Cow Palace, Daly City, California
October 9, 1973
Photos by Dan Cuny
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Editor's note: Although Rory Gallagher was Irish, not British, we are featuring him on Brit Rock by the Bay as a means of remembering him and honoring his music.
Rory Gallagher was born on March 2, 1948, in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. He played the ukulele as a child, and began playing the electric guitar while he was in his early teens, when his family was living in Cork. At first he learned tunes by listening to the radio, and from the start he was strongly inclined toward the earthy sound of American music, particularly the songs of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Muddy Waters.
He first performed in Irish bands, playing covers of current hits, but soon wanted to play in his own style, which was deeply grounded in the blues. In 1966, Rory Gallagher formed Taste, a trio that started out performing in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Hamburg, Germany. Within a few years (after a change in the first lineup), Taste moved to London. After releasing two albums on Polydor Records, Taste (1969) and On the Boards (1970), and appearing at venues throughout the United Kingdom, they had gained a wide and ardent following.
In 1970, Taste ended when Rory Gallagher chose to continue as a performer under his own name. His first album after leaving Taste, Rory Gallagher, was released on Polydor Records in 1971. It featured Gerry McAvoy, a bassist who would continue to play with him for the next twenty years. After Rory Gallagher, his next album was Deuce, also released in 1971, and then Blueprint (which included "Walk on Hot Coals," a compelling song that served as a vigorous showpiece during his performances) and Tattoo, both released in 1973.
Rory Gallagher had recently released Blueprint and Tattoo, excellent albums. I was thrilled to see him perform songs from those albums, but also from his first two solo LPs. A favorite of mine was "In Your Town" from Deuce. I remember him pointing his guitar at the audience and the drummer hitting rim shots to give the effect of his guitar firing bullets at us. I remember his blistering slide guitar solos that helped me forget how crammed in I was on the floor of the Cow Palace. (I used to refer to Bill Graham as "Bill Cram.")
Rory soared through his music with an energy and lust that was mesmerizing. A natural talent, he was at home on the stage backed only by bass, drums, and keyboards. On his albums he plays some acoustic guitar and clarinet with some touches of jazz, but on the stage it was no holds barred rock and blues. Anyone lucky enough to have seen Rory Gallagher knows what a great singer, songwriter, and guitarist he was.
(A side note: my future wife also attended that concert, with her future ex-boyfriend.)
The show at the Cow Palace was around the time of one of my favorite Rory Gallagher albums, Blueprint, which had great tracks like "Walk on Hot Coals," "Daughter of the Everglades," "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son," and "Unmilitary Two-Step." (Just the names alone were great.) He played traditional blues with hard driving rock, and wrote much of his own music. The next LP, Tattoo, had "Cradle Rock," "Sleep on a Clothes Line," "Admit It," and my favorite, "A Million Miles Away." Some of the more reflective songs were haunting and beautiful. "A Million Miles Away" was a driving, minor key masterpiece.
The band was very energetic. Gerry McAvoy was great bass player, and in his look and stance really appeared down-to-earth. He really fit tunes like "Bullfrog Blues." Lou Martin played the electric piano with great energy and precision, with high volume trills on blues scales that really pushed things to another level. Rod De'ath was a down and dirty drummer, a great match with McAvoy in the rhythm section, rock solid. Rory Gallagher was a blistering guitar player, putting everything he had into wringing out those notes on his Fender Stratocaster. A powerful performer with a great voice, and he could play a mean harmonica as well.
I'm glad we saw them when we did. They outplayed The Faces at the Cow Palace. Rory Gallagher will always live in my memory.
His set was somewhat short, probably around forty-five minutes, but he was one of the best performers I've ever seen. He made playing the guitar look effortless. I can remember him playing several songs from the Tattoo album ("Tattoo'd Lady," "A Million Miles Away," "They Don't Make Them Like You Anymore"), as well as some from Blueprint ("Walk on Hot Coals," "Banker's Blues"). Rory's slide work was magical. Gerry McAvoy's bass playing and the drumming of Rod De'Ath were very tight. You could tell they had been playing for some time.
Watching Rory Gallagher play, even for such a short time, I was hooked. He was a fantastic songwriter, guitar player, and performer.
I remember being particularly excited to see him play his famous guitar, a 1961 Stratocaster with most of the paint worn off from constant use. His guitar, which he appeared to view as an musical extension of himself, had come to be seen by his fans as a representation of his own hard-working character. Rory Gallagher was a well-known and highly regarded musician, but he also was a man of the people.
The feeling that came through in his guitar and his voice was powerful. He clearly was not putting on an "act" when he performed. We were standing fairly close to the stage, so we could see him working and sweating through each song, putting his all into every note that he played. With Rory Gallagher, honesty was everything.
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