Dec 11 2009
The 2009 Holliday issue of Guitar World has a large, in depth article on Rory Gallagher. Unfortunately the holiday mag has already been replaced on the newsstand shelves by the premature January issue featuring a tribute to Dimebag Darrell. For those who missed it I’ve reprinted the article below. The article, written by Alan Di Pern, turns a critical eye to Rory’s career and attempts to explain the highs and lows of it, including the recent surge in popularity 15 years after his passing. In a nutshell Di Pern faults Rory for not grabbing the “brass ring” when he had the chance, and milking his growing popularity for what it’s worth. The writer can’t quite fathom the Irish legend’s insistence, much to the delight of his ardent and now resurgent fans, on going …
Success didn’t elude Rory Gallagher. He turned it away throughout his short, sad life. Now in death, he’s more successful than ever. Guitar World presents the story of the Irish rocker’s demise and his posthumous revival…
Death made Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon,Elvis Presley, and Kurt Cobain even larger than they were in life. In a sense it deified them. But death also has the power to take artists who were mid-level stars, or even relatively unknown in their own time, and confer on them a radiant halo of posthumous glory. Musicians ranging from Robert Johnson to Nick Drake to Randy Rhodes have posthumously attained the widespread fame and cult-like devotion that they never lived to enjoy.
In the past few years,a sizable posthumous cult has grown up around Rory Gallagher, the Irish blues-Rock guitarist, singer and songwriter who passed away on June 14,1995. There’s been an avalanche of recent retrospective product, including a double CD “best of” set, ‘Crest of a Wave’, culled from Rory’s deep catalogue of studio and live albums, plus numerous live DVD’s including “Live In Cork” and the exhaustive five disc-set “Live at Rockpalast” compiling three decades’ worth of live appearances. There’s plenty more in the vaults; Rory was a tireless live performer.
In response to that growing interest, Fender recently made a reissue Stratocaster based on the guitarist’s beloved,heavily road-worn 1961 sunburst axe. Gallagher certainly has all the prerequisites for posthumous deification. In his prime, he was a good looking lad, with a shaggy, nut brown mane and a winning smile. While not quite Beck or Hendrix at the fretboard, Gallagher was an agile riff meister whose scrappy, energetic style was punctuated by occasional bursts of fluid, six string poetry. His playing was steeped in bluesy authenticity. Equally adept at electric or acoustic, slide and standard fretting, he brought to his guitar playing a boundless zeal that even years of hard touring and and numerous career disappointments did nothing to diminish.
Of course, Rory Gallagher possesses in spades the most important qualification for posthumous cult adulation; a sad life story. The tragedy of Randy Rhodes is all about the untimeliness of his death – that he was cut down while he was still quite young and had yet to really make his mark in the world. But the tragedy of Rory Gallagher is something different, a tale of a life filled with missed opportunities, unfortunate career decisions and misplaced idealism, all exacerbated by the familiar demons of alcohol and drug dependency. Gallagher’s fretboard prowess was all too often matched by unerring marksmanship when it came to shooting himself in the foot.
There always seems to be a surviving relative in the cults of dead rock stars, someone to tend the flame and collect the back royalties. In Randy’s case it is his mother, brother and sister; in Jimi’s case his half sister. Rory Gallagher is survived by his younger brother Donal. But while Randy Rhodes’s or Jimi Hendrix’s surviving relatives witnessed very little of their loved one’s glory moments on stage and in the studio, Donal was Rory’s closest confidant, tour manager and sometimes business manager, throughout his career he saw it all.
