When I made the arrangements to return to my old stomping grounds at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium on December 12, 1976, I had no idea Rory Gallagher was opening for Dave Mason. I was aware of the late great Irish bluesman’s pedigree, to some extent, but mostly as the linchpin of the stellar trio Taste, not as a solo artist. And besides, my curiosity was more focused on the man at the top of the bill, eager to see and hear what this erstwhile member of Traffic would offer as a solo artist: based on my familiarity with Mason’s Alone Together album and more recent work such as It’s Like You Never Left, my hopes were fairly high.
In very short order after Gallagher and his band hit the stage, those hopes were dashed. Or, should I say, rendered obsolete. It was mere moments before I felt the impact of the man’s intensity and I have no doubt my jaw dropped, not only in hearing (and feeling) the power of his guitar playing and singing but also in observing his frenetic stage presence. If the attendees who (mostly remained) sitting in folding chairs on the floor of the gym and in the bleachers seemed to resist his insistent efforts at engaging their attention on tunes like “Cradle Rock,” it might well have been because most were, like me, frozen in wonder.
This was a performer who was giving it his all, even if his audience didn’t respond in kind. Within minimal accompaniment, Rory gave a schooling in blues-rock without the predictable showboating and histrionic excess afflicting so many of his peers in the late Sixties boom that rumbled through the British Isles. Perhaps it was Gallagher’s slight remove as a native of Cork, but his sound was sparse and skeletal with just drums, bass and keyboards, all subservient to the near-feverish yet always pinpoint guitar work: his solos, even on the fast and furious likes of “Bullfrog Blues,” invariably had a beginning, middle and end, with no superfluous digressions to diminish the momentum.
Certainly of no greater duration than forty-five minutes to an hour, Gallagher’s set left me both stunned and overjoyed. As a result, I offered more than one overture to my companion for an early departure, but I was ultimately convinced not to leave, probably because Rory did not make the same profound impression on everyone in the house that he did on me. I was nevertheless hardly in the mood for the ever-so-polite presentation of Dave Mason: having heard “Messin’ With the Kid,” among others of Rory’s standard repertoire of the time, I was nowhere patient enough to absorb the middle-of-the-road likes of “Every Woman,” especially because, even though it was surrounded by the vintage likes of “Look At You, Look At Me,” the British guitarist/vocalist/songwriter did not imbue such material with the mystery of its studio counterparts, much less any extensive improvisation.
Little surprise then that his set, excruciatingly long as it seemed to my ears, quickly faded from memory we drove home. Processing the vivid memory of Rory Gallagher running back and forth across the stage as if to rouse the static crowd in front of him, then subsequently giving an even closer listening to his album of the time, Calling Card (release roughly six weeks prior), I experienced an epiphany that compelled me to procure every album of the man’s I could get my hands on within the next two weeks. Not all his solo efforts were available domestically at the time, but those that were, like Irish Tour ’74, went into and remained in heavy rotation in my apartment that winter.
The further collection of subsequent titles on both audio and video (with more than a little overlap) has resulted in what is now quite a fairly comprehensive library of works by a man that has become one of my ‘Top Ten’ musicians of all time. Such stunning musical discoveries as Rory Gallagher have been rare in the interim of four decades since the late musician established a benchmark by which to calculate passion for my favorite artists within this greatest of all the arts.