When Rory Gallagher left us in 1995, he also left behind a rich body of work. From hard-hitting blues to tender acoustic music to R&B to Celtic influences, Gallagher was an engaging performer and an astonishingly gifted guitarist. His discography includes well over a dozen albums, between power trio Taste (beginning in 1969) and his solo works (from 1971’s self-titled album to 1990’s Fresh Evidence), but hardcore fans have long known about a mysterious lost record, an album which was recorded in the late ’70s but never released. That album has now seen the light of day as Notes from San Francisco via Eagle Rock Entertainment.
Gallagher said in 1992 that he would be happy to release the material some day, provided it was remixed, but it took until this year for Rory’s brother (and tour manager) Donal Gallagher to let the recording out into the world.
“Rory had always harbored the ambition to make an album in the States,” Donal says. “Through the early part of the ’70s with Polydor that dream hadn’t come to fruition, so when he switched labels in ’75 to Chrysalis, he had two albums that were a strong success but weren’t what you’d call chart breakthroughs.”
Rory had worked with a producer for the first time on Calling Card – Roger Glover of Deep Purple, in fact – but wasn’t entirely happy with the mix of that record, so the idea of tracking the follow-up in America was flown up the pole. Chrysalis had been working with producer Elliot Mazer (Neil Young, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra) on a few other acts, and it just so happened that Mazer and Rory had hit it off during the final Taste tour a few years earlier.
“In the course of that tour, Rory wasn’t talking to too many people,” Donal says. “The band had already split up, and were doing a farewell tour. So Rory spent his time with Elliot.”
Musically, Rory was very into American music, from Muscle Shoals to the blues, so he and Mazer had a lot to talk about.
Finally, in 1977, it was proposed that Rory would record an album with Mazer in San Francisco. So 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.
“Parallel to this, Rory was experimenting a lot more with his guitars,” Donal says. “Replacement pickups were really coming to the fore in that period, and adjacent to Elliot’s studio was a guitar store called Star’s Guitars – I think they even shared a front door. So Rory was using a variety of guitars – more than he would use on previous albums. He was using a Gibson SG, for instance, so I think there’s probably a fatter pickup sound that gives it an edge.”
The album was due to be completed by Christmas ’77, but once the mixing started, the project had run into glitches and trouble.
“Rory wasn’t really happy with where the album was going,” Donal says. “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, he decided he wasn’t going to go through with it.”
Donal says it’s hard to pin down exactly why Rory wasn’t happy with the work – after all, the performances and engineering certainly sound great today.
“Frankly, to my ears it sounded terrific,” Donal says. “Hindsight is a great thing, but I think the fundamental issue is that after that he split the band up. I don’t think it was because of their ability to musically play on the album, but I think that in Rory’s heart of hearts, the idea of doing an American album would be to work with American musicians.”
But non-stop touring had made Gallagher’s band a well-oiled machine that was firing on all cylinders and was socially well-integrated, so it was considered prudent (and probably cost-effective) to get the band into the studio straight away. And anyway, Donal believes Rory wouldn’t have had the courage to tell the band he wasn’t going to use them on the album.
“For every album that I remember him involved in, Rory would have post-natal depression,” Donal says. “So there was always an element of the mix not coming up to scratch for him, or things irritating him, but Rory was a workaholic. And the deadlines and pressure in those days always seemed to be so great. You had to have it recorded by this date, mixed by that date, pressed by this date and then you had to be out on tour by this date. And when you have your youth it just doesn’t seem like it, but when you stand back after all those years, it was absolutely nuts, going on the way it was!”
The album has now undergone the remix that Rory wanted, and has been bundled with a live album taken from four December nights in 1979 at San Francisco’s The Old Waldorf.
“Rory educated us to look after tapes,” Donal says. “We had the tapes baked a couple of times to make sure there was no moisture over the years, because I’d heard some horror stories, like one case where Elvis Costello had put all his tapes into a professional storage facility and they had deteriorated, so we knew that certain types of tapes were inclined to break up and shatter. So where we felt it necessary, we duplicated to a different source.”
Donal allowed his son Daniel to begin the process of mixing it with his engineer.
“People are going to say: if Rory’s not involved in this, then what am I doing?” he says. “But when I heard it after remixing, it sounded a lot better than I’d remembered it. Initially the mixes they were doing were very much ‘the guitar mix,’ because with Rory in the studio the guitar was in front of everything else – that’s just what you got! But I felt that with this album it was much more of a band album, because the keyboards and extra instruments were layered on, so I felt that maybe the way to go was to not worry too much about it being a guitar album – you don’t need to sell Rory as a guitarist to anybody – so let’s open the thing up, let the keyboards breathe, get what you can out of it, and let it all broaden out. Because, in effect, people are going to want to hear the produced album, at the end of the day.”