Then & now Gerry McAvoy musician
FANS OF Rory Gallagher are looking forward to May 31st, when the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival kicks off in the guitarist’s home town of Ballyshannon, Co Donegal. A whole host of blues bands and rock combos will jet into Ballyshannon to pay tribute to one of the greatest guitar players Ireland has ever produced, and to respect his memory in the best way possible – with a big rock’n’roll noise. But let’s not forget the man who stood at Gallagher’s side for more than 20 years, thumping out the basslines to such classics as Bullfrog Blues, Messin’ With The Kidand Shadowplay. Belfast man Gerry McAvoy played bass on every Gallagher album, from his self-titled 1971 debut to 1990’s Fresh Evidence, complementing Gallagher’s sizzling blues solos with melodic basslines.
McAvoy and Gallagher were contemporaries in the Irish mini-beat boom of the late 1960s. Gallagher was playing in Taste, while McAvoy was in a band called Deep Joy with drummer Wilgar Campbell. The two bands toured the UK together, and both bands broke up on the same night, New Year’s Eve 1970. McAvoy and Campbell subsequently joined up with Gallagher, and the rest is rock’n’roll history.
Life on the road was hard for a young bluesman – hours of sitting around in hotels between shows with little more than a minibar for company took its toll on the bassist. In his autobiography, Riding Shotgun, McAvoy recalls his boss taking him to task about his heavy drinking on tour. Eventually, though, Gallagher himself would succumb to a combination of prescription medication and alcohol use, eventually dying of liver failure in 1995 following years of illness.
By the time of Gallagher’s death, his former sidekick had already moved on, joining UK blues band Nine Below Zero, where he was able to take a more upfront role. “The thing about playing with Rory, he was Rory Gallagher and you had to accept that, you know, which I did accept,” he said in a 1997 interview. “He was the main man, and there was no two ways about it, and there was no other way it would work. So I knew I had to move along and do my own thing.”
On top of the 20 years he played with Gallagher, McAvoy clocked up another 20 with Nine Below Zero, quitting last year to pursue a new project – Gerry McAvoy’s Band of Friends. The trio, comprising McAvoy, former Gallagher drummer Ted McManus and guitar whiz Marcel Scherpenzeel, is “not a tribute band”, but more a celebration of Gallagher’s music.
The threesome are touring Europe, bringing Rory’s blues to the faithful, and keeping the flame burning. And who better to celebrate the legacy of Rory Gallagher than his former right-hand man?