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By Steve Newton
If you were a fan of Rory Gallagher back in his heyday, you most likely listened to him on vinyl. Impressed by the raucous blues-rock of his previous power trio, Taste, you may have picked up his self-titled solo debut in 1971. Perhaps won over by the catchy vibe of his biggest hit, “Tattoo’d Lady”, you bought the Tattoo 12-incher in ’73. And maybe the next year you wanted to experience Gallagher in his element—captured live on-stage, brilliantly tearing up the frets on his well-worn 1961 Strat—so you ponied up what was needed to score his double-disc Irish Tour ’74 album.
Before Gallagher passed away from complications of a liver transplant in 1995, at the age of 47, he released 14 albums, all of which featured bassist Gerry McAvoy. And when McAvoy answers the phone at a tour stop in Morro Bay, California, he’s still ensconced in that vinyl-spinning life from the ’70s. He and his mates in Band of Friends—guitarist Davy Knowles and drummer Ted McKenna—have just returned from a local record store, where Knowles splurged on LPs by Greg Lake, Chicago, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and—since Christmas is coming—Perry Como.
“Davy likes his music,” notes McAvoy, a 66-year-old veteran of the bottom end, who brings the Friends to Vancouver’s Fox Cabaret tomorrow. “He’s a big vinyl fan, so we’ve got a little record player set up in the dressing room. Davy bought about 10 vinyl, so he’s looking forward to playing them tonight. We listen to everything, you know; it’s very diverse. My son turns me on to some new music every now and then. I can’t remember the names, but he does turn me on to them.”
The 31-year-old Knowles is the kid in the group. You may recognize his name from Back Door Slam, a band from the Isle of Man that drew raves from blues-rock fans in 2007 with its debut release, Roll Away. McAvoy had played with McKenna, 68, for many years—including on tour and in the studio with Gallagher on late-’70s albums like Photo-Finish and Top Priority—but only recently hooked up with Knowles. So did the shit-hot picker just call McAvoy up one day, profess a deep love of Rory, and ask if he could help re-create his tunes?
“No, it wasn’t that at all,” replies McAvoy. “We were just looking out for some different guitar players, because we use a guy named Marcel Scherpenzeel in Europe, and it’s always nice to play with different people. But it was just by chance, because last year my sister saw this thing on YouTube, and it was Davy doin’ ‘Bad Penny’, one of Rory’s songs, just on guitar from his kitchen for Rory’s birthday. She sent it to me, so I just made contact with Davy and asked him ‘Do you fancy coming out and doing a bunch of shows?’ ”
Anyone lucky enough to have seen Gallagher in concert knows that one of McAvoy’s strong points—besides delivering smokin’ hot bass—was his ability to motivate the Irish guitar legend, to push him to new heights on-stage.
“[We were] pushin’ each other,” recalls McAvoy, “that’s the way it was. And that’s the way it still is. I push Davy, Davy pushes me. And Ted pushes both of us.”