Rory never went for the brass ring the way other artists did, but he enjoyed being a musician. His enjoyment was to do it the way he wanted. He would have loved to have had a number one album in the states, but it all seemed so cynical and callous to him. After 25 tours, he had put in way more slog than a lot of younger bands that came out of Ireland and could’ve gotten to number one in America with little effort. I’d get angry about that. But not Rory, he would say, “I’m doing what I want to do and doing it the way I want” — Donal Gallagher
Although he came up in Ireland rather than England, Gallagher had much the same musical influences and background as British musicians like The Stones, Beatles, Cream & Led Zeppelin. The early 50’s skiffle craze gave him his first exposure to American folk and blues idioms. Rory fell deeply in love with the music, which was popularized in the United Kingdom by artists like Lonnie Donegan, and would remain deeply devoted to it all his life. But like all of U.K’s youth, he got swept away by the Rock & Roll explosion of the mid Fifties. He graduated from a toy guitar to a real one at age nine, after his family had moved from Derry to Cork in the south. By age 15, Gallagher was playing professionally in an Irish showband, The Fontanas. Showbands were a uniquely Irish phenomenon.
Those bands would play 5 hour stints at country dance halls,and they had to cover everything from country to comedy,the hits of the day and also the old -time Waltzes and a variety of traditional Irish music.The band would also have to break down in smaller units,as guys went off for a 20 minute break for sandwiches. — Donal Gallagher
Rory’s penchant for good-time showmanship-exhorting crowds to sing along or clap their hands-no doubt derives from his showband experience. But when the Merseyside boom brought the Beatles and other beat groups to the fore, Gallagher hijacked The Fontanas, stripped down the lineup and morphed the group into a gritty R&B-influenced outfit called The Impact. He persuaded the band members to relocate to London, at the time the epicenter of everything that was hip in rock culture.
Donal says”Rory would check out the Marquee, the Flamingo and various clubs, and see people like Georgie Fame, Alexis Korner and Steampacket, which was Long John Baldry’s band with Rod Stewart. He immersed himself like that.” But he adds, the guitarist’s own gigs were more humble. “London having a huge Irish population,there was plenty of Irish dance halls for The Impact to play, particularly in the north of London.”
Hit makers of the day like The Byrd’s, Kinks and Animals would play at the same venues. “They’d come in and do a 20 -minute set — a few of their biggest hits — and the Impact would be the support band. So Rory got guys like [The Byrd’s] Roger McGuinn throughout that. “But the showband thing had a stigma to it.They still had to play waltzes and country music and wear a uniform.”
Rory took The Impact to Hamburg, Germany, to work the same rough, red-light district clubs that the Beatles had worked a few years earlier during their rise to fame. By this time The Impact were a three-piece. The format seemed to suit Gallagher, and he would employ it for much of his career. By this point in the mid Sixties, the power trio was an idea whose time had arrived. It was in Hamburg according to Donal,that Rory first rubbed shoulders with members of another up-and-coming power trio Cream. The Impact eventually morphed into another bluesy three-piece, Taste, a group that recorded two studio albums and two live albums albeit with a lot of personnel shifts in the Rhythm section. Taste were serious contenders. They were favourably name- checked by John Lennon in a press interview at the time, and they played the opening sets for Cream, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall among others, in Ireland and elsewhere. They were even tapped to be the support band for Creams high-visibility farewell performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
For that matter, Gallagher was himself invited to be Eric Clapton’s replacement in Cream. The group’s breakup had been set in motion by Clapton’s decision to quit. Impressed by Gallagher’s guitar playing, Cream’s management approached him with an offer to carry on with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, still performing and recording as Cream. Many guitarists would have killed for the opportunity, but Gallagher turned it down. It was the first of several high-profile offers that he famously declined. “It was very much a management thing-‘Find somebody to replace Clapton!'” Donal says Rory was known to them, and they got on well. “But Rory wouldn’t have any of it. He said ‘Musically there’s no way I’d try and fill somebody else’s shoes, especially Eric’. ‘”Had Gallagher had made at least one album with Cream or even toured with them, he might have put his career in overdrive.”Yes it would have been a fast track,” Donal acknowledges.”But he felt he would never be his own man.”
Gallagher’s tendency to “go it alone” was perhaps his tragic flaw. Withdrawn and shy, he was unable to trust others or to enter into truly collaborative relationships. “He was never a great one in interacting with people,” Donal admits. “He was brilliant in front of an audience, but off stage it was Jekyll-and-Hyde effect. He was bad on one-on-one
relationships. He wouldn’t even let the guy in to read the water meter or gas meter of his house. Even the band didn’t get past the front door.”
Gallagher soon got his chance to “go it alone” for real. Taste split up in 1970, amid a dispute with management, and Gallagher decided to carry on as a solo artist. In 1971, he released two albums: Rory Gallagher and Deuce. For each he insisted on producing himself, and the results were mixed at best; flashes of brilliance amid bouts of plodding mediocrity. Gallagher seemed to have lacked any capacity for editing himself. For much of his career he operated on the somewhat simplistic assumption that he could simply walk into a recording studio and do his live show and come out with a great studio album. A live-in-the studio approach does work for some groups, and it may have even worked for Gallagher, but it’s virtually impossible to self produce this kind of album.
Gallagher’s guitar tone on these early albums is an example of the problem. Unlike many power trio guitarists,he did not rely on massive Marshall stacks or huge amounts of distortion to fill the sonic space. Instead,and to his credit, he played his battered ’61 Strat through a variety of small combo amps. But lacking production expertise, Gallagher was unable to create a proper distinctive sound for himself, and his guitar tone on Rory Gallagher and Deuce is thin and weak. Without any overdubs to fill in the picture-let alone much in the way of savvy drum miking, skillful signal processing and so on, the albums sound almost painfully anemic. Tighter songwriting might have helped as well. While a decent tune smith, Gallagher did suffer at times from a lead guitarist’s tendency to string a bunch of riffs together, ad hoc, and hope they somehow add up to a song. In retrospect, Gallagher’s first two albums might have been more judiciously edited down to a single release, with time taken for higher production values. A small selection from each more than does the trick on the Crest Of A Wave compilation.In effect, Gallagher was a great sideman who insisted on being a merely adequate front man. His prowess as an accompanist is amply demonstrated on the many side projects he participated in over the years. Perhaps the most notable was The London Muddy Waters sessions disc,released in ’72.
The London sessions were a series of recordings that brought great American bluesmen and Rock & Rollers of the Fifties together with the Sixties British rock stars who adored and emulated them. The series had gotten off to a rousing start with The Howlin’ Wolf London sessions, featuring Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and The Rolling Stones rhythm section of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. So it was a huge honor for Gallagher to be offered the lead guitar slot with Muddy Waters, the great patriarch of the electric-Chicago blues style. Donal thinks that London blues kingpins Alexis Corner and Chris Barber recommended Rory for the London sessions gig. For once the introverted guitarist didn’t say no.
“I think a lot of people were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t Eric Clapton again, “Donal says. “But I recall [later] a Playboy magazine interview with Muddy Waters where he said Rory was closer to his style of music–the Chicago kind of sound with the bottleneck guitar.”
As it was,Gallagher almost missed the first session. “He had a gig that night in Leicester, which is 100 miles from London,” Donal says.”So Rory said ‘I’ll be there as soon as I can after the gig.’ I remember we really burned rubber getting back to London. Rory was upset. “‘They’ll kick me out;I’m so late,’ he said. But when he walked in the studio Muddy was standing there with a glass of Champagne for him. ‘Glad you made it. Here,have yourself a drink.’ An absolute gentleman.”
Gallagher really shines on the Muddy Waters tracks. His soloing is concise,incisive and impassioned, his comping tasteful and rhythmically savvy. Performing with greats that include keyboardists Steve Winwood and Georgie Fame and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, Rory has a well-defined space that he fills admirably, never overstaying his welcome and making his musical statement eloquently in the choruses allotted to him. Gallagher’s profound love of the blues is one of the most touching things about him. He’d clearly done his homework, and his deep affection never lost the innocent sincerity of a teenage love affair. He also fared well on the Jerry Lee Lewis album, The Session, recorded in London in 1972 with a host of guest artists. The young Irish guitar whiz formed a deep bond with “the Killer,” America’s original rock & Roll wild man. Perhaps it was the instinctual brotherhood of two hard-drinking men.
