The night Rory Gallagher blew Aerosmith off the stage

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In the late summer of 1974, a New York brewery called Schaefer’s organised an outdoor music festival at the auditorium in Central Park. Over the course of 12 nights, locals were afforded the opportunity to see a whole host of acts, covering all musical tastes. From Ray Charles to Lynyrd Skynyrd, from The Pointer Sisters to Bad Company, the line-up each evening ran the gamut of some of the most popular outfits of the time. On September 7th, the last night of the run, the bill was topped by Aerosmith and the warm-up act was one Rory Gallagher.

Wearing his standard uniform of jeans, denim jacket and a check shirt, Gallagher took the stage in front of a crowd who’d paid $1.50 and $2.50 to be there and he seemed determined to give them value for money.

“It’s quite a few months since we were here,” said Gallagher as he tuned up. “I think it was October of last year. We’ve got a few new tunes since that, a few things you might like to hear. This next one is called ‘Tattoo’d Lady,’ I hope you enjoy it.”

From the opening riff, he was on fire for the next hour and 12 minutes. The location for these concerts meant the promoters were never quite sure how the Manhattan outdoor audience was going to react to such a diversity of acts. No such worries for the Corkman of Donegal origin (you see what I did there!). Coming off a few weeks in which he’d played gigs alongside ZZ Top, the J Geils Band and Sly Stone, Gallagher had them eating out of his hand from the off. As the performance wore on, there was only one serious problem. Most of those watching didn’t want it to end.

Yet, New York’s curfew laws and Aerosmith’s outsized egos meant that Gallagher eventually would have to stop. According to eyewitnesses, he ignored the first couple of signals he received asking him to wind up the show. He was having too much fun, and judging from how those present react when you listen back to the live recording (no footage exists), the crowd were too.

An hour in, he started Bullfrog Blues. With the stage manager presumably giving him the sign to come off, he just kept going. For almost 13 minutes of what those watching seemed to savour, he kept it going and going and going. The audience were loving it, those running the show perhaps not. Finally, Gallagher gave in to the demands of the authorities and ended his set, much to the chagrin of those in front of the stage. They wanted an encore and more.

In an incident that has become part of rock folklore, Aerosmith walked on and were greeted with derision. As they started into their set, there were still jeers and boos from fans irate at the Gallagher virtuoso display having been curtailed. In all too typical New York-style, things soon got out of hand. Some newly-converted Rory devotees fired bottles at Steven Tyler and his cohorts who were unable to produce anything like the magic Gallagher had just delivered.

“The result was a certain amount of self-expression from the audience,” wrote Ian Dove in the New York Times’ report on the incident, “trash and garbage, with an occasional bottle, were thrown onto the stage at the hapless and helpless road crew changing equipment for the following group, Aerosmith.”

According to some reports, the Aerosmith drummer was cut by a flying bottle. That cannot be confirmed. All we can say for certain is September 7th, 1974 is known in rock history as the night Rory Gallagher blew Aerosmith off the stage.

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20 thoughts on “The night Rory Gallagher blew Aerosmith off the stage

  1. Fred Derf

    I was at that show and its all true… Rory was on fire and nobody wanted to see him stop playing. Areosmith came out and were greeted with flying debris…. vividly recall seeing beer bottles breaking on mike stands and glass shards flying thru the air cutting the drummers hand.

  2. great piece. you probably know the famous story about jimi hendrix: a BBC journalist asked him ‘what’s it like to be the greatest guitar player in the world?’ and hendrix responded ‘i wouldn’t know. ask rory gallagher.’

  3. A great story Dave. Rory always was quite a pleasant surprise to new audiences and ‘Tattoo’d Lady’ never failed to impress.
    One of his most iconic performances was earlier in January of 1974 at Belfast in vitriolic Northern Ireland. The concert documentary ‘Irish Tour 1974’ really shows off his personality – how he disliked pop music and the celebrity culture, how he loved playing for playing’s sake and how he loved his homeland.

  4. akvavit

    The blues guys will always win in a situation like this. Back around 1970 I went to see Savoy Brown who were opening for Steppenwolf. By the time SB had wound up a 20-minute version of ‘Hellhound Train’ no one was in the mood for Steppenwolf. Same thing… flying bottles, boos, etc. A bit rude, because Steppenwolf was a pretty decent blues rock band.

  5. Dave Heaton

    Joe Perry refers to this night in his recent autobiography;

    “”We played the outdoor Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park (New York City) – fifty thousand people strong – where Rory Gallagher opened for us. He was a hard-drinking Irishman with his own brand of blues rock that captivated the crowd. In between songs, he’d belt down another Irish lightning that seemed to add to his energy. He kept playing and playing, way beyond his cutoff time. Afraid of inciting a riot, the promoters let him go on – at our expense. When he finally left the stage, the crowd, wanting more Rory, started throwing cans and bottles. We set up among the flying debris. The debris kept flying during our set. Brad got hit and a broken bottle cut Joey’s arm, but in defiance, we held our ground and played, only to be cut off by the curfew. I remember it as the only time that we were blown off fair and square in true rock-and-roll style. That night Rory Gallagher was just too good to stop”. — Joe Perry

    • Ágnes

      Joe Perry is a liar. Rory Gallagher wasn’t a “heavy drinking Irishman”. I mean he WAS an Irishman but in the 70-ies he drank far less than anybody in the showbiz’. He NEVER drank alcoholic stuff before or during his sets. He was just simply much more better than the Aerosmith business monkeys.

