Rory Gallagher bassist Gerry McAvoy recalls the great bluesman’s debut album

Rory Gallagher’s self-titled debut solo album was a landmark recording for blues-rock guitar. It presented another side of the Irish six-string, an adventure that extended beyond the blues, expanding its sound with elements of folk and jazz.

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, Guitarist met Gerry McAvoy, who played bass guitar on the album, and asked him to share some memories of the recording sessions and one of blues-rock guitar’s most electrifying talents.

How did you get the call to play on Rory’s debut solo album?

“I was in a group called Deep Joy and we had opened for Taste [Rory’s earlier band] at many of their shows in England and also in Europe. The taste broke in October 1970, actually in Belfast – and we have been back there as well.

“Deep Joy had kind of been on a starvation diet when we lived in London – you just couldn’t go on, waiting for the big break that never came. So we parted ways on New Years Eve 1970, until 1971. Deep Joy’s drummer at the time was Wilgar Campbell, who also became the drummer for Rory’s band.

“So I was back in Belfast in January 71 when I received a phone call. At first I thought it was Wilgar, because at the time you could tell as soon as you picked up the phone if it was a long distance call. [from London]. But it was Rory and he said, ‘Oh, hello, Gerry, how are you?’ and we kind of traded in a few niceties.

“He said Wilgar gave him my phone number, hope I don’t mind – of course not – and then at the end of the conversation he just said, ‘Would you like to come to London for some jam, ‘and I said,’ Well, great. ‘ So a plane ticket arrived in the mail and I jumped on the plane.

“Rory’s brother Donal picked me up from Heathrow Airport and we headed towards Fulham Palace Road in West London to a small rehearsal room. Rory was already there – AC30, Rangemaster and Stratocaster, ready to go. Wilgar was there with the drums installed and they had some bass gear for me. So, you know, there were a few jokes and then we started playing together – and it was fantastic.

“It was a great feeling for me because I was a fan of both Taste Mk1 and Mk2 [the two lineups of Taste]. So staying there at 19 playing with Rory … and that was just the start.

What was your first impression of the material Rory put on the solo album, compared to Taste?

“I think he experimented everything with the folk side because he liked folk, he liked jazz, he liked blues… And there were also some little pop elements that crept in there too. So I think he was sort of testing the water with that first album, to see which direction he would go.

“We rehearsed for about four or five days before recording the album. We rehearsed most of the songs – in fact the only song we didn’t rehearse was Laundromat. Rory came over one day and said, “Let’s go…” He didn’t explain what we were going to play but, because I was playing guitar before playing bass, I could read the chords. [his hand was forming] and I knew what he was playing.

“Even in rehearsals he didn’t say ‘This song is in the key of E’ or ‘This song is called …’ He just started playing and we just followed. So that’s how it is. Laundromat started – it just opened with a riff. I heard the riff and it knocked me down because I was like ‘Wow, what a riff, so unusual’.

Have all the tracks been recorded as live performances without overdubs?

“It was completely live. All of Rory’s heroes, like Muddy Waters, probably recorded with two mics in Chicago – and everyone wanted to have that live performance feel. If there were any overdubs, maybe it was the weird rhythm guitar piece or something, or a tambourine that would play after that. But basically the voices would be put live. What he was looking for was a great performance: in his mind, that’s what created a great song.

“A lot of other bands wouldn’t have done it that way, you know?” I mean, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin would’ve done it in a whole different way, maybe, and dub the solos. But Rory wanted it to be as live as possible, which can sometimes be damaging, sonically. But that’s what Rory wanted and it was like that.

“When we came to record Sinful boy on the album sessions it was done live, like the rest. So the intro is just Rory and the Telecaster. And it was [a case of guessing] ‘When do I come in, when do I come in …’ and then Rory kinda winked and nodded at us and the drums came in and my bass was on. entered and we left.

What guitar and bass material did you use on the album?

“I had a Strampf amplifier, a German made amplifier made by an old friend of ours called Peter Struven, and it was a 100 watt head and a 4×12. No pedals – that was a no-no, especially for a bass player at the time [laughs].

“At first, Rory only had the Rangemaster, the small treble amplifier and the AC30. But in this session he used a small Fender Champ, oddly enough. In fact, Laundromat was recorded with the Fender Champ – although it sounds like a 100-watt Marshall, it’s ridiculous. But then Eddie Offord was a fantastic engineer. So he can deal with it all, you know?

Were these only first or second take recordings?

“No, there were a few takes. I mean, I know there’s been quite a bit of taking Laundromat, for example, because we never repeated it. And the take that Rory actually chose, there is a bass error and it plagued me for the rest of my life [laughs].

“But performance came first, performance always came first… You’d usually do four or five takes. It was exciting – because you’re at the limit and it creates excitement because you’re not 100% sure which direction it’s going to take, where you’re going. Where is Rory going? Can we follow him? So that created that excitement.

How does working with Wilgar compare to the sound of Rory’s later drummer Rod De’Ath?

“Wilgar was a big fan of jazz. So he brought that kind of big band thing to the table. I mean, Rod was the least drumming drummer ever, but he was so exciting. But Wilgar had his own excitement, you know. All of the guys who’ve come into Rory’s band over the years have come up with something different. Rory had walked through the mill a bit with Taste breaking up.

What was the vibe like while you were recording her first solo album?

“It was like the weight had been taken off Rory’s shoulders. I mean, he was smiling a lot. He really enjoyed it. I think he liked being his own man, maybe being a little bit in charge, you know? And enjoying the fact that he still had a recording contract and was making his own album.

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