Frank X. Gallagher is best known as a sound engineer for the likes of Talking Heads, B-52s, Buddy Guy and many others, but he’s also been a record producer, band manager, roadie, road manager, booker and audio engineer at Irving Plaza and a chef during his long career. All of this experience enhances his popular podcast Soundman Confidential. Gregory Daurer spoke at length with Gallagher about his life in the rock ‘n’ roll circus for PKM.
A Scottish-accented voice says, “I’m Frank Gallagher, host of Soundman Confidential. It’s showtime. Plug in.”
That’s the intro to Frank X. Gallagher’s podcast, on which he interviews friends and colleagues about the music business. During his long career as an audio engineer, he’s worked with many of the artists he’s had as guests on his show, including Talking Heads (all four members of the band have been guests, separately, on Soundman Confidential); Kate Pierson of the B-52s; bluesman Buddy Guy; and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds (who likened Gallagher to a coach who “put the fight in us”). Sometimes Gallagher and his guests will discuss one of his technical specialties – live concert sound. But often, it’s a conversation about their individual lives and personal histories.
As a teenager in Scotland during the 1960s, Gallagher recalls how, “The Beatles and Bob Dylan lit a fire under me.” Through initially roundabout circumstances, he managed to translate that fire into a longtime, multifaceted career. As a front of house audio engineer, Gallagher has acted as a conduit between bands and their audiences, balancing sometimes competing instruments and voices. He’s mixed live sound for underground acts of the ’70s and ’80s like Generation X (featuring Billy Idol), Mink DeVille, The Saints, the Plasmatics (who commanded him to bring up “more chainsaw!” in the mix – not cowbell), and, perhaps most legendarily, the Talking Heads during their first European tour in 1977, opening for the Ramones. Gallagher continued working with Talking Heads during the creation of their album Fear of Music and when the band debuted their expanded lineup in 1980, which was featured on the album Remain in Light.
Gallagher has also been employed as a roadie (for Suzi Quatro, no less). He’s served as a sound tech, setting up sound systems for glitter bands. A band manager. A production manager. He’s given pep talks to musicians; and he often refers to the bands he works alongside, in teammate fashion, as “we,” not “they.” Gallagher has located assorted substances for musicians – and kept others away from those very same items. He’s filed police reports when equipment has been stolen, in order to properly file insurance claims. During one brief career transition, Gallagher became a chef to the crème de la crème of the pub rock crowd at the Hope & Anchor; and he’s introduced touring bands to fine dining establishments he knows about across the globe.
Referred to as “the venue’s guiding light” by Village Voice rock writer Robert Christgau, Gallagher booked the acts and ran the audio at the esteemed New York City club Irving Plaza during one period in the ’80s. And he’s produced or recorded a smattering of bands, including the Plastics, Lili Drop, The Rattlers, and Birdland with Lester Bangs, as well as being credited on the live album The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads. Gallagher has also waded through murky-sounding cassette tapes of live recordings with an opiated, disinterested Johnny Thunders present, in order to pick out the material for the Thunders compilation The New Too Much Junkie Business.
He’s been a friend to Joey and Dee Dee of the Ramones (but not Johnny, who he once witnessed act violently at an international airport). He’s had to convince Jonathan Richman (who “had more hang-ups than the Museum of Modern Art,” as he told Chris Frantz on the latter’s radio program) not to play unmiked and totally acoustic before thousands of people at the Hammersmith Odeon. And he’s acted as a mentor: Gallagher cites being given a copy of Monte A. Melnick’s memoir about being the Ramones’ longtime tour manager, which Melnick inscribed to Gallagher, “Thank you, Frank. You taught me the road.” Gallagher also makes cameos within books by Mickey Leigh (I Slept with Joey Ramone) and Chris Frantz (Remain In Love).
Gallagher has also waded through murky-sounding cassette tapes of live recordings with an opiated, disinterested Johnny Thunders present, in order to pick out the material for the Thunders compilation The New Too Much Junkie Business.
