New York’s City’s famed Iridium Jazz Club was turned into a steaming juke joint on May 23, 2011. Taking a sidestep from the now traditional Monday night Les Paul Tribute the club hosted an homage to another guitar great, the late Rory Gallagher. Attention to Gallagher’s legacy is deservedly on the rise via ongoing CD and DVD releases of both remastered and previously unreleased material from Eagle Rock Entertainment. Gallagher’s brother and former manager Donal is intrinsically involved in the project and lends historical accuracy and context to projects. If you are unfamiliar with Rory’s story a great place to start is the recent biographical DVD called “Ghost Blues”, which is an awesome overview of his career and his influence over the years.
PANEL DISCUSSION –
The evening began with an informal and informative panel session. After introductions by Eagle Rock President of Operations Mike Carden, radio host “UK Bob” (WRFG, Atlanta) led the discussion. Panelists included Billboard columnist Ed Christman; Elliot Mazer, producer of Gallagher’s “lost” album; Rory’s Brother Donal; writer/editor John Swenson (Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy), Larry Yelen (Clapton Visual Anthology) and Lindsay Brown. The topics ranged from Rory’s influence on current Irish musicians during their formative years, his near induction into the Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor’s departure, Polydor’s inability to expand his career, circumstances of the aborted album recordings now released as part of the “Notes From San Francisco” CD package, and even a hint of a proposed bio-pic.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCES –
Following the panel discussion the music began with mini-sets and jam sessions featuring some the best blues and blues rock talent on the current scene. The sold out audience was treated to great renditions of just about every Gallagher classic including “Tattoed Lady”, “Calling Card”, “I Could Have Had Religion”, “I Wonder Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man” and Junior Wells’ “Messin’ with the Kid”; a Gallagher signature tune. Each musician was clearly thrilled to be included in this tribute and rose to the occasion by playing with both finesse and fire worthy of the man himself. Introducing the audience to such a wide range of talented players who are keeping the traditions alive was a fitting honor to Rory’s memory.
The highlights were numerous. Each performer revealed their unique merits in the blues idiom and the audience responded with long rounds of applause and shouts of approval. It was a collective “blues rapture” that made me glad the world did not end the previous week, as predicted.
WHO PLAYED –
Kicking things off, Les Paul Trio’s Lou Pallo joined John Paris for some slide and harp driven tunes. Scott Holt displayed the fruits of his long tenure in the Buddy Guy band with stinging lead lines and forceful stage presence and Innis Sibun’s energetic set found him stalking the audience with a pink stratocaster. Paul McGilloway rendered a beautiful version of “Danny Boy” on resonator guitar. Jimmy Suhler, of George Thorogood’s Destroyers, played great takes on two of my favorite Rory tunes “Mississippi Sheiks” and “Bought and Sold”. Kerry Kearny shot out slide runs that sounded like liquid fire and guest vocalist Alan Merrill, co-author of the anthemic “I Love Rock N Roll”, took the stage for a rollicking version of “BullFrog Blues”.
Headliner Davy Knowles’ set featured the young guitarist on both acoustic slide and electric. The much loved “phenom” – appropriately clad in plaid – was perfect choice of headliner. Drawing on his Isle of Man heritage he can put a Celtic spin on Clapton-esque Brit-Blues much like Rory did. At Iridium he spoke about those connections and spun off some “She Moved Through the Fair” style arpeggios before sliding into a smoldering cover of “A Million Miles Away”.
The rhythm section changed personnel throughout the evening. Foghat’s Roger Earl and Destroyer’s Jeff Simon held down drum duties and – with the exception of Nate Peterson and Kirk Yano working with Holt and Knowles (respectively) – New York music scene stalwart Kenny Aaronson covered the bass guitar. Aaronson’s musical resume deserves an article of its own but no matter how many affiliations he piles up he will always be fondly be thought of by “Brooklynites of a certain age” (like myself) as the Bass player for seminal hard rock band Dust, along with band-mates Marc Bell and Richie Wise.
Rounding out the jams were Dave Cohon’s rocking barrelhouse style piano and Neal Evans of Soulive doling delicious doses of soulful B3 organ. Talk about a double shot of Hammond heaven; the next night I caught a killer set by Booker T. Jones at The Bell House in Brooklyn. Miraculously cleared up my nagging head cold.
In depth reviews of Eagle Rock’s recent Rory Gallagher releases by both myself and Ken Pierce can be found here, with more to come.