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.