Speaking in a Scottish brogue, Gallagher quips about how he’s a member of the dreaded Scotia Nostra, whose motto is, “We’ll make you an offer you can’t understand.” For this condensed and edited interview, Gallagher conversed with PKM by phone a couple of times from Arizona. The Gallaghers recently relocated to Flagstaff, where his wife, Lynne, runs the craft sewing and boutique shop Wee Scotty – named in honor of Gallagher’s Scottish ancestry, according to an article in the Flagstaff Business News. As soon as COVID restrictions lift, Gallagher hopes to be back on the road with the B-52s or traveling back to San Francisco to take on various corporate gigs which require audio services from the union he’s affiliated with.
PKM: What was it like in Scotland when you were growing up in Banknock?
Frank X. Gallagher: When I was growing up, the mines had failed. It was a little coal mining area. Small miners’ row houses; probably, I was three when we left the miners’ rows. But I remember in front of the miners’ row houses, there was a piece of ground, probably for centuries, a drover’s path. Sheep and cattle trails were the original roads. And a fairground would set up. I remember hearing bass when I was, like, five or six from the big speakers in the front there. The reason I remember it is the speakers had to be so loud to get over the hum of the generators, which weren’t too distant from the rides. The Waltzer – the young person’s ride – had loud rock ‘n’ roll music on it, early American rock ‘n’ roll.
It was a small village. Five kids [in my family]. I went to school, and instead of taking woodwork, I took cooking and French, because I knew that could get me out of the village. So, I got into the hotel management-catering course at the tech college. Never finished it, of course. I always had that rock ‘n’ roll thing in me; that defines in you at a very early age.
My dad was involved in the fundraising for the local Celtic – a Glasgow [soccer] team – supporters’ club, to pay for buses, because we went every weekend [to the matches]. And I was too young to go to the [fundraising] shows; I was probably about ten, but he snuck me in the back door and I sat in the wings in a little village hall and watched this rock ‘n’ roll band and I was instantly fascinated. It just moved me. I knew there was a spirit behind it, speaking to me. And I think at that point I knew I was going to join the [rock ‘n’ roll] circus.
Soundman Confidential guests discuss Scotland in the ’60s and ’70s:
Jim Kerr of Simple Minds: “In the period we grew up in Glasgow, less than 1% of kids whose parents were manual workers went to university….The industrial age had passed. The city was on its knees. Everything seemed monochrome.”
David Byrne: “When I would go back [to Scotland] and visit my grandparents, when I was a child, I remember it being black. The buildings were covered in soot. The poverty and everything was just unbelievable. As a child, I was just, like, in shock.”
PKM: When did you “join the circus”? At about 16 or 18, you start working as a roadie for bands?
Frank X. Gallagher: At 16 ½, I moved to London. Through an agency, I was working at different jobs in hotels. Then I got a job in a diplomatic mansion for a foreign government – for a foreign royal family, actually, [who I’m reluctant to name]. And I was working in the dining hall and in the kitchen. And every Saturday I’d have a bucketful of money, back then as a boy in 1966, and I’d go to Carnaby Street and buy clothes.
I saw a van. It had Scottish plates on it. Not only Scottish plates, but Stirlingshire, the county I was from, where Banknock is. And I got talking to them. They were Scottish, a weekend band. They said if you come back to Scotland, look us up. And, of course, I’d be back in Scotland: you’d get sick of London and go back; you get sick of Scotland, you go back [to London]. And I started hanging out with them on weekends. They said, “Can you help us with the equipment?” I said sure. And that became my job.
PKM: And what band was that?
Frank X. Gallagher: They were a little weekend band called The Squad from Stirling. And they all had day jobs, they were never in it for fame and success. Just a hobby band, to get away and have a few beers and make some music on the weekend. A lot of bands do that. But it got me into it, and it got me to learn a little bit about equipment. And then I just grew up with the technology.
Then that band broke up. The singer left. And he got the van and joined another band in Edinburgh – the big city. And so I went with him. Weekends. I think I was unemployed at that point. And I just camped out and learned the business. No ambition, I just wanted to be in it.
