The interview took place in Los Angeles at a hotel close to the Starwood Ballroom where Rory performed in December 1978. Mark Stevens interviewed the guitarist for the Los Angeles-based Triad magazine, and an article titled “Rory Gallagher. Meat ‘N’ Potatoes Rock ‘N Roll” appeared in the February 1979 issue. On the day of the interview Mr. Stevens, with tape-recorder in hand, also observed Rory’s band run through a sound check. The band went through several numbers including “Cloak and Dagger” from Photo-Finish, a scorching rendition of “Overnight Bag” also from Photo-Finish, and instrumental versions of the Beatles number “Words of Love,” and “They Don’t Make Them Like You Any More” from Tattoo.
Thanks to Shiv Cariappa for his help in transcribing and editing the interview.
MS: How come you are not playing at a big hall tonight where you could be playing to a larger audience?
RG: We could have done it. We could have played at the Civic or the Shrine. The basic planning of this tour was listed as a club tour, which immediately puts things slightly askew in some cities because people think that if you don’t do the big gig, you are going down or something. We just wanted to do a club tour without getting involved in a big mishmash of a concert tour with Aerosmith, which we had done previously by doing this theater and that theater. This time it was basic — lets go back and play clubs for a tour and have fun. Especially now with a new lineup, this has been great. It is tough doing two shows a night, because I don’t do two 45-minute shows, I do two to three hours. It was great at the El Macambo in Toronto. There again we could have done a theater. We did the Bottom Line in New York for a couple of nights. We did this kind of thing throughout. It gets your feet back on the ground. But the next time we will probably do something bigger.
MS: What have you been up to for the last two years? You have been gone for so long.
RG: [Laughs] My Zodiac must have been up the creek these last two years. First we planned to have an album out. We were in the studio this time last year. We wanted an album out by the first of January. At one time we actually thought we would have it out by this time of the year, but that wasn’t to be. Anyway, we worked on it, but things got complicated in the studio, and it got delayed and so on, and so I had to come back for another couple of weeks on the album. So there I lost three months in the studio. Anyway, I got so fed up with the thing even though it was costing me a fortune. I scrapped the album on the last day when it was cut. I never thought I would do that, but there was a lot of pressure to get it out. I was not satisfied with the quality of the songs.
MS: Are these the same songs scrapped on Photo-Finish?
RG: About half – – it wasn’t because of the material or the musicians or anything like that. It was a song thing that I didn’t think on the technical side everything worked. So I scrapped the thing — that was around February, and then I broke my thumb the day after I decided on this album –outside this hotel.
MS: Your right-hand thumb?
RG: Yeah. I still can’t bend it fully, but I can play on it. It sounds like a very sad-luck story. For six weeks I had a thing on it — a dressing. So after that I had to cancel a German tour. Anyway, my thumb got better, and we did a British tour. It was the summer of this year, and we were getting ready to redo the album as it were, and I decided to change the lineup of the band after six years. So I got a different drummer and dropped the keyboards. I went back into the studio. Finding a new drummer was difficult too, because there’s a lot of hot drummers in London. They are hot, but they don’t understand rhythm and blues. They are going to do Billy Cobham or they are going to do disco. I was fortunate to get Ted (McKenna) at the last hour. The guy could do it all.
MS: Were you just auditioning when you found him?
RG: I was auditioning drummers, and the engineer I was working with at the studio in London happened to know him and called him. He came around, and so we did the album in four weeks in Germany. We left the London studio because it wasn’t the best atmosphere. London is a big city, and considering all the traumas that had gone on, I had felt that I would like to work at this particular studio in Germany. It was like in a village with a hotel and two bars. So there was no driving — you just got up in the morning and walked into town.
MS: Were there good facilities — a good studio?
RG: Oh, the studio was perfect. It was 13 kilometers from Cologne. So you were close to a big city if you wanted to be near one. The studio was also 24-track. We brought over an Irish engineer who was working in London who had previously done Venus and Mars (Paul McCartney) and Let it Bleed (Rolling Stones), and a lot of Kinks records. He was great, the studios were great, and the band was great. We added some new songs and the others were rearranged. It all worked out in the end.
