Guitar Man: The Life, Blues and Music of Rory Gallagher - Music Banter Music Banter

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Old 04-12-2022, 03:43 PM   #11 (permalink)
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The "Golden Years" - 1975 - 1979

Although Rory would never trouble the commercial charts, never have any hit singles, many of his songs became linked with certain events, and the late seventies was when he was pretty much at the top of his game, commercially. Some of his best-loved and most enduring songs come from this period, and you can hear from the music he plays on the four studio albums that covered this period how well his songwriting, his singing and of course his playing had come on. Talk to anyone who's not a Rory fan or who likes his music but isn't a huge fan, and the chances are that they'll have one of these albums in their collection. This would really be seen as his golden period, with tracks like "Follow Me", "Wayward Child", "Brute Force and Ignorance" and "Shin Kicker" being just some of the songs that would find their way into his history and his setlists for years to come.

Against the Grain (1975) (Chrysalis)

On a personal note, this was the first ever Rory Gallagher album I owned and listened to. To be perfectly frank, I wasn't that impressed with it. I'd heard songs like the abovementioned and thought I'd get that sort of thing on this album, but Against the Grain is a stripped-down, unapologetically blues album with a hard edge you could cut your fingers on. It shows Rory in perhaps his last non-commercial mode, before songs off his next two albums pushed him in a more radio-friendly direction, while maddeningly still withholding from him any sort of chart success, not that he craved such.

It opens on "Let Me in", a boogie rocker which even at this point shows slight signs of heading in a more commercial direction, and in many ways the song is reminiscent of "Follow Me", which he would not write for another three years. Very much guitar oriented, there's not too much input from Lou Martin on this track, and it's almost paradoxically a return to the days of the debut and even the Taste era, but you can see how Rory's singing has improved: he was never going to be on anyone's top list of vocalists but he's miles better than he was when he started out. He's learned how to control the nuances of his voice and how to use it to his best advantage depending on what song he's singing. "Cross Me Off Your List" is more funky in feel, with the organ coming a little more into its own under Martin's fingers, and there's almost a sense of early Santana about the song.

Interestingly, so far there haven't been any big guitar solos from Rory, and as we move on into the first ballad we're almost back in Deuce territory as he tones it all down for "Ain't Too Good", with his voice softer and more gentle but still with a bitter edge of regret and recrimination as he sings "I should be gone/ But I'm slow to go/ Serves me right." Nice little laidback solo here and the song ends on a pretty intense one too, with little touches on the organ, just the barest murmurs really, and we're into all-out rockin' blues for "Souped Up Ford", almost a stripped-down ZZ (could you imagine Rory if he had ever jammed with the Tres Hombres?) on which the man finally breaks out the real riffs and lets the Strat have its head. Having fun too is Lou Martin as he lets rip on the pianner and just really injects another level of fun into the song.

After this fretfest things come a little bit more back down to earth with "Bought and Sold", a mid-paced boogie blues number which again allows Lou Martin to shine behind the piano, then "I Take What I Want" is one of three covers on the album, with some great fast organ and piano from Martin and a great little bassline from Gerry McAvoy. "Lost at Sea" then is a minor classic, a really nice mid-paced semi-ballad with a great vocal line from Rory, then we're into another cover, the late Bo Harper's "All Around Man", which is just really enjoyable, though I do have to say it reminds me of one of Muddy Waters's songs. Sounds like it starts off with a big scream from Rory, a wail really, but I'm pretty sure that's his Strat talkin'! Song is really driven on Gerry's pounding bass and the agile fingers of Lou Martin bashing the keys.

One of my favourites then is another cover, a great version of Lead Belly's "Out on the Western Plain". I just loved this when I heard it. It's just Rory on the guitar with some deep, rolling percussion and his vocal is perfectly suited to the desperado style of the song. And we finish on a pleasant little rock number which brings the album to a pretty cool close with its touches of country and folk in "At the Bottom".