PKM: And were you involved with the band The Casuals around that time?
Frank X. Gallagher: I stowed away in The Casuals’ van. They were a national act who had a hit at that point with a song called “Jesamine.” I think it went to number one or number two. And so I just stowed away with them. I didn’t get paid; I got fed and I got a bed…and I slept in the van. I mean, I didn’t care. They were a national act, so they went all over. In one of my trips back to England, I was in a town called Watford, where my brother lived, and I met one of the singers from a band called The Nashville Teens. They had a big hit with “Tobacco Road.”
He said, “We’re looking for a roadie.” So then I started working with higher-profile bands. And that was hard work, because I was the only roadie. But that led to the guitar player from The Nashville Teens, Len Tuckey, saying, “Hey, I’m jumping ship. I’ve got this other thing. Mickie Most has got this artist Suzi Quatro, who he’s been grooming for a couple of years, and it’s coming to fruition. Do you want to come in?” This was before Suzi made a record. So there I was all of a sudden with Suzi Quatro and Mickie Most. His stable was Hot Chocolate, Mud, to a lesser degree Sweet, because Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn were the writers. I mean I didn’t know it at the time, but it was historical stuff going on.
PKM: And were you a roadie for Suzi Quatro?
Frank X. Gallagher: Oh yeah, I was with Suzi from the get-go, from probably ’71, before she made a record. She made “Can The Can.”
There’s no want ad for roadies in the paper. You know somebody who’s in a band, or a band breaks up and you go with somebody to another band. And that’s how it progressed for me. And I was with Suzi for a couple of years. And then I had a bit of medical leave, I had some surgery done. And when I came out of surgery, I looked for another job. The circus moves on, if you’re not there.
PKM: What was the highlight of working with Suzi?
Frank X. Gallagher: Well, first Japanese trip. Australia. All over Europe. We’d be up and down the Autobahn; she was huge in Germany, Scandinavia…not so much France…Italy, Spain, and then go to Japan, Australia, New Zealand. It was a big change from scooting up and down the motorways on a Wet Wednesday in England.
PKM: And how did she strike you?
Frank X. Gallagher: Suzi was great. When I met her she was reserved, but friendly enough. And welcoming enough for me to come in and take the job. She took up with the guitar player [Len Tuckey]. They became a couple, before I even got involved. So it was a different dynamic, having the boyfriend of the principal in the band.
It was also working with Mickie Most, being around Mickie Most. At that time, he was probably the biggest name producer I had ever [encountered]. He had The Animals, Herman’s Hermits. It was quite a reputation to be around. And I learned a lot from him.
PKM: What was the biggest thing you learned from Mickie Most?
Frank X. Gallagher: Mickie Most’s mantra was: “It’s all about the song.” If there’s no song, there’s nothing to produce, basically. Mickie was good with us, he taught us a lot. And he had a lot of power. That was the first time I worked with a manager-producer type who could pick the phone up and get anything done in London. Or anywhere, basically. I learned that you’ve got to have powerful people behind you.
It was also working with Mickie Most, being around Mickie Most. At that time, he was probably the biggest name producer I had ever [encountered]. He had The Animals, Herman’s Hermits. It was quite a reputation to be around. And I learned a lot from him.
PKM: So you’re moving in the same circles, when they’d be in the office or the studio, as Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page or John Paul Jones?
Frank X. Gallagher: They were in [Mickie’s] orbit, but I didn’t have too much to do with them. Cozy Powell was there, too. Because those guys were Mickie’s session men. Mickie was involved in the formation of Led Zeppelin. [Future Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant used to be a roadie for Mickie’s band the Most Brothers in South Africa. So it’s been an interesting family tree, musically speaking.
PKM: When do you first get into mixing live sound for bands?