Donal recalls one of the defining moments of the sessions. “All went well at first” he says. “Jerry Lee was kept off the bottle. But then the producer said ‘Jerry, you’re doing all the Johnny B.Goode type old rock and Roll stuff. Let’s try something different. ‘So the guy said ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones, and Jerry had never heard of that track.”Some of the musicians laughed when they heard this,which greatly upset Lewis. Rory, didn’t laugh, however, and this earned him the singers trust. Donal says,”There’s a great photo from that session of Jerry Lee looking up into Rory’s eyes and Rory singing to him. Rory was teaching him the words and the melody to ‘Satisfaction’. So there was a link between Rory and Jerry Lee. They got on quite well.”
Gallagher did a lot of session work over his career, most of it first-rate and much of it with musical heroes like Muddy Waters, English Jazz Trombonist Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan. Rory seemed able to relinquish control to these elder statesman in a way he couldn’t with his peers. Meanwhile,as he prepared to make his third solo studio album, 1973’s Blueprint, he seemed to have been aware of the shortcomings of the first two discs.Blueprint marks the debut of a revamped and expanded lineup,with drummer Rod De’Ath and keyboardist Lou Martin-both from the band Killing Floor-joining forces with longtime Gallagher bass player Gerry McAvoy. A ballsy, barrel house-bluesy piano-and-organ man, Martin proved an ideal foil for Gallagher, lending a sense of variety and interplay on Gallagher’s solo work.
The format on Blueprint and its successor, Tattoo was still for the most part live in the studio, but Martin’s contributions fleshed out the sound. The Martin/De’Ath/McAvoy lineup was the most stable of all Gallagher’s backing bands. It stuck together for three years, during which time it recorded four studio albums and one live disc, with Gallagher, Donal says, “Rory never actually took a proper vacation. He’d use his vacation time for songwriting, developing, and listening to other people’s music. He didn’t know what else to do with himself.” He did not take much interest in the typical distractions of life on the road. Donal says Rory didn’t use recreational drugs, nor did he go in much for groupies.
I think that he was so keen on becoming a professional musician from an early age that he basically blocked everything else out of his life. In his teenage years, he just felt that girlfriends were a drawback. He’d seen too many guys fight over girlfriends, and seen girlfriends split up bands. For him, music was like a vocation in the priesthood. Later, there were one or two women, but he never settled down.
Like many solitary, creative and intensely driven people, Rory found in alcohol a buffer to help block out the world and to dull the pain of isolation.
Although alcohol wouldn’t become a real problem for him until the Eighties, there were earlier signs of impending trouble. “He’d go off and have a binge of drinking,”Donal recalls. “He’d lock himself in a room for three days, probably go through a few bottles and come out with a set of songs.”
Gallagher’s personal issues certainly didn’t impede his output in the Seventies. Indeed they may have been at the root of his compulsion to record and release discs. The album that many fans regard as the apotheosis of the Martin/De’Ath/McAvoy lineup was Irish Tour ’74. Live albums were hugely popular in the Seventies. Everyone form The Who and Stones to Yes, Deep Purple, Peter Frampton and Led Zeppelin released blockbuster live discs during the decade, and live performance was certainly Gallagher’s metier. Unable to connect with people very well in ordinary social situations, he may have treasured those few hours of rock & roll communion. While Irish Tour ’74 didn’t have a major impact in the states, it was the best-selling disc of Gallagher’s career, worldwide.
Had Irish Tour been less successful, Gallagher might have responded differently to an offer that came in late late ’74/early ’75 to join the Rolling Stones. Mick Taylor had just left the group and, as Donal tells the tale, Rory was the Stones’ first choice for a replacement. The offer came quite informally — a phone call from Stones pianist Ian Stewart inviting Gallagher to “come have a blow and a jam session with the lads.” The invitation was postponed several times as the Stones were having problems with a new mobile recording truck they’d acquired at the time. Rory, meanwhile, had an important Japanese tour on the immediate horizon.