1. Let Me in
2. Cross Me Off Your List
3. Ain't Too Good
4. Souped-up Ford
5. Bought and Sold
6. I Take What I Want
7. Lost at Sea
8. All Around Man
9. Out on the Western Plain
10. At the Bottom

Calling Card (1976) (Chrysalis)

Meeting the Deep Purple legend had the effect of skewing Rory's music from mostly blues based to a more straight ahead rock sound, which not that surprisingly ended up gaining him more fans and more exposure. His music began to be heard on the radio, and of course a support slot for the Purps gave him a wider audience than he would have had to date. One of a trio of albums that would be the closest Rory would come to putting out commercial, almost radio-friendly rock, Calling Card is even now regarded generally as one of his finest albums. It would also be the swansong for drummer Rod De'ath and keyboardist Lou Martin, as Rory looked to return to the power trio that had started him off on his solo adventure.

There's a marching beat to get us on our way as "Do You Read Me" opens the album, with a guitar intro from Rory before the rest of the band pile in and it's a sort of mid-pacer with a fine solo in the middle, and things really speed up then for the almost breakneck "Country Mile", a real shaft of rockabilly running through the song. But it's when "Moonchild" gets going that the album really takes off. This would become one of the standards on Rory's tours, a fast, rocky pounder with not that much of the blues if any in it, and would stand shoulder to shoulder with favourites from the next two albums. Martin's organ comes into its own here, quite a progressive rock feel to it, and the song stands out by way of not being as heavily guitar-centric as most of Rory's other work.

The title track is a blues stride, with a slick, cool little bass line and some great solid piano, on which Martin racks off a fine solo, perhaps mindful his time with the band is coming to an end. Or perhaps he was unaware of it. Either way, he seems to want to go out with a bang, and he takes the song out in style. Very restrained vocal from Rory, and that's how he keeps it for the acoustic ballad "I'll Admit You're Gone", where he manages to make his guitar sound quite Hawaiian at times, then it ramps back up for "Secret Agent", the first of several songs which would explore Rory's interest in spies, although this one is more a metaphor than about an actual spy, like "Philby" on the later Top Priority or even "Continental Op" from Defender. It bops along nicely with some squealing guitar work and a nice organ backing from Lou Martin, and is a nice change of pace after the somewhat laidback tone of the last two tracks.

There's a divergence then into jazz territory with "Jacknife Beat", led mostly by Martin's sharp piano lines, and the longest track at just over seven minutes, though not I have to admit one of my favourites. There's a real standout then in the shape of "Edged in Blue", which starts off like a slow blues ballad but then picks up tempo and becomes a midpaced rocker, with a great organ line from Martin and a really catchy hook. We close then on "Barley and Grape Rag", a traditional rearrangement on the acoustic guitar by Rory with some much-missed harmonica getting in on the act. I love the way Rory either forgets the last verse or there is none, and he just hums the tune. A great fun song and a cool way to close the album.


1. Do You Read Me
2. Country Mile
3. Moonchild
4. Calling card
5. I'll Admit You're Gone
6. Secret Agent
7. Jacknife Beat
8. Edged in Blue
9. Barley and Grape Rag

Photo Finish (1978) (Chrysalis)

Oh now I know these albums intimately! These two are the ones I got after my "disappointment" with Against the Grain. Knowing how highly regarded Rory was, and reasoning that I had probably just started on what was maybe not his greatest album I went for the two released after that, and became a lifelong fan! Admittedly, the blues influence is dropped rather a lot on this and subequent albums, which is not to say it's not present at all, but they're definitely more straight rock albums than blues, and it shows, especially to a young naive rocker like me at the time.

"Shin Kicker" pumps the tempo up from the off, with a big heavy guitar and drum opening, a total motorcycle man style song, with Rory in fine voice and ready to be "Racin' all the truckers/ And I got them beat!" The first album on which Rory returned to the power trio setup that had made his name initially, Gerry McAvoy is the only one of the original band remaining on Photo Finish, and indeed would stay with Rory right up to the end. New sticksman Ted McKenna would be his drummer too for the rest of his career. "Brute Force and Ignorance", another that would take its place in Gallagher history, is a slow grinder, with stop/start guitar and thumping bass, with a great solo from Rory to end the song and a real sense of power about it. The joint gets rockin' even harder then for the blindingly-fast "Cruise on Out", with an almost bluegrass feel to it, and a chance for McKenna to really show what he can do on the drumkit.

Even at this early stage you can see how the new drummer is fitting right into the setup, and the understanding he's developed with Gerry is almost supernatural: it's as if they were made to play together. I could have seen Lou Martin's piano in this song, but Rory had decided at this point keys were not to be a part of his sound, and as these are as I say the first two albums I heard other than Against the Grain, I can't say I missed the piano on either. It's only now, after hearing what Martin brought to albums like Calling Card and Blueprint that I can appreciate what a difference this must have been to longtime, dyed-in-the-wool Gallagher fans. Must have been something of a shock and taken some getting used to. Still, the main man and his Strat was what it was all about, and he certainly does not disappoint on this album in any way. Departing from his previous habit, Rory uses only original, self-composed material on this album, with no blues covers, and indeed no real blues songs at all. I guess you'd say it's more of a commercial Gallagher record, despite the fact it made absolutely no impression on the charts.

Another slow grinder in "Cloak and Dagger", with a heavy, commanding bass line from Gerry and something of a familiar melody from Rory, while "Overnight Bag", one of the two ballads on the album, opens with a really nice slide along the frets and then settles into a really comfortable groove as Rory bemoans the lot of a travelling guitarist, unable to put down roots "Toothbrush, a guitar, got no tail to drag/ Gonna leave on the next passing breeze" and just movin' on though sad it didn't work out here. It's a tale probably familiar to many musicians. As Journey once sang: "They say the road ain't no place/ To start a family" Indeed. One of my alltime favourite Rory songs, this, for the introverted, laidback nature of it as much as anything. Remember, this would have been the first "real" ballad I would have heard from him.

"Shadow Play" is another song that was destined to find its way into just about every gig Rory ever played, becoming a firm favourite with the fans. Driven mostly on Gerry's rock-and-roll bass, Rory's voice kind of echoes on the song; whether that's production or something else I don't know, but it's a great song and it rocks along with great energy and verve. Brilliant solo to end, as you'd only expect, then Rory pulls way back on the throttle and changes down the gears for "The Mississippi Sheiks", a big, dirty, ponderous grinder with hard machine-gun guitar from Rory and thunderous yet measured drumming from McKenna, Gerry's bass rumbling away contentedly in the background. Slamming into fifth gear then and tearing up the road for "The Last of the Independents", which though it's a great song I think takes far too much from "Cruise on Out" for my liking: they're not quite the same song, but I feel they are very closely related. You could, almost, sing the lyric of one to the tune of the other. Great drumwork from McKenna and some nice mandolin from Rory and a big angry guitar holding court over proceedings.

Another song that shows Rory's fondness (lyrically, at least) for spies and robbers, this one details the tale of the only remaining member of a gang as he's released from prison and grins "Only I know where we hid the loot/ Eleven years ago!" Interesting to note that in ways this reflects the theme of "In Your Town" from Deuce, though in that case the released convict was looking for revenge and a good time rather than hidden cash! Great whistling guitar ending as the drums pound out and Gerry steps up and down the bass, then we close on the other ballad, perhaps the one track that comes closest to his blues roots. With a sharp guitar opening, "Fuel to the Fire" is a moody, slow, brooding tune that completely destroys the rather happy mood of the album that's been created up to now. A big grinding guitar and a hook that just stays in your head long after the album finishes. Great almost Santana-like solo in the middle, and again at the end and some of Rory's best vocal work: he's certainly come a long way from the somewhat hesitant croak we heard on his debut!


1. Shin Kicker
2. Brute Force and Ignorance
3. Cruise on Out
4. Cloak and Dagger
5. Overnight Bag
6. Shadow Play
7. The Mississippi Sheiks
8. The Last of the Independents
9. Fuel to the Fire

Top Priority (1979) (Chrysalis)

There's something just so basic and lacking in frills, bells and whistles about Rory Gallagher's music. No synths, no overdubs, no backing vocals even. It's his voice and more to the point his Strat that he relies on to do the talking, and every album is a vindication of that belief. This, one of his most popular, opens with three tracks that would quickly become favourites and hits for him as far as his fanbase was concerned, even though he would never have a hit single or album. "Follow Me" gets everything going with a boppy, uptempo rocker that we used to hear here in Ireland all the time as it was the opening theme to our version of MTV in the early eighties. Great solo and thumping drumming from Ted McKenna, and again a great vocal from the man himself. It's followed by "Philby", a slower, more blues-oriented song which references - but is not actually about - the infamous British spy and allows Rory to further explore his interest in secret agents and undercover operatives. A big grinding guitar opens it and is then joined by a more screechy one, the two combining to great effect. In typical honest workingman Gallagher style, the chorus is a simple round of yeah, yeah, yeahs... but it works. The use of an electric sitar in the song, particularly at the end, is quite innovative and works really well.

Another song that was to become famous, "Wayward Child" is next and ramps the tempo right back up, rocking along with gusto, with about a minute and a half of guitar solo to close the song in fine style. Slowing down then for "Keychain", a smoky grinder with a Delta blues feel to it, Gerry McAvoy again taking charge. Continuing on from Photo Finish, Rory writes all the tracks on this himself, using no cover versions of any kind. If it proves anything, it's that his songwriting capabilities no longer needed to be supplemented by playing blues standards, if indeed they ever did. "At the Depot" is a mad, kick-out-the-stays rocker that trundles along at a mile a minute with some really wailing blues guitar work from Rory and thumping, joyful drumming from McKenna. Slowing down again then for the mid-paced "Bad Penny" with a great bassline from Gerry, but the respite, such as it is, doesn't last long as we're off at breakneck speed again for "Just Hit Town", with some truly remarkable guitar from Rory and that kind of drumming from McKenna that makes you wonder just how many arms the guy actually has?

Great use of the harmonica here too, and really by the time it ends you're left feeling drained and exhausted, so it's just as well that "Off the Handle" is a crunching blues slowburner - definitely see more of the blues influence on this album than the previous, and Rory would never really leave his first love for very long, returning to it in force for 1982's Jinx album - rather a lot in Muddy Waters territory I feel: maybe something the old blues master could have written with Rory, in another life. It pounds along with a sense of anger and almost restrained violence, some really cool mandolin in there from a man who for once Rory actually brought on board to play the thing, rather than handle that duty himself as he had up to now, a guy called Tom Brock.

For me though the album ends a little weakly. "Public Enemy No. 1" is not, and never will be, one of my favourite Gallagher tracks, in fact it's one of my least preferred. It just sounds a little hollow, a bit rushed and empty and I would have liked to have seen a better closer for such a good album. It's a pity because up to that point there's not one bad track on this album, and were it not for this last one then both it and Photo Finish would, in my opinion, both be very close to what I would consider perfect Rory Gallagher albums. Because of the closer though the former album edges it and has become my favourite of his. Which isn't to say that I don't love this album, because I do, but whereas I really see no flaws in 1978's effort, there's just the one fly in the ointment here that loses one star for this otherwise brilliant and seminal album.


1. Follow Me
2. Philby
3. Wayward Child
4. Keychain
5. At the Depot
6. Bad Penny
7. Just Hit Town
8. Off the Handle
9. Public Enemy No. 1
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