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Jun 24 2013

Rory Gallagher and John Mayall: The Ultimate Bluesbreakers

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John Mayall

Mention the name John Mayall to a diehard Rory Gallagher fan and you might get a reaction you won’t expect. A reaction downright hostile in fact, with the true acolyte’s eyes narrowing to two tiny slits, and teeth clenched so hard that you’d be hard pressed to insert anything larger than a buckyball between them. And the only thing escaping that snarling gob would be a venomous string of invectives so salty that even the infamous Molly Malone, Dublin’s very own “Tart with the Cart,” would blush a rosy red. Considering the two musicians shared love for the Blues, you would be understandably perplexed at the level of animosity some fans of the Irish legend hold against John Mayall, the leader of one of the most respected Blues bands to come out of the U.K. Perplexed that is unless you’d heard a bit of the history between the Irish Wizard and the Brit Blues Breaker. So why the distaste? Well, that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? You see it was all about the dissing of Taste.

Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte
Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte

It goes back to The Taste days. When Rory was blazing a trail across Ireland the likes of which hadn’t been seen since St.Pat chased all those snakes off the Emerald Isle and into the Irish Sea. Rory was the first true Rock star of Ireland. In a world that thought the Irish leprechauns, and their music merely jigs and reels, Rory legitimized the Irish music scene and caused the UK-centric rock world to stand up and take notice, and then acceptance, of Ireland’s place in the burgeoning Rock ‘n Roll Scene. Rory was Ireland’s Hendrix and Taste was their Cream, and the music Mags, both Irish and UK, heralded their arrival as the next big thing. The Taste started opening for the big British Blues bands of the day, bands such as Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and yes, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers.

Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte
Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte

And this is where the trouble starts. Rory Gallagher and Taste opening for John Mayall at London’s famous Marquee Club. Rumours flying that the young Taste upstarts have stolen the show. Giving the Blues an energy, an excitement that many find lacking in the laid back style of the Mayalls and other Blues stylists of the day. Mayall refutes the story of course when an Irish reporter asks him about Tastes performance at the London Marquee. “You can’t believe all you hear,” Mayall remonstrates. And then here is where he gets in trouble, he goes on and gives his opinion about Taste, and it’s something no Irishman worth his salt would have stomached. Says it on Rory’s own home turf, in Belfast, a place that his fellow band mates hail from and Rory calls his second home. “I don’t rate the Taste,” Mayall says, “and I don’t think they will make it.” And what of Rory? “He has potential, but that’s all,” proclaims Mayall. Here’s what New Spotlight Magazine wrote about it:

JOHN MAYALL, leader of the new blues boom in Europe, didn’t want to talk about the night the Taste were reported to have stolen the show from him and his Bluesbreakers at London’s Marquee.
“You can’t believe all you hear,” he said when I asked him about it…this time at Belfast’s Marquee Club.
“I don’t rate the Taste,” he said, “and I don’t think they will make it.”
Of the Taste’s leader, Rory Gallagher, he said: “He has potential, but that’s all.”
About Henry McCullough, lead guitarist with Joe Cocker and his Grease Band, who had a recent No. 1 (“With a Little Help From My Friends”) John confessed: “Haven’t heard of him.” (Pat Egan, New Spotlight Magazine, 1968)

So would it come as a surprise to find years later Rory and John Mayall together onstage jamming away to old Blues tunes? A surprise, yes, but that is what they did, in 1978, in a place called the Starwood Club in Hollywood, California, just a stone throw away from Mayall’s new residence. Rory was set to do three nights at the famous Starwood, a 500 capacity club run by organized crime figure, Eddie Nash. Rory’s bassist, Gerry McAvoy recalls the night John Mayall got onstage with Rory:

On another occasion, John Mayall turned up. There was no love lost between Rory and John because, in the early days with Taste, John had viewed Rory as something of a punk upstart… But John was living in LA and had mellowed by this stage. He got up to play with us after our encore. He came on-stage wearing a gun belt stuffed full of harmonicas! Bizarrely, he also had a broken leg which was in a plaster cast. There was a balcony around the stage with tables and chairs out front, but that didn’t stop John. He went mad and the next thing he jumped in among the audience, hobbling around in his cast. After the gig, backstage, he walked up to Rory and said, “What happened?” – meaning how did you get to be so good? –Gerry McAvoy, Riding Shotgun

Luckily, an audio recording of the show surfaced some time back. The quality of the audio is poor, but the quality of Rory’s playing is fantastic. After a bit of discussion on what songs to do, they start off with Muddy Waters’ “Young Fashioned Ways” and then on to a “traditional” rendition of “Messing with the Kid,” presumably for the more traditionally minded Mayall’s benefit. After that number, a member of Mayall’s then current Bluesbreakers, Sugarcane Harris joins them onstage for a fantastic rendition of Texas Flood that Stevie Ray would be jealous of. The jam concludes with the old Frankie Ford number,”Roberta,”with Rory bringing the house down and John Mayall going on and on about how great Rory is. Posted below are the four songs done during the jam.

