13 December 1992
Legend has it that many well-worn rock-stars, especialliy those who toured the freeways and AOR-joints of the United States, can neither tell nor be bothered witch city they`re in - you know, the "Hello Dallas" when you`re in Denver kind of thing! Not so in the case of Rory Gallagher, who played a welcome German tour with his tried and tested, but still sxciting Blues Rock recently. Worn out from a long car journey, without a decent dinner (yet), he had nevertheless invited us into his hotel suite right on the banks of the River Rhine, no body-guards or false pretences in sight. And, you guessed it, he knew damm well he had set foot into the (for the time being) German capital, Bonn, which had often been used as a backdrop of the odd spy novel, as Rory pointed out bemused: It`s good to be here, I`ve played nearly everywhere in Germany, but I`ve never played in Bonn, strangely enough. It`s lovely to be near the river, it`s fantastic. "A Small Town In Germany", did you read that? By John Le Carre? Yes, but knowing the city`s daily routine a little from a political as well as musical background, I could re-assure Rory in his disguise as thriller expert that things were a trifle more laid-back since that Berlin wall had fallen. - Pretty soon (after a phone call Gallagher trated with the same polite patience that had greeted us, it was straigt "into the music", first of all the no-leads-attached home-fire variety...
People have probably asked Rory many timed over his planned acoustic album he had talked about quite a while ago. Now, in the adys of MTV`s "Unplugged"-series, I wondered if he was still thinking of putting out an album like that.
RORY: I really should have done it in the last twenty years, but the problem was/is: I could record it tomorrow, ten Country-Blues numbers, Folk-Blues numbers, but I want it to be a special project. What I want to di is one side of Blues and on side of semi-Celtic Irish Folk experimental music. I hope, if God spares me, to do one electric album next year and one acoustic, maybe make it a double. It`s fantastic, this ``Unplugged``-idea, because it`s brought a whole new respect back for acoustic music. I`m not sure if I like the way they`ve produced them. I`m very anti-Dolby. I like the sound of NAGRA-machines they use for recording voices, in movies and things like that on ``Irish Tour``. It`s probable too harsh for some people, but I like very very raw sounds.
I pointed out that you get a more ambient sound with movie-type mikes because ambient sounds like audience participation and the acoustic characteristic of a venue can be worked in, but, in contrast to those possibilities, Rory was concerned with TV`s tendency to clean up and limit the sound of live performances.
RORY: TV is a problem, because they put patches in. Becasue if the music is too dynamic, it causes problems with the color of the picture, so that`s a technical thing. But I have every intention next year to do it (the acoustic album).
Rory`s semi-Celtic Irish Folk plans reminded me that he could sing in Celtic, too, but he was`nt too sure about that. When I mentioned he had guested on recent DUBLINERS sessions - I`d heared they recorded one of his songs, "The Barley And Grape Rag" - he was happy to get that: Yeah, we recorded it together, and I played on another song with them. I get on with them so well. Those people are so kind. To look at them you`d think they`re very rough guys, but they`re intellectual and very sharp. They have been rough, like RONNIE DREW, the main Singer, was quite a voiatile guy in the old days, and still can be. He looks very tough, but then he sends me tapes and books - that hndness you don`t get in the rock world so much! The folkies are a lot more caring about people. The rock guys have so much ego and so many bloody trips going on, though not all of them. Folhes are not into the big bucks.
That remark brought me to the appreciative audiences at the annual FAIRPORT CONVENTION Cropredy Festival, where Rory would fit in well: I`ve been invited to play there, and I was supposed to do the Cambridge Folk Festival three years ago, but I had to cancel because I was ill.
Rory Gallagher guested on many more people`g records and gigs: from CHRIS BARBER and I LONNIE DONEGAN, R&B-pioneers in England, to American blues legends ALBET KlNG and MUDDY WATERS. Could he nnow imagine, on this projected acoustic or double album - maybe next year or something - that some of those people he rates would guest on his sessions? The other way round from previous experiences?
Rory: That would be brilliant. I worked with JERRY LEE LEWIS as well, which was great. - I want to work with some of the Irish musicians and some English players. My dream is to play with MARTIN CARTHY, who to me is a supreme acoustic player, BERT JANSCH as well and DAVY GRAHAM. You can`t play with them all. And I`m very inspired by BOB DYLAN`s new album (the equally all-acoustic "Good As I Been To You" which just came out). Even though the critics didn`t like it. I think it`s a fantastic project. I would like to work with BOB DYLAN, that would be my absolute maximum at the moment. That song "Could Have Had Religion" that I do, it`s not my song. I re-wrote it, it`s an old song. He was considering that for his acoustic album. But I would love to do an album and be his MlKE BLOOMFlELD for him, like on the "Highway 61"-song, on "Blonde On Blonde", I`d love to work with him. I`d also like to work with JOHN HAMMOND, the New York Blues singer and guitar player and a million other people I`d like to work with.
Jeff Lynne simply phoned BOB DYLAN when he wanted to start the TRAVELlNG WILBURYS, J remembered from another article, so Rory might do the same if he had got his telephone number.
Rory: I met BOB DYLAN, I was very fortunate. I met him once, he came to a show in Los Angeles in 1976, and it was the end of a tour and it looked like our spirits were kind of a bit low. It was a great tour, but we met at the end of it. He walked into the dressing room and I nearly collapsed. He came in with his kids and he was talking about BLIND BOY FULLER. It was very interesting - Country Blues, you know. But I`m still a school boy: I still hero-worship people, it`s a terrible thing for a man of my age to be like that. But if I`d work with DYLAN, that would be my dream. I know some people in Gerrnany don`t like him, cause some of his shows are good, some are bad, but you either respect him or you don`t, and I do.
I agreed that DYLAN is emotional, and you have to respect that, at his level. That goes for inconsistence in performing as well.
Rory: He`s not ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK, you know, he`s himself. But no disrespect to ENGELBERT. Who knows what he`s gotng through?
What a coincidence Rory mentioned him, becasue the keyboard man on this tour, JIM LEVERTON, used to play bass for "The Hump" from 1967 to 1968 before he started FAT MATTRESS with HENDRIX-sidekick NOEL REDDING. But we would come to Mr. LEVERTON in time.
Rory Gallagher is porever pictured with his battered, beloved Fender Stratocaster guitar. Apart from that one - ant it`s still being used - has he become a user and maybe even a collector of other electric and acoustic guitars, apart from the Telecaster, I wonder?
Rory: Well, I`ve been very fortunate over the years. I have some Dan Electros, I have a Gibson Junior and a Gretsch guitar and a couple of acoustics. I have quite a few of guitars now, but I never go for `state-of-the-art` expensive guitars. In America, if you looked at the old pawn-shops in the old days: I had a fifteen dollar guitar, a Silvertone, which is a Dan Electro, and I recorded "A Million Miles Away" and "Cradle Rock" on that guitsr. So I spotted these things earlier than others. Now it`s different, because everyone`s sharp: they see you coming! When you say `Can I have a look at that Dan Electro?`, they think: `Oh, this guy is from Europe, he can afford to pay a thousand dollars` or something.
I`m lucky sometimes, I occasionally get a gift of a guitar from very kind people. And in fact a guy from Cologne who`ll be here tonight gave me a Telecaster he put together himself, which I have adjusted slightly. And I use that on stage: I`ve put a Seymour Duncan (pick-up) in the lead position and left the Humbucker. It`s kind of a KEITH RICHARDS type set-up. So I`m very lucky that way. And I try to put guitars together myself as well, bits and pieces. The great thing with the Fender system is that you can take the body from one and pick-ups from another and the neck from another and you get these quasi ``Frankenstein``-type guitars. And some of them work and some don`t. But my main guitar is the Strat, it`s the business. It`s very sensitive and microphonic. You can beat the hell out of it and you can also caress it. I know it`s a fantasy, but it is my guitar, because when I was a small boy, to own a Sunburst Stratocaster - it was like the absolute maximum dream, you know, and it still is.
I undetstood, and I`m glad it still is. After all, it is the long-standing style that people like about Rory, anyway: the fact that things don`t change with fashions all the time. What`s his favourite acoustic model on numbers like "Empire State Express", I wanted to know.
Rory: It`s a National Duolian from 1932. I got that in America and it`s a superb guitar. I had to put a new fretboard on it because it got so old that it was going dipping here and there, and the resonator caved in one night on a fiight on a plane. Luckily, a guy in the south of England had a load of 1930s diaphragms (Lochblenden), these round things - I think that`s what they call them, and replaced it. So I used it on "Empire State Express". Actually, I recorded that in the drumbooth. I sat down where the drummer would sit and we used the drum mikes which have a different character. So I made it as responsive as possible.
He was right, too - this intense acoustic Blues from "Fresh Evidence" does sound intimate. If you play it loud over a hifi it sounds as if Rory sits next to you, in fact he seems to play all around you.
Rory: When I recorded, I was on my own on St. Patric`s Dsy and I`d written all the songs for "Fresh Evidence". I always like to do one song by somebody else, or two, to balance the thing out. I was trying to find the SON HOUSE record that I`d had for years, I couldn`t find it through all my collection - up and down, back and fourth - I couldn`t find it. Luckily, I had written down the words and I went in and I tried to remember. So I came up with my own arrangernent. And then a couple of weeks later I found his - the original - version, and I didn`t do so badly on it actually. It took two takes, one for sound, and the first take properly - that was it, we left the studio with this. On St. Patrick`s Night you can`t stay in the studio all night you have to live a bit, you know.
Obviously, Rory had to mix with the Dublin people on the occasion cause, as he mentioned, his Irdand visits are rare. - Rory`s guitar style on "Fresh Evidence", still sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. How does he keep his approach exciting to himself? Is it concentrated practice, or some kind of shopping around for new licks and ideas?
Rory: Well, I`m listening all the time to music of all kinds, but at the moment I`m getting away from - and have always avoided - normal chords. But even more so now I`m using chord positions that still sound conventional, but they`re not really. And for licks I try and break the tempo, which is like an Irish influence or Django Reinhardt-intluence, where he will will not play strict tempos. It`s more like a Jazz approach, but it still sounds like Blues and Rock,and of course for playing Rock I can still hit it hard. I`m inspired by lots of players, but as you get older you get more independant. You get inspired by yourself really, you become more mature, you start drawing from yourself as opposed to drawing from all these great players.
About Rory`s 1978-album "Photo Finish": It was reported at the time that it took three weeks to record, and "Fresh Evidence" took muchlonger. Does he think that after touring, as he`s doing at the moment, he will get a more spontaneous approach to recording and do it as it comes without too many overdubs?
Rory: I think so, yeah. I`ve written a complete electric album. I was in Ireland for the first time in four years and I wrote some songs there. And then we did three shows in England and I spent five nights almost awake all the time and I wrote - it`s not for me to say - but I wrote a lot of great, strong songs. I`m going to record a lot of the songs electrically, some with the band, some on my own, just kind of like JOHN LEE HOOKER, using my feet, making my own percussion - that kind of thing, and using a baritone guitar on it. I`ve written a lot of strang esongs, And I hope I get spontaneous. I`ve done this before, and "Deuce" I recorded in about fifteen days or something.
Then I go through these silly periods where I record a complete album in San Francisco and then we`re down in the cutting room and I say: `No, it`s not right, it`s wrong`, and we`d spent thousands of dollars on it. It`s really a capitalist type of market. We throw the album away, then we come back and we go to Dieter Diercks in Cologne, record "Photo Finish" in three weeks, so it can happen, you see.
It`s interesting that he mentioned the San Francisco sessions himself, because I had been curious myself as to why these tapes had been abandonned in 1977. And also Rory had recorded album called "Torch" in 1986, before "Defender". Looking back on them now and maybe not being as angry about the songs as he was at the time - I wondered if he`d consider digging those tapes out again and maybe issue the finished masters or whether he would rather forget about the "Torch" album as well as Ihe San Francisco Tapes.
Rory: Maybe eighty percent of the San Francisco album could come out in some form - remixed. The problem was: the mixing was getting complicated and some of the songs (just didn`t sound right). You see what hsppened with "Torch" was even more complicated because although I abandonned the "Torch"-project, I kept some of the songs and re-did them in different keys, different tempos and added some new songs. Then that became "Defender", which for me was a turning point in my career and in my life. It was a very special album to me personally.
I had to admit it is to me as well. I like it very much and told Rory so. Some of the chord changes stick with you for months on end, and the general atmosphere is intense without ever being uneasy. On the re-issue front, there`s been a CD-box of live-recordings, it`s catled "Road Box,- The Live Collection" (4CDs with "Live In Europe", "Irish Tour" and "Stage Struck"). Does Rory have plans for a detailed, lavish, retrospective sort of 5-CD-box of his studio work as well? Maybe with the abandonned tracks we mentioned?
Rory: Yes. Acoustic album, electric album, there`s a bootleg series which is out now called "G_MEN". Three official bootlegs, well, it`s a long story.
Here is that story for those who are keen on these documents: Gallagher is very much aware that the demand for bootleg tapes has always been there and always will be. But rather than let illegal - or in the new EEC-regulations since 1984 even legal - live documents empty the fans` pocket into bootleggers` hands, Rory now proceeds in the FRANK ZAPPA strategy and "bootlegs the bootleggers", at a price way below the rates at record fares. (This first Castle-box features three Seventies concerts - almost four hours of music).
About the possibility of a studio-boxed set Rory continued: Maybe this time next year we`ll have a retrospective, and maybe we will use some of the tracks from San Francisco and "Torch" that weren`t used. I also did a LINK WRAY song on the "Tattoo"-album sessions. It`s going back through all the spare songs that were perfect. But (they were left off) just because you could only fit twenty minutes on each side. Now of cause you can fit 40 minutes (twice) or whatever it is. When I listen back, I`ve got one called "Juke Box Annie", which is kind of like a song like THE BAND. They`re all coming back to me, it`s a good idea: one CD with all the outtakes but properly mixed and all that.
If for a "Legendary Blues Albums"-retrospective, Rory had to name his own favourite work, I was curious which one that would be. He had mentioned "Defender" as being special for him, but now decided: "Against The Grain" maybe, but the best album was in a strange way my album called "Tattoo".
Rory: On the re-release of the album, my brother organized and sorted out all the legal problems of it and FAT MATTRESS supported TASTE on their one and only tour of Europe. I hadn`t seen Jim then for years. I saw Noel Redding once in a while because he lives in County Cork in Ireland. But Jim is a bass player, at the moment he`s doing an AL KOOPER thing for me, because he`s a very good keyboard player for my kind of music.
This, again, is a reference to BOB DYLAN, who in AL KOOPER and MIKE BLOOMFIELD had valuable, reliable multi-instrumentalists in the Mid-Sixties, especially during the famous "Blonde On Blonde"-sesgions in Nashville, 1966 MIKE is dead now, but AL has played for his Bobness again as recently as on the underrated `990 All-Star album "Under The Red Sky".I still play like drums, bass and guitar and then have keyboards and harmonica as extra things. And Jim is a very fine player, he plays a good guitar, too. I`ve known him for years and bumped into him because I hung out with Mitch Mitchell a lot. Mitchell was the drummer in the JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, of course. Rory may rate Leverton`s versatality, but he reminds himself: I can play a few instruments, too. - Here, with typical modesty, Rory doesn`t even mention that, apart from his legendary guitar skills, he is a force to be reckoned with on the saxophone, which on record he hasn`t used since his first album.
Rory Gallagher`s line-up in the 1980s has been extremely stable: Gerry McAvoy has been with Rory`s group since day one, 1970, before he took the risk of leaving ranks after two decades, and Brendan O`Neill on drums for one decade. Both joined Dennis Greaves` NINE BELOW ZERO, an R&B band which has also sported long-time Gallagher harp artist, MarkFeltham, during 1990. Does Rory feel that this sort of stability goes for his new line-up ag well?
Rory: I`m delighted with all the nights that we`ve had so far. But I`m too superstitious to predict. Basically, I don`t want to be tied down to a line-up so much anymore. It is very restricting. There is loyalty and so on, I`ll be more flexible I think, when I`m recording anyway. But I mean, if things go well, who knows?
The current line-up, as all the other ones I witnessed since the early Seventies, did not feature a single little song from the famous TASTE repertoire. We wondered about the reasons for this, as surely a lot of water had passed down the Thames since them TASTE days.
Rory: That`s bccause when TASTE split up, I never played a TASTE song ever again. That was a very dreadful time for me. I just legally sorted it out. The musicians and myself now - we got no money. I got nothing. And the press all attacked me as if I was some kind of dictator. On my oath, I`ll tell you: it took me years. After TASTE split up, I had minus nothing. I had to borrow money of from my mother to even make the first album and then halfway through the album, the record company said: "We`re not supporting you!" It was traumatic! Can you imagine that with the press giving this impression? And all over Gennany they`re writing this!
And so I fought through it. Then, lately, we eventually broke thc legal thing. The manager of TASTE is now D.E.A.D. God rest him in his heaven, I have forgiven after all. We eventually got control of it, split it up three ways, so no one can attack me anymore.
