The lost Rolling Stone: how guitar great Rory Gallagher was airbrushed from rock history
Rory Gallagher played his Fender Stratocaster guitar - Redferns in 1979
On January 23, 1975, Mick Jagger was standing in the arrivals hall of Rotterdam Airport looking for a long-haired Irishman in a plaid shirt.
Finally, he discovered Rory Gallagher, the 26-year-old guitar wizard from Cork, fresh from a flight from Heathrow. Gallagher walked slowly through the arrivals and picked up a suitcase, his battered 1961 Fender Stratocaster, and an amplifier. He and Jagger went outside to a taxi rank.
Jagger and a taxi driver haggled for the price of the 15-minute return trip to De Doelen Concert Hall near Rotterdam Centraal station. Forgotten during the war, the venue, with a capacity of 2,200 people, was rebuilt in 1966. Now he was the scene of a different kind of conflict when the Stones rehearsed for their upcoming tour.
This was their first since guitarist Mick Taylor's surprising departure in December (who replaced founding member Brian Jones in 1969). Gallagher was in the Netherlands to audition for the berth cleared by Taylor. Later that evening, he stepped onto the cavernous De Doelen stage, and his footsteps echoed in the hallways.
There to meet him were the rest of the stones, except for Keith Richards, who was missing and was probably gone from his face somewhere. Stone's manager Marshall Chess Jnr stepped forward and offered a hand.
"Hello Rory, welcome to the band," he said. "You're the guy for the job."
Rory Gallagher and Taste bandmates John Wilson and Charlie McCracken - Redferns
This was just an extraordinary chapter in the life of Gallagher, who died 25 years ago this month of complications from a liver transplant. During his life, Gallagher was a cult figure among other guitarists who were impressed by the virtuosity and ferocity of his playing.
The fan club included Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, who took him to support Blind Faith's epic 1969 summer trek through America. Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Slash of Guns 'n' Roses were also admirers.
An apocryphal story says that Jimi Hendrix was buttoned backstage at the Isle of Wight Festival and asked what it felt like to be the greatest guitarist in the world. "Go and ask Rory Gallagher," he is said to have said without missing a beat.
But at the time of his death, Gallagher had gone out of style. He died, if not in the dark, then very downhill. "He definitely felt a bit forgotten," says Daniel Gallagher, Rory's nephew, who was 13 when the guitarist died of an infection after the operation. "He wasn't a self-made publicist. He didn't understand that he had to sell himself or release singles."
Daniel remembers an interview that Cameron Crowe, the film director of Rolling Stone, once gave about Gallagher. Rory was on an American commercial and Crowe accompanied him to write about it. "He hated doing PR. Every day after a day of Schmoozing, he returned to his hotel and was exhausted. It drained him. "
"In the eighties and nineties he was almost deleted from the rock scene," continues Rory's brother Dónal. “In a way, it skipped a generation. Young people now seem to enjoy the performances, his integrity.
"I always put it down to the fact that he didn't do any singles - he didn't go this way of copying Top of the Pops. He did his part of the press. But whenever he was asked about himself, he did it done. " refer to another overlooked guitarist: Doc Watson or Django Reinhardt maybe. "
A cult figure: Rory Gallagher 1972 - Hulton Archive
Punk and his scorched earth, which rejected the music that came before, didn't help, says Dónal. "It's killing me. The Old Gray Whistle Test made three specials about Rory - the only artist they have ever done it for. And yet they never show them. Johnny Rotten was a fan [Rotten, aka John Lydon, had family ties to Gallagher's home town of Cork].
"The collision would always credit him. But he had been named the best guitarist in the world by Melody Maker, and that made him a target for the NME. If you were a Melody Maker artist, the NME considered you old and boring. "
The circle has closed 25 years after his death. Gallagher was rediscovered and took his rightful place alongside rock gods like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. It also starts selling in respectable quantities. A recently released live album, Check Shirt Wizard: Live In 77, made the UK into the top 40; A 2019 Gallagher Blues covers collection led the Billboard Blues table in the U.S. And the footage of Gallagher's scorching appearance on the Isle of Wight in 1970 with his band Taste has achieved millions of views.
In the Isle of Wight clips, Gallagher is a force of nature. He doesn't seem to play guitar as much as he wrestles as if trying to tame a wild animal. "With Rory it was always on the edge ... With Cream, for example, there was no danger. Everything Clapton played was perfect and you knew it would work, ”Gallagher's longtime bass player Gerry McAvoy wrote in his autobiography Riding Shotgun. “Clapton may have been a better technician, but Rory was certainly more exciting. He would take risks that Eric simply would not take. "
A milestone that he had never reached was joining the Stones. The mid-1970s had been a testing phase for the original wild heap of rock. Richards was addicted to cocaine; Mick Taylor had sensationally gone out in the middle of recording their Black and Blue album. Taylor felt that his contribution, especially in the studio, had not been recognized. Increasingly dependent on heroin, he also worried that the Stones lifestyle would lead him on a path to destruction. If he didn't go, he feared the worst. It wasn't built like Jagger and Richards. He shared the news with Jagger at a party on December 12, 1974.
