KICKBACK CITY is a Rory Gallagher album with a difference. Joining him in the band for this one is the crime fiction writer Ian Rankin, the actor Aidan Quinn and cult illustrator Timothy Truman.
Gallagher’s brother, Dònal, is the mastermind behind the concept package. It features a compilation album of Rory’s tracks that were inspired by crime novels; an exclusive new novella Rankin illustrated by Truman; and the album also includes a narration of the novella’s story by Quinn.
Dònal Gallagher always knew his brother, who passed away in 1995, was an avid reader, particularly of crime fiction writers such as Dashiell Hammett (one of his tracks, ‘Continental Op’ is named after a private investigator from one of Hammett’s novels), Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith.
“About a year before Rory died,” says Dònal, “I remember one day he was going up to Earl’s Court in London — near to where he was living at the time — to stand in a line-up to have the new Patricia Highsmith book signed.
“He was a great book reader. If you were unfortunate enough to lift his suitcase off the carousel at the airport, you could get a hernia — it would be full of books. He drew a lot of inspiration from them.”
When Dònal discovered that Rankin’s popular Inspector Rebus was a fan of Rory, he asked the Scottish crime writer if he’d be interested in collaborating on a project. Dònal initially suggested he write the sleeve notes for a collection of tracks inspired by Rory’s love of crime fiction, but Donal’s son, Dan, egged him on “to ask something a bit more special”. Rankin signed up, agreeing to deliver a novella, which is entitled The Lie Factory, about an indeterminate American city “that’s built upon decades of corruption, the decent oozing from every cheap weld”.
It features Rankin’s private detective, Regan, dispirited with this world but not immune to female charm, such as that of Agatha Dempsey, whose murder he has to investigate.
Dònal had become aware that Truman, who is famous for the artwork he’s done for the Grateful Dead, was also a Rory Gallagher fan. In one of Truman’s Grim Jack comic books, the superhero prevents an assassination attempt on a guitar-playing friend that was drawn in Rory’s likeness, complete with a battered Stratocaster guitar. He approached Truman about Kickback City, and the illustrator jumped at the chance to join the collaboration.
“I was overjoyed because I’ve always been such an ardent fan of Rory,” says Truman. “It was a very intriguing concept. It seemed to make perfect sense. And when I say I’m an arch Rory fan, I’m not exaggerating. He’s always been my favourite guitarist and performer.
“I turned on to Rory’s work in 1973 when I was in junior high school. Growing up in West Virginia, one Friday night, I turned on [TV show] Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and it’s when I first saw Rory and he immediately blew me away. I’d never encountered a musician that hit me so hard.
“I lived in a very rural area. The next day I had a friend that was going into town and I gave her my last $5 and I said, ‘If you see an album by this guy, will you pick it up for me?’. She brought Blueprint home for me. From that moment on, I was hooked.”
In 1979, Truman and a group of friends met Rory backstage at one of Gallagher’s gigs at the Bottom Line in New York. Gallagher chatted with them for 15 or 20 minutes, five or 10 minutes of which, says Truman, was spent jawing about crime fiction books and movies.
“Rory’s music was so full of fire, especially when you see him live,” he says. “If he would hit a bum note, instead of scowling and being disappointed with himself he would smile. He would absolutely suck you into his presence on stage, just with this smile, by sort of passing it off and then by completely blowing you away with the next riff.
“It was that kind of fiery attitude that found its way into my work. My drawings might not be technically perfect, but people seem to recognise that I’m pouring my heart and soul into it, and that’s a very specific lesson I learnt from Rory — put your all into it.
“When we met him backstage at the Bottom Line, one of the things he said was that ‘People aren’t interested in your political leanings or whatever else is going on; people want to be entertained so you just have to go out there and rock and roll’.”
In one of the neat flourishes of The Lie Factory, Truman includes ads at the back of the book in keeping with the style of a 10-cent pulp fiction magazine from the 1940s, which includes a ‘Learn to Play Guitar the Rory Gallagher Way’ mixed in among ads for items like “X-ray specs” and in-soles.
Dònal Gallagher got to know Aidan Quinn while the American actor was shooting Conor McPherson’s film The Eclipse, set in Cobh, Co Cork. He was the ideal fit to deliver Regan’s jaded narration.
“He’d just done Sherlock Holmes,” says Dònal. “Here’s a guy, we felt, that would get the whole crime detective thing. The brief was that it wasn’t to be an east coast or a west coast accent. He got that it had to be a seedier side of town, and the small details, even down to the character with the toothpick in his mouth. He puts in little clicks.
“That was the pleasure of him reading it — he was acting it out, like someone doing it for animation. He turns the black and white to colour, if you like.”
* Kickback City is released on Sony Music. See www.rorygallagher.com
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