“Rory was naive enough to think, ‘Oh they only want to have a blow and a jam session,it’s nothing serious,'” Donal says. “I was angry with him, to say the least.”
Finally Rory got on a plane to Rotterdam with his Strat and a small, tweed Fender Champ amp. The Stones had only provided one airline ticket, so Donal couldn’t accompany his brother. According to what Rory later told Donal, he was met at the airport by none other than Mick Jagger, who put him in a cab and took him to a rehearsal space the Stones had occupied. There he was met by Marshall Chess Jr., head of the stones’ record label at the time who reportedly said to Rory, “Welcome to the Rolling Stones. I knew it would be you, you’re the guy for the job.”
According to Donal, “Rory did four nights with them. The first night Keith didn’t turn up. So Mick said to Rory, ‘Can you give me a riff? I’ve got this song Start Me Up’ and Rory said, ‘Well I’m working on a song’ so they worked it up. It’s a legend that that album, [the Stones’ Tattoo You] has different guitar riffs from different people. I think Rory referred to ‘Miss You’ as the other song that they worked on. On the second night, Keith came down and they got going. Keith liked Rory’s style in the sense that Rory was into Hank Snow and the country players as well as the rock and blues guitarists. So they obviously listened to the same records.”
Parts of Donal’s tales seem far-fetched. The ‘Start Me Up’ riff is very much dependent on Keith Richards five-string, open-G guitar tuning, a configuration that Rory Gallagher is never known to have used. So one has to wonder where truth gives way to traditional Irish blarney in Donal’s account. Still, it is theoretically possible that Keef’s classic “Start Me Up” riff could have been derived from an earlier idea by Rory Gallagher. As to what happens next the account becomes even more muddled.
“There was no coherence in the camp” Donal recounts. “Rory kept saying to Mick, ‘Look what am I supposed to do with these Japanese dates? How long can you guys wait?’ Mick said, ‘Go and speak to Keith. ‘Mick and Keith weren’t talking to each other at the time, which was another difficulty. The last evening Rory went up to Keith in his bedroom, but Keith was comatose. Rory spent the entire night up, going back every half hour, the door to Keith’s suite being wide open. Rory had to be on the plane back to Heathrow at 10 o’clock in the morning. Everyone else had gone to bed.There was no one else around, so Rory just picked his guitar and amp up, I met him with a suitcase at Heathrow airport,and we flew to Tokyo.”
Donal was upset that Rory had let the opportunity to work with the Stones slip away. “I remember saying to Rory, ‘All you had to do was ring and say, ‘postpone the Japanese tour. “We just would have sold more tickets in Japan going back in Six months time. He said [Rory], ‘I just kept chasing for an answer and nobody seemed to know what was going on. It was a bit of a mess.’ Maybe if he had rolled with it….”
In the years after wards turned down similar offers from Deep Purple and Canned Heat, but by then Donal knew enough not to be surprised by his brothers decisions. One positive offshoot of not becoming a Rolling Stone was that Gallagher went on to make two of the finest solo albums of his career, Against The Grain released in ’75 and Calling Card in ’76. By this point, the Martin/De’Ath/McAvoy lineup had become a well-oiled machine. Calling Card also benefits from first-rate production work by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover. For once, Rory was able to trust someone else with the production of one of his albums. Donal says,”We’d been out on a package tour with Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac. On the road, Rory hit it off with Ritchie Blackmore and all the Deep Purple guys.”
Calling Card makes one wish Gallagher had been able to work with an-outside producer more often. Engineered by the German wunderkind Mac (who’d later work with Queen), it is Rory Gallagher’s best sounding album. The playing is tight and the guitar tones beefy. There are proper overdubbed leads over chunky rhythm tracks. But by the end of the project, trouble had broken out, and Gallagher burnt yet another bridge.
