Album Re-release Series
Capo Records / Sony Legacy
This splendid reissue project, overseen by Rory’s brother Donal and his nephew Daniel brings the discerning bluesrock follower the first six original albums put out in the Rory Gallagher name. They feature the cuts remastered and with bonus tracks AND with fine liner notes by Donal, who was of course there throughout the great RG adventure as this exceptional musician made his way through a career that was rooted but never plodding. Notice that I do not call these ’solo albums’ – this is group music. Small group music.
Rory embarked upon this run of albums coming of of a brief but musically explosive period with Taste. This fabulous trio had a thunderous but simultaneously sprightly sound and played a lot in London when I was very young and lapping up what we’d now call roots and progressive sounds wherever I could. I think I saw most of the London Taste shows for a couple of years. I knew a girl who adored Rory and his playing, so much so that we went together to a Thursday and a Friday performance by Taste in the same week, consecutive evenings. Not one song was repeated the second night of the two shows. The Thursday night he took a blistering and dynamic stroll through Gershwin’s minor key theme ‘Summertime’, head flung back and making every sustained note sing and curl away. Friday night someone called out ‘Muddy Waters !’ and Rory snapped into a voodoo-soaked slow 12, the stealthy rhythm section of John Wilson and Richard McCracken edging the battered Strat into a maelstrom of double stops and bent hammer-ons before Gallagher returned to the mike for the last verse. Sometimes Rory would play harmonica on a rack between stanzas ; he might then reach for his open-tuned butterscotch finish Tele and fish out a bottleneck…..
Taste shuddered to a halt and as the lineup splintered a somewhat embittered Rory ploughed into many years of trio and quartet creativity that few have equalled. American muso Johnny Winter was also a productive recorder of albu
ms at the time but despite sharing roots and favourite inspirational artists with Gallagher began to take his music in a different direction. Winter’s second (major) album called ‘Second Winter’ and a curious three-sided affair was a template for how to make energetic (trio) blues based music, however the same status could readily be argued for ‘Rory Gallagher’ (1971), the self-titled and first in this collection. It features the edgy “Laundromat’, the raucous ‘Sinner Boy’ and ‘I’m Not Surprised’. The extra cuts are ‘Gypsy Woman’ ( Mr Morganfield honoured, Gallagher was to play on Muddy’s ‘London Sessions’ set ) and ‘It Takes Time’, the Otis Rush number.
Follow-up LP ‘Deuce’ (1971) is a favourite of many and takes in “Don’t Know Where I’m Going’, a personal favourite of mine “In Your Town’ and the rocking ‘Crest of a Wave’.
Now Rory had a lot going for him. He was a powerful yet sensitive guitarist, he could play other instruments eg mandolin and sax, he had a distinctive mid-range gruff voice that aped no other singer that I can suggest, compositional skills plus ! a modest personality ( remaining a fan of other acts throughout his whole career, when the adulation he rightly received could have lifted his feet off the floor and expanded his head) which manifested itself when you had a chance to speak to him. The way he spoke to me about Albert King and Buddy Guy left me in no doubt that these performers ( among many others) had made him want to play and sing. BUT it was in a live setting that one could most appreciate his talents. He would feature his fellow players with great generosity, often at just the right moment during a set. And so, given the good reception that the live Taste recordings had garnered it was no shock to fans like me that a live album was next. This was the heady and exciting ‘Live In Europe’ (1972) and at last we had a record of Gallagher’s run through “Messin’ With The Kid’, the Junior Wells classic stomper and dynamic showcase. Again Rory shows his roots with ‘I Could’ve Had Religion’ – to Rory what ‘Goin’ To The Church’ later became for the equally driven but now sadly late Lester Butler, manic US harpist and I do believe a fan of RG. The gem here might be ‘Bullfrog Blues’ a typical supercharged stomper and (going by a brief chat we had at The Marquee club in London one night a kind of nod to Bob Hite and Canned Heat, as Rory had heard the CH version). Bonus tracks on this disc are ‘What In The World’ and ‘Hoodoo Man’. Strangely, whilst the extra songs on the expanded edition of The Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’ don’t ever sound quite right when you are familiar with the original LP, THESE extra numbers just enhance ‘Live In Europe’s great reputation.
Then came ‘Blueprint’ (1973) which found Gallagher bringing keyboard ace Lou Martin into the lineup, to work alongside exemplary and pumping bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Rod De’ath. I had seen Martin in the Killing Floor lineup, memorably playing on their own set and then after the break backing the mighty Freddie King. This was at the Toby Jug pub music room in Tolworth in the north of Surrey, where we went to see every great artist of the day including Ten Years After, Jeff Beck Group, Captain Beefheart, Family, John Lee Hooker and even Muddy with Otis Spann. Mis-spent youth ? I venture not.
Lou fitted in really well and as he hammered out block chords and took spidery solo’s , Rory could solo himself or work up his Steve Cropper licks as the piano rolled and rocked.
This studio set had the very sparky and almost spat-out ‘Walk On Hot Coals’ and the quirky ‘Unmilitary Two-Step’ plus the terse ‘Hands Off’. Extra numbers on this record are ‘Stompin’ Ground’ and the old Roy Head rocker “Treat Her Right’. No wonder Rory appeared by invitation on the Jerry Lee Lewis double album cut in London with Kenney Jones, Chas Hodges, Albert Lee and other luminaries….
Next up is ‘Tattoo’(1973) which some consider one of Gallagher’s most inspired sets. You can see why when it embraces ‘Cradle Rock’, ‘Sleep On A Clothes Line’ and ‘Who’s That Coming’. Here you get the additional song ‘Tucson, Arizona’, from the same era. And a Link Wray tune, to boot. It was a few years later that I witnessed Wray himself beating the living daylights out a Gibson SG, but that’s another story…
Another live recording was to follow – ‘Irish Tour ‘74′ (1974) when braving the famous troubles affecting Ireland in the north at the time and for many years hence, Rory and band walk purposefully out onto the Belfast Ulster Hall stage, plug in and deliver a sublime and varied setlist that surely any act would be proud of. Current bluesrock torch-bearer Joe Bonamassa considers this to be a key record in the blues canon. Other venues they played include the Dublin Carlton Cinema and Cork City Hall. The tunes nod to the blues and soul roots of what this man and his players embodied but were at the same time adventurous, fluid, jazzy and thoroughly electric. The crowd go nuts, as you would had you been there these nights. Working around a theme is the jazz player’s forte and they recognise the talent to attain it in each other. Veteran jazzman and bandleader Chris Barber spent over an hour talking to me once immediately before an anniversary showcase of his own ensemble at the 606 Club in Chelsea. When Rory Gallagher was mentioned during the conversation he leant forward and said – ‘You know, Pete - Rory understood EXACTLY what our band’s music was all about, everything…..and we could appreciate that he was a young guy taking that music into his own territory…we do miss him ..’
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk