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Old 01-23-2022, 10:01 AM   #7 (permalink)
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The Early Solo Years: 1971-1974

The early seventies were Rory's most prolific, as he struggled to establish himself as a solo artiste in his own right. At that time, there really were no international artists from Ireland, and with Van Morrison Rory led the way, recruiting bass player Gerry McAvoy, who would be one of the mainstays of his band for over two decades, and a firm friend, to create another power trio, though unlike Taste this one would have a harder rock edge, and was clearly from the start Rory's own band. Although he had basically taken the controls at Taste, performing under his own name gave him an extra degree of contol over the output, and on his first, self-titled album he wrote every track and also produced the album. He also pulled in Wilgar Campbell on drums, but whereas McAvoy would remain a steadfast ally of Rory's through the seventies and eighties, Campbell would be replaced after the second album.

Rory Gallagher - Rory Gallagher - 1971 (Polydor)


There's a big boogie number to start the debut album off, with "Laundromat", and it's rockin' good, though again I find the vocals very far down in the mix, like on the Taste albums. Rory produced this himself and it was likely his first attempt at production, so perhaps he was just unfamiliar with how to mix an album properly. Either way, the guitar work of course stands out head and shoulders above everything, and Rory uses his trusty harmonica for the first time on one of his own albums. McAvoy keeps up a great bass rhythm, almost as if it were an upright bass he was playing, and Campbell bashes out the beat the way you would expect a seventies drummer to. Rory's style of singing was often more shouting lines at you than conventional singing, and nobody would I think class him as one of the great singers, but as a guitarist he had few if any equals. "Just the Smile" slows things down a little with a hard dobro-style sound on the guitar, and a folky melody that still maintains an edge. Has a great almost "Mrs. Robinson" rhythm to it.

This song is mostly guitar, as were many of Rory's: he never forced too many lyrics or even vocals into a song if he could avoid it, preferring to let his guitar do the talking, and so it works. You don't really concentrate too much on the singing - though it's fine, but nothing terribly special - and just let the great fretwork wash over you. Slowing it down even more then for the blues-style ballad "I Fall Apart" with again soft vocals from Rory but a hard guitar and the first really standout solo. That old mixture of Delta blues and country shows up again on "Wave Myself Goodbye", featuring for the first time piano, here provided by Vincent Crane, in one of two appearances by him on the album. It does add a nice honky-tonk feel to the song, and complements the acoustic guitar nicely.

"Hands Up" is a more rocky, bouncy track with some fine powerful drumming from Wilgar Campbell driving the beat, and featuring an extended workout by Rory on the Strat, while the next one up was to become one of his standards and best-loved songs. "Sinner Boy" starts off like a blues ballad but then breaks out into a real rocker, with that squealing twanging guitar that was to become something of his trademark, high pitched with plenty of slide. A much slower, laidback song then in "For the Last Time", a kind of menacing blues ballad, of the type Rory would become identified with, as would his contemporary Gary Moore, the sort of song where the singer admits he's been a fool (usually for some woman) and swears that won't happen to him again. Another great solo and a walking bass line from McAvoy, sort of doomy drums from Campbell, and the lion's share of the song is taken up by another serious workout on the guitar, taking us into the bluesgrass-styled "It's You", a bopping, slide-guitar aided little tune (I'll be honest: it sounds like steel guitar but I can't be sure, and there's no such instrument credited, though it's a guitar so... maybe) and on into "I'm Not Surprised", the other song containing piano accompaniment from Vincent Crane.

Starts off almost Rush-style on hard acoustic and mandolin, then gets going in a blues groove with the piano sliding in; sort of a Beatles vibe to the song, and the album then ends on "Can't Believe it's True" with a sort of shuffle melody and coming closer to the more famous songs he would pen down the line. This also features sax from the man, but again as I said in the Taste reviews, I don't really feel it adds much to the song or makes that much of a difference. A good album, a good debut but it was unlikely to set the charts on fire. Then again, that was never Rory Gallagher's intention. He just wanted to make music that people might like to hear. Simple, huh?

TRACK LISTING

1. Laundromat
2. Just the Smile
3. I Fall Apart
4. Wave Myself Goodbye
5. Hands Up
6. Sinner Boy
7. For the Last Time
8. It's You
9. I'm Not Surprised
10. Can't Believe it's True

Eager now more than ever that he had released his first solo album to get his music heard, Rory was back in the studio at the end of the year and this resulted in his second album coming out in the same year. Although only his second it is markedly different in its tone and feel, and copperfastens the beginning of the real Gallagher sound on tracks like "Crest of a Wave", "In Your Town" and the melancholy "Should've Learned My Lesson".

Deuce - Rory Gallagher - 1971 (Atlantic)


Right away there's a more cohesive sound to the album. Whether that's due to his growing proficiency on the guitar or the fact that his intention for this album was to give it a more "live performance" feel I don't know, but one thing I do hear is that his vocals are more balanced, not pushed down to the point where they could be not quite inaudible on the debut, but definitely low in the mix. "I'm Not Awake" gets us underway, bopping along nicely with some rolling percussion from Wilgar Campbell, an almost Irish traditional rhythm to the song, some more fine soloing. Much harder and rockier is "Used to Be", with Rory's growled vocal rising to meet the snarl of his guitar, and again I hear a lot of Alex Lifeson in his playing here, although Rush would not release their first album for another three years yet. That country/folk element comes back in for "Don't Know Where I'm Going", with another star turn for Rory's other old mate, the harmonica, allied to his acoustic guitar.

Back to the electric then for "Maybe I will", with an almost jazzy tempo to it, some great basswork from Gerry McAvoy, sense of rockabilly to it too, then "Whole Lot of People" is even moreso, while the real standout on the album comes in the shape of "In Your Town", with a big boogie blues rocker with Irish reels threading through the melody. The story of a man released after serving his time in jail and out for revenge or just to have a good time (it's not clear), it's a great bopper and really just bursts with energy and enthusiasm. In total contrast then is "Should've Learned My Lesson", a doleful blues ballad in the mould of "woke-up-this-morning-and-my-woman-done-gone" so beloved of the old hands. Great stuff.

"There's a Light" has a sort of Santana idea about some of it, rocks along nicely and you can definitely hear a marked improvement in Rory's singing, his voice much stronger, more determined and focussed. More of the folky country feel from the previous album on "Out of My Mind", some great mandolin playing by Rory, with the closer the brilliant "Crest of a Wave", another which would become a fan favourite, a great heavy groove that just closes the album as strongly as it began. For a second album, I think Deuce shows a giant leap in Rory's talent, which is not to say the debut was bad, because it wasn't, but this is a world removed from that first album, and you could see even then this boy was not going to be held down; we're witnessing here the birth of a star.

TRACK LISTING

1. I'm Not Awake Yet
2. Used To Be
3. Don't Know Where I'm Going
4. Maybe I Will
5. Whole Lot of People
6. In Your Town
7. Should've Learnt My Lesson
8. There's a Light
9. Out of My Mind
10. Crest of a Wave

Of course, every true musician knows there's no substitute for the stage, and though Rory was getting no radio airplay at this time, and certainly releasing no singles, and was pretty much an unknown quantity generally, he raised his profile and built his fanbase on the back of continuous touring, becoming one of the hardest-working musicans certainly in Ireland, maybe in Europe. He ensured that he toured his native country at least once a year, often more, and yet managed to fit in recording two albums a year between 1971 and 1973. Rory's reputation was built, maintained and mythologised through his live performances, and many people consider versions of studio tracks inferior to the live renditions. Certainly, free of the constraints of studio time Rory could lengthen and expand some of his better songs onstage, and he also got a chance to cover some ones he would probably not have put on his studio albums.

Two live albums have gone down in history as being definitive of his work, the first released in 1972 and pretty much made up of covers and traditional songs, with just one track from each of his first two albums. Live! in Europe was recorded, not surprisingly, on his European tour of 1972 and together with the later Irish Tour '74 gives a fascinating insight into a man who lived to walk the stage with a Strat, a guitarist who loved the stage spotlight but shunned the celebrity one, and an almost reluctant star who lit up any stage he strode.

Live! In Europe - Rory Gallagher - 1972 (Buddah)


It's probably not the greatest of starts, to be honest, when they introduce him as "Rory Gallag-er" rather than "Galla-her", but the album gets going with a track that, though it appears on none of his studio albums and is not his own song, became another to be very clearly identified with him, Junior Wells' "Messin' with the Kid", great bit of blues boogie rock and you can hear Rory's singing voice now firmly established; gone are the squeaky, breathy, echoey and at times almost inaudible vocals that plagued the first album: Rory's singin' loud and proud now. Strangely enough, the track he chooses from the debut album is "Laundromat", which is okay but certainly not the best track on that album: I would have gone for "Sinner Boy" or something like that. Nevertheless, it's a spirited version of the song, and it's also nice to hear Rory thank the crowd and say hi after the first track: adds to the genuine live experience so few live albums manage to capture.

Next up is one of four traditional arrangements on the album, a song apparently Bob Dylan wanted to duet with Rory on, but which sadly never happened. With a melancholy harmonica intro and sharp guitar, " I Could've Had Religion" has a blues/gospel arrangement, then breaks into a crunching slow rocker, with pounding percussion from Wilgar Campbell and chunky bass from Gerry McAvoy framing the song. Real slowburner, and Rory really gets to exercise his pipes here, then much more restrained and in a country vein is Blind Boy Fuller's "Pistol Slapper Blues", pretty much on acoustic guitar without any accompaniment that I can hear from the band: I feel (though I could be wrong) that even the minimal percussion in the song is engendered by Rory tapping his palm against the guitar. What would appear to be a Gallagher original not on either of his first two albums to date, "Going to My Hometown" is almost acapella with some frenetic work on the mandolin by Rory, big thumping drumming from Campbell and some enthusiastic clapping from the audience.

Highlight of the album for me is a ten-minute storming version of "In Your Town" from Deuce, my favourite from that album and I'm glad to see that if he had to pick only one track from the second album that this is the one he decided on. The song is made for a live performance, and goes down really well with the crowd. That leaves three trad arrangements to take us out, the first of which is called "What in the World" and opens on soulful harmonica and a slow blues/soul beat with the thickest bassline you're likely to hear, then it's another slow heavy blues tune in "Hoodoo Man", and the album closes on yet another track that, though it would never feature on a studio album by him, would become another standard and expected song at every gig, the rockin' and rollin' boogie "Bullfrog Blues".

TRACK LISTING

1. Messin' with the Kid
2. Laundromat
3. I Could've Had Religion
4. Pistol Slapper Blues
5. Going To My Hometown
6. In Your Town
7. What in the World
8. Hoodoo Man
9. Bullfrog Blues

When Rory's second live album, the career-defining Irish Tour 74 was released two years later, he would quite amazingly have another two studio albums to choose material from. The early seventies were a time of great productivity and creativity for Rory, and he would release, all told, seven albums before the decade was halfway through. That's some workrate, especially when you take into account that he was also squeezing in at least one tour a year into his schedule. Some of today's artists could learn from this man.

After being first made aware of the blues by listening to his heroes, studying them, covering them and eventually emulating them, Rory was finally rewarded in the early seventies by playing with them. Muddy Waters invited him to guest on his album London Sessions in '72, and though he says it was a honour to play with his idol, as well as the likes of Steve Winwood and Mitch Mitchell, even participating in those recordings did not keep him from gigging. He would play a concert in the evening and then drive at speed up to London, arriving in the early hours and, in true rock-and-roll fashion, jam till dawn. Rory was so impressed by, and in awe of Muddy, that he kept the car in which he had driven the blues legend to various gigs as a sort of shrine to him, letting it rust away in his front garden back home in Cork. He just could never bring himself to sell it, the car an integral part of his history and a concrete link back to the glory days.