"Asking if I regret leaving the Rolling Stones means asking the wrong question," Taylor later said. "The hard question to answer is, do I regret joining them?" The timing was unfortunate. The meetings for black and blue were still ongoing. And the Stones were booked for a lucrative North American tour that started on June 1, 1975 in Baton Rouge. So they quickly needed a new guitarist. Rory Gallagher was the first name on her wish list.
"Mick Jagger has always been very vocal about how he admired Rory's game," said Dónal, who worked tirelessly with Daniel, his son, to keep Gallagher's legacy alive. "And when the Rolling Stones founded their own record label, Keith Richards made it clear that the two people they wanted to sign were Rory Gallagher and Peter Tosh."
Gallagher was born in Donegal but grew up in Cork, Ireland's extremely independent second city, with a music scene that has always been different from the rest of the country. He and Dónal lived in London most of his career and were at home at Christmas, staying with their mother in Douglas on the south side of Cork when the phone rang one night in late 1974.
"It was about one in the morning," Dónal recalls. “If the call was overseas then, you had to contact the operator. She told my mother that she was connecting. I took the call. I was a bit defensive because there were many kidnappings back then [by the Provisional IRA]. The guy says, "My name is Ian Stewart ... I'm looking for Rory Gallagher."
Gallagher performs with bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Wilgar Campbell at the London Roundhouse - Hulton Archive
Stewart co-founded the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones in 1962. However, the Stones' early manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, felt that he didn't fit their bad boy image. He remained as a road manager, keyboardist and general fixer. In this last capacity, he called south of Cork a few days before Christmas. "Rory went to bed on one of his rare early nights," recalls Dónal. "When I woke him up, he thought I was going to wrap him up. But he agreed to go to Rotterdam to jam with them. "
Dónal recognized a unique opportunity and wanted to accompany his brother to offer advice and emotional support. However, Gallagher hesitated to get too excited. "I said to Rory," Please let me go, this is serious. "He said," No, it's just a jam session. "I replied," If you have a mobile unit and you're recording, that's serious. "
The problem was that Keith Richards was physically and mentally absent during Gallagher's audition. "I understand he was having a pretty bad time," says Dónal. "The first night Rory was there, he didn't come down at all." Richards was in his elegantly wasted heyday, with a focus on waste rather than elegance. When he played Knebworth the following year, he was in such a state that his street crew cut the cables to the speaker system.
This caused a 90 minute delay during which they tried to revive him. After the show, he fell asleep, snorted heroin at the wheel of his Bentley, and crashed into the M1's central reservation. If people wonder how Richards is still alive, this is the time they are talking about.
It was an indication of the Stones dysfunction that although Jagger seemed accessible to Gallagher, he did not feel able to discuss this directly with Richards. Instead, after three days of rehearsing at De Doelen Gallagher, he advised him to speak to Keith. The complicating factor for Gallagher was that he had booked a tour of Japan and had to return to Heathrow the next day to arrange the dates. He was a big star in Japan at the time and didn't believe in letting his audience down. The clock ticked.
"Rory went to Keith's suite. Keith passed out," says Dónal Gallagher. "Rory stayed up all night and went up every half hour to see if he woke up." Gallagher said goodbye to Richards the next morning, taking his amplifier and his guitar and left.
In March, Ronnie Wood flew from The Faces to meet Mick and Keith. On April 14, he was unveiled as Taylor's replacement (although he only became an "official" member in February 1976). After Gallagher, the band had also auditioned for Peter Frampton, Wayne Perkins, Jeff Beck and Steve Marriott. But Rory was first on her list.
Would Gallagher have played well with the Glimmer Twins? Bill Wyman, the Stones' bass player at the time, wasn't so sure. "Rory stayed there for two or three days and played some nice things," he said later.
"We had a good time with him, but I think Mick and Keith felt that he wasn't the kind of character that would have fit. If he had been in the Stones, he wouldn't have sung and that was one of his Strengths. He would only have played solos and learned to submit to the two big egos. I don't think it would have worked. "
"He could never have come to terms with Mick and Keith's B______s," said Bob Geldof, who knew both parties, in Ian Thuillier's 2010 documentary Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher. "Never in a thousand years. He would have shot himself against Mick and Keith. "
Larry Kirwan of the Celtic punk band Black 47 had a different attitude when he spoke to Thuillier. "He could have revived her creative spark single-handedly," he said. "Imagine Keef trying to keep up with this bluesy dynamo. What a power duo they would have done ... rhythm and lead lines intertwined. You were born for each other. "
Gallagher himself was ambivalent to join the Mick'n Keef circus. He certainly didn't feel like he had missed the opportunity of a lifetime. "If someone needed a guitarist for a tour and I was free and it was the right situation, I would do it and it would be a lot of fun," he shrugged. "There would be a lot less pressure if I just had to stand there and play leads."
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