- 11 Jun 15
LIAM FAY remembers Rory Gallagher, the superb raconteur with a dry wit
This article was taken from Volume 19 Issue 13
One of the qualities about Rory Gallagher which may have been overlooked in many of the tributes is that he was an incredibly amusing guy. He was a superb anecdotalist, with a great eye for telling detail and a bone dry wit.
I Interviewed Rory three years ago in London. It was clear that he wasn't very well at that time. We spent much of our encounter discussing his state of well-being, both physical and mental, and It soon became obvious that he was not a man without deep regrets. Still, as the hours passed by, and the reminiscences began to flow, his mood brightened considerably.
What follows is a story which Rory related that aftemooon with considerable relish. He was anything but a name-dropper. Indeed, one would need a very large crowbar to prise any recollection from him that was not essentially self-deprecating. Nevertheless, there was something about this specific yarn which seemed to tickle him mightily:
It was 1974, a year or so after Rory had played alongside Albert Lee and Peter Frampton among others on Jerry Lee Lewis' legendary London Sessions. Rory and a few friends were invited to a special showcase gig by The Killer in The Roxy club in Los Angeles. The concert began equably enough and the audience were really starting to get into it when who should walk into the auditorium but one John Lennon. We'll let the master himself take up the tale.
"Lennon was going through his L.A. phase at the time and his hair was really short but everyone still recognised him and they all turned to look at him as he took his seat In the balcony," recalled Rory.
"Needless to say, the fact that he was being upstaged drove Jerry Lee wild. He started to do the 'Jerry Lee Rag' but everybody was still looking up at Lennon and whispering about him. All of a sudden, Jerry Lee stopped and started on about how The Beatles were shit and The Stones were shit and there ain't nobody could play real rock 'n' roll the way Jerry Lee could.
"Lennon loved this. He had his boot up on the balcony and started egging Jerry Lee on, shouting (convincing Lennon voice) 'Yeah, you're right there man, The Beatles are shit'. People started laughing but Jerry Lee thought that Lennon was shouting abuse at him so he freaked out altogether. He just pushed the piano across the stage and stomed off.”
The atmosphere in The Roxy was now understandably tense. Most people left the building, fearing that Jerry Lee might go on the rampage with one of the fireams that the notoriously volatile hothead was known to carry with him. Others stuck around hoping to witness just such an eventuality. As it happened, Rory had a backstage pass and was keen to go into The Killer's dressing room to try to cheer him up and maybe calm him down. Rory's brother and manager, Donal, warned against this course of action, however, arguing that he would be risking his life to enter such a fearsome lion's den at a time like this. Enter Tom O'Driscoll. O'Driscoll is a mountain of a man from Scull, Co. Cork. A fisheman by trade, he was Rory's roadie and bodyguard for well over two decades. Donal Gallagher agreed that Rory could go backstage provided that O'Driscoll went with him. "I wasn't too afraid of Jerry Lee because I had worked on the sessions with him," explained Rory. "But everybody else was obviously very scared because there was nobody else in the dressing room when Tom and I went in."
It took considerable diplomacy on Gallagher's part but gradually he managed to coax Jerry Lee out of his sulk.
"We actually got to the point where we were just chatting away, reminiscing about the sessions and that kind of thing," recounted Rory. "Then, all of a sudden, the door opened and in walked Lennon. There was dead silence for a couple of seconds. I just stared at Jerry Lee to see how he was going to react. But Tom O'Driscoll couldn't resist the opportunity. He was a huge Beatles fan and he just went over to Lennon, dropped down on his knees, kissed his hand and said, 'I've been waiting twenty years to get the autograph of the king of rock 'n' roll!'
"Of course, this drove Jerry Lee completely wild. He went for his sock, thinking that he had a gun in it and then he started looking around for something to throw or break. Lennon could see all this so he quickly signed Tom's piece of-paper and then, to diffuse the situation, he took the pen and another piece of paper from Tom and went across the room to Jerry Lee. He did exactly what Tom had done to him. He went down on his knees, kissed Jerry Lee's hand and said, 'I've been waiting twenty years to get the autograph of the king of real rock 'n' roll!' Jerry Lee was delighted.
He signed the scrap of paper and they started talking then and everything was fine. It was a wonderful moment.”
I can still see the smile on Rory's face as he re-lived this incident. The word, I believe, is beaming.