What I’ve Been Listening To: Rory Gallagher/Irish Tour ’74

Live album is testament to music artist who left it all on the stage


The other day, Live At Montreux, a posthumous album from Rory Gallagher, popped up as a suggestion in my Apple Music. As I started listening, the live compilation record reminded me what a terrific performer this Irish blues rock guitarist was. While he is highly regarded among many guitarists, Gallagher never achieved the stardom of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, to name a few, in part since he rejected showmanship and a flashy lifestyle. He also didn’t believe in publishing singles, which could have helped him get more radio play.

Sadly, I know very little about Gallagher’s music myself. Since I had recalled reading that he much preferred playing live over recording in the studio, I decided to start my exploration of his music with Irish Tour ’74. Released in July 1974, this record is the sixth in Gallagher’s solo catalog, and it’s a true gem!

Rory Gallagher_Irish Tour 74 2

The album captures live recordings from an Irish tour in January 1974. Notably, this tour included performances in Dublin and Ulster, Northern Ireland, where few artists dared to perform at the time, fearing terror attacks from the IRA. In fact, the day before his scheduled gig in Belfast, there were multiple bomb explosions throughout the city. But Gallagher refused to cancel the show. ” I don’t see any reason for not playing Belfast,” he told a local reporter at the time. “Kids still live here. They can get tired of records.”

Initially appearing as a double LP, the album opens with Cradle Rock, a Gallagher composition. Like various other songs on the record, the tune is from his previous studio album Tattoo, released in November 1973.

Tattoo’d Lady is another great blues rocker from the Tattoo album. According to Wikipedia, it “reflects Gallagher’s love for the fairground life and its similarities to life on the road.”

As The Crow Flies showcases Gallagher’s skills on acoustic guitar. The blues tune was written by American singer-songwriter and guitarist Tony Joe White and originally appeared on his 1972 studio album The Train I’m On.

Yet another tune from the Tattoo album is A Million Miles Away, one of my favorite Gallagher tunes I know.

The last track I’d like to call out from this excellent record is Walk On Hot Coals. Written by Gallagher, the song first appeared on his fourth album Blueprint, which came out in February 1973.

On Irish Tour ’74, Gallagher was backed by Gerry McAvoy (bass), Lou Martin (keyboards) and Rod de’Ath (drums). The same musicians had worked with him on the Tattoo and Blueprint albums. They would also be on Gallagher’s next two studio records Against The Grain (1975) and Calling Card (1976).

Citing Marcus Connaughton’s biography Rory Gallagher: His Life and Times (Collins Press 2012), Wikipedia quotes Martin: “The studio was not the best environment for recording… With Rory, if he didn’t have somebody to look at then he couldn’t feed off the energy. That’s why Irish Tour is such a good bloody album because it was recorded live, he got the crowd there with him singing along and sort of like urging him along… without the presence of an audience the recording process for Rory was a bit of a strain.”

Sources: Wikipedia; rorygallagher.com; YouTube

The Hardware: Fender Stratocaster

Perhaps no other model embodies the electric guitar more than the Fender Stratocaster

To me the Fender Stratocaster is the Porsche 911 of electric guitars. Similar to the iconic German sports car, the Strat was designed decades ago but its basic shape has remained unchanged.

The Stratocaster was developed by the founder of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (“Fender”) Leo Fender, guitarist and adviser Bill Carson and company associates George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. It was Tavares who came up with the two-horned body shape, similar to the Precision Bass Fender had launched in 1951.

Stratocaster Headstock

Introduced in 1954, the Strat became Fender’s third defining model after the Telecaster and the Precision Bass. While Les Paul built the first solid-body guitar, it was Leo Fender who started mass-producing the first such guitar in 1948, the Fender Broadcaster. A few years later, it was renamed the Telecaster and introduced in 1951. The Telecaster gained quick popularity among country and early rock & roll guitarists.

It is quite amazing that to this day, more than 60 years later, the Telecaster, Precision Bass and Stratocaster continue to be manufactured. By the way, it was Fender’s head of sales Don Randall who came up with the name Stratocaster.

Stratocaster Comfort Contours

The Strat featured several innovations. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups; the Telecaster had two. The Strat’s rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours were another first. The so-called “Comfort Contour Body” was another contrast to the Telecaster with its squared-off body that dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm.