Frank X. Gallagher: Well, I grew up with the technology. Back then it was pretty primitive. Up until – even with – The Nashville Teens, we had a little four channel mixer and a couple of mikes. We didn’t close mike everything up if we were playing pubs and clubs. With the advent of Suzi having a little hit, we were going to WEM, Watkins Electric Music, in London. And they were developing high-end, powerful sound systems. And Mickie just made a call, and we had an account, and we could just go get what we wanted. So, then I started getting a little six-channel mixer, and I think we linked two of them together to make 12 channels. No faders – just little rotary pots. And they were developing consoles, as well, some with faders and EQ and routing. So, I basically learned on the job, taking these things out of the factory and just pushing buttons until something happened. And you listen to other guys. Technology was primitive up until that point, and then it started getting much more sophisticated in the ’70s. Until today, it’s awfully more sophisticated. Now I had to relearn the digital age game; I had to relearn everything. But, at the end of the day, the important thing is the song. It’s getting the song across.
My job is to make the band and the audience come together. It’s as simple as that. Nobody’s ever asked for their money back because the lights were bad. But if the sound is bad, everybody in the audience looks at me.
PKM: You’ve said you don’t mix with your ears, you mix with your heart. Can you explain what that means?
Frank X. Gallagher: I feel it. I feel it through the machine. And I feel it through the audience. It’s like a football player: you know when you’re in the zone. I feel it – and I always have. And that’s probably why I got into it, and that’s probably why I stay in it. Because I do have that feeling. There’s a lot of life in music, there’s a lot of life.
PKM: I think there are probably people who are music fans who don’t know what an audio engineer does. What would you tell them your job is?
Frank X. Gallagher: Well, obviously, to mix the sound and deliver a concert to them, deliver an experience to them. But my job is to make the band and the audience come together. It’s as simple as that. Nobody’s ever asked for their money back because the lights were bad. But if the sound is bad, everybody in the audience looks at me.
PKM: I’ve heard you say how you would prefer a guitarist onstage to keep the volume down. And how the bass is important for pushing the sound of the vocals out into the audience. Can you comment on that?
Frank X. Gallagher: Well, I love moving air. And sound is just moving air. I like to get a solid foundation going of bass [drum], kick drum, bass guitar, snare and high hat: that’s my mix. Everything else sits on top of that quite easily. I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great rhythm sections: Chris and Tina, for instance, from Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club – they gave me stuff that most engineers would die for.
The audience doesn’t leave home to listen to a stereo. There’s big speakers – and they want to feel it. Once you get that air moving, the rest of it sits on top for me quite [easily]. You know, you push a fader and you get the vocal. I don’t understand how people can’t get a voice over. And it’s a big problem. There are guys, people that do what I do, that are in all the magazines – that’s never been me, I’ve never been a technocrat – that can’t get a vocal over. I’ve heard some awful mixes. I’ve heard some great mixes, too. But I’ve heard some awful mixes from guys who are all over the front cover of these mix magazines. I don’t know…Maybe, I’m just good at it.
I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great rhythm sections: Chris and Tina, for instance, from Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club – they gave me stuff that most engineers would die for.
PKM: As an audience member, I’m always amazed when the soundperson will put the snare drum louder than the vocal. I’ve experienced that more than once, myself.
Frank X. Gallagher: Oh, yeah. I’ve had conversations with the some of the subjects on the podcast, where [someone] had to be restrained, when they were audience members, from going to the soundman and asking them, “What are you doing?!” More than once. I’m not a good audience member, anyway; unless it’s a band I want to see, I cannot go to concerts on my day off.
PKM: You were running sound for a while [in the ’70s] and then you took a couple of years off to work as a chef in London, is that right?
Frank X. Gallagher: Yeah, I built a restaurant in London in 1975. I just got tired. I was working with Alvin Stardust as a system tech; I would set the sound system up and another guy mixed it. I was also working for a rental company, a rental house, so I would just get assigned a tour. No choice. We’d just go. And I just got tired, and my soul wasn’t in it. And my catering hotel management experience – I had a buddy [say], “I want to build a restaurant above the Hope & Anchor.” The music pub. And he lived right next door. So I moved in there. We built the restaurant with our bare hands. We knocked the walls down, we built it, and we opened it. But it was the epicenter of pub rock, so I would feed the Feelgoods [Doctor Feelgood], Elvis Costello. The Stranglers hung out there and started there. The Boomtown Rats. Graham Parker. We fed a lot of people. I was off the road, but I was still very connected to music, because I was around these people and I was feeding them.
