And then Lou Martin died.
Almost every truly great musical legend worked with other great musicians. They might not be as flashy or as charismatic. They might not be songwriters, but behind practically every single Golden God there is a backing group of brilliance.
Jimi Hendrix had Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in his Experience.
James Brown had the likes of Alfred Pee Wee Ellis
Freddie Mercury had Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Elvis had Scotty Moore and Bill Black
Miles Davis... basically just worked with the best.
Philip Lynott had his revolving door of guitarists, but he also had a fantastic constant in drummer Brian Downey.
It's not a coincidence that Clapton did his best work with Bruce & Baker and then with Duane Allman.
Rory Gallagher was no exception. One of the real great guitarists, he was also a charismatic frontman with a decent voice, but even he needed something behind him. He, like the other legends, knew the importance of working with the best.
Lou Martin was a great pianist. He could do blues, boogie-woogie and rock for sure but he wasn't a slacker when it came to classical. This link pretty much proves my point.
Funny thing is, Lou died on 17th August 2012. On 17th August 2008, I walked into the Cork City branch of HMV and bought my very first Rory Gallagher record: The Essential 2-disc compilation. It was raining on and off of course, it was a Sunday and I'd been wandering the town since 8am waiting for things to open. I'd even gone to Mass at the cathedral for something to do.
I wandered, listening to The Dubliners on my iPod. Ronnie Drew had died the day before and I was dealing with it in the only effective way I knew: immersing myself in his voice. I had french toast at a trendy cafe and continued my wander.
Rory Gallagher was a name I knew, but I didn't really know the music. I could've told you he was a blues rock guitarist, a dead Irish one no less. I had one of his songs - "Born on the Wrong Side of Time" on my iPod. The title appealed for obvious reasons. There in his hometown I decided I really should buy some record of his. In HMV I was confronted by a giant poster of Ronnie Drew, of all things.
I'm so glad I was in Ireland that weekend. Ronnie mattered there. Not so much here. 'They' knew how I felt. I was at home, geographically and musically. I couldn't summon the necessary to walk into a pub on my own so I didn't check out any of Cork's famous live music scene. I stayed in, watched the Ronnie Drew documentary on RTE 1 and read the liner notes of my new CD.
I went to Cobh, a pretty little port with a strong feeling of grief sewn into itself thanks to the Titanic, the Lusitania and the dreadful legacy of the famine and emigration. I read the liner notes again.
I got on a train to Dublin, where I ate at Gallagher's Boxty House as usual, ate at O'Neill's as usual and went to see Philip on his birthday, as usual. I stared at the Music Wall of Fame in Temple Bar, caring for the first time about the guitarist with the long brown hair. I nipped up Grafton Street to visit Philip's statue and there got into a conversation with two Dub rock fans about Rory.
It wasn't until several days later, back at work, that I actually listened to the CD. A secret: at first I wasn't all that impressed. I mean it was good but it didn't grab me totally. I liked the second song, "Moonchild", for sure. Then I listened to "Barley And Grape Rag". But I didn't get sucked in immediately. I'd be silly to, right?
According to this very blog, I listened to "Barley and Grape Rag" one hundred and eighty-seven times between late August and the end of 2008. I sang it at the work Christmas gig while wearing a Rory t-shirt. It was awesome.
But I wasn't sucked in. Oh no. I was up all night watching videos on YouTube, but I wasn't sucked in. I literally bought the t-shirt, but I'd have to be really fucking stupid to get obsessed by another dead rock star, right?
By 2008 I'd already carved plenty of other names on my heart. Lennon, naturally. Harrison. The lizardy fellow. Philip. Dean Martin. Valentino. Flynn. You pretty much know them if you've been here before. I'd be really daft to left someone else come along and gouge another scar, right?
I am that fucking stupid. By the time I even noticed, I was much too far gone. I should've noticed when I was on the tube late one night, returning home from being in the Just A Minute audience and I was dancing in my seat to the delta-like sound of "Who's That Coming" and I should've noticed when every visit to HMV began with a trip to the 'G' section of Rock and Pop. I should've noticed when the panic of leaving my gymbag in Starbucks was more to do with losing the newly-purchased Against The Grain CD than my sneakers.
No, I should've known exactly what was going to happen on 17th August 2008. He is a dead Irish rock musician who was fantastically good at his job. King Cnut had better odds against the tide.
Truly though, I didn't quite get it right away. It took a little while for my ears to get attuned to his work. It took even longer for me to beleive that he meant it about not selling out, about being dedicated to the music and even longer than that to believe he wasn't secretly a bastard.
Turns out he was that dedicated to the music and I've still yet to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the man himself.
Four years later, I love that man's music more than I can tell you. That's why it's taken until now for him to be the subject of the challenge, because I can't speak about it. I can't tell you how I love it, only that I do. I can't tell you how deeply it is now scored into my soul, as if forty years had passed with me stood by the side of his stage every night.
I picked one video above all for this post. It is the song which probably ensured a part of my heart will be forever Rory's, because he wrote down my pain and gave it voice:
Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away" - which incidentally features footage of Cork City and some excellent Martin organ.
"There's a song on the lips of everybody/There's a smile all around the room/There's conversation overflowing/So why must I sit here in the gloom?.... I'm a million miles away, I'm a million miles away, sailing like the driftwood on a windy bay."
I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected. Sometimes I still get close to it. Knowing that one of my heroes was able to write a song which so exactly described the state of my soul worries me: I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That he might have felt the same breaks my heart, and I hope it was one of those occasions where a writer was able to portray a world without inhabiting it.
I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected and that song was, ironically if you like, an anchor I used to drag myself back to shore. That's one reason I love his music so.
Most of it is Rory's guitar and his voice, his songwriting, his grasp of the genre he loved so much. But he wasn't alone on that stage. First with Taste, then with his various Rory Gallagher line-ups, the classic of which involves Lou Martin's keys.
I can't tell you what I love and why without writing a dissertation, and I already wrote one of those for Jim Morrison. You have to listen to the music itself and decide for yourself. It's between me and the music and it's between you and the music. The contract is personal and non-transferable.
For me, the most succinct I think I can be is this: It is a deep scar on my heart and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"