MS: Which ones are the new songs on Photo-Finish, and what happens to the ones you scrapped?
RG: I still like the ones I scrapped. But it so happened that I wrote a lot of new ones that I thought were more in keeping. I just wanted to shuffle them around, I confess. The new ones are “Shadow Play,” “Shin Kicker,” “The Last of the Independents,” and “Cloak and Dagger.” The remaining ones were “Mississippi Sheiks,” “Brute Force,” “Fuel to the Fire,” and “Cruise On Out.” We left four behind — they might never surface, but then they might. It has happened before, and you look back and you decide that song was great. But this time, I just felt the new ones were so immediate, and they gave me an inspired feeling to get it on. So then we went back on the road with a new label — six weeks in Europe, which was the best European tour I’ve ever been on with anybody. It was great fun, for one thing at least, to get back on the stage after all the ups and downs. When you look back, they weren’t actually ups and downs, but they really seemed like it at that time, because, you know, people would say, ‘Where the hell is the album?’ and ‘Can you not write songs anymore, what’s wrong with you?’ Or people would think you are lazing away, which I wasn’t. Sometimes it’s worth redoing something. You’ve got to be satisfied. I know that I have an album, that I can play it uncritically and enjoy it.
MS: You’ve got a really live feeling to that album in the studio, and the other thing that occurred to me is your voice. Have you been working on your voice with lessons or anything? You sing pretty strong.
RG: What I did in some of the earlier albums, the Polydor albums, I used to sing live. We were doing too many albums. We did at least two a year, which was heavy work, plus a lot of gigs. As you roll on over the years, you become more aware of singing better. You just get better doing it, you get louder. I don’t mind over dubbing vocals now and then. I used to be odd about that. I wanted to do live lead, live everything. But now I do pretty much a live-lead combination, rhythm guitar and guide vocal, or if it is a really hot live vocal lead we pair it, or I do a complete vocal. I used to feel terribly awkward in the studio with nothing in my hands. I used to try and get it as instinctive as possible, but now I can split my brain and also be a technician. But all the tracks still are 90 percent live. Then we might over dub rhythm or a little lead or percussion.
MS: What about “The Last of the Independents”? It sounds like it is a sequel to “In Your Town.” But in some ways it talks about yourself. Did you have that in mind when you wrote that song?
RG: No, but some people have said that to me. They thought that I was the last of a particular group of people, or I was independent or something. Maybe I am a bit, but I doubt that. The song actually came about when I had the title and then wrote the song. Half way through it I realized that I had read the review of the picture “Charlie Varrick”  with Walter Matthau. Did you see that? The old-time crook who turned over the bank. And basically that’s the story. The Charlie Varrick movie was subtitled “The Last of the Independents.” I loved the story, but I never saw the movie. Not having seen the picture, I can only guess what it was about. But the story is a bit like another picture Joseph Losey made with Stanley Baker, “The Criminal” . It’s about a guy who is the only one who knows where the money is stashed X years ago, who does his time in jail and gets out, and they are all ghosting after him trying to find it. The song is about what the guy is doing. They are after him on a jumbo jet. He gets out on a laundry chute in Chicago. It is just a comic gangster-type song that has a good Bo Didley sound to it.
MS: What’s that line on that song, which goes like, “sing like a . . .”?
RG: “Sing like a canary.” I saw a movie with gangster talk, which said “I won’t sing like a canary, I won’t go naming names, I might need police protection, but I play my own game.”
MS: The reference to the syndicate you could think is record business.
RG: [Laughs] You could do a nice Bob Dylan-type break down on that. I was aware of the fact that with that title some people would see me as the last crusader of the blues, or being some kind of independent.
MS: Many things have changed in rock-and-roll in the last couple of years haven’t they?
