to see Rory for my birthday present.  Alas, when you have small children like I did at the time, your birthday is more important to them than it is to you.  So I had to skip Rory's appearance in Huntington Beach that night.  But I'm sure it was a great show!  Instead, I decided to go see Rory in a place where traditionally he had always kicked it up a notch, and that was at the Roxy in Hollywood on Saturday, March 9.  There are some memorable events from that March 9th performance.   First of all, I made sure not to make the same mistake that I had made in San Diego.   I arrived at the venue a good three or four hours before show time, and my friend and I ended up at the front of the queue in front of the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard.  I was really looking forward to this gig because, as I mentioned, Rory always seemed to turn things up just a little bit when he played in Hollywood.  And I had seen him several times over the years on Sunset Boulevard to know this.  

This was the night when I met one of the biggest Rory fans I have ever known, Patrick Kennedy, who stood in line with me for several hours before the doors opened.   He and I stayed in touch after that, and up until all the web sites, newsgroups, and email lists devoted to Rory came into existence, Patrick was my biggest source of news about Rory.  In fact, it was Patrick who phoned me the day after Rory died to give me the sad news.  Anyway, the other notable event that occurred that evening was the not-so-welcome appearance of the guitarist Slash, who somehow ended up on stage with Rory and interrupted his first encore.  Contrary to anything you will hear or read about that night, Slash's appearance was brief and not welcomed by the crowd.  Rory fans had no patience for an idiot who stumbled out on stage with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, interrupting the performance of an artist who he had no hope of ever coming close to emulating.  

I had the good fortune to be in northern California on business part of the following week.  I knew that Rory would be playing later that weekend in Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and other cities in the bay area.  Unfortunately, I also knew that I wouldn't be in the area long enough to attend those gigs.  So I bought a newspaper and started looking to see if Rory happened to be playing anywhere else while I was there.  Much to my surprise and good luck, I found out that a gig in Las Vegas for Thursday, March 14 had been canceled, and instead Rory was booked into a place called the Omni in Oakland, California.  That was a short drive from my hotel, so I found a ticket broker, purchased a ticket, and drove myself over to Oakland, again making sure to arrive a good three hours early.  Little did I know that the Omni was in one of the worst sections of Oakland, so I thought there had to be some mistake!  One could scarcely tell that it was even a concert venue, and in fact looked more like a rundown factory building.  There was nobody even in the place!  I knocked on the door and there was no answer, and there also were no other people anywhere around.  I just sat in my rental car and waited, thinking I had made a terrible mistake.  I started watching the people come and go in the immediate area, and soon determined that there was a crack house right across the street from the Omni!  Rory had played some dives before, but this place took the cake!

From the vantage point of my rental car (which I had parked right in front of the club), I noticed a vehicle slowly driving down the street.  As the car neared where I was sitting, I thought I saw the faces of Gerry McAvoy and others from the band and road crew peering out the window at the Omni with looks on their faces as if to say, “WHAT THE F***?”  I could tell they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.  But I also knew then that I was at the right place!  The only problem was……where were the fans?

A few people finally started to show up, so I left my car and went to stand in line with the others.  As I was standing there, who do I see?  None other than my new friend Patrick who I had met the weekend before in L.A.  It was a great reunion!  Once we got inside, Patrick took me over to speak with Donal, whom he already knew, and although the encounter was ever so brief, I was very jazzed to have had the chance to see him.

The Omni was an interesting place.  There were no chairs.  No seats.  Just a big floor and a stage.  Off in another room there was a bar.  This was a bare bones club.  As show time approached, I noticed that there were hardly any fans in the place and word had obviously not gotten out.   I quickly counted the crowd.  42 people.   That'sright, FORTY-TWO people!  Rory deserved to be playing in front of 42,000 people, not this sparse house.  I was embarrassed for my hero.

As it turns out, there was no reason to be embarrassed.  Rory came out and tore the place apart as if it was the biggest and best venue he had ever been in.  As we all know, Rory was the consummate professional, and by the end of the show I was kicking myself for ever thinking that Rory would have any problem with the fact that there were so few people in front of him, or that the place was a dump, or even that there was a drug-dealing crack house across the street!  Rory kicked ass that night just like every other time I had ever seen him.  Before that night Rory was my hero.  Afterwards, he was a GOD!

After the show was over, the place quickly emptied the few fans that were there.  I had never met Rory but I thought to myself that this would be the best chance I would ever have to do just that.  So I hung around the backstage area for about 20 minutes, and finally got the chance to run back there and meet Rory.  I was so star-struck from the opportunity that I actually can't remember the meeting too well.  I had my Fresh Evidence CD with me, and I remember asking him to autograph it.  As Rory was putting down his signature, I stammered my way through a testimonial to the man I had revered for the better part of two decades.  I could tell that he was embarrassed by my tribute, so I shut up.  We spoke briefly for about another 30 seconds, and that was that.  I left the place on cloud nine!


I never saw Rory Gallagher perform again.  He didn't return the U.S. after that and died four years later.  I will never forget him and that last tour.

Doug Pugh
Mission Viejo, California

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