This year marks the 50th anniversary of the late Rory Gallagher’s recording career. If you’re unaware of who he is don’t worry, if anything you’re to be envied because there’s still that magical opportunity to hear one of the finest guitarists ever for the first time.
We are also fortunate that there’s a treasure chest of recordings he made that have not previously been released. Due soon, and bearing the singular tell-all tag is Blues a mega collection of studio, live and acoustic tracks from Universal. For the full story behind that check out RAMZine here, and to pre-order it click here.
Everyone will have their own opinions about these recordings. Solid gold earnest Rory Gallagher fans will already have their opinions on definitive versions of songs previously released, thus in attempting to review a large body of work like this we tempt being savaged for any criticisms or opinions that veer from prescribed viewpoints. To which I can only say, tough. However, what I have attempted to do here is describe each individual track, offer some personal views within that, summarise what I think of each CD collection, and finally arrive at a conclusive overview.
Let us begin…
CD 1 – Electric Blues
‘Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (Unreleased track from the Jinx album sessions 1982): There’s a sturdy right hand chugging on the 12 bar formula here but it’s that fluid harmonica playing throughout that most keeps your attention. The guitar interplays with it, a sustaining slide getting wilder as it fuzzes into solo mode.
‘Nothin’ But The Devil’ (Unreleased track from the Against The Grain album sessions 1975): The light touch of a piano tinkles gently on this slow blues where the drumming is oddly effectively busy. There’s a live feel as if the band recorded all at same time, despite which they all play softly. There’s a lovely brief moment you might miss where Rory plays a couple of harmonics on guitar and the piano weaves between them.
‘Tore Down’ (Unreleased track from the Blueprint album sessions 1973): The band skip lightly through this boogie number as Gallagher plays precise licks while bass and drums rock in a good time fun sing along; right up to the point an extended solo in how to play guitar takes place.
‘Off The Handle’ (Unreleased session Paul Jones Show BBC Radio 1986): “Oh, this starts so coolly, you can almost see Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix nodding their heads in respect to Gallagher sitting on the next cloud. It’s empowered and passionate in the delivery of its lyrics narrative with guitar lines constantly work both in tandem and as a challenge to the vocals. A slow 4/4 to the floor heavy blues subtle tone on guitar chords and notes, bass bumps and changes ever steady and sometimes probing, and other than Gallagher only Jeff Beck has ever made a guitar talk like this as it solos into fade out.
‘I Could’ve Had Religion’ (Unreleased WNCR Cleveland radio session from 1972): A more sensitive and yes sensual reading than the classic Live In Europe hit version. One cannot underestimate what the rhythm section brings to the table here and elsewhere. It features a slow and dreamy harmonica solo that’s ripe for accompanying a jean advert on TV.
‘As the Crow Flies’ (Unreleased track from Tattoo album sessions 1973): This follows perfectly on from the last track. The Irish Tour ’74 live version (from both hit album and BBC documentary) is the one fans are most familiar with, whereas this rendition has a mid-70s Rolling Stones feel about it with a mid-paced piano boogie and a slight country rock beat. Listening to this it makes sense why the Stones asked him to audition for them when Mick Taylor left.
‘A Million Miles Away’ (Unreleased BBC Radio 1 Session 1973): Funny, sound quality on this had me think I might be from the 80s until I read the liner notes. One of Gallagher’s most famous ballads. Gerry McAvoy’s bass punches and pushes proudly, and I’m presuming its Rod de’Ath’s shuffling drums that kick so precisely while Lou Martin plays a restrained piano (save for a solo later) and it’s near enough a bolero. During Gallagher’s solo you can picture his left hand hammering on the strings, squeezing and sustaining while adding bite, while overall extending the piece dimensionally and even taking it into an early progressive jazz rock mode. Perhaps not as passionate as some versions and the reason it never saw a previous release.
‘Should’ve Learnt My Lesson’ (Outtake from Deuce album sessions 1971): Slow weary blues, unremarkable in itself but with a fine solidly performed solo.
‘Leaving Town Blues’ (Tribute track from Peter Green Rattlesnake Guitar 1994): Opening with what sounds like a Dobro over a country blues an electric slide weaves its way in and take the song for a walk: it saunters off, admires the pretty girls passing by metaphorically speaking, whereas lyrically it’s one of women troubles. Deep roots music, there are various acoustic and electric guitars coming in then dropping out, each subtly contributing.
‘Drop Down Baby’ (Rory guest guitar on Lonnie Donegan’s Puttin’ On The Style album 1978: If like me your familiarity with the king of skiffle is primarily ‘Rock Island Line’ and assorted TV show appearances this is rather interesting. I’d expected rowdy vocals, they’re not, with him hitting a particularly high note as he sings out “I sure didn’t do no wrong,“ then calls out “Rory!” who takes solo that builds briefly before returning us back to one of his early heroes. It ain’t gonna shake the roof tops but it’s still pretty good..