RG: Things have gotten very formal. There is so much disco and a lot of bands that are just prefabricated corporations. In England, the bands were getting so big it had to be Shea Stadium or nothing, and it had be 15 limos and a Cecil B. DeMille stage. So at least there is a sobriety that the new-wavers brought in. But then some of the new wave people pretend they were born yesterday and pretend they never heard of Eddie Cochran or Muddy Waters
MS: I mean bands like Boston and Kansas.
RG: Well, Kansas has paid its dues, they have been around a long time. If I look at the billboard charts and those magazines, the only records I like are the Stones record and Springsteen. Boston and Kansas, I like to see them in the charts, but there is so much formula and what I call synthesized prefabricated music. There is not much raunchy and funky-type music now. There is a heavy loud music, but not the kind of independent music. In England things have gone overboard with new wave and punk, but I think that is a more positive movement than some of things that were going on. Elvis Costello is good. I can hear echoes of all kinds of people in his music, but he doesn’t credit them whereas Bruce Springsteen, who I admire greatly, is so honest and open about things. He has been such a great rock fan for years and does his own thing.
MS: Which songs on the new album do you like the most, and how does the album fit in with some of the things you have done in the past, especially with the two-year break in there?
RG: I think it is different from Calling Card. I think Calling Card is an album I like. It has a good sound, it has a good level feeling, but I don’t think it has the excitement the new one has. I think this one is the best album of the lot. The songs stand out, the beat is there. We don’t overplay or underplay, there is plenty of guitar sound, but it isn’t an ego trip. I mean, I do like all the albums naturally in some way or another. It is hard to compare. Some people think it is a three-piece set and that it is connected with Deuce, the first album [self-titled] or the Taste albums. I think it is a little bit like Tattoo in terms of some of the songs like “Cradle Rock,” “Sleep on a Clothes Line,” that type of gritty bite. I dropped the songs that were in anyway vacant. I wanted it really loud and that it kind of kicked.
MS: About direction, do you know where you are headed to from album to album?
RG: Well, I did have quite a vision this time before doing it, and of course the vision became clearer as time went by. Even though I love playing acoustic guitar, I wanted the album to be rhythmic and hard, not hard in the normal hard-rock, heavy-metal type, but brass-knuckles music. I mean some critics say, “Oh, he is just doing some old rock and blues, he is not changing, or he is not going fusion.” People are expecting me to change, but that would be a fake change. I could do a fusion album just like that, and it could be fun, or do a reggae album and wear a country western hat and then everyone would say “He’s progressing.” That it not progression, that is just playing different games with the media. Now what I want to do is play music that I think there is a distinct lack of around. There are very few people doing good meat-and- potatoes music with interesting sounds. I sound boasting about it [laughs]. No, there’s better people playing good, tough music, and I hate to see this stuff dying. On the other hand, I don’t want to just recreate old blues music — I want to do new sounds. But obviously anyone listening can see that I am a blues and rock fan. That’s my ambition.
MS: You mentioned the media, and it occurs to me that a lot of rock musicians create a public image. You are obviously not into that. But can you be a rock star and make it big without doing that? Bruce Springsteen is not into that, and do people like that give you hope?
RG: Yes, Springsteen and Bob Seeger. That is heartening, because they did not make it with some wimpy tune that just came out of nowhere. I believe it can be done, yeah. What image does Bob Seeger have with his long hair and beard? We know he has a great voice and great band. He gives out a vibe, and that is it. He does not try to put on a movie-style act and be ten different people. Some people do that very well, and that is their privilege. Springsteen is a hard-working guy, but you just don’t say he’s a hard-working guy, because he is a great talent. To make it really big in Europe is just as hard, but it can be done without resorting to extreme media gimmicks. In my case, I have had a certain amount of publicity in Europe, but it has never been as much as some other people have had. I have been lucky enough. I have had a great following there and in Japan.
MS: Do you think about that in regard to your career?