The new shape, which has been attributed to guitarist Rex Gallion, made the instrument more comfortable to play. Gallion reportedly once asked Leo Fender, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The new shape also looked pretty cool – there was simply no other guitar like it!

Stratocaster Tremolo System.JPG

Another key innovative feature of the Strat was its spring tension tremolo system. Leo Fender came up with the design after scraping the initial vibrato system due to poor performance. In the new design the whole bridge moved with the strings rather than having the strings move over rollers with the bridge remaining stationary. The spring tension tremolo system allowed the pitch to vary by at least three half steps.

The tremolo system turned out to be hugely impactful. For example, without this feature, Hank Marvin, lead guitarist of The Shadows, could not have created his signature sound on Apache and many of the band’s other songs. And more than a decade later, Jimi Hendrix’s epic performance of Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock would not have been possible without his guitar’s vibrato bar.

Stratocaster Close-Up

Despite all of its novel features, the Strat was not an overnight sensation. Many guitarists considered it gimmicky. The early rock & rollers largely relied of flat-top acoustic or big, hollow-body electric guitars by Gibson and Gretsch. Leo Fender and his staff continued tweaking the Stratocaster until 1957 when they finally had improved it to the form that largely has remained unchanged to this day.

The Strat is a versatile guitar that has been used in many music genres, including blues, country, soul, rock, punk, heavy metal and jazz. Following are some of the influential musicians who have played the Strat.

Buddy Holly was the first “Strat hero.” According to Fender’s official website, Holly purchased his first Strat in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas in 1955, with money he had borrowed from his brother Larry. He helped popularize the guitar with his 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Peggy Sue also happens to be one of my favorite tunes from that era.

Hank Marvin reportedly was the first U.K. owner of a Strat. His initial preference for the guitar was based the wrong assumption that his favorite guitarist James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson at the time, was using that model. “We loved the sound he and Buddy Holly had,” Marvin told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2006. “We just assumed that James would be using the same, because it seemed to be the top model…That’s how I got my Strat. And it was a beautiful guitar, [Fiesta Red] with a birdseye maple neck and gold-plated hardware.”

Like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix helped popularize the Strat, especially his favorite white-finish version, the guitar he used at Woodstock. Two years earlier, at Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix also proved you can set a Stratocaster on fire – don’t try this at home!

Eric Clapton became a Strat enthusiast in 1967, after originally having played Gibson guitars. The guitar he used to record Layla was a second-hand 1956 sunburst-finish Strat he had purchased in London in May 1967, which he nicknamed “Brownie.” Clapton’s other main Fender guitar, “Blackie,” was assembled from three different Strats. He used it until the mid-80s. In 1988, Fender introduced the Eric Clapton Stratocaster, the first model in the company’s signature series. Here is Clapton with It’s Too Late, together with Derek & The Dominos.

Rory Gallagher was well known for his battered 1961 sunburst Stratocaster, which he described as “a part of my physical make-up.” Since 1997, Fender’s Custom Shop has built the Rory Gallagher Signature Stratocaster, an exact replica of the Irish blues rocker’s instrument. Here is a clip of a 1977 live performance of Tattoo’d Lady.

Mark Knopfler, another big Strat enthusiast, has been using this Fender model throughout his career. Together with his fingerstyle playing, he created his own signature sound. Sultans of Swing is one of the finest examples. In an interview with Guitar World last year, Knopfler commented on the role his Strat played for the song. “I thought it [the National Steel guitar he used to write the tune] was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan is another great guitarist who is closely associated with the Strat. In January 1992, Fender introduced the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster, a signature model based on his favorite guitar, “Number One.” Here is a clip of Pride And Joy, together with Double Trouble.

David Gilmour is considered to be one of the more influential Stratocaster players since the instrument’s invention, according to Wikipedia. He has played the Strat during his time with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. Here is a clip of Comfortably Numb, which includes an epic Strat solo.

Buddy Guy has played a Strat throughout his career. There has been a Buddy Guy Signature Stratocaster since the early 1990s. Here’s a clip of one of my favorite Guy tunes, Whiskey, Beer & Wine. It rocks like a Hendrix reincarnation!

