READ EXTRACTS FROM RIDING SHOTGUN
June 14, 1995. A blue day for the blues. One of those days that seem to be etched into the brain like a tape recording. Almost 10 years after the event, every part of it remains incredibly vivid in my memory.
To begin with it was an unusual day for me in that I was at my east London home, gardening. Not something I'm known for, but I'd been incredibly busy with Nine Below Zero recording our album Ice Station Zebro, which meant that all domestic duties had taken a back seat. The garden, especially, had been sadly neglected and I was sweating in the early summer sunshine as I attempted to hack my way through the undergrowth when my wife, Coral, shouted to say there was a call for me. Glad of the chance for a break I walked over to the house and took the telephone. Immediately I recognised the voice of Phil McDonnell, the Rory Gallagher Band's sound engineer and road manager from 1977 to 1986. He was obviously very upset.
'Gerry...Gerry...It's Phil.' He started sobbing almost uncontrollably.
'Phil, what the hell's wrong?'
Phil took a deep breath and, at last, managed to get the words out: 'Gerry, I've just had a call from Ute. Her brother Klaus in Germany has called her to say that he's heard something on the radio over there announcing that Rory's dead. I can't believe it, Gerry. Rory's gone.'
I tried my best to calm him down and to get some sense out of him but he was in such a state of shock that it was impossible. In the end I told him I'd make some calls and get back to him if I could find out if the story his wife had heard was true. I couldn't believe it. Surely it couldn't be right? I'd had no real contact with Rory for over two years, but we all knew he was ill - his health had been shaky ever since the late '80s when I was still touring with him as his bass player. I'd been worried about him for a long time, but Rory's ever-present roadie, Tom O'Driscoll, had been keeping me and drummer Brendan O'Neill up to speed on what was happening. Brendan had also left Rory's band with me in 1990 to join Nine Below Zero. Tom would often call in at Matrix Studios for a beer and a chat and, on one of the last occasions, had let us know that Rory's health had taken a turn for the worse: he'd been taken into hospital for a liver transplant and things weren't looking too good. But a few days later Tom arrived with the news that the transplant had been successful and Rory was being kept in hospital for just a few days' observation before being allowed home. He was going to be fine. There was no way the German announcement could be true.
I immediately tried to ring Rory's brother and manager, Donal, but couldn't get through. For over two hours I rang and rang, and the longer I kept hearing that engaged signal the more I realised there might be something in it. Frantic with worry I called every few minutes until, at last, Donal's wife Cecilia answered the phone. Fighting back the tears she confirmed that Rory had died that morning in London's King's College Hospital; just when everything appeared to be going to plan, an infection had set in and his new liver had failed. Rory Gallagher was dead at just 47 years of age...
Later that day I managed to get through to Donal and we sat and shared a few tears together. Donal was desolate. 'It's the end of an era, Gerry,' he said, and I knew he was right. Even now it's hard for me to think about those few days without getting emotional. I was Rory Gallagher's bass player and friend for over 20 years from 1971 to 1991 - apart from Rory the only constant presence on each and every one of his 14 best-selling albums, with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide. Rory and I travelled around the world together several times and, thanks to his influence and the respect in which he was held as a musician, I got to meet and play with some of the very finest performers on the planet in some of the biggest and most prestigious venues rock music can offer. Not bad for a boy from Belfast who was never even officially told he was in the band…
It kind of just crept up on us - all of the band, including Rory, were drinking a lot more - but not as much as me. I remember we had a few days off in the middle of the tour and all I did was sit in the hotel bar drinking whisky, all day, without eating. And I'd wait for the happy hour when they'd bring out free bowls of food - snacks really, like chicken wings and stuff - and I'd just sit and eat those. One day Rory came down in the afternoon at about 2pm - he knew where to find me because I was always there - and he said, 'Gerry, let's go and see a movie.' We walked down Sunset Strip and went to see Magnum Force with Clint Eastwood, after which Rory had a very diplomatic chat with me. He said he was concerned about how much I was drinking and that maybe I ought not to start until at least 5pm or 6pm rather than 12 noon every day. At first I was a bit pissed off at being lectured by him, but after a couple of days it began to sink in that he was right - that I had to find other things to occupy me on my days off. I suppose I was also quite flattered that Rory had noticed my behaviour and cared enough to want to do something about it. Perhaps it was just because my playing was being affected, but I don't think so. What was really nice was that he and I started to do more things together, especially going to the movies which we were both still very keen on. Sometimes we'd go for a swim in the hotel pool or maybe just go for a walk together and enjoy a chat. It brought us much closer together but also had the desired effect in that I stopped drinking whisky completely and I've never touched it since. Whisky had a really bad effect on me and could make me quite violent at times. Sometimes after the gigs we'd go to the Roxy or the Whiskey A Go Go or some other club and I would find myself getting fairly aggressive with people over nothing very much at all.
If I'm honest, my whole personality had altered over the course of those last two American tours and I had definitely got too big for my boots. The free booze, the groupies, the adulation had all started to affect me to the point that my ego had taken over and I really wasn't myself anymore. And I wasn't the only one having problems. Rod was also drinking a great deal, as well as dabbling with drugs. He could be a right nasty bastard when he'd been drinking and would sometimes snap and turn on people. I found him very arrogant at times and sometimes this would boil over into a face to face confrontation between us. Once or twice it came to blows. Celtic blood! With his fiery Welsh temper and my tough Belfast upbringing, I guess it was kind of inevitable. Having said that, Rod was certainly a good man to have on your side, as he proved on a number of occasions. The most memorable was in Louisiana during our 1973 tour around the southern states. We had been playing at a college in Baton Rouge and were having a drink in the college bar after the show. At that time, having long hair in Baton Rouge was definitely not a good idea. There was a bunch of guys in there with close-cropped Vietnam haircuts who just kept looking daggers at us. We tried to ignore them and Rod and Rory went over to have a game of pool, while Lou and I sat at the bar chatting. I was keeping tabs on the situation out of the corner of my eye and saw one of these rednecks walk straight up to Rory, square up to him and say, 'Get the fuck out of here.'
There was no time for anyone to react. Without any warning, Rod's pool cue came crashing down right on top of the guy's head. Smack. He was out cold. His friends were stunned and just stood there open-mouthed, not sure what to do. Lou and I walked over to join Rod and Rory and the four of us stood shoulder to shoulder prepared to defend ourselves against the bloody good kicking we were surely about to receive! Luckily, just as it was all about to turn nasty, the campus police arrived. They tried to arrest Rod but I stepped in and explained what had happened - that the other guy had started it - and amazingly the cop seemed to listen to me. In a scene reminiscent of a particularly crap western, the policeman turned to us and drawled, 'Get out of town.' We didn't need telling twice. As far as I was concerned the guy got what he deserved. Any hairies these thugs had ever come across before had probably just left the bar without a fight. They hadn't counted on Rod de'Ath!”
©Gerry McAvoy and Pete Chrisp