Friday, July 08, 2011



One of the great mysteries in life is how one person can be blessed with copious amounts of talent and not be a superstar, while those who are comparatively lightweight in this respect become world famous. Such is the case with the late Rory Gallagher. His career trajectory aligned with rise to prominence of some of the greatest guitarists of the sixties (Hendrix, Clapton, Page and Beck) so it’s understandable that he may have been somewhat overshadowed in such company.

Musicians have long been singing his praises. He maintained a very devoted fan base who snapped up his recordings and went out of their way to see him shred in person. To the delight of his followers, a long buried treasure has been unearthed and made available recently. These fabled sessions began in 1977, with Rory set to record with producer Elliot Mazer. At the end of a year-long world tour, and without so much as a couple of days off in between, Gallagher and his solo band arrived at Mazer’s studio in San Francisco to begin work on the album which he hoped would capture some of the American musical spirit that he so admired.

Departing from his usual approach, Gallagher conceded to augmenting the core instruments with what would be, for him, surfeit layers of sound. He voiced his dissatisfaction with certain elements of the mix. His brother, Donal, takes it up from here:

“Rory wasn’t really happy with where the album was going. After Christmas, Rory and I returned to San Francisco to do another set of mixes. But remix after remix, there was something radically wrong, in Rory’s view. He just wasn’t happy. So by mid-January 1978, he decided he wasn’t going to go through with it.”

Mazer, no stranger to completing recording projects that would ultimately be shelved (Neil Young’s “Homegrown” LP) watched another one slip by.

Upon his decision that the disc would not be issued, Rory then broke up his band of five years and quickly turned his attention toward a new project. In 1992, he implied that this work would only see the light of day only if all of the tracks could be remixed.

Fast forward to 2011 and the release of “Notes From San Francisco”, which not only gives fans of the late guitar genius the “lost” album but also includes a second, live CD taken from four gigs in 1979 at San Francisco’s The Old Waldorf.

The verdict?

Far from being a collection of outtakes that have been rushed to the marketplace for a quick buck, this is a solid, cohesive set. All that was needed was a fresh set of ears to listen and undertake new mixes of the completed material. Gentle surprises come in the form of "Wheels Within Wheels", an acoustic based piece with very tasteful electric overlays and "Fuel to the Fire" which boasts a stunning solo. Elsewhere, he swings wildly with big overdubs that hit hard ("B Girl"), stinging boogie riffs ("Çruise On Out") and what amounts to a tougher edged Stones vibe (circa Exile on Main Street) complete with horns ("Rue the Day"). All are on target, while showcasing the nimble playing of his band.

As for the bonus live disc, expect no less than a masterclass in guitar technique, with devastatingly tight performances being the rule and not the exception.

This is one of the most satisfying "from the vault" releases that I have heard in a long time. If you are a fan of his work, this will not disappoint. Notes From San Francisco is also sure to attract new and willing converts to his existing army of admirers.

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