We knocked the walls down, we built it, and we opened it. But it was the epicenter of pub rock, so I would feed the Feelgoods [Doctor Feelgood], Elvis Costello. The Stranglers hung out there and started there. The Boomtown Rats. Graham Parker. We fed a lot of people.
PKM: What was your specialty as a chef at that time?
Frank X. Gallagher: We built a fire, we built a pit. We used real charcoal and it was kind of an organic fire, no gas, no briquettes. It was all oak charcoal, when we could get it. We grilled meats and fish, venison, rabbit. Whatever we wanted. It was basically French-Mediterranean grilled food. At that time in London probably the Turkish restaurants and the Greek restaurants had charcoal; Middle Eastern, where they would grill kebabs and do that kind of thing. But we took it up another level. I like garlic. I love garlic!
PKM: And some of those pub rockers were playing downstairs at the Hope & Anchor, right?
Frank X. Gallagher: Some of them were playing downstairs. There was a basement and then there was a street level bar. And the restaurant was above the bar. And we knocked out a studio: It was a demo studio that Dave Robinson of Stiff Records built. (I’m not sure if Elvis [Costello] made his demos there.) There was an old tube console that unfortunately ended up in the Dumpster. Someone told me it was the original console from Decca [Records] that recorded their early stuff up in West Hampstead. There was no eBay back then; this was 1975. We didn’t know, and my partner and I didn’t even have time to think about restoring it. We were building a restaurant. It was in the way, so it went in the Dumpster.
PKM: So, after a couple years of the restaurant, it’s 1977. You’re itching to get back on the road. And you get a call?
Frank X. Gallagher: I put a call in. There was a rental company, I had had some work with them before. I called Concert Sound and I knew the guy “Tag” (his real name was David Hall, but we all called him “Tag”), who ran it. In that office was Barrie Marshall – who later became Marshall Arts, [Paul] McCartney’s promoter and Tina Turner’s. At that point, Ed Bicknell was in that office too; Ed Bicknell found Dire Straits and managed them. So, they were all above the laundromat in this little office, this little agency.
And “Tag” had a little sound agency, so I said, “What’s going on?” He said, “Oh, I’ve got this [tour] leaving on a Friday. Go to Zurich on Tuesday and pick up these two American bands. Nobody wants to do it.” And it was the Ramones and Talking Heads. I’d never heard a lick from the Ramones, I’d been off the road. And Talking Heads, I’d heard nothing. I don’t even know if I’d even heard that name. They had nothing out in England. They had a single as an import, at that point. So, off I went to Zurich and picked them up. And the Ramones had a crew and their own sound guy, Monte Melnick, their road manager. And Talking Heads had no one. So, by default, I ended up mixing them. And the first night, I went back to the hotel after the show and I said [to the band], “I have no idea what’s going on here, but I want in.” True stuff. I barely got a soundcheck with the Talking Heads, because it was the usual support band syndrome. I think I got a song-and-a-half. I didn’t know any of their music whatsoever. But three songs in, I got a grip of a mix – and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Two years off the road I went, “Yeah, this will do!” And here I am, still.
David Byrne to Frank Gallagher on Soundman Confidential: “We realized, when you joined that tour, ‘Oh, here’s somebody who’s actually making us sound pretty good. We’re getting good feedback. We’re hearing good things about it, and it really does make a difference.”
Frank Gallagher to David Byrne: “I said, ‘What are you looking for from me [texture-wise or dynamics-wise,] out there?’ And you said to me, ‘Don’t get bored.’ And that was the smartest thing that any artist has ever said to me!”
He said, “Oh, I’ve got this [tour] leaving on a Friday. Go to Zurich on Tuesday and pick up these two American bands. Nobody wants to do it.” And it was the Ramones and Talking Heads. I’d never heard a lick from the Ramones, I’d been off the road. And Talking Heads, I’d heard nothing. I don’t even know if I’d even heard that name.
