"...we all ended up at the airport,
in a coffee shop...passing the time
away and speaking with Frank Zappa.
I was 19. And it was amazing."
~ Gerry McAvoy ~
The Belfast bassist Gerry McAvoy had Rory Gallagher's back since the self-titled blues-rock debut album in 1971. For over two decades, Gerry provided the driving bass you hear on every Rory Gallagher album. And it was that energy from Gerry's bass that really complimented Rory's passionate guitar shine. Rory and Gerry were a team in every sense of the word. Stage or studio made little difference. The two were one. Gerry McAvoy. Go get you some.
Gerry McAvoy Interview -- April 2020
Casey Chambers: My introduction to Rory Gallagher was with the 1978 burner "Photo-Finish" and I've been playing catch up ever since. "Photo-Finish" is one of my favorite albums. And your bass just screams to catch its breath. And you guys recorded that one as a three-piece band. That was a bit of a switch.
Gerry McAvoy: That's right, yeah. I mean, prior to that it had always been a four-piece with Lou Martin on piano and Rod de'Ath on drums. It was after we had started recording the album that would eventually...sort-of...become "Photo-Finish" in San Francisco. But towards the end of the sessions, I had gone back to London and Rory stayed there to do some mixes and remixes. While he was there, he went to see The Sex Pistols' last show in San Francisco. And he was knocked out by it because of the three-piece thing. The rawness of it. Like he had had with his band, Taste. And then again, when I had first joined up with Rory Gallagher. I think he wanted that again. So Rod and Lou left and Rory brought in Ted McKenna on drums. Ted was a bit of a powerhouse drummer. And the album we were recording in San Francisco, Rory scrapped the whole thing. I think originally it was going to be titled "Torch" or something, but when we went back into the studio later in Germany, we recorded it as the "Photo-Finish" album.
Casey Chambers: The song "Shadow Play" from that album is just killer and it quickly became a fan-favorite. One of those 'must-play-live' songs for you guys.
Gerry McAvoy: Oh, it really was. Yeah, it was normally towards the end of a show that Rory would pull that song out. We rehearsed it a bunch of weeks before we actually went into the studio to record it. We rehearsed it in Cork, Ireland. And that was the first time I heard it. It was myself, Rory, and Ted McKenna who was on drums. I was trying to get a good handle on it and basically, I was just trying to be as rockin' and as punk as possible, I think. And hence..."Shadow Play."
"Shadow Play" - Rory Gallagher / Live in Montreux (1979)
Casey Chambers: I always liked Ted McKenna's drumming. How did he hook up with you guys?
Gerry McAvoy: Well, we had actually met Ted before when he was with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. We did a television show together. Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, I think. It was a TV show with the strangest line-up. It had The Electric Flag. Rory and the band. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. And Abba! Which is just the weirdest line-up ever for a TV show. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: I bet when Abba broke in with "Fernando" it rocked the house down. (laughs)
Gerry McAvoy: Yeah, that was pretty strange. (laughs) But it was great. We had met Ted then. And when myself and Rory were trying out different drummers. the engineer Colin Fairley, who was Scottish, mentioned that Ted McKenna was free at the moment because the Alex Harvey Band had split up. So Colin arranged for Ted to come along for a bit of a rehearsal recording and eventually he got the gig and that was it.
Casey Chambers: Small world, big place. I'm a fan of The Alex Harvey Band, too. They were a road trip. What was your take?
Gerry McAvoy: Yeah, I enjoyed them. I knew Alex very well. I enjoyed the quirkiness of the band. I've got a couple of their albums. I remember they did a great version of the Jacques Brel song..."Next"...which was really unusual. And there's a bunch of other songs that are really good on that album. I really like that album.
Casey Chambers: I didn't realize you guys were on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. I'll have to seek that out. So, how did you get turned on to the bass? Was that your first instrument?
Gerry McAvoy: No, it wasn't, actually. The guitar was my first instrument. I was in a high school band in Belfast. We sort of formed a band together and we were playing...Top 40 and some soul classics. I mean, this was in like '67. And I was basically double guitar. Rhythm guitar with another guy, Jim Ferguson, who was our other guitar player. And our bass player, funny enough, was a butcher. A trainee butcher. We were all like 16. 15, 17. And every time he would come to rehearsals, he had cuts all over his hands. Because he was a trainee butcher. (laughs) So eventually he just couldn't handle it anymore and left. And there was nobody there to play bass. I had sort of been teaching Don...our bass player...you know, some of the rudiments, 'cause I was going to music lessons and things. So I was the obvious choice to pick up the bass. That's how it all started. I started playing bass in a high school band. The name of the band was...Pride. Belfast in 1967.
Casey Chambers: "Come on Don. Wash the pig guts off your hands you crazy butcher and let's jam!" (laughs) Funny story!
Gerry McAvoy: Yeah. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: What kind of bass did you play growing up?
"Moonchild" - Rory Gallagher / "Calling Card" (1976)
Gerry McAvoy: Oh, it was called a Top Twenty. It was horrible. There was a catalog. In the States, you could get one from Sears Roebuck. In the UK and England and Ireland, there was a company called Bell Music. They would sell instruments, but fairly nasty instruments. So my first one was...it was like a paper copy called a Top Twenty. It was unbelievably bad. After that, I got a Vox Cougar which I really enjoyed playing. Eventually, my mother managed to get me a Fender Precision. A 1961 Fender Precision. Then again, this was only 1967 so the guitar was only six years old at that stage. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Growing up, what was one of the first albums you threw coins at?
Gerry McAvoy: I think it was a Del Shannon album called "Runaway" named after the track he had a hit with. I think I bought it second hand. Yeah, I'm sure it was a Del Shannon. After that, I mean...obviously The Beatles and so on.
Casey Chambers: Who were some of your musical influences?
Gerry McAvoy: Oh, as a bass player, I started listening to a band in the UK and Europe called The Shadows. They were quite big in the '60s.
Casey Chambers: Oh, yeah. With Hank Marvin, right?
Gerry McAvoy: Hank Marvin, that's right. The bass player was a guy called Jet Harris. I really enjoyed listening to his music. He ended up having a bit of a solo career. Him and the drummer from The Shadows. (Tony Meehan) But after that, I listened to the Beatles. I used to lift Paul McCartney's bass lines and learn them. I just thought he was such a melodic bass player and a good rock and roll bass player as well. Yeah, I listened to Paul McCartney a lot. And then I started listening to guys like Willie Dixon. When I got into the blues, I was listening to guys like that. Jaco Pastorius. It went on and on. And then around the mid-'90s, I started re-listening to all my old Motown stuff and I got turned on by James Jamerson. I really started listening to James Jamerson again. Bob Babbitt. All those guys. They're great, great players.
Casey Chambers: Off the top of your head, what are a few Rory songs that you really had fun playing?
Gerry and Rory
Gerry McAvoy: Wow, that's a hard one. (laughs) There were so many of them. "Shadow Play" I used to enjoy. And "Moonchild." I mean, just for the bass lines alone. I enjoyed playing most of them, but some of them I really enjoyed because of the bass lines. "Tattoo'd Lady" is another one. They were fun to play. I couldn't go through them all.
Casey Chambers: I read that Bob Dylan was a big fan. Did you guys ever meet Bob?
Gerry McAvoy: We did, yeah. At the Shrine Auditorium, I think. In Los Angeles. He was a big fan of Rory. And he loved Rory's song..."I Could've Had Religion." He thought it was a cover from an old blues guy, but it was actually Rory's song. And Dylan came to the concert and came backstage. Rory and I were in the dressing room when we met him. He walked in. It was fantastic because I could see the two guys meeting each other and really wanting to talk. But then all of a sudden, Hank Sieck, one of the record company guys come barging in with a bunch of photographers, and Dylan just had to make a quick exit which was a terrible shame.
Casey Chambers: How cool that Dylan was listening to you guys.
Gerry McAvoy: Oh, absolutely. And over the years I think he kept in touch with Rory. I know towards the end when Rory was in the hospital, he sent Rory a telegram.
Casey Chambers: "Irish Tour '74" is one of those live albums that everyone must hear. Great on so many levels. With all the tumultuous goings-on at the time, what was that experience like?
