His Last Released Studio Recordings – Part 2 – ‘Showbiz Blues’
We know now that the song did not just spring spontaneously from Green fully formed; the beauty of it is that it sounds as if it did. Over a six-month period, during the sessions for “Then Play On”, he kept circling back to it, never satisfied, struggling to find the right combination of lyrics and accompaniment.
His need to get it right, “…this has got to be good; this is the only bluesy thing on the whole fucking LP”, threw into bold relief the words he was singing.
Peter Green: guitar & vocal /
Recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, London July 03, 1969
Released, Then Play On (Reprise 1969)
Fleetwood Mac – Show-Biz Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=armB0TIPurw
There had already been two covers of the song released when Gallagher went into the studio to cut his own interpretation.
The first, from 1977 had probably found few listeners. The band Stretch (originally formed as a “fake Fleetwood Mac” to tour the U.S. in 1974) recorded the song for their 1977 LP “Lifeblood”.
Elmer Gantry: vocal /
Kirby: lead guitar / Steve Emery: bass /
Jeff Rich: percussion
Released, Lifeblood (Anchor 1977)
Stretch – Show Biz Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lzaR2gq_dw
Eighteen years later, in 1995, Gary Moore included it on his tribute “Blues for Greeny” and most likely introduced the song to many who were unfamiliar with Green’s work.
Gary Moore: guitar & vocal
Released, Blues for Greeny (Virgin 1995)
Gary Moore – Showbiz Blues – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7e5HdiPk21Y
The focus of both of the covers is on the guitar, with each extending the running time of the original by lengthening the guitar break; but in their determination to recreate the sound and the fury of the original, they undercut the importance of the lyrics.
They sing Green’s words almost exactly as written but the lyrics have lost their impact; they are just words. The propulsive rhythms are the beating heart of the song, but the hurt that fuels the fury of the playing is lost.
Gallagher sidestepped these potential pitfalls by doing away with the arrangement completely (as he did with ‘Leaving Town Blues’) and takes even greater liberties with the lyrics, yet for me, finding a personal connection to the number is a more of a tribute than simply showing fealty to the words and music.
Rory Gallagher: vocal, slide guitar, bass & (probably, harmonica) /
John Cook: piano / Rich Newman: drums & percussion /
Recorded at the Roundhouse Studios, London England
(probably) May – June 1994
Released, “Rattlesnake Guitar – The Music of Peter Green” (1995)
Showbiz Blues (P. Green – additional lyrics R. Gallagher) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dagtq4cFn3k
As the drummer taps out the beat with his sticks, Gallagher is heard impatiently asking “Can we roll it?” An ominous beat unfurls on the drums, a call to gather the tribe; (the rattlesnake chatter of tambourine is a nice wink to the original); the tension builds with addition of harmonica (the player is not credited in the liner notes) and peaks with a series of power chords and bass notes worthy of Townshend and Entwhistle.
Gallagher then chokes it all off and confronts those gathered before him with a rhetorical question, “Do you give a damn for me?”
Green brought a sense of ambivalence to the number, tempering his complainants with a false bravado; he says that there is something he needs to get off his chest, but then goes on to brag of how he was once a “rambling pony”, always in search of a woman.
Gallagher tells the assembled that this is about his “misery”. He then mumbles, “Come on, honey” as if he has just chosen a “lucky” lady to spend the night with him.
This makes the next stanza sound more like a confession than a brag; he tells her about how he was a rambling “boy” inexperienced and out there on his own. When he sings of finding a woman to make his love come down, it isn’t joyous, but a search for relief, adding he was looking for a lady to take away “…this frown”.
In the original, Green sings of his independence; if he needed anybody, he would take someone home with him.
Gallagher turns this idea on its head; he tells the “audience” / listeners, that if they needed any one, he is available. He is always at their service, satisfaction guaranteed. (The final words of the stanza are indecipherable)
The break that follows is incredibly dense, with overdriven guitar(s), squalling harmonica, clattering drums and percussive piano.
In the original’s following verse, Green declares that he doesn’t need anybody, that he has found solace with a higher power.
By dropping those lines, Gallagher brings an unexpected poignancy to the next verse.
Asking to be seen as a person, a human being with feelings and emotions and not simply as someone “famous”, a “Star”, he illustrates the uneven exchange of the “entertainer” – “audience” transaction.
Where Green ends by detailing the demands made upon an artist, and then assures the listeners that he will meet those expectations, Gallagher lets slip the mask, opening himself to us.
The break finds him back out on the stage, (he can’t break the cycle, no matter the cost) the mask back in place, but slightly askew as after the break, and he asks once again, does anyone out there really give a damn for him?
He says he will tell us a story and tells us that his soul is killing him. Knowing that is not what we want to hear, he asks that we please just listen; his need to be understood is subsumed by the knowledge that those listening simply want to “laugh, cry or be satisfied”, and that this is what he has been paid to do, so he buries the final words of his explanation and gets on with his job.
The number then ends as it began, with Gallagher calling for the band to bring it all home and they join him in raising a rousing ruckus; exciting enough to raise the dead, let alone bring an audience to its feet.
The tape is left rolling after the music ends capturing a whoop of joy and giddy laughter, in defiance of the sadness that he feels, like an Irish wake for the life he might have had.
The write up for Gallagher’s other contribution, ‘Leaving Town Blues’ can be found here: https://smilingcorgipress.com/remembering-rory-gallagher/