RG: Time goes by very fast, you know what I mean? I don’t think about it because I am concerned about more immediate things you have to weigh, such as a gig, a sound check, and getting to the next venue. I mean I would certainly like to be as big as Springsteen or Bob Seeger in the long run, but I don’t know. On the one hand you are a musician and you just want to play what you enjoy doing most to a good audience in some reasonably successful capacity. That is my main goal, but naturally you are a human being and you have an ego like everyone else. You like to be as big as you think you deserve to be or what others think you should be. Well, I am happy doing what I do, but I am not organized in my mind about success and planning as some other people are, and that annoys some people who have to deal with me.
MS: The first time we talked, and that was in St. Louis and you may not remember, but I was really shocked after the concert that you were really quiet offstage and really relaxed and very complacent. What’s going to happen tonight from right now and when you get onstage and go bananas? It is like two different people. Once you get up there it is a different story.
RG: [laughs] It is, sometimes I don’t recognize myself up there, and sometimes I don’t recognize myself when I come off the stage. I don’t know. I am not aware of this Jekyll and Hyde change. I mean, if I were as crazy offstage as I am onstage, people would lock me or they wouldn’t talk to me.
MS: What goes though your mind from now onto the stage? Do you think about the music or the blues or what?
RG: I don’t know. Even when you do it so often, I still am as nervous as ever. It is the sound, the people, the expectation I guess; the enjoyment of playing — the release of playing. For me playing is a big release for the day for me. I really can’t break it down, what I am thinking. When I get onstage, I want to cause a bit of a rumpus and have a bit of fun. Obviously, if I were sitting in with someone else, I would be more laid back, I think. If you are up front, I think you have to hit it tooth and nail, you know.
MS: Are you optimistic about the future of rock? At this point things aren’t too hot over here.
RG: I am pretty optimistic about music in general always. I think things go a little astray now and then. I get a little worried about the control about the music business and radio — those kinds of things. I get annoyed that the AM radio system is so tied up now and DJ’s aren’t allowed to play the records they want but told to play records that what the public thinks they want to play. Which means they want to hear Grease and Disco Fever 15 hours a day. I think radio should loosen up a bit. This business about not playing anything more than two minutes and thirty seconds — this isn’t healthy. That is too much Big Brother. Even FM radio has been affected –all depending on advertisements and that so rt of thing. I am not hankering for the great days of the sixties, they weren’t perfect either, but there was a certain sense of experimenting, and looking into the library and not playing the first twenty records and that type of thing. You know now we have the new wave thing, and a lot of bands just cannot play. But many of them have proved that it is possible to change the big boys. Like the Stones for example, by dropping the big scenery and playing with smaller amplifiers. You can still play in clubs. In England I used to play in the clubs. Now all of a sudden, all these groups started playing in smaller venues. Even DJ’s have gone crazy. European radio is not the greatest either, they don’t have AM and FM radio systems like in the US. There they like to pigeonhole music like rhythm & blues.
MS: Just to end on, what’s in the near future for you? Do you have any albums planned, or are you writing songs?
RG: I have lot of skeletons of songs lying around that need to be fleshed out. I have a lot of good ideas for songs. I have some songs that have not been rehearsed as yet. After this four-week tour we will go back to do a British tour during December and January — an Irish tour for Christmas. Then a small Spanish and Portuguese tour. As far as the next album, it depends on how Photo-Finish goes. We could do another one in January or February and have it out in the summer or the early autumn. We might even move over here, either New York or Los Angeles. Otherwise it just defeats all the hard work we have done here. This is our thirteenth tour or so. If you go back to Europe, you can easily get tied up again there, and then tours get delayed. But then again we won’t forsake Europe either. I am at this point where I can start concentrating on America. I’d love to be as big as Springsteen or Seeger by all means. My long-term ambition is to have a top-ten album in America, and to get that you have to be ambitious. But if the ambition overrides the fun of it, you’re in trouble. Some people see me as the last crusader of the blues or some kind of independent because I do a certain amount of things my own way. I don’t mind being an independent, but I don’t want to be the last of anything.
(c) 1978 by Mark Stevens from Triad Magazine reformatted by roryfan with permission from Mark Stevens