Frank X. Gallagher: And two completely different bands: You know, the Ramones and Talking Heads. The dynamic was interesting. And Johnny Ramone – I’d never met anyone quite like him. All of them actually. Joey and Dee Dee and Tommy. And Johnny Ramone did say as we were going to Stonehenge, “Who the fuck wants to see that?! A bunch of rocks!” That’s what he said. “I don’t want to go there! A bunch of rocks!” And he would throw tantrums because he didn’t get iceberg lettuce: “This is not salad! Where’s the iceberg?!”
Dee Dee and I became fast friends. Until he passed, we were still in touch. I have to get it – I think he mentioned me in a book he wrote. I haven’t seen it. [Imitates Dee Dee’s voice:] “Remember that time you put speed in my coffee, Frank?” I would see Dee Dee when I was in New York, see him socially, and we’d have a cup of tea. Dee was a lovely man, but a troubled soul. I [once ran into] him, like, up in the Fifties and Lexington [in Manhattan], I thought, “What’s a Ramone doing this far uptown?” I said, “Dee Dee, what are you doing up here?!” He said, “I’m going to see my shrink.”
I would see Dee Dee when I was in New York, see him socially, and we’d have a cup of tea. Dee was a lovely man, but a troubled soul.
PKM: You used to give the Talking Heads a pep talk before the show. How would that go?
Frank X. Gallagher: Every band – every band I ever worked with, I used to go in the dressing room before the show. I go back before the show and tell them how the place is, how the stage is, how it sounds, ticket sales are good, they’re going to be sold out, a good night. And some nights we have a little huddle, a little toast, a drink. Just tell them, you’ve just got to get [out] there and get on with it, basically. I don’t know if you heard the Jim Kerr interview; this is in the early days and I said [to him before a Simple Minds show], “What are you going to do? Stand here and moan and go home to your mommy? Or are you going to get out and play for these people?” That kind of thing does come up. So, that’s my job as the tour manager or production manager, making sure all the parts are lining up and moving. The crew and the band, as well. I’m a benign dictator, basically.
PKM: I understand that you were huddling with Talking Heads, once, and you had an interruption from someone barging in, right at that time.
Frank X. Gallagher: Johnny Rotten, right. He came in the wrong room at the wrong time and I told him, “Fuck off!” That was back then. [laughs] I was at the height of my madness. I still have the propensity to do that, but I do it nicely these days.
This is in the early days and I said [to him before a Simple Minds show], “What are you going to do? Stand here and moan and go home to your mommy? Or are you going to get out and play for these people?”
PKM: Was it immediately after that you moved to New York City?
Frank X. Gallagher: My chronology’s a little hazy, because there was so much going on. Between that, what happened was I went straight on to another tour after that. One of the opening acts we had was The Saints, a band from Australia. They called me and I went to work with them. I loved The Saints. Very clever social commentary. The Saints had a great song called “Know Your Product” – still very relevant to me – about advertising. They could play. I loved mixing that band because they were the first punk band to introduce me to a horn section. It was an interesting blend for me to mix, because it was the punk – four on the floor – and then this brass section coming in behind them.
And I did some stuff with The Boomtown Rats in their early days, as well. Same little sound company.
Then I went to New York for a couple of shows [with the Talking Heads] at the Entermedia Theater. The band said, “Come on over. We don’t have a lot of money, but you’ll get a little holiday out of it.” And I went to New York, for the first time. Oh, I’d done some work with Mink DeVille in England: I wasn’t mixing them; I was one of the guys on the crew, one of my colleagues was mixing it. When I came to New York to do those Entermedia shows, I [spent] probably a couple weeks hanging out, and I was at CBGB, hanging out with Chris [Frantz] and Tina [Weymouth]. They didn’t play there at that point, they’d graduated from that scene. But Mink DeVille were around, so I started mixing some shows for Willy [DeVille], up and down the East Coast. I loved Willy. Willy was a true artist. I used to go hang with Willy in his apartment. He was a tough nut to crack, he didn’t let a lot of people in. I was blessed to be allowed in, really confide.
