The previously unheard music on the new album of Rory Gallagher’s music features a track he made with Muddy Waters, writes Ed Power.
The label read “Rory Gallagher and Van Morrison”. As he held the tape to the light, Daniel Gallagher could not quite believe his eyes. Had his uncle, the great Cork blues guitarist, really recorded with Van Morrison. And had the session languished undiscovered all these decades?
“The track is called Walking Wounded’. Someone had scribbled ‘with Van Morrison’. I got very excited and put it on. But I couldn’t hear the extra vocal. I got in touch with the engineer from the session. He said ‘Oh no — Van had come down and sat in the control room and was just hanging out with Rory and the band’. He thought it was so cool that he actually wrote it on the box.”
The holy grail of a Rory Gallagher-Van Morrison collaboration may have gone up in smoke. But Daniel Gallagher retrieved lots of genuine nuggets as he dived into his uncle’s unreleased material, stored in Fort Knox-like conditions at Universal Music Group’s archive at Greenwich in London.
Among the previously unheard recordings included in a lavish new three-disc collection are hook-ups with greats such as Muddy Waters and Lonnie Donegan. Blues serves up more intimate moments too, including acoustic sessions consisting of Gallagher playing guitar largely unaccompanied.
The unofficial theme is Gallagher delving into the great Americana songbook. And the picture the compilation paints is of one of the outstanding bluesmen of his era.
“We are constantly being asked for new Rory material,” says Daniel who, with his father, Donal, has made the continuation of Rory Gallagher’s legacy his life’s work. “The last Rory release was a box set deluxe reissue of his Irish Tour live album. So it’s been a few years. We needed to deliver something full of rare stuff for the fans. There is a huge demand out there for Rory’s music.”
Donal and now Daniel have worked tirelessly to keep Gallagher’s name alive. That toil has more than paid off. Daniel believes Gallagher is more popular now than at any point since he died in June 1995 at the age of just 47 following a liver transplant. He has joined that elite of rock guitarists who command instant name recognition even among more casual music fans.
“Ever since Rory’s passing my dad has done an amazing job of keeping his musical flame burning,” says Daniel.
The result is that Gallagher has now been rightly acknowledged as among the most influential Irish musicians of his generation. Recently, Uncut magazine ran a feature-length piece on Gallagher — albeit one focused on his demons as much as his playing. Ian Rankin, the bestselling Scottish crime novelist, wrote an entire novel inspired by Gallagher’s music.
And a 2010 documentary found luminaries such as Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, Johnny Marr from The Smiths and James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers lining up to pay tribute. Gallagher was never in danger of sinking into obscurity. But today, among rock fans, his name is up in lights. And much of the credit must go to his family.
“Magazines feel he’s cool to cover again,” says Daniel. “I don’t mean this in a bad way but the media definitely pays attention to the flavour of the month. And Rory right now is there. You’ve guitarists citing Rory as an influence. There is a huge swell of enthusiasm for this music.”
Daniel was a teenager when his uncle passed away. At the time Rory’s career was arguably at somewhat of a low ebb. Had he lived, his nephew has little doubt but that he would be embraced by a new generation. As the latest collection makes clear, his oeuvre was timeless.
“It’s lovely to see him being rediscovered, as a family member,” he says.
“Rory never went with trends. He recorded what he felt like recording. Because it was based on the blues and was very rootsy, what he did never aged. You don’t listen back and think… ‘ooh..what about all those synths?’”
“That would have been a sound from a specific time that no one wants to hear it now. But with Rory, if you take the music on the new acoustic disc — it’s one man doing his Irish John Lee Hooker.”
Daniel’s own memories of Gallagher are of a quiet man who lived for music but shunned the spotlight.
“We’d seem him quite often. He lived about 20 minutes from our house in London. He’d come over to kick a football around. I remember we went see him at the Hammersmith Apollo. We were side of stage and the curtain came back and there was Rory. I’d never seen anything like it. He was never shy or retiring around us because we were family.
“When I was older you’d see a different side to him. Maybe we’d be at a restaurant and someone would recognise Rory and he would be very shy. He was definitely a lot more guarded around other people.”
Gallagher never chased fame, says Daniel — another reason his music has not dated. He wasn’t pursuing trends or trying to pick up radio play. “That was why he didn’t do singles,” says Daniel.
"And if you’re chasing success then you’ve doomed yourself — especially if you are supposed to be a bluesman. He saw himself as a gigging musician. He got to release albums and tour the world and was very, very happy with that. Having singles and being on Top of the Pops didn’t appeal.”
Seeing Rory Gallagher take his place among the blues greats is hugely bittersweet his nephew acknowledges.
“He was far too young to go. Had he been alive there would definitely be a renaissance. It wouldn’t be me and my dad working on box-sets. He’d be closing Glastonbury, he’d be up doing gigs with the White Stripes. There would have been a reappraisal of his music. It’s such a huge shame he’s not around.”
Blues is released on May 31 in Deluxe and single-CD editions.