It was the fall of 2016 when I last saw Dan Gallagher. It was my tenth recording session where he was going to be adding his guitar magic, and as usual I had bounced preliminary scratch recordings to the producer who knew which of his chosen studio players wanted to hear them beforehand and which ones prefer to come in cold and improvise. Over several years and nearly 4 dozen original songs of mine that Dan played on I had already learned I could trust him.
I mention the scratch recordings being available for collaborators to have if needed, and Dan was one of those players who DEFINITELY studied them beforehand. Most times my songs can have a reliable structure through about 90% of the way through them, but somewhere there usually lurks a chord stretch, or a rhythm change, or something inside most of them that mucks up the reliability and predictability. It can drive drummers crazy, and I’m sure my producer wanted to pelt me a time or two. But Dan would have studied them and always arrived on record day having sheeted them out, with copious notes on what he wanted to play. There would be layers in his approach such that he was almost like an orchestra conductor who had heard it all before and he knew ahead of time which layer he wanted to play first, second, third, and on down the line. And no matter how much there was in his head to get done, once completed any song he worked with would lose weight and gain mass (sounds like an ultimate rudeness to Newton, but that’s how I would describe it).
I myself am a passable acoustic guitar player, but I don’t generally try to play the electric guitar much, and after collaborating with Gallagher why would I? It’s not that he would in any way make me uncomfortable if I tried; no he was always a humble and gentle soul when giving of his sound. He never made me feel anything but glad that he was gonna have something to add to a song of mine. And though his sounds would often cement a song, they practically never stole it or took it over, or swept anything aside. And a few times after hearing what I had written he would humbly say he didn’t want to do much on it. But if he did want to add himself I learned to count on being happy that he did.
On our penultimate recording session together I did something I’ve not done before or since. I wanted to have a drummer, Dan on his guitar, and myself on keys late one evening after a few brews or a scotch and just record whatever we could spit out. I wanted an improv session with my intent being to record and compose something around whatever we conjured. And Dan would not have his preferred ability to analyze and sheet the tune. Sure he could jam with a rock and roll band, but this was different. I wanted to folk/singersongwriter noodle. We were all miserably uncomfortable for a while – and sounded pretty pitiful (smile), and yet after a few long hours of mucking around something did eventually come of it. And one session later a binary song (really trinary if you listen hard enough) “My Frozen Heart” became one of the last songs that Dan played on for me. It was the fruit of that late night improv time we had. When I brought it back to the studio to put it down Dan did his thing on it. He has some great work through it, but I especially like it after the 3:20 mark when the song drops back for a bassa nova rhythm easy grove that slowly boils up and up into finally a long rock and roll fade away – and it was my pleasure to tell Dan for the coda, “play whatever you want… the song is yours til the end. Run me off the road.”
I received the sad news yesterday that Dan died suddenly. I’ve collaborated with more than a few professional studio musicians. Some I hardly know and who never had time for me anyway except a bare minimum and always with the clock and cash register running; cold pros akin to a brain surgeon you might want for an operation but not for dinner with your family. Some may have even died and I would not know, nor be sad to think I would play with them no more. But the sensation that hit me when I heard Dan Gallagher died was one of loss; loss of his future notes played if I sought him out again to work together; loss of what he might play for others I would likely not even hear but I would feel confident saying it would be humble, good, and worth the soundwaves. I don’t know if I will record anymore, but I’m certain that if I do Mr. Gallagher will be sorely missed.
Not to hijack a moment, but if you want to hear his last long solo fade away he did for me a few years back, listen for free to “My Frozen Heart” at:
Or a video snippet of some of his licks and riffs is below