So, I’d forgotten about that point in my life: the Berserkley years. Matthew King Kaufman was the owner and manager. So, I did some of that. And I also did a Commodores tour in 1978, as the assistant tour manager, through Europe. And then, after that, I think, I moved at some point in 1978, I moved to New York full-time.
I started mixing some shows for Willy [DeVille], up and down the East Coast. I loved Willy. Willy was a true artist. I used to go hang with Willy in his apartment. He was a tough nut to crack, he didn’t let a lot of people in. I was blessed to be allowed in, really confide.
PKM: You lived with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth at their loft, when you got to New York?
Frank X. Gallagher: I lived in the loft for a while, yeah. I basically buzzed around, when I got there. Because I didn’t know I was going to stay. I didn’t really know if this was going to work for me. So, I didn’t get an apartment.
When I first got there – bang! – [Talking Heads] were on the road, up and down the East Coast. And so I didn’t really need an apartment. I would crash with people I knew and couch surf for a couple of months. And then Chris and Tina graciously gave me a corner of the loft with a mattress. And it was great – loft living. I’d never experienced that before. And, eventually, I got my own apartment on the Upper West Side, my first apartment.
PKM: Talking Heads were rehearsing at that loft and you were mixing them as they were rehearsing?
Frank X. Gallagher: Yeah, I mean there wasn’t much mixing to do: [it was] pretty primitive and they only had a couple of vocal mikes. And nothing else miked. But we did actually do a thing for The South Bank Show in 1979 where I did actually mix it, I mixed the film sound in the loft, still again pretty basic stuff. But yeah, I was around the songs at some point, the songs being born, basically.
PKM: And what do you recall about the recording of Fear of Music at the loft?
Frank X. Gallagher: We towed the Record Plant [Remote Truck] up [to the big wide sidewalk outside the loft], we dropped a rope, we pulled up a snake, you know, the connecting cables. We didn’t move anything from the rehearsal [set-up]. We didn’t baffle it. We didn’t change anything. We put up some dynamic mikes, the mikes I used for the live show. Rod O’Brian, the engineer producing it, put up some ambient mikes, and, basically, we ran tape within a couple of hours. We got sounds, and we just ran tape, and played the songs and jammed.
PKM: Did you have a sense that it was magical as if was being recorded? Fear of Music is one of my favorite Talking Heads albums.
Frank X. Gallagher: Yeah, I knew there was something special there. Because we played some of those songs before we made the record already. We road tested a few of them. Usually, at soundchecks. Not for audiences. They kept it pretty close to the chest, Talking Heads. They were true artists in that sense. They didn’t want anyone getting it until it was ready, till it was finished. But yeah, “Life During Wartime” – are you kidding me?! Unbelievable piece of work.
PKM: How did the expanded Talking Heads lineup strike you when you first heard it together, while you were mixing it?
Frank X. Gallagher: They called a rehearsal without telling me what was going on, and I walked in to two bass players, two keyboard players; Adrien Belew, Nona Hendryx, Bernie Worrell, Steve Scales, and Dolette McDonald. I had to throw it together. They hadn’t told me what was going on. So, there I walk in and I’ve got a mixer in [Pink Floyd’s rented rehearsal] studio and I’ve got a few mikes and an expanded crew, and we just set it up and they played and I grabbed a mix. And the stuff they were sending me was easy to mix, because it’s them – and the texture was unbelievable.
Podcast guest Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club speaking to Frank Gallagher: “You made music out of our music.”
PKM: Tell me about helping to run Irving Plaza from late ’83 to mid-’86. You set up the sound system there and booked the acts. What was that like for a couple of years?