As mentioned, Live! In Europe was the last album to feature Wilgar Campbell behind the drums, and he was replaced the next year by Rod De'ath (yeah, his real name apparently!), who would stick with Rory for another six years, right through to the end of the seventies. He also brought with him a recommendation for his friend Lou Martin, a pianist and keyboard player. Rory had been thinking about incorporating the sound of keyboards into his band, and Martin seemed to fit the bill. And so in February of 1973 Rory's band changed from a power trio and for the first time included a keyboard player. Under this lineup he released his third studio album, one of two he would produce that year, and one of his most regarded.

Blueprint - Rory Gallagher - 1973 (Polydor)


There's an immediate difference in the sound thanks to Martin's influence behind the keys. A big booming organ sound greets the opening of "Walk on Hot Coals", and then changes to a funky piano that complements Rory's guitar as the song goes along, a rocky, uptempo toe-tapper, and a song that would become another favourite live. As on all his previous and future albums, other than cover versions, every track here is written solo by Rory. He was a man who never co-wrote with anyone, and that was how he liked it. His songs were his children: he gave birth to them, he nurtured and cared for them and he was responsible for them. It's quite stunning really that he could be such a tremendous guitarist, showman, songwriter and singer - although as noted, while he was certainly an adequate singer no-one would put him up with the greats purely on the strength of his vocals.

A great piano run takes us out of the song and we're into "Daughter of the Everglades", a somewhat more downtempo song driven this time mostly on Lou Martin's steady piano, the keys lightening the tone of the song somewhat, nice little organ stabs also adding to it. If this song reminds me of anything, in structure and melody, it's his later "Overnight Bag" from the very successful Photo Finish, released a few years later. Rory breaks out the harmonica then for an old-style blues lament he calls "Banker's Blues", which could almost still be relevant today if you look at it from a different angle to the one under which Rory originally wrote it. More great piano work here, and acoustic guitar takes the lead, with a great harmonica and piano ending, taking us into "Hands Off", a bouncy, uptempo boogie rocker where once again Martin gets to shine as he adds his own special touch to the song.

"Race the Breeze" then gets something of a progressive rock edge due to the organ work on it by Martin, the song chugging along like a steam train, and in fact again reminding me of a future song he would record, "Ride On Red, Ride On", from the Jinx album, released in 1982. Some great slide guitar on this, then fifteen years before Iron Maiden had it, Rory's "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" isn't quite as mythologically/fantasy-based as the title track from that album, though there's again quite a prog rock intro on crashing cymbals and rippling keyboards with a lovely shuffling bass line from Gerry McAvoy. Some very Doors-ish piano from Martin too, and it's a long song, the longest on the album at over eight minutes. I have to admit though, it's quite repetitive once it gets going, and in that manner I think it goes on too long. Way too long.

Nice little acoustic folky tune in "Unmilitary Two-step" played on maybe mandolin, or could be the acoustic guitar, even a dobro, not sure, but it's the first instrumental track of Rory's career. The album then ends on the very country-styled "If I Had a Reason", with what sounds like Hawaiian guitar (!) but hell, that could just be Rory making his axe do what he wants it to do. A slow, country ballad, it's perhaps an odd way to end what is otherwise a pretty hard-rockin' album, but then, Rory's tastes and influences were always quite diverse.

TRACK LISTING

1. Walk on Hot Coals
2. Daughter of the Everglades
3. Banker's Blues
4. Hands Off
5. Race the Breeze
6. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
7. Unmilitary Two-step
8. If I Had a Reason
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