So with that solved now Joln Wilson was on the telephone: "Please let me play drums with you again, Rory." And Richard McCracken - we have to get together again. No reunion, it`s impossible, but now with all that gone, maybe I`ll start doing the odd TASTE song, because I wrote those songs. There are some good ones, but you can`t live in the past.
That view reminded me of John Fogerty, who in bitterness of his "case" of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL had refused to play his own hit songs for many years before relenting, I mentioned the similarities to Rory.
He agreed: You can`t spend twenty years in agony over these things. But it`s very unfair if they pick one guy out and batter your confidence. It`s very very cruel. I made the mistake: Sometimes you have to stay silent and say nothing, because you can complicate matters even further. It`s no big deal, it`s not the Third World War, but now we`re on good terms again, so I relax. It might be fun one night to do "a" TASTE number just for old times` sake.
Among young people, there seems to be a growing tendency away from hi-tech music towards more hand-made music, we talked about that before. I wondered if Rory felt that trend as well in youngsters coming to his concerts, or does he think his audience kind of "grows up" with him?
Oh no, there`s an awful lot of young people. We get a lot of Ex-Punks, New Hippies, Neo-Anti-Romantics and all kinds of bizarre types, it`s great. It`s my dream, you know, it`s the perfect audience - to stare at people of sixty, and people of six and sixteen. It`s an impossible task really to be pleasing the Bluesers, the Folksies, the Rockers, the Vintage Rockers, the Punk Rockers, but I do my best.
In our interview, Rory had rather a charming way of referring to his superstition. Rather than an obsession, this seemed to me like a rather sympathetic reluctance to take the future and its benefits for granted, and came over as sensitive wiihout lacking sensible notiong. In a recent interview with Q however, Rory had been characterized as a rather worn-out eccentric and I wondered how that went down with the honest, soft-spoken, reflective musician whose views and insights I was enjoying so much during our conversation. Did Q quote him correctly at all?
Forget that article. Burn it! Total rubbish! I don`t read any thing from Ireland either. I get no presd for years, and go out there doing these tours all over and they never come out and see you working. And then you do one bad show and they start sying "He`s supergtitious, he`s this, he`s that, he`s the other." And the next thing: All of a sudden they`re all interested, just because there`s some kind of renaissance going on. But I`m just a musician, I don`t crawl after the press, and I don`t do publicity stuntd or anything. So - I get a bit uptight about them, and that Q-Magazine I found very offensive
The guy caught me literally the day I finished "Fresh Evidence", and I really was wrecked. You know, the end of an album, it`s like having a baby or something. I must have given a bad impression, and I did my best to be accurate and pleasent and go on, and it didn`t come out that way. I shouldn`t have done it, but that`s life. I reminded Rory that they gave the "Evidence"-Album a decent review in spite of the unfair characterization. Still, I can understand he was hurt by this treatment.
It shouldn`t be Hyper-Drama - it`s only Rock`n`Roll or Blues. Particularly if you`re just a guitar player, you walk in and play your parts and say "Okay, mix it and send me a cassette". I`d like to be like that, but I write the songs and I get involved in the production and I get very hyper and really work my heart over the damn thing. It`s dangerous for your health, you don`t realize. You stop eating and then the next thing you know you get into dangerous territory. So it`s unfair then when somebodyy misrepresents you. Of course, the clever thing is to plan these things, but I can`t. I`m against planning. You know, that`s something VAN MORRISON gays: "Rory, you gotta time-plan, man. You gotta plan out your holiday and your work". I just can`t work that way.
We then we showed Rory GOOD TIMES Number 4 December 1992, if only to make him realize we deal with the non-gossip, musical side of things. When he saw the photograph announcing this interview, he could in fact remember the gig, it had to be London`s "Hammersmith ODEON" or the "Rainbow Theatre" in Finsbury Park, 1977, and realized he still used the old Telecaster pictured there. The Irish Bluesman then duly signed a few copies for us to remember the day, and we left him with the impression of having talked to a dedicated, no-nonsense, unpretentious musician who still thinks and frets about his music after almost thirty years on the road and in the studio. Rory Gallagher is much more sensitive than the press made him, true, but he also came over as a considerable, tough force to be reckoned with on the Country Blues and Rock Blues front. As he pointed out: "I still hit it hard", and he certainly showed that during the night`s gig in Bonn. "Back On My Stompin` Ground" indeed!
with kindly permission by Uli Twelker and Peter Seeger / Good Times - 16. Jan 1996
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