UMG / Chess three-disk set
The booklet in the recently issued Blues has a quote from Rory Gallagher recalling the impact of first hearing blues on the radio:
“the following weekend I went into the library in Cork and I got books out on the origins of the blues”.
Rory was a regular user of the City Library on Grand Parade. Another time he recalled
“I went into the library once and got Teach Yourself How to Read Music or something, and it said, ‘sit down with your piano’. . . We didn’t have a piano, so that went down the chute”.
It wasn’t just the books on music which drew Rory to the Library. As a young reader he began a lifelong love of the classic hard-boiled crime novels of writers like Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, James L. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. This fascination with classic noir is reflected in the titles of the tracks on the second of the three disk set: ‘Prison blues’, ‘Secret agent’, ‘Loanshark blues’, ‘Pistol slapper blues’ and ‘Nothing but the devil’. These could have been titles of books by his favourite writers, like e.g. Hammett’s Continental op.
It might seem an absurd thing to say but if Rory had never picked up a Strat and plugged in, these acoustic tracks – 12 in all – would be enough to make his name.
You only have to listen to ‘Should’ve learnt my lesson’ – his playing (including an over-dubbed mandolin track) gelling beautifully with Lou Martin’s barrel-house piano. ‘Prison blues’ and ‘Bankers blues’ are other standouts, and he attacks ‘Pistol slapper blues’ with a relish that is irresistible. Some of the tracks on CD2 are versions of songs better known in electric versions; hearing a song like ‘Whole lot of people’ for example in an acoustic version gives more space for the listener to appreciate the lyrics, often overlooked in the electric versions.
This should be no surprise to anyone; as early as ‘See here’ on the 2nd Taste album, and through to ‘Out of my mind’ on Deuce and beyond, Rory’s tasty acoustic playing was a joy.
The last four tracks on the acoustic CD are covers of songs by his heroes and mentors – Muddy Waters, Son House, Fulton Allen, and great versions they are, although you’d have to say his cover of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Want ad blues’ lacks the latter’s roguish menace. Muddy Waters was always Rory’s main man, and you can feel the love in the versions of ‘Can’t be satisfied’ and ‘Blow wind blow’ (the basis for Dylan’s ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’) both included here.
Of course no Rory fan would accept that it’s all about his acoustic playing, and if there was even the remotest doubt listen to the first three tracks on CD3, recorded live in Glasgow in 1982, with Brendan O’Neill on drums: ‘Why my baby she left me’ (the Sonny Boy Williamson classic), ‘Nothing but the devil’ and Willie Dixon’s ‘What in the world’. These are some of the best live tracks we have ever heard from Rory and his band. They were lucky to keep the roof on!
Other standouts include ‘Off the handle’ a slow searing blues, ‘I could’ve had religion’, ‘A Million miles away’ – both familiar live favourites but great versions here – and ‘Leaving town blues’ a studio cut for a Peter Green tribute. Congrats to the production team, chiefly Donal Gallagher’s son Daniel, for getting a raft of great tracks from the RTÉ vaults. Many Rory fans will have seen or heard them before, but having them anthologised here is a huge plus.
Of course it has to be said what a joy it is to see these tracks issued on the Chess label, how proud Rory would have been.
The only even vaguely negative comment one can make about this wonderful set is ‘What took ye so long lads?’
Cork City Librarian