“Rory wasn’t happy with the mixes, “Donal says. “He remixed the album with Chris Kimsey, who later did the Rolling Stones stuff, and that was annoying to Roger. But they never had rows–Rory just wouldn’t talk to people. He said to me,’No that’s not how I want the album to sound. I want it remixed’,and he’d pull the album apart himself. It was difficult.”
Gallagher was hardly in a position to be high handed at this point. Bluesy hard rock bands were thick on the ground in the early Seventies. Savoy Brown, Spooky Tooth, Nazereth, Ten Years After, Bad Company, Grand Funk Railroad, the James Gang-you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting some guy with a shaggy Seventies mane riffling pentatonic s into the ground. All these bands were competing not only for attention, but also with more cutting edge – at the time-rock genres like prog, glam and fusion, not to mention popular none-rock genres like funk, disco and reggae. Solo artists like Alvin Lee and Peter Frampton had risen from the bluesy hard rock ranks to become major stars of the Seventies, proving that there was indeed a market for them “hot guitarist as singing/song writing front man” archetype. But Gallagher seems to have been blissfully oblivious to the fact that that’s what it was – a market.
“Those other guys were prepared to act the superstars, and Rory wasn’t,” Donald say’s, “he would not let the record company release singles from his albums. I remember when Live in Europe came out [in 1972], the executive from Polydor Records came down from a Washington gig with an edited version of a song “Going To My Home Town”. They said, “Polydor promises we’ll take this to number one”. Rory nearly went through the roof, taking the Polydor guy with him. The idea of somebody editing his music … he just was not prepared to play that game. Even the guys in Deep Purple said, “look, you have got to do this. This is a hit single! ” But Rory was terrified of becoming a novelty act. You release one single and pressure is on to follow it up with another hit single. Your next single becomes more important than your next album. I disagreed with Rory all along the way. For me, from tracks like ‘Tattoo’d Lady’ [from 1973’s Tattoo] all the way through to “Calling Card” [from the 1976 album of the same name], there were plenty of songs that would have been playable on the radio.”
Gallagher’s refusal to play the singles game demonstrates the extent to which he lived in his own private world. Perhaps his purest attitude derived from his early interest in folk music, that great bastion of anti-commercial sanctimony. Whatever the underlying logic, Rory was unable to perceive a single release as anything other than an intrusion on his divine right to solo uninterruptedly over 37 consecutive courses of a 12 – bar blues. In a way, this makes him the ultimate guitar hero. He was willing to commit career suicide to uphold the inviolable sanctity of a guitar solo. Donald says the single release issue reared its head once again during the tense moments at the conclusion of the calling card sessions. “Chris Wright, who was one the two bosses of Chrysalis Records, said, “I will tell you what. Put the album release back here. We’ll take the track “Edged in Blue”, lop the guitar solo off and release that as a single. We’ll call the album Edged in Blue when it comes out.” Chris Wright is a music exec. I respected him. I went back to Rory and said, “Look, this is proposed by the president of the company.” Again, he nearly got on the phone to damn blast Chris for even thinking about it.”
End-of-the album-project jitters became an increasingly prevalent phenomenon for Gallagher as his career wore on. He’d completely recorded and mixed a follow-up to Calling Card, only to pull the plug at the 11th hour. “At the end the lacquer (master), was cut and I was about to deliver it to Chrysalis, to play it for the execs,” Donal says. “That morning right in front of me, Rory said,”You can’t play it to anyone. I don’t like the album. “Rory dropped it in the bin.”
But the adventure wasn’t over yet,as Donal discovered on returning to the L.A hotel where he and Rory had been staying. “I got back from the meeting with the execs to find a message saying, ‘Rory’s in Cedars Sinai Hospital. But he’s OK. Not to worry.’ After I’d left, he’d gone off to see the Bob Dylan movie, Reynaldo and Clara, and he’d fractured his thumb in a taxi door. So it wasn’t even possible to go back into the studio and re-record the album.”
