Friday, 6 June 2008

The valley of the shadow of de’Ath

Everyone thought he’d been dead for decades until he showed up at his former boss’s memorial service, with only one eye but otherwise more or less in one piece.

Rod de’Ath was Rory Gallagher’s drummer during his Seventies heyday. As a musician he was a bit crap, to be honest — or, as Roger Glover, who produced him on Calling Card, more diplomatically put it, he “wasn’t the best drummer in the world” — a proud alumnus of the wardrobe-falls-downstairs school of the percussive arts.

If he's remembered at all it's probably for his rather silly (but in fact real) name and the notorious foot-powder scene in Tony Palmer's documentary Irish Tour ’74. But he was an experienced, enthusiastic basheur des skins and certainly didn’t deserve to slip into total obscurity when Rory suddenly gave him and his mate Lou Martin, the band's Muppet-like keyboard player, the boot in 1978.

After trying in vain to get back into the rock mainstream for a few years, including a spell with Lou Martin in a going-nowhere-fast band called Ramrod (left), de’Ath emigrated to America, got married and had a baby. At some point in the Eighties he got a call from a British band called Road Erect (yes, that Road Erect), inviting him to produce them, so he came back to London to do it, crashing on a series of sofas while he was there.

And then his “accident” happened.

The details are murky (I’ve been unable to confirm whether any gardening was involved at all, although substances of various kinds may well have been), but the upshot was that he lost an eye, spent a long time in a coma and suffered severe brain damage with total memory loss. His wife and child flew over from the States to be with him, but he was in hospital for so long that his apartment back in New York was assumed by the local hyenas to be unoccupied and everything in it was looted.

He emerged from his coma to discover that he was not only an out-of-work has-been drummer — no changes there — but also homeless, penniless, one-eyed and unable to remember a thing. Quite how he managed to get by, like most of the rest of this peculiar story, is a complete mystery.

Fast forward another decade of lost weekends to 1995, when Rory Gallagher died. Although back living in the UK by then, de’Ath stayed away from the funeral — probably wisely, given the very real risk that he'd spook most of the mourners — preferring to shuffle into Brompton Oratory unannounced and pay his respects at the memorial service a couple of months later. And that's where Rod de'Ath came back from the “dead” and where we came in.

In 1996 he was still in London (although doing exactly what I have no idea) with 95% of his memory back, but since then — 12 years ago now — he’s been AWOL again. Is he still hanging in there somewhere or, after one false alarm already, has Rod de’Ath's surname finally caught up with him?

For old time's sake, here he is at his (and Rory's) peak, playing "Cradle Rock" at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975.

Update - 25 August 2008

A repost of this piece at the Word website has just received a welcome (if oddly defensive) response from Rod de'Ath's cousin. The upshot: yes, he is indeed still hanging in there. Phew.