Gerry McAvoy: Well, I mean, obviously it was during The Troubles in Ireland. The North of Ireland. And I think we started in Belfast. I mean, the camera crews were there. Tony Palmer and the camera crews. They were filming things, but we couldn't record the Belfast shows because the mobile unit couldn't make it from the south of Ireland to Belfast. So most of the recordings were done, I believe, some in Dublin and the rest were done in Cork. It was just...strange times. For the obvious reasons. All the troubles that were going on at the time, it was really difficult to get things in and out of Ireland. But we managed. We got away with it.
Casey Chambers: You guys left behind some amazing shows, but your nerves had to be on edge. I mean, most acts were canceling concerts and refusing to perform there, right?
Gerry McAvoy: Oh yeah. I mean, it was one of those things that Rory did every year. Even from the beginning in 1971 when I joined Rory. We would always go back there around Christmas time and play for the folks. Because there was no music going on there, you know. So Rory and the band and the road crew...and you gotta show respect for those guys...we would go and do a show literally every year. I think we missed once in like 1976 or something. But every year during The Troubles we would go in. I was from Belfast, you know, so I knew what was going on and I think I was a bit more aware than the other guys.
Gerry and Rory
Casey Chambers: That was a good thing you guys were doing. And your powerful "Irish Tour '74" album serves as a strong reminder just how good the band really was. When I was going down the rabbit hole, I found out that you had released a book about some of your experiences.
Gerry McAvoy: Yeah, it's called "Riding Shotgun" and basically it's my story. Obviously, 20 years of my life was taken up with playing with Rory, so there's a lot of stuff in there about those times. But there's also growing up in Belfast. Joining my first band. What happened after Rory. It's just something I wanted to document. I know in the past I've met different people who say, 'I'm going to write a book. I'm going to do this. I'm going to keep a diary.' And eventually, they die and they're gone. And so it's forgotten. All those stories are gone. So I wanted to document my life and stories. And we're going to augment it later this year, whenever we kill off this virus.
Casey Chambers: I know that you guys were always a hard-touring band. Who were a few of the acts you worked with early on?
Gerry McAvoy: There was a lot. We toured with ZZ Top. We did a massive four-month tour with Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac which was fantastic. The Faces with Rod Stewart. Kiss opened up for Rory in the early days. I think the longest tour we did was with Rush. The first tour they did of the U.S. they were actually on tour with us. With Rory. They were the opening band at that stage. They obviously became massive in the early '80s and we ended up touring with them again for four months. An American tour, which I believe was the biggest tour of that particular year. Rush were a great bunch of guys as well. They remembered how good we were to them when they were opening up for us...and they sort of paid the compliment back when we were opening up for them. The first tour I did with Rory in '71, we opened up for Frank Zappa. Which was quite amazing. It was in Milwaukee and I remember he had the two singers from The Turtles. Flo and Eddie. The band was incredible. What was really hip, the next morning everybody was flying out of Milwaukee and we all ended up at the airport, in a coffee shop sitting together. (laughs) Passing the time away and speaking with Frank Zappa. I was 19. I was a kid. And it was amazing. There were a lot of bands we played with over the years. And a lot of bands who played with us.
Casey Chambers: Okay, just for today, tomorrow fughetaboutit, what's an album you recommend everyone go back and listen to?
Gerry McAvoy: I listen to everything, Casey, that's the thing. But some of my favorite albums are by the big guys. An album I think everybody should go back and listen to is "Blonde On Blonde" by Bob Dylan. It's a great album. "I Want You" is classic. "I Want You" is a great, great song. It says it all on that album. In fact, Al Kooper...we got very friendly with Al Kooper who plays on that album...he got up and played with us a couple of times. He was telling us some stories about playing keyboards because Al...he was really a guitar player. How he was just messing about with a Hammond organ in the studio and came up with that sound. And Dylan loved it. Al was not a keyboard player by any stretch of the imagination, just messing about with the Hammond, pulling drawers out and pulling stops. And he ended up with a sound that became synonymous with "Blonde On Blonde." It's a great album. It says it all on that album.
Casey Chambers: Another reason to go give "Blonde..." another taste of the needle. This has been a lot of fun. Gerry, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It's been a real pleasure and I thank you so much. Stay safe out there.
Gerry McAvoy: No problem, Casey. And thank you very much yourself. Stay safe.
"Shadow Play" - Rory Gallagher / "Photo Finish" (1978)
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