  6. SImon

    Yes, chucking bottles at the stage isn’t on, it is not in the spirit of things, very thoughtless – that drummer could’ve been seriously injured. I like Rory’s music, but I am sure he never would have wanted people to have caused injury or to have been injured in supposed support of his act. Sorry but that’s the way I feel, and I am sure Rory would’ve felt too.

  7. Brian

    Rory did the same when opening for Foghat at the Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA Feb, 12, 1976. No one with us had a clue who this fuzzy haired lad in the flannel shirt was. Remember these were the days when rock stars all wore glitz and tight pants…Anyway after his blistering set, the crowd continued to chant for Rory well into Foghats set and especially between songs. You could tell FG was pissed and seemed to call it quits early.

  8. sheila

    Rory has always been the the one fantastic bottle neck player saw him in Manchester in the late 70’s .Loved Johnny Winters playing bottleneck but you have to give it to Rory – saw Savoy Brown too -happy days ! Thank Goodness my son likes Gallagher even got him the trusty red check shirt ( you never Know)

  9. Capt. EZ

    I also was pleasantly surprised at a concert in the Westchester premier theater in new york when Rory Gallagher opened up for I think South side jonhy and the asbury jukes around 1977. I originally did not want to go but my Irish buddy told me you have to hear this guy Rory Gallagher, I have been a stunned fan ever sense.

  10. chet

    Man I can only dream of seeing these guys in their prime… Ive been to some shows where the opening act blew away the headliners so I can relate to that but there was something special about music between say 72 and 78 that is just magical and I dont think I will ever see :/ Nice run on sentence huh?

  11. Todd

    I was there also. I was there to see Aerosmith. However it’s difficult to recall if I was a Rory Gallagher fan before or after this show. Because I am a very big Rory Gallagher fan. I am still a big Aerosmith fan (saw them this summer at Jones Beach. I believe I bought this album entitled: “The Guitar Album”. I can’t find it on CD. It was a Polydor record. It had many guitar greats. Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton to name couple. There were two of Rory’s songs on it which I loved and still do. Tattoo’d Lady and Walk On Hot Coals. Walk on Hot Coals continues to be one of my favorite songs.

  12. Lucifer Burns

    Great story….too bad that all it really is as i have the Live recordings from both sets that night and Aerosmith did come on stage to some heckling, that last about 3 minutes of the 1st song and then the audience settled down and by the end of their set, Rory was just another act on the bill that night.

  13. John Murphy

    I was at this show as well and it is a true story. I had seen Aerosmith a week or so earlier opening for Deep Purple and they were outstanding. I was and still am a huge Rory fan and was really looking forward to this show. As in the story above, Rory was incredible; the best performance I’ve seen of his in the 20 or so times I saw him. Aerosmith played 4 or 5 songs before they stopped. I’d heard Joey Kramer suffered a cut from a thrown bottle. There are bootlegs of both performances floating around but the quality of them is only so-so. One correction to the story: The Shaefer shows were not a 12 day run. Dr Pepper took over sponsorship eventually. Those shows started in the late 60’s and went through to about 1980 and then they moved over to the west side at the piers on the Hudson River. They were also a summer long thing with shows starting in May or June through mid September.

  14. I was also at the show. I would buy tickets for all the shows @ the Schafer Festival that I was interested in as soon as they went on sale in the spring. Orchestra floor seats were $2.50, the balcony (actually bleachers) were $1.50 ! The show that was actually scheduled for that day was supposed to be Savoy Brown, that was the band I had bought the tickets for. By the time Sept. rolled around , Savoy Brown had broken up, & Rory & Aerosmith took their place on the bill. I had heard of both bands, but had never seen either one. We got there a bit late (coming in from Long Island) & I think Rory was in the middle of his second song. I was absolutely floored- he was incredible! He quickly whipped the crowd into a total frenzy. I instantly became a huge Rory fan , & will be one to my dying day! As has been noted, they foolishly sold beer in bottles back then( I think this was the last year they made that mistake) , & I recall a few bottles were flying around during Rory’s set. When he was done , the crowd was screaming his name , & we all expected an encore. When his roadies came out to start removing his equipment, the bottles REALLY started flying! At one point the MC came out & said something like, “You want the guy to come out & play more , but you’re throwing bottles at his crew!” There was no encore, & when Aerosmith came out, chants of “Rory!” were still going on & the bottles throwing continued. I don’t really recall Kramer getting hit,it was a LONG time ago, but they were breaking all over the stage. I remember Perry knocking over his amps as they left the stage. Seeing Rory that day changed my life- I told everyone I could that they had to check him out. It boggles my mind that Aerosmith went on to such popularity, while Rory never got what he deserved on this side of the pond. I’ve been to a million shows over the years, & I’ve never seen a band as thoroughly blown away by an opening act as Aerosmith was that day. They weren’t in his league! I still have a copy of the 1974 Schaefer Festival pamphlet that I got when I bought my tickets. I could scan it & post a jpg.

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