RORY GALLAGHER: scratching the surface in America

IT WAS the kind of plastic guitar which you can buy in Woolworth's for a few bob. The little Irish boy spotted it, took note of the Elvis Presley signature scrawled across the body, and then made his purchase. Rory Gallagher tucked it under his arm and went home to learn to play.

He learned pretty well. Today the boy is a man and is among the outstanding contemporary guitarists in rock music. He is a rock idol in a society which clamours for guitar idols like they clamour for no other make of musician. It is the virtuoso instrument which generates incredible excitement in the right hands. In the wrong hands it is ill-used and abused.

Gallagher hasn't so far achieved the status of universal superstar which some have achieved. He isn't yet a Clapton or a Hendrix in terms of hard success and whether he will ever become one is a matter of conjecture. He has been acclaimed in Ireland and England, but in America he still has to fight for acclaim in competition with a million other guitarists, most of whom aren't fit to stand on the same stage as the Irishman.

Rory has just returned from the US. It was his first tour there with the band he formed after the collapse of Taste. America is a different trip from what he is accustomed to. There he has to work from the bottom of bills and earn applause from an audience who have probably come to see someone else.

He had been back for only two days when this interview was set up. It was at Polydor Records. W.1, and the agreed time was 3:30 p.m. Now, Gallagher is never late for a gig, for an interview, for anything. You can't say that for a lot of his brother musicians. At 3:30 the door opened and in walked Irish Rory. It was as if he had lingered awhile until the clock bade him enter.

“How was the tour, Rory?” he was asked by Polydor people. “Oh not too bad I guess.” In return for that piece of information he was rewarded with the news that the new album “Deuce” had advance sales of 10,000 so far. That pleased him.

Gallagher has made some nice albums and this is among the best. It illustrates exactly where he is at with his blues, his electric guitar, bottleneck, acoustic, the lot. In the past albums have charted his progress fairly accurately. The two others that are best preserved for posterity are “On The Boards” and “Live Taste.”

Both were recorded in the era of Taste when his sidemen were bassist Richie McCracken and drummer John Wilson. After they had split Wilson was to say that until the album “On The Boards” the band had a definite musical policy. Thereafter there were divergences in outlook   which reached a climax in a mist of musical and money squabbles at the beginning of one tour last autumn. The band agreed to complete the tour and that would be it. The End.

So while McCracken and Wilson went into Stud. Gallagher spent several months forming a new group. Again he chose Irish musicians, Gerry McAvoy and Wilgar Campbell. It was another three piece because that was the slender framework within which the young bluesman thought he could best work.

In the meantime there was the “Live Taste” album. Recorded at Montreux, it was a warm reminder of what Taste were capable of doing in halcyon days.

Taste of course went on the much trodden path around the colonies which most British groups deem necessary. So Gallagher was not completely forgotten when he returned to America these last few weeks: “You know, people actually called out for numbers from Taste and also off the first album we did with the new band. That's nice.

“America is important to us. A lot of what we do in the future will be fitted in around touring over there. I sometimes think that to make any lasting impression you have got to live over there for perhaps six months at a time.

“What we achieved this time was the ultimate in scratching the surface type of thing. We played with people like Buddy Miles, Fleetwood Mac and Lee Michaels. We didn't take too much equipment ‘cos the P.A.'s over there are generally very good.”

What they did take they could jam into a big American station wagon and in this the Gallagher road show drove about America. Their leader's mentality is such that he is quite prepared to put up with some of the non musical pressures that top bands tend to leave to the administrative minions who mill around.

“I've got no time for some musicians. You see them sitting around like great sheep ­dogs and saying ‘do this, do that’. I'm not saying that musicians shouldn't be treated properly though. They deserve the same respect that, say, ballet stars and other artists get.

Gallagher's attitude is reflected in the actions of the man himself. He's on no ego trip, save perhaps in his music sometimes. And that is acceptable in an age where musicians manage to maintain egos off stage as well as on. Naturally enough he enjoys praise and reckons that the biggest buzz of all is when someone comes up after a gig and tells him: “Hey Rory, you sure played the blues well tonight.”

The Irish guitarist has his critics but they are few. Their scorn is directed at the spectacle involved as he sweats away with his beloved old Fender. Why, too, are his sidemen so eclipsed? they ask

Gallagher answered both points. Was he flash on stage? “Well, people don't tell me I am, not to my face anyway. I don't think I am but you must take into account the nature of the instrument. I do try to be original, for instance with the slide work I am always looking for new ways to do it.”

Do his musicians get a raw deal?”

“What I do, and always have, is give the musicians I work with as much freedom as I think is necessary and that they need themselves. People praise the whole band, say, after a good gig, but when they criticize, it is usually me they are having a go at. And I accept that I must take the blame because after all the band has got my name, hasn't it?”

It is doubtful whether Rory has many critics in his native land. There he is idolized as a leader of the Irish rock scene. Rightly so, for he and Van Morrison are the two most important history makers in rock to come out of Ireland. Morrison hammered out a permanent landmark with Them and “Gloria”, and Gallagher followed to make an even greater impact with Taste.

After the death of that band last year, Gallagher has had to spend a long while just consolidating his position. The lapse when he had no band cost him dearly in America, and in this country too, although, to a lesser degree. He is now making up for lost time and has a long, long time to do it. You see, Rory Gallagher reckons to go on playing the blues until old age and the grave.

“WE SORT of rehearsed the numbers for a few days and then dashed off into the studio with a crate of beer and laid everything down. bang, bang, bang.”

With that Rory Gallagher hammers his fist on the table to demonstrate what he means. He is talking about “Deuce”, his second album with Wilgar Campbell and Gerry McAvoy, where together they lay some marvelous blues on anyone who is wise enough to listen.

The recording problem with a band like Gallagher's is that they are best witnessed live. The aura of excitement and authenticity, which Gallagher can produce, is a spontaneous, immediate thing. So life in the studio is something of a compromise.

Yet there is no air of anti climax about this. Rory endeavors to recreate his stage atmosphere and succeeds.. The only other way to do it is by recording a “live” album and this approach is planned perhaps for the next album.

For “Deuce” there was no clinical steady approach with a careful mix at the end. Just the opposite for everything was put down in a few hours, vocals et all together.

It seems there isn't any Jekyll and Hyde about Gallagher as there is with some people whose recording and live personalities are different scenes altogether.

Here his electric guitar work is exquisite, delicate at slow speed and, often absurdly good when speeded up. His bottleneck playing improves all the time and so do his vocal contributions. I'm sick to death of guitarists who are clearly inept vocalists, but Gallagher is articulate on both scores.
From SOUNDS   November 20, 1971
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for sharing & typing this article
reformated by roryfan
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