“Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher and The Beat Club Sessions 1971-1972” by Rory Gallagher

Artist: Rory Gallagher
Title: “Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher and The Beat Club Sessions 1971-1972”
Label: Eagle Vision
Release Date: 9/14/2010
Genre: Blues Rock
Rating: 4.5/5

Eaglerock Entertainment expands it’s already impressive offering of Rory Gallagher DVD’s with “Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher” a two disc package comprised of a brand new documentary on the Irish guitarist and a disc of live performances originally broadcast on Germany’s Beat Club TV show.

While under appreciated in America based on his single minded aversion to the hype of record company publicity departments, Gallagher carved a unique legacy in Europe through constant touring and barn burning shows. The guy did not have to stand underneath a laser pyramid to get his point across. He grabbed his signature Fender Stratocaster and laid down the truth.

This documentary, framed by an in depth interview with Gallagher’s brother Donal and archival interviews with the man himself, takes us on a complete trip from Rory’s birth at the serendipitously named Rock Hospital in Ballyshannon, Ireland to his untimely death at age 47. Along the way we are treated to loads of visual artifacts, snippets of stage performances (including footage of his 60’s power trio Taste), and pertinent interviews with those who encountered him in his lifetime (Bill Wyman, Cameron Crowe, Bob Geldorf) and those who he influenced.

Starting out on a ukulele at age 8 Rory progressed quickly. Geldorf notes Gallagher’s journeyman tenure in Irish “Showbands”, a particularly heinous strain of stage performance that Sir Bob describes as a “musical disgrace”, and feels he was lucky to escape with his musical integrity. In truth, it was the only way for a musician of that era to learn their trade while making some cash and, as Rory himself notes, “Play through a Vox AC30, which you could not afford at the time”. This two year stint on the showband circuit may have solidified his unwillingness to bow to anything he considered a commercial cop-out throughout the rest of his career. “I’m not going to become Bryan Ferry or the Police or something. I’m Rory Gallagher”

It’s most interesting to find U2’s The Edge – one of the least blues inflected players I can think of – extolling the effect Gallagher’s performances had his formative years. In addition, The Smith’s Johnny Marr tells an hysterical anecdote of guitar immolation during an attempt to emulate the look of Rory’s iconic Strat. Why that guitar (“his partner for life”) took on that particular patina is explained by brother Donal, while an interview with the local music store owner reveals the guitar’s original owner and gives us a look at the lay-away payment card it was purchased against.

We also get a “fringe universe” discussion of what might have been had Gallagher joined The Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor unexpectedly bolted in 1974. In a flurry of auditions that included Harvey Mandel, Wayne Perkins, Ry Cooder and even Jeff Beck, it is notable that Gallagher was the first invitee. Stones Bass player Bill Wyman relates that though they “played some nice stuff” together over a couple of sessions being “subservient to two big egos” like Mick and Keith would not have worked for someone as equally talented and driven as Rory.

The transformative nature of Rory’s music and his connection with a “grass roots” audience was proven through his willingness to play Northern Ireland shows at the height of the sectarian “troubles”, when no one else would. The New Year’s Eve 1971-72 shows in Belfast brought out “music starved” fans from “both sides of the divide” even after several bombs were detonated at the city center earlier in the day.

Sadly the rigors of constant touring, a mixture of prescribed drugs and alcohol, compounded by a very rare blood type, eventually conspired in his early demise.

Disc two of this Eagle Vision set offers us sixteen live performances by Rory Gallagher all from German music show Beat Club in 1971-72. It makes a exceptional addendum to the documentary by giving us an uninterrupted look at Rory’s no nonsense “I’m gonna stand here and play my guitar” presentation. We witness the triumph of feel over precision.

The transfer to DVD is exceptional and suggests the original recordings were well cared for. Thank goodness, Beat Club has proven to be an invaluable archive of seventies rock, including material by Deep Purple, Free, and even Black Sabbath. The only thing that often tempers total enjoyment of many Beat Club videos is the studio crew’s trigger happy use of chroma key effects. Some of this “psychedelic” dabbling probably looked dated even in 1971 but in 2010 often proves enormously distracting. It is almost as if the producers did not believe the acts to be interesting enough in their own right. Nonetheless these documents of Gallagher singing along with slide guitar lines on “In Your Town”, playing beautiful open tuned acoustic arpeggios on “Just A Smile” or burning flurries of Albert King like licks on “Should’ve Learned My Lesson”, are priceless.

“Ghost Blues” can stand as a blueprint for what a music documentary should be. It celebrates the talent and eschews the tawdriness of “Behind the Music” pap. Director Ian Thuiller perfectly blends performance pieces with visually reinforced biographical fact and interviews with pertinent participants rather than current celebrities. This documentary will go a long way toward introducing Rory’s musical legacy to a new generation of blues guitarists who may only be familiar with the late Stevie Ray Vaughn as an object of worship and proves that Rory Gallagher deserves a similar sized pedestal in the pantheon of guitar gods.

Track Listing:
1. Laundromat
2. Hands Up
3. Sinnerboy
4. Just The Smile
5. Used To Be
6. In Your Town
7. Should’ve Learned My Lesson
8. Crest Of A Wave
9. Tore Down
10. Pistol Slapper Blues
11. I Don’t Know Where I’m Going
12. Going To My Hometown
13. I Could’ve Had Religion
14. McAvoy Boogie
15. Hoodoo Man
16. Messin’ With The Kid

Official Website: www.rorygallagher.com

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