The mood was dour when the brothers returned to Ireland. “Rory seemed to get depressed at the time,” Donal recalls. “One day he finally said,’I want to change the lineup. I’m not happy with the band anymore. ‘He wanted to make a clean sweep but I said, “Look at least retain the bass player, Gerry.”
Exit Gallagher’s most stable and successful backing band. Some of the material from the sessions Rory had trashed ended up on 1979’s Photo Finish album, with Ted McKenna on drums. Gallagher had forged a friendship with Alan O’Duffy, a London-based engineer who worked on Paul McCartney & Wings ‘Venus and Mars’ album. He trusted O’Duffy enough to have him co-produce Photo Finish and it’s successor, Top Prority. Both are solid works of late-Seventies rock, but by that point it hardly mattered anymore.
Punk rock had burst out of London and New York in a big way, charting a bold new direction for rock and roll. Meanwhile, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhodes were setting a new, less blues-centric course for hard rock and metal. Punk in particular, declared war on Gallagher’s whole style of presentation — the long rounds of guitar, keyboard, bass and drum soloing, the compulsory good-time audience participation, the all-too-casual and seemingly interminable bouts of guitar returning between songs. Ironically, Gallagher liked Punk. He’d attended the Sex Pistols’ final gig in San Francisco and told his brother, “This is as close to Eddie Cochran as you’re going to get.”
Gallagher’s career and life took a turn for the worse in the Eighties. A hint of bitter irony creeps into some of his albums titles. Top Priority was a somewhat mocking reference to Chrysalis’ promise that the disc would be their top marketing priority — despite the trashed masters, refusals to release singles and other drama Rory had put them through in the past. The title of 1982’s Jinx is fairly self explanatory. By this point the substance abuse had begun to take its toll along with the alcohol. Gallagher had become hooked on prescription tranquilizers.
“Where the ‘medication’ — for want of a better word — started to kick in was Rory’s fear of flying had flagged itself up, “Donal says. “I think it was the pressure. He was wearing too many hats for his own good. He was being his own producer, his own songwriter, his own manager…with all the mental strain, the flying tablets probably relaxed him, so he began to take them for other purposes. Of course, after a while they weren’t strong enough, so he was constantly going back to the doctor and upgrading. Rory was very discreet about it all. He’d go swallow them in the bathroom.”
Donal didn’t gauge the extent of the problem until Rory began to have severe stomach pains and nausea. He says,”I managed to get him into a clinic, and the doctor there said,’You realize the problem is not so much the alcohol. It’s the pills.’ He lambasted Rory’s private doctor for prescribing the amount of stuff he had. It wasn’t any one prescription tablet, it was the combination. Throw in alcohol and you’re mixing a devil’s brew”.
In the final years of Rory’s life, Donal became, literally, his brother’s keeper. “I was acting as agent and manager and running an office,” he says. “In the meantime,I’d gotten married and was trying to run my own life. Kids were coming. We’d clear time and take months off. But Rory was going to seed when he had time on his hands. You could see the emptiness in his life.”
Donal settled his brother into a modern house in London that had formerly been tenanted by Elton John, Dusty Springfield and John Mellencamp. “It had great music credentials, Donal says. “I thought, maybe he won’t have dinner parties as such, but at least he’ll have people over. But he didn’t invite anyone. Then maintenance of the house became a problem so I moved him into a very beautiful hotel. I knew the manager, and he gave us a suite.”
Rory may have spent some of the happiest days and nights of his final years at the Conrad, a luxury hotel in London’s Chelsea Harbour. He would hold court at the hotel bar, hanging out with bands that passed through London and stayed at the hotel — everyone from folk artists Martin Carthy and Bert Jansch to rockers Gary Moore, INXS and Gun’s ‘N’ Roses. “Of course Slash was a huge fan,” Donal says.
