Asked how it felt to be the world’s greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix purportedly replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Rory Gallagher?” Yet the Irish ax-slinger, who died in 1995, never achieved the American fame bestowed on British blues players like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, or even Mick Taylor.
You wouldn’t have known that from the fans who packed Iridium on May 23rd to celebrate Gallagher’s life and music. They roundly cheered the discussion panel, which included Rory’s brother Bob Donal Gallagher, Ed Christman of Billboard magazine, producer Elliot Mazer, and Mike Carden, president of Eagle Rock Entertainment.
Mazer produced a record for Gallagher in 1977, Notes from San Francisco, which is only now seeing the light of day thanks to the evening’s sponsor, Eagle Rock Entertainment. Mazer explained how a show they attended together might have had something to do with its initial abandonment. “Rory was blown away by the Sex Pistols. I saw a change in him. He realized the record we were making was not exactly that; it had a tremendous amount of energy but was different than the raw guitar, bass, and drums records that Rory had always made,” he related. “At the mastering session Rory said to me, ‘I don’t like the hi-hat sound.’ I thought that was odd, but something we could fix. He walked out and I never saw him again.” Today, it is hard to fathom Gallagher’s reaction, as he was perhaps the wildest, most energetic performer of all the guitar gods from across the pond.
The Iridium crowd raucously bonded with the artists that played after the panel. The guitarists included Scott Holt (Buddy Guy), Jim Suhler (George Thorogood), Innes Sibun (Robert Plant), Jon Paris (Johnny Winter), Isle of Man wunderkind Davy Knowles, and others. Their musical tributes reflected the honoree’s style, often favoring vigor over finesse. Though both Louis and Marshall combos graced the stage, all the guitarists ended up using a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, while ripping through Gallagher classics like “Tattooed Lady” and “A Million Miles Away.”
During his days with Savoy Brown, the show’s guest drummer, Roger Earl, shared bills with Gallagher’s trio, Taste. “Rob Price, Savoy’s original guitar player, was secretly a big fan of Rory’s. He didn’t talk much about it, but he named his first son Rory.”