‘I’m Ready’ (Guest guitarist on Muddy Waters London Sessions album 1971): Muddy Waters put his machismo to one side for this slick funky horned version of his familiar number. There are harmonica and guitar runs here and there but it’s on the second guitar solo where it’s unmistakeable Gallagher’s present. Perhaps a little too polite for some listeners, but again it has its charm.
‘Bullfrog Blues’ (Unreleased WNCR Cleveland radio session from 1972): The Irish Tour ’74 stands tall, loud and legendary for most, and I dare to admit I always found it be a bit too in-your-face. This smoother version features organ and piano more prevalently, and it’s really only in the last few bars where Rory’s own playing picks up. You don’t miss the fireworks earlier on, but you’re pleased when they appear.
Overall this is akin to visiting a town you used to live in or perhaps an old flame. There’s a familiarity but a difference too. The trick is to enjoy the moment. Are they Indispensible songs? Possibly not, but worth hearing and quite regularly.
CD 2 – Acoustic Blues
‘Who’s That Coming’ (Acoustic outtake from Tattoo album sessions 1973): A deftly played intro, with a lighter somewhat cheekier touch. I find it on the whole a warmer version of the song, but that’s it’s possibly a live studio recording where the pace isn’t truly consistent and solos are being experimented with is probably the reason it never got use.
‘Should’ve Learnt My Lesson’ (Acoustic outtake from Deuce album sessions 1971): Again, a pretty straight 12 bar blues number. A quality recording.
‘Prison Blues’ (Unreleased track from Blueprint album sessions 1973): Sprightly, jazzy rag time blues version. A tall story of misdeeds, barroom piano rolls and getting caught by police.
‘Secret Agent’ (Unreleased acoustic version from RTE Irish TV 1976): This is truly different take on the straight down the line electric rock version that appears on Calling Card. There’s possibly more menace felt in the way he interprets his lyric on this one. His fingers work magic across the fretboard despite which there’s an overall John lee Hooker approach to this blues reworking.
‘Blow Wind Blow’ (Unreleased WNCR Cleveland radio session from 1972): Cleanly played acoustic shuffle blues with a strong singalong approach.
‘Bankers Blues’ (Outtake from the Blueprint album sessions 1973): There’s a studio joke we don’t quite catch that opens this track but all we really catch is Rory saying “Humphrey Bogart”. Musically what we note is a sweet harmonica with acoustic guitar accompaniment and some melodious crooning from the man himself. Jazz time piano enters the picture, becoming more strident, and Rory continues to be amused, laughing as he sings about a “mother-in-law” in a long line of women who’ll want to relieve you of any money you’ve got stashed in thebank.
‘Whole Lot Of People’ (Acoustic outtake from Deuce album sessions 1971): Imagine a cowboy galloping over the prairie as finger picking arpeggios and chiming chords resonate and get inventive.
‘Loanshark Blues’ (Unreleased acoustic version from German TV 1987): Roughly hewed shuffling chords, sliding asides and gentle delirious picking and a voice that’s showing no signs of age.
‘Pistol Slapper Blues’ (Unreleased acoustic version from Irish TV 1976): This is ragtime blues with about a bar of semi-classical tones thrown in that catches your ear. His playing displays his unique sense of time; how to use space between and the notes and the way the actual notes hang. There’s also a nice live echo to his voice.
‘Can’t Be Satisfied’ (Unreleased Radio FFN session from 1992): A wash of slide and chugging accompany this humorous, light-hearted higher pitched vocal rendition.
‘Want Ad Blues’ (Unreleased RTE Radio Two Dave Fanning session 1988): There’s a heavy echo here and you initially think it’s an electric guitar. Songwise this comes from the same school of blues that rock fans know as Van Halen’s ‘Ice Cream Man’ as with bedroom eyes Rory sings “Read your ad this morning, said ‘I need a real good man’”.
‘Walkin’ Blues’ (Unreleased acoustic version from RTE Irish TV 1987): Tempos shuffle sensually between slide explorations and playful experiments in between him telling us that “Sweet Bernice” has left him.
Comparing this to the full band line-up on CD 1 it’s amazing how just a voice and an acoustic can make such a full sound. It’s likely to be the CD only blues fans and aficionados opt to put on first, but not to experience it would be a bad move on the potential listener’s part.
CD 3 – Live Blues
‘When My Baby She Left Me’ (Unreleased track from Glasgow Apollo concert 1982): From the first blast of guitar and the fiery come on as the band shuffle and boogie forward excitement crackles through the speaker. McAvoy’s bass figure boogies hard, subtly changing and in like Flynn the guitar solos away as soon as the first verse is out the way. It goes through many tangents, sometimes slow others the six string screaming out fast, playful, fierceful, with the band constantly by Gallagher’s side. There’s some ace feedback rage near the end alongside some powerful drumming assistance.
‘Nothin’ But The Devil’ (Unreleased track from Glasgow Apollo concert 1982): This song runs straight in from the last one, the audience applauding then changing their clapping to accompany Rory’s instrumental introduction. It’s bolder and brassier then the version you’ll find on CD 1 as he tremolos away, holding note for a bar or two then unleashing a series of licks off the cuff that would keep most guitarists in work for a whole career.