Bonnie Raitt has owned a Stratocaster since 1969 and told Guitar Player she hasn’t missed one concert with that guitar since then. She also owns various Bonnie Raitt signature Strats. Here is a clip of Gypsy In Me from her last album.

In 1965, poor health made Leo Fender sell the company to CBS. While Fender significantly grew over the next 20 years, there was a lack of commitment and true understanding of musicianship at CBS. In 1981, it brought in new management to “re-invent” Fender. Eventually, CBS sold the company in 1985 to a group of Fender employees and investors. That transaction started a turnaround of the company and may well be reason why it’s still alive today and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jeff Owens: The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s, Fender website; Mental Floss; Guitar Player; Vintage Guitar Magazine; Guitar World; YouTube



What I’ve Been Listening to: Rory Gallagher/Blueprint

This 1973 gem started the period that brought the Irish blues rocker his biggest successes

While I enjoy exploring different types of music on the blog, somehow the journey always seems to lead back to the blues and great guitarists who contributed to the genre. Undoubtedly, one of the finest craftsmen in this context is Rory Gallagher, though I’m not sure the Irish blues rocker has always gotten the recognition he deserves.

Blueprint was Gallagher’s fourth studio album, which was released in February 1973. It was the first of five records with then-new drummer Rod de’Ath and the addition of a keyboarder, Lou Martin. Rounding out the four-piece was bassist Gerry McAvoy with whom Gallagher had played since 1970, following the breakup of Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio Gallagher had founded in 1966.

All you need to hear are the opening bars of the album’s first song Walk On Hot Coals, and you know you’re listening to one hell of a guitarist. Here is a cool clip of a live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test. And, by the way, Gallagher could sing as well!

Next up is Daughter of the Everglades, which takes things down a notch. It features Gallagher on both acoustic and electric guitar. The man was a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to guitar, Gallagher also played the mandolin, harmonica and occasionally the saxophone. And, by the way this virtuoso was entirely self-taught!

Banker’s Blues is a great acoustic blues written by American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Big Bill Broonzy. According to SecondHandSongs, Broonzy originally recorded and released the tune in 1931. Apart from the great music, you just gotta love the lyrics: “If you got money in the bank/Don’t let your woman draw it out/Cause she’ll take all your money…and/Then she’ll kick you out.” Here’s a great clip of Gallagher performing the tune live on Rockpalast, all by himself with just an acoustic guitar – that’s all you need!

Another tune I’d like to call out is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the longest track on the album. It’s an 8-minute-and-26-second blues rock tour de force with a great riff. I also love Martin’s keyboard work.

From Blueprint Gallagher went on to release eight additional studio records and two live albums. After collapsing during a show in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in January 1995, Gallagher was hospitalized in London with liver failure. Following what initially looked like a successful liver transplant, he got a bacterial infection and passed away on June 14, 1995. He was only 47 years old.

Gallagher may be long gone but his impressive legacy continues to live on. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him at no. 57 on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Being included in the same list with other guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Duane Allman, just to name a few, speaks for itself. And while the ranking perhaps matters less than being in the list, I’m still a bit surprised Gallagher didn’t come in at a higher spot. For example, I don’t quite get how John Lennon was ranked ahead of Gallagher at no. 55. And I’m saying this as a huge fan of Lennon who undoubtedly was one of the greatest songwriters. But frankly to rank him as one of the greatest guitarists is a bit of a stretch to me.

Rory Gallagher
Gallagher with his signature beaten up sunburst 1961 Fender Stratocaster

During a 1973 interview with Beetle Magazine, which is reprinted on his offical website, Gallagher commented on what Rolling Stone in the above ranking called his non-stop touring ethic: “I’d like to work six nights a week, basically because this is not just a job with me, it’s my entire life. I enjoy what I do and I like to think that others do, too. It’s really inhuman the way some bands will retreat to the countryside for years on end and leave their audiences with nothing but their latest albums.”

Sources: Wikipedia, SecondHandSongs, Rolling Stone, Rory Gallagher website, Beetle Magazine, YouTube

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Sow, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The Old Whiste Test Logo

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the 80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the 70s than the 80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)

U2/In God’s County (1987)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube