All of us bemoan the bands we never saw, but what about the ones we regret not seeing more often because we thought there would always be more opportunities? Top of the latter list for me would be the late great Rory Gallagher. Before he left us, suddenly on 14th June 1995 at the age of only 46, I’d only seen him play live twice (electric at the Marquee in Wardour Street and acoustic at the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road); we’d even walked past each other in the street in Soho, but I was too surprised and starstruck to say anything! Regrets…
Although Rory’s back catalogue has been re-mastered and reissued, there have been relatively few posthumous releases, but Universal has gone some way to rectifying that with this excellent three disc anthology; three dozen slices of prime Rory, appropriately on the reactivated Chess Blues imprint, and nearly all of them previously unreleased.
The electric disc kicks off with a rowdy ‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’ from the ‘Jinx’ (1982) sessions, then follows it with Lightnin’ Slim’s downhome ‘Nothin’ But The Devil’ from the ‘Against The Grain’ (1975) sessions. The even earlier ‘Blueprint’ (1973) sessions provide a fine version of Freddie King’s ‘Tore Down’, which highlights the close interplay between Rory and Lou Martin’s piano.
A slow, smouldering, late night ‘Off The Handle’, with Gerry McAvoy on bass and Brendan O’Neill on drums, is from a 1986 Paul Jones Show for BBC Radio, while a much earlier radio session, for Cleveland’s WNCR-FM in 1972, showcases a different side of Rory. Accompanied by Martin, McAvoy and drummer Rod de’Ath in the audience free Agora Ballroom, Rory reduces the volume for ‘I Could’ve Had Religion’ and plays slide guitar and harmonica in a spiritually oriented tribute to the likes of Son House and Blind Gary Davis.
There’s a rather heavier slide workout on ‘As The Crow Flies’ from the “Tattoo” (1973) sessions and the same year provides a fine ‘A Million Miles Away’ from a BBC Radio 1 session. The “Deuce” (1971) sessions offer up two versions of ‘Should’ve Learned My Lesson’ and the electric one allows Rory to pay homage to heroes like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush.
Leaping forward to 1994 we get one of Rory’s final recordings, ‘Leaving Town Blues’ from a Peter Green tribute album ‘Rattlesnake Guitar’; Rory plays the intro on mandolin, before soloing on slide guitar. Sleepy John Estes’ ‘Drop Down Baby’ features Rory guesting on guitar for Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Puttin’ On The Style’ (1978) album, while a horn driven ‘I’m Ready’ showcases a similar guest spot on Muddy Waters’ “London Sessions” (1971). The electric disc ends with another track from the 1972 radio session in Cleveland, a piano driven ‘Bullfrog Blues’ with plenty of slide guitar.
The acoustic disc opens with an unaccompanied ‘Who’s That Coming’ from the Tattoo (1973) sessions, with Rory playing his metal bodied National resophonic guitar. The second version of ‘Should’ve Learnt My Lesson’, from the “Deuce” (1971) sessions is also played solo, recalling Big Bill Broonzy’s flatpicking style, while the duet with Lou Martin on ‘Prison Blues’, from the “Blueprint” (1973) sessions, shows the influence of barrelhouse pianist Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell.
A solo performance for the Irish TV show “Me And My Music” saw the return of the National for ‘Secret Agent’, which Rory began with the instrument flat on his lap, before launching into a John Lee Hooker style boogie beat. The following ‘Blow Wind Blow’, by Muddy Waters, comes from the 1972 Cleveland radio session and is reminiscent of Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee.
Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Bankers Blues’ also comes from the “Blueprint” (1973) sessions, although it features Rory on six-string guitar, rather than the twelve-string which was used on that album. Next up is ‘Whole Lot Of People’ from the “Deuce” (1971) sessions, before a leap forward to 1987 for a German TV recording of ‘Loanshark Blues’ on the National.
The exuberant flatpicking cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘Pistol Slapper Blues’ is Rory’s other selection from the 1976 Irish TV show, while the remaining three acoustic songs showcase Rory’s later years. Muddy’s ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’ was recorded solo for German TV in 1992, Hooker’s ‘Want Ad Blues’ on the National is from Dave Fanning’s Irish radio show in 1988 and ‘Walkin’ Blues’, with Mark Feltham on harmonica, was taped for Irish TV in 1987.
The live disc kicks off with Rory, McAvoy and O’Neill nearly stripping the paint off the walls of the Glasgow Apollo with a trio of songs recorded in May 1982: ‘When My Baby She Left Me’, ‘Nothin’ But The Devil’ and ‘What In The World’. From an unspecified date later in that decade comes ‘I Wonder Who’, which again highlights Rory’s interplay with Feltham.
These are followed by three 1977 tracks from City Hall gigs: Junior Wells’ ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ is from Sheffield, as is ‘Garbage Man Blues’, while sandwiched between them is ‘Tore Down’ from the Newcastle show. The 11 minute ‘All Around Man’, from a 1976 BBC Whistle Test special, is set to Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Little Red Rooster’ lick, yet also owes a debt to Hendrix’ ‘Voodoo Chile’.
‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, with Jack Bruce, comes from a 1991 “Rockpalast” show for German TV, while ‘You Upset Me’ is an apparently unrehearsed guest appearance with Albert King from 1975. The last music we hear is another guest solo on ‘Comin’ Home Baby’ from a 1989 concert with Chris Barber’s band; a short track, featuring Rory talking about the Blues, rounds off the three disc set.
Given that much of the content is previously unreleased, this set, which retails at just under £20, represents excellent value for anyone who loves Rory’s playing. Indeed, the fact that it is separated into electric, acoustic and live discs might also make it a perfect introduction for anyone not yet familiar with the man and his music.
CD1 - Electric
Don’t Start Me Talkin’; Nothin’ But The Devil; Tore Down; Off The Handle; I Could’ve Had Religion; As The Crow Flies; A Million Miles Away; Should’ve Learnt My Lesson; Leaving Town Blues; Drop Down Baby; I’m Ready; Bullfrog Blues.
CD2 – Acoustic
Who’s That Coming; Should’ve Learnt My Lesson; Prison Blues; Secret Agent; Blow Wind Blow; Bankers Blues; Whole Lot Of People; Loanshark Blues; Pistol Slapper Blues; Can’t Be Satisfied; Want Ad Blues; Walkin’ Blues.
CD3 – Live
When My Baby She Left Me; Nothin’ But The Devil; What In The World; I Wonder Who; Messin’ With The Kid; Tore Down; Garbage Man Blues; All Around Man; Born Under A Bad Sign; You Upset Me; Comin’ Home Baby; Rory Talking Blues.