Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rory Gallagher lives on..

Been on a bit of a Rory G kick lately. It started with the release of a new compilation of tracks showcasing his blues sensibilities, the somewhat unimaginatively titled Blues release. I bought the 3-CD version in order to have it all but there's a single CD and a vinyl version too for those who don't want to go all in.

Containing 36 tracks of mostly previously-unreleased material, the three CDs are partitioned into studio, acoustic and live discs. I was buying more in hope than expectation given some of my experiences with barrel-scraping efforts in recent years (yes, Hendrix estate, I'm looking at you) but this release proved better than I'd imagined.

For those who are concerned, as we all should be, with the sonics, let me allay your fears. Most of this is of very decent quality and has been handled respectfully by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road on behalf of the Gallagher family (that's mainly brother Donal and his son who took leadership on this one). There's possibly more here than the casual listener would want, in which case stick with the single CD (I've not heard the vinyl release) but this collection is a fine addition to the Rory catalogue which itself has been muddied over the years with multiple versions of his albums on CD confusing buyers.  For me, the early 70s Rory was the peak of his work but his final album, Fresh Evidence, as well as some of the more recent material on this release, give some perspective on where he could be in the blues pantheon had he lived longer.

I'm not really a completist for any artist (despite the evidence to the contrary in my listening room) but there is material on here that makes me wonder just why it took so long to see the light of day and why Rory might have chosen to not put this stuff out when he was alive. The live stuff really gets me, and while it's great to hear him play with Albert King and Jack Bruce, it's actually the magic of hearing Rory play those old familiars I grew up with from the legendary Live In Europe LP, particularly Messin' with the Kid, or Pistol Slapper Blues, here delivered differently from another tour and time that caught my ear.  I remember seeing Rory live sometime in the late 1970s (the memories blur after a while) and he was always on song. But the whole collection is worthy of back to back listening and for once, the 3-cd version is definitely the recommended version to own. It comes with a decent booklet but those cd-sized pages are no fun to read.

To complete the kick, I've been reading a new book on Rory by Julian Vignoles, entitled Rory Gallagher: The Man Behind the Guitar.  This is the second book on Rory put out by Collins Press and while it has echoes of that earlier cut-and-paste job by Connaughton (Life and Times) it is somewhat more substantive in terms of trying to understand this shy and very private man who seemed to only come alive when he played before an audience. I don't think Rory fans will learn much new about the music, the life on  the road or the gear, but Vignoles does explore the personal life, in as much as one can without a willing, living subject to provide details, and gives us some clues into what happened in the end as Rory's health deteriorated.

The tragedy of Rory is that his life seemed to fade before us in real time without anyone able to halt the preventable end. Liver failure induced by a mix of prescribed drugs and alcohol (Rory was not an alcoholic but interactions with medicines he took to overcome anxiety, compounded with some seemingly inappropriate prescriptions by doctors weakened him to the point of his requiring a transplant). As he retreated from performing, doubts about his own abilities seemed to surface, and in the end this incredible talent was lost to us. Had he lived, I have no doubt he would have found a second wind - his final album was one of his best and showed a growing stature as a songwriter - but we'll never know. His life seemed public yet simultaneously lonely,  and Vignoles treats these matters with respect. I gather some fans might not be happy and am not sure the family feel this is authoritative or even particularly original since it relies so much on previously published interviews but there is enough substance in this work to make it a welcome read given the relative paucity of serious writing on Rory thus far. The best book yet is long-time bass player Gerry McAvoy's Riding Shotgun, which might be out of print but is a delight of humor and honesty about the music business. If you want to delve more into what's out there, I think is a useful fan-led web archive of old magazine and newspaper coverage on the man. Ride on.

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