Rory even befriended the musicians who played at the hotel bar. But that’s were things started to run amok. “The piano player was so out of it he couldn’t play for the customers,” Donal explains. “Or he’d be up in Rory’s suite jamming with the drummer and bass player. My manager friend called and said, ‘We’ve got to have the room back.This can’t go on.’ They had a building of apartments right across the street that they serviced. The hotel manager put Rory over there in this huge apartment. But he felt so isolated there and he got depressed and then he wouldn’t see anybody.”
Despite his declining physical and psychological condition, Gallagher completed two more studio albums, Defender in 1987 and Fresh Evidence in 1990. He managed to maintain a fairly active touring schedule into the early Nineties, although this became increasingly difficult. “The only cure for Rory was to keep him active, give him a schedule and give him a life,” Donal says. “He didn’t have a life when he wasn’t on the road, sadly.”
But the touring brought pressure, and the pressure occasioned more abuse of tranquilizers and alcohol. The road and the live gigs — the very things that had given a purpose to Rory’s life — were now killing him. “The last thing you want is to have your brother go out and make an ass of himself onstage, “Donal says. “But we had run the risk of doing just that, or pissing off the fans. At one major London gig, Rory had obviously taken taken some tablets of some kind and washed them down with a brandy. He was fine before he went onstage. But within 20 minutes to half an hour he couldn’t understand why his fingers had gone to jelly.
On one of the last tours I broke into his dressing room, stole his baggage and made it look like a robbery in order to get at the medication and find out what was going on. I was shocked. His withdrawal symptoms were colossal. After a week or so, he sweated out the toxins from his body and got his appetite back. After three weeks he played better than ever. You’d turn him around, but you didn’t want to risk him too long on the road. It was a very difficult call.
As the Nineties got under way, Gallagher was able to perform less and less frequently. Poor health forced him to turn down an offer to play on one of Mick Jagger’s solo albums, among other gigs. Shortly after what would be his final performance,in the Nederlands, on January 10,1995, Rory’s liver failed. “He was going in and out of a coma and I had to make the decision to have a liver transplant done, ” says Donal. “I’d never expected to be confronted with something like that, and the clock was ticking because we had to wait for a donor. You can’t just buy a new liver.”
Rory survived the initial 12-hour transplant surgery. But complications set in and there were numerous subsequent surgeries over the agonizing period of some three months. In the end, an infection he caught while in the hospital claimed his life. Donal Gallagher was at his brother Rory’s side when he passed away in London, on June 14,1995, at the age of 47.
“You can never say,”Donal reasons.”Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.Who knows what kind of life he would have had if he’d recovered.”
The first signs of a revival of interest in Rory Gallagher and his music had begun in Europe, where he enjoyed greater popularity than he did in the states. A street was named after him on the outskirts of Paris.Many more tributes followed. “There was quite an outpouring from Germany and Ireland,”says Donal. “People realized they missed a lot of good music.”
Control of Rory’s back catalog reverted to Donal in the late Nineties. All of the albums were remastered and reissued by BMG. “We didn’t know what was going to happen, ” Donal says “whether they were going to stiff or not. But within the first year, there were a million units of catalog sold.”
There is plenty more to come. Given Rory’s zeal for live performance, plenty of concert DVD releases are likely in the future. “We haven’t really tapped the BBC concerts yet, “Donal says” but we’ll get there yet. Next year we’re hoping to release recordings of Taste performing at the Isle Of Wight festival, because the 40th anniversary of that is coming up. Fortunately there’s a whole vault full of live performance footage, which is great because young guitar players can study Rory’s technique.”
Gallagher himself would no doubt be gratified that his music has outlived the changing musical styles that kept him out of the number one slot during his lifetime. There’s some justice in the fact that he’s found his place in the hearts of today’s rock guitar subculture. He was always most comfortable among fellow musicians.
“Against The Grain: The rise and fall of the legendary Rory Gallagher” — Guitar World ‘Holiday2009’ by Alan Di PernaShare on Facebook