Rory Gallagher–Notes From San Francisco (Sony)

It was the early 70’s and my friend Louis had just bought the new CD from a man named Gallagher.  That was all I knew.  Not much of an expert in those days, I innocently asked “Is that the guy who plays with Lyle”?

I soon discovered that this Gallagher had another partner.  The partners name was God and his only involvement was giving Rory a talent for playing guitar like no other has, before or since.

This particular disc, just released through Sony via Rory’s brother Donal, caught my attention particularly because it was originally dumped by Rory Gallagher in a hotel wastebasket the day  Donal was due to present it to Chrysalis Record Executives.

On the face of it, obviously a case of ‘cashing in’, of draining every last penny out of anything that the ‘G’ man ever consigned to tape.   Only, bad it isn’t, just different.  And for good reason.  The aim at the time (1978) was for Rory to do a disc that would sell in the USA, and Americans had their own ‘spin’ on what constituted a good Rock record.  Pre-named ‘Torch’ The disc made in San Francisco was supposed to be Rory Gallagher in American – which as it turned out, was like making a disc in a foreign language to the Irishman.  It didn’t sound right to him.  Not how he wanted it.  He binned it.  So should we thank or spank brother Donal for this posthumous release?

Donal maintains that Rory actually liked the tracks but not the mixes.  This makes sense, since many songs surface on the disc that was finally delivered – 1978’s ‘Photofinish’.   “Rory was never against the material being remixed in some form” says Donal, except that, looking at the liner notes, four tracks are still mixed by Elliot Mazer, which suggests that they’ve gone out as Rory didn’t want them.  having said that, the notes list 7,9,11 & 13 but  the studio listing itself only has 12 tracks.  Confused? Me too.

A clue to the problem, and the major difference between this album and the one Rory later released comes right at the start.  Lou Martin’s keyboard intros ‘Rue The Day’ and only recovers from the oddly un-Rory start after the guitar and drums have firmly taken control of proceedings.  The only really notable thing about it is that whilst the song itself was (rightfully) dropped from ‘Photofinish’ there is a tasty riff right at the end that Rory dusted off and used two years later to great effect on ‘Big Guns’

Track 2 Persuasion doesn’t have the guitar power to drown the heavy keyboard and consequently I get an image of Rory bashing on the piano keys as he sings which is somehow unnatural – like seeing Richie Blackmore play a flute.  B Girl Starts out typically Rory only to kick in with an awful synthesisery swirl that only an American producer in the 70’s could love.  Gallagher fans will notice that both ‘Rue The Day’ and ‘B Girl’ have already appeared as extras on the re-released version of ‘Calling Card’ some years ago – again, seemingly with the original mix that Rory wanted binned. ‘Mississippi Sheiks’  is not too different from it’s later incarnation so presumably Rory was at least happy with the original of this one.  Probably because, again, the drum and guitar block out the keyboard There’s also some very agreeable electric Violin courtesy of Joe Odonnell to enjoy here.  Wheels Within Wheels is a strange track to me.  It never saw the light of day in his lifetime, and now we seem to have at least three versions.   One previously released and two on this disc.  Which is better?  The acoustic already released? the one with piano break here or the rather rockier version also on here?  Maybe that’s why Rory never released it. 

Overnight Bag is back to familiar territory but here it sounds like Rory is duetting with himself such is the double tracking.  It also seems to lumber a bit in comparison to the later version.  Too many things double tracked, too much happening at once, the faults of much of this disc – even Rory’s guitar solo is double tracked.  Wall of sound or wall of noise?   Cruise On Out is sparser and therefore works well in this version – maybe even better than the Photofinish take.  Martin’s keyboards actually work in its favour, adding to its breakneck pace and dynamics.  On this occasion the excesses of overdub actually work – but only here.  Brute Force again has irritating background instruments getting in the way.  Too much happening too high in the mix once again.  I just end up wanting to put Rod de’Aths cymbal ‘where the sun don’t shine’.  Fuel To The Fire is (comparatively) pared back instrument-wise and Rory’s guitar phrasing is beautiful.

The extra tracks are pretty basic Rory run-throughs.  A medium tempo Wheels that seems lacklustre compared to the slower version.  Cut A Dash lends more than a little to ‘Jacknife Beat’ from Calling Card with added (and annoying) keyboard once again.

Out On The Tiles sounds like Rory  just needed one last track to finish the disc and just plays a song ‘Rory Gallagher Style’ replacing ‘Cruise On Out’ with ‘Go out on the Tiles’ but the lyrical content and tune are things he could write in his sleep.

In short, The CD has too much keyboard, is too heavily overdubbed and double tracked, with too many instruments trying to gain attention at once.  All things decided on by the Producer/Mixer and not by the musician.  No wonder Rory was distraught.  After ‘binning’ the original disc he also ‘binned’ the four piece band – going keyboardless. The result was many of the same songs with just Gallagher, new drummer Ted McKenna and stalwart bassist Gerry McAvoy.  Photofinish was  amongst the best records that Rory would ever make – Bassist  McAvoy says so too in his Autobiography ‘Riding Shotgun’.

Oddly enough, when I played a couple of these tracks in the shop before buying the CD they sounded good, vintage Gallagher even.  It was only after I played it through and then played it’s final incarnation Photofinish through that I realised this CD is good, but Rory at his best was GREAT.   His early career in Irish Showbands had  given Rory a feel for covering lead and rhythm on one instrument.  The Producer then puts in keyboards to cover a gap in Rhythm that, because of Rory’s playing, doesn’t actually exist.  Result: two instruments competing for one spot.  That’s my theory anyway.

Disc one is to my mind really for just the curious diehard Gallagher fan.  A crucial moment in Gallaghers career when he seemingly contemplated letting the market determine the music.  Maybe all the “You should do a single…” pressure from outside had worn him down.  Lots of good music, but lots of Caveats to, and never again would Rory Gallagher waver from putting out the music exactly as he heard it in his head.

Fortunately Sony have added a live CD, made soon after the studio one, to the package.  It’s back to the trio format that made Gallaghers name in the first place.   Sans keyboard, and triple tracking,  it makes the purchase of the whole package worthwhile. Blistering versions of great Gallagher songs like Shadow Play and covers like Bullfrog Blues.  Forget the ‘lost’ CD,  the retro Frisco postcards the ad-hoc handwritten notes and the ‘essays’ from Donal Gallagher and American Producer Elliot Mazer  (available in the special ‘Legacy’ deluxe edition).   Just put on disc two and feel the magic – Gallagher and God.

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