So have a listen to Rory Gallagher and John Mayall treading the boards at the Starwood Club. Note the excitement in John’s voice as he calls Rory the finest Irishman he knows, and note too who the ultimate Blues Breaker was. After that night, I’m sure even Mayall would have to agree that Rory wasn’t just potential. He was the real deal.

Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte
Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte

Special thanks to Jeff James for the audio of Rory Gallagher and John Mayall at the Starwood, Mark Conway for the pictures of Rory at the Starwood used in the youtube slideshows, Heinrich Klaffs for the pictures of John Mayall and Sugarcane Harris used in the youtube slideshows, and Blair Whyte for those great pictures of Rory & Taste at Club Rado!

Starwood Jam

  • Part One — Young Fashioned Ways
  • Part Two — Messin’ with the Kid
  • Part Three — Texas Flood
  • Part Four — Roberta
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Sep 02 2010

The Selling of Rory Gallagher

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Rory Gallagher Airport

I was arguing with a Rory Gallagher fan a few weeks ago about what constitutes an “appropriate” memorial to the late, great Irish guitarist. The argument had arisen after the posting of a recent article on the possible renaming of the Cork airport. Representatives of Sinn Fein want Cork Airport renamed in honor of Terence MacSwiney, the famous mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike, while representatives of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael want a more modern figure like legendary hurler Christy Ring, or blues guitarist Rory Gallagher. Some may remember that several years ago there was an online petition to get the Cork International Airport changed to the Cork Rory Gallagher Airport. At last count the petition has received over 5,000 votes. My vote was number 285. Not that I thought this petition had any chance of swaying the Dublin Airport Authority or Cork City Council into renaming the airport after a Rock ‘n Roll guitar player, but I just wanted to add my name to a list of people who wish Rory to be remembered, regardless the vehicle.

And this is where Rory fans diverge. There are those who wish his name attached to things that they think he would have been proud to be a part of – an Academy of Music for example – and then there are those who just wish his name is put out there, be it on an airport terminal, a civic center, or a road sign. I fall into the latter group. A Rory Gallagher “School of Rock” would be a great way to honor the man, but I’m happy with just about anything that will bring attention, and hopefully sustained interest in the Irish Blues Master. Within reason of course, I wouldn’t want his name displayed across the archway of a local den of iniquity or city jail, but otherwise I’m not too particular. Sure there will be those nefarious few who will market his name purely for profit, but even if it’s done for the wrong reasons, the end result would still put the man’s name before the eyes of a fickle public suffering from significant long term memory loss. A bit Machiavellian? You bet, but if it increases the fan base, I’ll live with it.

There are those who say that doing things like naming the Cork Airport after Rory Gallagher won’t translate into more fans of the late, great Irishman, and in fact is a great disservice to the man because of his well documented fear of flying during his later years. These people have obviously never taken a Marketing 101 course: the more a name is put before the public eye, the more interest will be generated for products with that name on it. It’s a simple matter of numbers; with millions of travelers frequenting a busy International Airport, there will be plenty of curious travelers who, having never heard of the Irish legend, will check him out via Youtube, Pandora, iTunes, Facebook or other social networking sites. Travelers who were fortunate to have heard the great man but have forgotten about him, might just throw a Rory Gallagher album back on their turntable, or download a few tunes to their ipod. As for the appropriateness of naming an Airport after a man who, in his later years, developed a fear of flying? People forget what a humorous guy Rory was, I think he would appreciate the irony of it all.

While the renaming of the Cork Airport after Rory Gallagher might just be a pipe dream, there have been many other landmarks that have been built or renamed in his honor. Below are just a few. Many thanks to Chino’s wonderful French Rory Gallagher Forum Csilla’s Blues News, and Amanda McGowan’s Crashing Waves website for providing many of the photos you see below.

Rory Gallagher Landmarks and other Notables

  • Rue Rory Gallagher  In October 1995, the name of the road outside of the music venue, “Le Plan” in Ris Orangis, Paris, France was renamed after Rory Gallagher. One of Rory’s final French shows before his untimely death was a one-off gig at Le Plan to help celebrate their 10th Anniversary. Rory was so popular in France that fans convinced the small town of Ris Orangis, outside of Paris into renaming the street fronting “Le Plan” to “Rue Rory Galagher”.
    dedication of Rue Rory Gallagher, attended by Monica and Donal GallagherRory’s brother Donal, and their mother Monica were in attendance at the dedication ceremony along with the mayor of Ris Orangis, and on November 3rd of that year, the first ever tribute to the Irish legend took place at Le Plan, featuring the music of Nine Below Zero, and videos from some of Rory Gallagher’s concert. Just outside the doors of Le Plan is a window box containing a short biography of Rory.
  • Impasse Rory Gallagher  In the French town of Bedoin in Vancluse at the base of Mont Ventoux, there is a small cul-de-sac, or dead-end street, dedicated to the memory of Rory Gallagher. According to the Dutch website, a guitar player called “Boro” who lives near Mont Ventoux, was an admirer of Rory Gallagher and the last time he met Rory he accidentally spilled his wine on Rory’s trousers. After Rory’s untimely death he decided to post the “Impasse Rory Gallagher” sign on the previously unnamed cul-de-sac in honor of the Irishman and over time the name stuck and eventually adopted by the authorities. It is now the official name for the lane.
  • Rory Gallagher Place  On October 25, 1997, in Cork city, St. Paul’s St. Square was formerly renamed “Rory Gallagher Place”, and a tribute sculpture honoring the Irish Master by Geraldine Creedon was unveiled. The sculptor was a childhood friend of Rory, the two having grown up together in the McCurtain Street area of the city. The abstract bronze sculpture takes the form of a guitar on one side, while the other side is made up of intertwined lyrics from Rory’s 1982 album, Jinx.

    “It’s a much more abstract piece, essentially because my mother at the time couldn’t cope with the idea of Rory being cast in stone or bronze. She just couldn’t face the idea of looking at Rory’s image.” — Donal Gallagher

    Playing at the unveiling was the Dave McHugh Band, who formed Ireland’s first tribute to Rory, ‘Aftertaste’ in 1995.

  • Rory Gallagher Music Library  In October, 2004, Cork City Library’s music department was officially renamed the “Rory Gallagher Music Library” in honor of  the internationally renowned Irish blues and rock guitarist who grew up in the fair city. Attended by hundreds of devout Rory fans, the ceremony featured the late guitarist’s brother, Donal, presenting several mementos to be displayed permanently in the Rory Gallagher Music Library including Mounted Prints, Golden discs and a Fender Stratocaster presented to Donal by the Fender company of California and signed by some of the worlds greatest guitarists. The dedication ceremony was performed by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Sean Martin, with Monica Gallagher, Rory’s mother, cutting the ribbon to reveal the Innovative Signage and Artifacts now on permanent display in the Rory Gallagher Music Library.

    From his time with Taste in the late 1960’s until his untimely death in 1995, Rory Gallagher forged and maintained a reputation as one of the world’s great blues men.
    His eminence as a Musician was widely acknowledged ever since Taste’s legendary Isle of Wight performance in 1970, leading Rory to be recognized as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. His integrity and his loyalty to the blues and blues based rock, as well as his genius as a guitarist and songwriter, earned him the love of fans all over the world. He has given us a legacy of wonderful recordings, and for those lucky enough to have heard him live, a wealth of wonderful memories. –Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Sean Martin

  • Rory Gallagher Theatre  In June, 2005, the main theatre at the multi-hall Abbey Centre in Ballyshannon, County Donegal was renamed the Rory Gallagher Theatre. Music and the Performance Arts were very much part of the Gallagher’s lives while living in Ballyshannon. Rory’s mother, Monica Gallagher, was a singer and acted with the Abbey Players, while Rory’s father Daniel played the accordion and sang with the Tir Chonaill Ceile Band. The theatre was renamed as the highlight of the four-day Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival attended by over six thousand fans and marked the tenth anniversary of Gallagher’s death. Rory Gallagher becomes the first Irish star to have a theatre named after him in his own country. A plaque, commemorating the renaming of the theatre was unveiled by his brother Donal Gallagher at the festival. The ash plaque features a wood carving of the musicians face and was designed by local artist Barry Sweeney. The plaque hangs at the entrance to the theatre while a painted copy of the Photofinish album cover is used as a backdrop to the stage. (*note: the Cork Institute of Technology, Bishopstown campus, has also renamed one of its theatres after the late, great blues master.)
  • Wall of Fame   On October 6, 2005, the “Wall of Fame” photographic exhibition was official unveiled. The Wall features 12 photos of Ireland’s finest musicians permanently displayed on the Temple Lane wall of the Temple Bar Music Centre, Dublin, Ireland. Each musician has a window devoted to them, framing a large photo, commemorating their contributions to Irish popular music. Included in this group of highly influential musicians is Rory Gallagher, Ireland’s ultimate Guitar Hero. Veteran radio broadcaster for RTE 2fm, Dave Fanning, was on hand to formerly launch the massive photo gallery, and did the honors of turning on the lights to reveal the twelve celebrated Irish music legends. The photograph of Rory Gallagher was taken by famed photographer Jill Furmanovsky, author of ‘The Moment’ 25 Years of Rock Photography’ and ‘Was There Then ‘ A Photographic Journey’. She is also the founder of the Rock ‘n Roll photograph collective, Rock Archive.

    A true bluesman who played with all his heart and soul, till audience and band alike were ready to expire in a pool of sweat. After this all-night gig I remember walking through Covent Garden to catch a bus at 6a. and stealing a bottle of milk from a doorstep thinking how lucky I was to have been there. — Jill Furmanovsky

  • Rory Gallagher Corner   On June 16, 2006 a detailed, life-size bronze replica of Gallagher’s famously worn 1961 Fender Stratocaster guitar was unveiled, mounted high above bustling Essex Street East, at the Rory Gallagher Corner entrance to the Meeting House Square, Dublin, Ireland. Attending the ceremony were hundreds of the late guitarist’s admirers, his brother, Donal, Lord Mayor of Dublin Catherine Byrne, event organizer Mark Walsh of Dublin’s Keynote Music Sales Ltd., and U2 guitarist The Edge.

    “[Rory Gallagher was] a huge influence on my life. I always admired Rory as a musician and was later lucky enough to call him a friend. His legacy will live on in hundreds of bands in this country. He laid the road for everyone in music. It is an honour to be here and lay tribute to the man and his work.” — The Edge

    Mark Walsh of Keynote Music spearheaded the movement to get the commemorative sculpture approved, despite concerns by the National Photographic Archive (who rent the Temple Bar property where the bronze strat hangs) that the site may “become a shrine to Gallagher with fans drawing graffiti on the gable wall.” The sculpture, funded by the Fender company and the local music shops, is part of a series of permanent artworks which make up the Public Art Trail in Dublin’s cultural quarter, the Temple Bar area. Rory’s last Irish concert was at the 1994 Temple Bar Blues Festival.

    Rory was Ireland’s first Rock’n’Roll star, selling records and touring the world, blazing a trail for others to follow. As musical instrument sellers we owe our livelihood to him and the others who followed, bringing Irish Rock to the world. Now as his beloved Cork, Paris, and Donegal have already done, Dublin
    honours one of Ireland’s greatest sons. Let’s remember Rory with this long overdue tribute. — Mark Walsh

    We are delighted to be involved in funding and supporting this project. The idea behind this new piece of public art is to celebrate and honour Rory Gallagher, a fantastic world class musician who played here in Temple Bar* and who has a public corner named in his honour. The idea of having a guitar sculpture in this high profile location really takes this celebration up a level. The sculpture will attract thousands of visitors and fans and remind us of the huge contribution that creative artists like Rory have made to Ireland’s culture, confidence and reputation.–Dermot McLaughlin, Chief Executive of Temple Bar Cultural Trust

    After the dedication ceremony, the Rory Gallagher tribute band, A Taste of Rory performed for the crowd, followed by a screening of vintage film from Rory’s ’74 Irish tour. Coinciding with the Temple Bar event was the DVD release of Rory Gallagher: Live at the Cork Opera House.

  • Rory Gallagher Statue  A life-sized bronze statue of Rory Gallagher was unveiled in the town he was born in, Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. The unveiling took place on Wednesday, 2nd June, 2010 by the Mayors of Donegal, Cllr. Brendan Byrne and Cork City, Cllr. Dara Murphy, as well as Rory’s brother, Donal, and his family. The statue, located at the Diamond in Ballyshannon town centre, was crafted by award-winning sculptor, David Annand from Fife in Scotland, and funded by Donegal County Council Public Art Office. Speaking to Ocean FM News, Donal Gallagher said he was overwhelmed by how the sculpture captured the vibrant spirit of his late brother.
      The unveiling of the statue came at the start of the annual Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival. The 2010 festival marked the 15th anniversary of Rory’s passing and seemed the largest to date; with over 25 folk, blues and rock acts performing to an estimated crowd of over 10,000 people for the 5-day event. Cllr. Barry O’Neill is the Chairperson for the annual Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival held in Ballyshannon and states the event provides a major tourism boost for the county. 15 years after his untimely death, the statue seems an appropriate memorial to a man who blazed the trail for other Irish rockers to follow.

    “Rory Gallagher’s connections with his birth place Ballyshannon are as strong now in 2010 as they were in the year of his birth at the Rock Hospital in 1948.
    In several interviews in the years prior to his untimely passing in 1995, Rory was quoted as saying that when he would retire, he would like to do so in his native Donegal…
    This is a weekend to celebrate his life, acknowledge the contributions he made to the music industry world-wide and to simply sit back and savour the music which still rings loudly in our ears. This festival is a great tribute to Rory and his family and an honour for the people in Ballyshannon.
    — Barry O’Neill

So there you have some of the more notable landmarks commemorating the passing of a truly great musician. Hopefully with the passage of time many more statues will be erected, buildings constructed, roads renamed in his honor. In my mind he is the ultimate guitar hero. Now where can I get hold of a Rory bobble-head doll?

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