Weekend Songs: Rory Gallagher, ‘Who’s That Coming?’
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Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords and tight harmonies. But it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times. And there’s no better time for that than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.
This week, we pay tribute to the mighty Rory Gallagher, an artist whose heady blend of rock, blues and folk was tailor-made for the weekend — and although he struggled to reach the massive worldwide audience he deserved during his sadly abbreviated lifetime, his work ultimately proved tremendously influential (not to mention a heck of a lot of fun to play at the loudest possible volume).
Gallagher grew up to be a prodigious multi-instrumentalist whose mastery of the guitar was only part of a musical arsenal that included the saxophone, sitar and various other stringed instruments, but nothing about his upbringing suggested he was bound for rock ‘n’ roll glory. While his parents were musically inclined and supported his efforts to the best of their ability, the family didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend — and growing up in Cork, Ireland, in the ’50s, Gallagher didn’t have the easiest access to records or songbooks for the skiffle, blues and rock that ignited his interest as a teen.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, however, and Gallagher proved a voracious student, using late-night radio broadcasts to delve into everything from Buddy Holly to Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy. By the mid-’60s, he’d founded the blues and R&B power trio Taste, and although the band had dissolved by the turn of the decade, it helped give Gallagher the exposure and confidence he needed to pursue a solo career that would continue until his untimely death at the age of 47 in 1995.
Gallagher proved most prolific during the ’70s, releasing eight studio albums and a pair of live records between 1971-79. And while he never attained the level of international success enjoyed by fellow Irish acts such as Thin Lizzy or Van Morrison, his work resonated with fans while inspiring a widening circle of fellow musicians that included a young Brian May, who later recalled, “So these couple of kids come up, who’s me and my mate, and say, ‘How do you get your sound, Mr. Gallagher?’ and he sits and tells us. So I owe Rory Gallagher my sound.”
The growing stack of LPs in his catalog belied Gallagher’s distaste for the studio; although he recognized the need for recording off the road, he had a tendency to rush through the process, finishing each album in a matter of weeks before heading back out on tour. It’s Gallagher’s live albums from the era, including ‘Live in Europe’ and ‘Irish Tour ’74,’ that really capture what he could do at his peak — as vividly displayed by our latest Weekend Song, the blistering 10-minute version of ‘Who’s That Coming?’ that closes out the third vinyl side of ‘Irish Tour ’74.’
As noted by critic Roy Hollingworth, who covered a show on the tour, Gallagher was one of the few artists willing to play Ireland at the time. Unpredictable bursts of terrorism and violence, including major IRA bombing less than 24 hours before one concert, made travel difficult — but as Gallagher put it at the time, “I see no reason for not playing Belfast. Kids still live here.”
He had his bravery repaid with waves of audience adulation that can be palpably felt throughout every track on ‘Irish Tour ’74,’ helping drive the band into a tightly wound frenzy topped off by Gallagher’s throaty howl and feral guitar. Trying to describe the rush of watching the crowd erupt when the band walked out onstage, Hollingworth wrote, “Without being silly, or overemotional, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It all meant something, it meant more than just rock n’ roll, it was something bigger, something more valid than just that.”
You had to be there to experience what that crowd felt, but you can listen to Rory Gallagher’s classic recordings anytime you like. Matter of fact, you could spend a pretty terrific weekend listening to nothing but Gallagher tracks — and right now, we recommend you get yours started by scrolling up to the top of this post, hitting ‘play’ on that video and turning up the volume just as loud as you can take it. Who’s that coming? It’s the weekend, and not a moment too soon.