There is something about the prospect of turning 40 that has an odd effect on the mind; time seems to telescope, and memories long buried take on a life of their own, coming back into focus at random moments. I recently found myself roaming aimlessly through the internet, keying in names from the past. Oddly, a faint, sweet memory surfaced, and I typed in the name ‘Rory Gallagher’. I hadn't followed his music since the late -‘70’s, but I had wonderful memories of having met him in my early teens. Expecting to find current tour and release information, I was totally unprepared for the news that Rory had died some six years before. The news hit like a ton of bricks and I found myself desperately digging out my old diaries and photo albums, submerged in memories from 1974, when I first met Rory.
In the fall of that year, a friend of my father's, having heard that I was an enthusiastic young concert-goer, suggested I go with her daughter to see Rory Gallagher, who she described as a fantastic blues rock guitarist from Ireland. After the concert, they planned to spend some time with her daughter's friend Gerry, who played bass in the band. I had never heard of Rory, but the idea sounded great to me, and my father agreed that we could go.
The big night arrived on November 23rd 1974. I had just turned 13 and I remember getting all dolled up in my best outfit, a ghastly ensemble of red corduroy pants, a clashing striped shirt, orange suede jacket and white platform shoes. Our friends arrived, and we set off for the Shrine Auditorium in LA.
We were late getting to the show, since we had stopped to find a certain bottle of Irish whiskey Rory was rumored to favor. I had even taken a sip and was just a little tipsy.
Finally we arrived, and as we were getting out of the car I proudly produced the album I had brought, hoping for an autograph. My friend looked at the album in disbelief and winced. "Lotte, we're seeing Rory Gallagher tonight, not Benny Gallagher! You can't take that in to Rory!" Sure enough, being unfamiliar with Rory’s music, I had gotten a Gallagher & Lyle album by mistake! In fact, I had spent weeks pouring over the liner notes and memorizing the songs hoping I might make a good impression – and now I was just standing there, turning bright red in utter embarrassment! We hid the ill-fated record in the car and I pleaded with her not to tell anyone about my gaff. We entered the Shrine, took our places on the side of the stage and waited for Rory to go on.
I can't begin to describe how I felt as Rory took the stage. The music really resonated with me. I was awestruck and completely mesmerized watching Rory play guitar. We moved around from front to back stage trying for the best vantage point and my father took pictures with the new camera he had given me for my birthday.
Rory and Gerry seemed to share this incredible connection on stage and I was just enthralled watching them play together.
By the time Rory brought out his acoustic guitar, I was completely won over.
After the show, my friend disappeared into the maze of dressing rooms, found Rory and Gerry and arranged that we would all go out for drinks at a hotel on Sunset Blvd. While we were waiting at the hotel, someone advised my friend that it might be nice if I said "hello’ to Rory in Gaelic, so she gave me a few words to say. A few minutes later Rory arrived, and wanted to know who was the little girl who had brought the Benny Gallagher album for him to sign! I was mortified! Squirming and hoping I could change the subject, I blurted out the greeting in Gaelic I had learned. "Oh, you love me, do you?" he laughed. I realized, in a panic, that he was leaning over to kiss me.
Completely unprepared, I thought I might receive a friendly peck on the cheek, but what I got instead was a big messy French kiss. Stupefied, I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there, in shock, unable to stop grinning. Rory pretended he was impressed, then, beaming at me, whispered that he hoped it was my first.
I met Rory just two times more, in San Diego in August 1976 when I was 14 and in San Francisco at Winterland in November 1976, just after turning 15. I was thrilled that Rory remembered me and didn't seem to mind that I pestered him with all sorts of questions about music, the situation in Ireland, whatever. His brother Donal, however, did mind and he booted me out of the dressing rooms a number of times. But, I always managed to sneak back in, and Rory or Gerry would wave me over to sit by them and talk some more. Rory encouraged me to listen to all sorts of music besides rock and roll and didn't even laugh when I proclaimed that I was going to be a record producer when I grew up. He jovially offered me beer to drink which a disapproving Gerry conveniently spirited away, since I was so obviously underage. And when I had disappeared from the dressing rooms for too long, Rory seemed to magically appear and reel me back in from whatever unsavory character I was talking to. At one point, when I was chatting with one of the sound guys, he pretended to whisper rumors about the man into my ear and then announced with a laugh, "I won't let you talk to this man anymore, he's such a bad influence!"
Besides being a great musician, Rory Gallagher was a truly kind and compassionate man. Along with Gerry McAvoy, he showed me tremendous kindness in my youth and inspired a lifelong love affair with sound. It was a sad moment to discover that Rory had passed on, yet there is comfort in knowing that his music is now in re-release, and that others are discovering his great work - just as I first did 27 years ago this month.
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