‘What In The World’ (Unreleased track from Glasgow Apollo concert 1982): The last of a trio of tracks in what must have been a great night out. Worth noting that if you’re a guitarist of worth in Glasgow they call you only by your first name, as with Angus here they call out “Rory” and he uses it as backing to a melody using long sustained lyrical notes before a hard beat presses down to becoming slow ballad of the Willie Dixon blues with his playing steering the piece in emotive questioning and a tad of longing throughout.
‘I Wonder Who’ (Unreleased live track from late 1980s): There’s a hard Muddy Waters stomp going on in this, and while the song itself is not anything out of the ordinary the things Rory does on guitar both in the tonal sounds achieve and laudable playing are. And the harmonica playing’s not to be sneezed at!
‘Messin’ With The Kid’ (Unreleased track from Sheffield City Hall concert 1977): Shimmy shaking blues rocking, with a warm organ that races off into an early solo before Rory comes in even more frenetically wild, and drums banging up a storm throughout. It gets faster and more thrilling with cheeky variety between organ and guitar as a fun party rock number before getting progressively heavier and ending far too soon.
‘Tore Down’ (Unreleased track from Newcastle City Hall concert 1977): The early Thin Lizzy was influenced both by Gallagher and Taste so it’s interesting to hear a vibe that echoes them in their own prime here.
‘Garbage Man Blues’ (Unreleased track from Sheffield City Hall concert 1977): A slower blues, where it’s all about the timing between Rory and the band that makes you lie back and listen then raise your head as the guitar picks up. Well sung too.
‘All Around Man’ (Unreleased track from BBC OGWT Special 1976): Following a slide intro, it slips back to a snail’s pace for some sexy smooch blues as he plays out the lover man role on the prowl up to no good. There’s an extended keyboard solo with bass pumping in, and another with a loud and hairy harmonica. At one point it sounds like Rory’s singing down a megaphone singing this bit before it all moves into a wild raving R ’n’ b scene with organ and guitar pummelling away and it all ending with a torrent of upbeat slide wailing.
‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ (Unreleased track from Rockpalast 1991 w/ Jack Bruce): This is a sexy funked up version of the number Cream made famous. Bruce is all over the place on his bass and as ever to these ears a joy to hear, but Rory doesn’t sit there playing second fiddle or trying to upstage him, rather he’s really in the flow merging and rising to the occasion as he has such a great singer to work to. It’s quite frothy and rather laid back compared to other tracks on this CD where the guitarist often rages away, but I think it’s wonderful. It’s tragic to think of the possibility these two could have reached had they worked together properly.
‘You Upset Me’ (Unreleased guest performance from Albert King album Live 1975): Upbeat funky blues horns with lovely little phrases on guitar, before taking the whole thing off for a run. The overall tone’s kept in check rather than being outrageous. Still, it’s hard to see how this was never officially released before but the Muddy Waters’s similar funky number got released when to my end it has the edge.
‘Comin’ Home Baby’ (Unreleased track from 1989 concert with Chris Barber Band): One of the real godfathers of British blues, Barber introduces, the number. One’s presumption is that this going to be tame, but it’s not. Imagine the Spencer Davies Group mixing it up with early Free, then add far darker feel towards it. Seriously! Gallagher’s guitar playing is investigative, constantly querying, trumpets following suit and it’s all aided by female vocal “aha” harmonies. Like the Bruce collaboration I love this because Rory Gallagher is placed outside what you suspect is his comfort zone and he rises above the occasion while also respectably never outstaging those standing alongside him. A great find.
‘Rory Talking Blues’ (Interview track of Rory talking about the blues): It’s unclear if this is one radio interview or a series of snippets. Presumably recorded in Ireland, he explains his influences and how he takes that as inspiration in his own way.
This live album is undiluted Rory Gallagher caught in the moment, reacting to the musicians he’s playing with and the participating audience. While one of the most authentic of electric blues player he was also one of the most revolutionary guitarists out there, often ahead of the game in terms of the sonic happenings he could produce. His playing here is expressive, vulnerable, tough and magical, often all within the same song. A great collection.
Listening to this 3 CD collection goes far beyond nostalgia. What’s more there are songs from the early 70s through to the 90s and there’s little difference in quality. Each recorded with feeling and of a professional standard too if you want to be clinical.
Sure there’s a preponderance of songs about women doing you wrong, drinking yourself silly and walking off into the sunset. You can say it goes with the musical territory but thematically across an album you need to spread those things out and that may be the reason some of these tracks never made it to official recordings during Rory Gallagher’s life. Despite this, the fact that every track is practically a master class in (a) How to play guitar and (b) Why most guitar heroes should give up trying and simply play for fun.
There are vinyl versions of this collection and a single CD version pulling together tracks from across the length and breadth of them that reads like a fine choice was made, and a good starting point for those coming new to the man’s work. However, with the full collection what you get are three CDs that show three sides of the same coin that made up Rory Gallagher, and not one them was a bad penny.