Rory Gallagher – BBC Sessions (1999; 2011 reissue)

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Rory Gallagher could have been blues music’s long-lost savior, so vibrant, complex and original was his personality — both as a guitar player and (importantly) as a composer. Listen to BBC Sessions, which principally focuses on his work in the 1970s, and its easy to imagine Gallagher reanimating the music at a time when it was sorely needed.

Instead, the Irish native somehow never reached the level if fame he so richly deserved, only to pass away in 1995 from complications following a liver transplant. Asked by a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, how it felt to be the greatest guitarist in the world, Jimi Hendrix reportedly answered: “I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher.” Gallagher was also a key influence on Queen’s Brian May, Eric Clapton and U2’s the Edge.

The newly reissued BBC Sessions, a collection featuring one disc of live performances and then another of radio broadcasts, underscore just why. Whereas his studio albums, in particular late in Gallagher’s hard-touring career, could be uneven affairs, this set includes a number of myth-confirming achievements.

“Calling Card,” Gallagher’s signature tune, becomes this free-wheeling eight-minute jam during a 1977 concert. “What In The World” is, somehow, more gut-wrenching in the included performance from 1973. The concert disc also includes an scalding free-form take on Jacknife Beat,” as well as the brilliant down home rocker “Country Mile.” Later, on the studio disc, Gallagher and Co. begin to explore even deeper into the intricate underpinnings of their sound — slowing for the slinky rock-influenced ballad “Crest of a Wave” and then ramping up for a jazz-jumping rendition of “They Don’t Make Them Like You.”

Now, it’s not like the second disc doesn’t make room for its share of grease-popping blues, as well. For every “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” with its shaggy album-rock radio vibe, there’s a sizzling straight blues number like “Hands Off.” For every vaguely psychedelic track like “Daughter of the Everglades,” there’s the honky raunch of “Toredown.” Gallagher cries and moans through the B.B. King-ish “It Takes Time,” too.

Still, you get a sense of just how deep Gallagher’s talent went, and how rangy his muse was. Given this kind of national-broadcast platform, another artist might have stuck with tried-and-true Delta-bred favorites. Not Gallagher. Twelve of the 22 cuts here were originals.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Rory Gallagher’s final release, 1990’s ‘Fresh Evidence,’ started slow, but then quickly gathered itself for another blistering round of Delta-by-way-of-Belfast blues.]

For an artist who always opposed issuing his music in the single format, these BBC performances were an important point of contact between Gallagher and new listeners — and he took full advantage. The facility’s superior recording equipment at Shepherd’s Bush studio in London was also part of the allure: The BBC captured the raw power of Gallagher’s work in intimate surroundings. But they also rebroadcast Gallagher’s raucous club dates, where the crowd’s energy fed his frenzied creativity.

Both sides are reanimated here, to great, eye-openingly groovy effect.

BBC Sessions was compiled by Gallagher’s brother Donal, for posthumous release. More than 10 hours of tape comprised the full catalog of Rory’s performances for the BBC, a raft of material that was whittled down to two discs for this 1999 project — now reissued by Eagle Records. The concert performances, primarily from 1977-79, include a show at the now-defunct Venue club which grew so close and incendiary that drummer Ted McKenna’s kit actually caught fire during the Disc 1 closer “Cruise On Out.” Gallagher’s in-studio appearances span a wider period of time, between 1971-86. Along with McKenna, who also worked with Ian Gillan and Greg Lake, the compilation’s other featured sidemen include bassist Gerry McAvoy, keyboardist Lou Martin, and drummers Rod de’Ath (on 16 tracks), the late Wilgar Campbell (later a sideman with Billy Boy Arnold; he plays on four tracks here) and then Brendan O’Neal on Sonny Boy Williamson I’s “When My Baby She Left Me,” the lone 1980s session.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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