Jun 24 2013

Rory Gallagher and John Mayall: The Ultimate Bluesbreakers

Published by at 10:53 pm under commentary

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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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Rory Gallagher and John Mayall: The Ultimate Bluesbreakers”

  1. Nick Branstonon 26 Jun 2013 at 12:08 am

    Although I didn’t attend the Marquee gig where Taste supported John Mayall, I heard the stories about it . . .

    I did see Taste and The Rory Gallagher Band a number of times at that particular venue though . . .

    The best place in London to see live bands . . .


  2. Frank Clarkeon 03 Mar 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Tonight was my first time hearing this gem. Just ignore the sound quality and listen. This was Rock’n’Roll, Rhythm’n’Blues, and Blues at its finest. Thanks to everybody for finding it, I am a long time fan of Rory and I am also a Corkman like him and also a big fan of the Blues.

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