When it comes to Irish blues-rock guitarists one need look no further than Rory Gallagher, a master who was capable of coaxing a wide array of sounds from his old beat up fender Stratocaster that would often belie belief. With his trademark checked shirt and blue denim jeans, Rory’s guitar playing was as unique as it was deceptively simple. And while not as well known as Eric Clapton, or as flamboyant as Jimi Hendrix, like Jimi, Rory was incredibly humble and unpretentious, to a fault.
Lovingly compiled by Rory’s brother Donal from over ten hours of live recordings, BBC Sessions is a veritable treasure trove of performances made between 1971 and 1979. In the liner notes his brother remembers: “I can’t recall Rory ever turning down a BBC session. In fact I distinctly remember (with fatigue) one particular occasion following a long tour of Germany, we had to hurriedly pack the truck in the middle of the night and drive directly from Nuremberg to London to set-up for a three hour session at the BBC Shepherds Bush studio.”
Disc one begins with “Calling Card”, a song on which Gallagher’s virtuosity is on full display, pushing his skills to their outer most limits, and is easily the best version I’ve yet heard. “What in the World” and “Jacknife Beat” are further examples of Rory’s mastery of the guitar, along with the blues in general (he did perform and record with Muddy Waters and Albert King, both of whom were more than impressed with his playing).
Rory ramps things up on a high-octane “Country Mile” and “Got My Mojo Working” medley, before burning down the house with a hot and steamy “Garbage Man”. “Roberta”, “I Used To Be” and “I Take What I Want”, are further examples of Gallagher’s unparalleled technique.
Disc two was recorded live in the studio, so doesn’t quite have the dynamics of the first CD, however is no less enjoyable for it. Starting with the country-blues of “Race the Breeze”, Rory proves himself to be a formidable slide guitarist. “Hands Off” and “Feel So Bad” are the sort of straight-up blues one would expect to hear in the early ‘70s, while “Crest of a Wave” almost borders on hard-rock a la Led Zeppelin. “For the Last Time” is what Mark Knopfler might have sounded like if he had of devoted himself to Muddy Waters rather than JJ Cale. At only four minutes, Gallagher certainly puts in a powerful performance, as he does on the traditional “It Takes Time”, where he manages to give Eric Clapton a run for his genius, in a Bluesbreakers kind of way.
Now I’m pretty sure that Rory wasn’t into acid, but “Seventh Son of 7th Son” sounds fairly psychedelic to me. He dips his toe into the waters of progressive rock on “Daughter of the Everglades”, breaks out into jazz-rock with “They Don’t Make Them like You”, before burning the midnight amp on a raunchy cover of Sonny Thompson’s “Tore Down”. Makes love to his Fender with an authentic sounding “When My Baby She Left Me”, before a heartfelt and extended “Hoodoo Man”, throughout which Gallagher invests his mind and soul, in a way reminiscent of Roy Buchanan, another great underrated instrumentalist.
Rory Gallagher had a tone and touch secondary to none, something which this 2CD collection makes clear. He was a man who understood his instrument inside and out, and who knew how to get the most from it. Beloved by everyone, Rory was one of the hardest working guitarists and yet perhaps the least paid for his talents. Easily on a par with Peter Green and Eric Clapton, Gallagher’s song writing never truly lent itself to popular radio, hence his almost endless touring schedule.
One thing’s for sure, any young guitar player starting out in this modern age, who wants to learn the blues, should not ignore Rory. Mind you, one doesn’t get as brilliant as he was by learning off YouTube in their bedroom. It takes real life experience, a quality sorely lacking amongst many aspiring musicians nowadays.
BBC Sessions is as much a celebration as it is a tombstone to Gallagher’s immense as well as impressive musicianship. However he was also far more than that – he was also a kind and generous individual, something which those in the know have never forgotten.