[8 September 2011]
Ireland is a country that celebrates its heroes, and as such, Ballyshannon blues great Rory Gallagher has a legacy that has been kept alive in the almost 20 years since his passing in 1995 from complications from a liver transplant. Now, 40 years on and in the wake of over 30 million records sold worldwide, Eagle Rock has undertaken a huge Rory Gallagher reissue initiative in conjunction with the Gallagher family. Encompassing remastered versions of his first four records, as well as a spate of live recordings in both the CD and DVD formats, the reissues reintroduce the fiery Donegal guitar-slinger as a force to be reckoned with and remind the uninitiated why Gallagher was held to be in the same stead as titans of the time like Clapton and Hendrix.
Rory Gallagher was first released in May of 1971. Gallagher had recently disbanded Taste, the power trio that had established him on the international scene and garnered the three dates with Cream (including their final show at The Royal Albert Hall) as well as dates with Blind Faith, striking out under his own name due to the time-honored “musical differences.” While there is a lot of common ground with Clapton here, most of the similarities are vocal. Gallagher has a vocal style reminiscent of Clapton, as well as Jack Bruce, but the guitar sound is definitely his own. Rory Gallagher contains future live staple “Laundromat”, as well as dexterous romps through favorites from Otis Rush and Muddy Waters and deep cut “I Fall Apart”. Gallagher is in fine form vocally and guitar-wise, tearing through each track like a match to gasoline. Whether romping through jazzy Peter Green-isms electrically or invoking a Delta far from the Emerald Isle with slashing acoustic and electric slide work on tracks like Sinner Boy, Rory Gallagher established Gallagher as a force to be reckoned with.
Gallagher unleashed Deuce just six months later. Having spent most of the time in between releases on the road, the band was tighter than ever. Recognizing that, Gallagher insisted that the band record immediately after gigs to capture that heat. It would prove to be an effective philosophy: opening things with an acoustically driven nod to his Celtic roots, the 23-year-old Gallagher tosses off tasty nylon-string licks with abandon before launching into some Free/Bad Company-esque rock and blues for the duration. Whether finger-picking acoustic, playing slide or with a shredding the finish from his Strat, his distinctive tone tears through speakers, firmly asserting the young Irishman as a formidable guitar slinger with a voice as distinctive as Clapton or Santana.
Gallagher maintained a relentless touring schedule in the wake of those releases, recording European dates in February and March of 1972 to cull tracks for a live record. The resulting Live! In Europe reflected the usual Gallagher live m.o. The trio would start with a couple of upbeat tracks, maybe adding a cover before slowing things down with an acoustic track or two, driving it home with extended romps through some traditional favorites. Gallagher and cohorts Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums are on fire on these tracks, and the crowd response asserts it. Those that didn’t make it out to the dates evidently felt the same way, as Live! In Europe was the first Gallagher record to make the Top Ten in the charts. Gallagher walked away with Melody Maker “Top Musican Of The Year” honors that same year, and Live! In Europe has come to be regarded as one of the best live records ever captured, cited as a formative influence on many a young rock star of today, including the members of U2 and Johnny Marr.
In 1973, the Gallagher band expanded to a four-piece, adding Belfast keysman Lou Martin and swapping the curiously named Rod De’Ath on to the drum throne. Blueprint delivered ten tracks, eight of them Gallagher originals. Live staple “Walk On Hot Coals” appeared in recorded form for the first time, and the band makes the most of the possibilities of the expanded incarnation for the duration. The band would stay in expanded form for the next five years, maintaining a relentless live schedule and playing The Old Grey Whistle Test on the BBC before Gallagher split the band during aborted 1978 sessions for the recently released “lost” Gallagher studio album, Notes From San Francisco.
Whether you are new to Rory Gallagher or revisiting the glory of enjoying these records in the past, the Eagle Rock reissues are a must-have for blues and rock fans old and new. Each of these four releases exposes Gallagher as a formidable guitarist and songwriter capable of handling acoustic and electric duties with equal aplomb. A consummate performer live or in the studio, these re-releases serve as a bold reminder of the weight of the Rory Gallagher legacy.