Frank X. Gallagher: What happened was I left Talking Heads, actually. I resigned my commission. It was just time to go. And I wasn’t happy at some personality aspects of it. So, that’s all I’m going to say about that. So, I was walking past Irving Plaza and Steve Deptula, this guy I knew, walked up and asked, “Hey man, what you doing?” I said, “Oh, you know, I’m on the loose, looking for something to do.” And he said, “Come in.” So, I went in to the little office and had a cup of tea, and he said, “We have a lease to open this place, but no one will take our call. Agents won’t talk to us, managers won’t talk to us, they don’t know who we are.” He said, “Could you make a couple of calls for us?” And I said, “Sure.” So, right there and then, it became my job. So, I put a sound system in there; I found the sound system. I booked the acts. I partied a lot – because, back then, I was very into partying like most people in the ’80s in Manhattan. So, I got a couple of years out of that, before they ran out of money, as well. My first act I booked was Howard Devoto [formerly with Buzzcocks, Magazine]. It sold out. Then, every year, we would do a showcase for the New Music Seminar; first Red Hot Chili Peppers show in Manhattan [was part of the New Music Seminar]. First Waterboys show, I booked. I booked the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Very diverse stuff. Reggae – Eek-A-Mouse, all the great reggae acts; on Thursday night, we’d do reggae. And then I had some shows where I got most of the Talking Heads together. They’d play Irving Plaza.
PKM: Why was it important to have in the ads at the time “We Don’t Have Video!”
Frank X. Gallagher: Because we were about music, not video. Everybody else was selling MTV. We knew we couldn’t get those MTV acts. They were too big for us. So, we didn’t really care. And also it was expensive. You needed a guy and you needed equipment; The Ritz had it, they had, like, three people [running] it. No, I couldn’t afford three people. That was our little artistic statement: “We don’t have video!” If we’d had the money, we probably would have had video. But the dance hall aesthetic we wanted to maintain was important to us: The focal point was the stage – not the halftime interval, the halftime show between bands, put a screen down and play videos.
Frank X. Gallagher: What happened was I decided to write a memoir. And I started working with a co-writer, someone who could direct me, because I’d never written a book before. I got working with this guy for about a year-and-a-half. And it wasn’t working, my voice wasn’t coming across. And it had nothing to do with him, the chemistry wasn’t there. And by a complete fluke, a guy I knew in San Francisco, Alan Black – he was a published author and he was managing a pub called the Edinburgh Castle, which was a literary pub in the Tenderloin – I’d bumped into Alan. He would bring Irvine Welsh over to do events with him and book signings; he was Irvine’s buddy in San Francisco. They knew each other from Scotland – Glasgow. So I called him up and said, “Listen Alan, I’m doing this book and I need some help.” And, at that point, he’s still a creative writing teacher. And we hooked up and it was great. So, what happened is, I would talk the book and he would transcribe it and edit it. And, so, he had me interviewing someone for the book and he said, “This should be a podcast. You’re very good at this.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah. Because, you know, you’re close to the thing.” I’m just talking to people I know, I’m talking to friends that I know. I didn’t have to beg or scrape or go through channels. I just called them up and said, “Do you want to do this?” And that’s what’s happened. No managers. No agents. No lawyers. “Do you want to do this?” “Sure.” And so that’s how it came about. It was easy. That’s why I did it: because it was easy. Because in the music business, you can go through that; you know that – trying to get access.
PKM: You were a soundman and a road manager for one of your podcast guests, Buddy Guy?
Frank X. Gallagher: I was Buddy’s road manager for eight years. I started off just as the road manager and at that point he didn’t even have a soundman. I got hired as a tour manager. And the first tour was with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and the Alligator All-Stars – which was Alligator Records‘ [acts]: it was Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Junior Wells. That was the opening ensemble.
And my first show with Buddy, he sent me to see Junior Wells: “Go tell Junior, in his dressing room, I want to see him.” And so, I go and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Wells” – this is how I address people (“Mr. King,” you never called him B.B.) – I said, “Mr. Guy would like to see you in his dressing room.” And Junior Wells pulled a knife on me and said, “Tell that motherfucker if he wants to see me he can get his black ass over here!” And that was my introduction to Buddy Guy. Buddy had set me up. Because he knew Junior would do that. [laughs] I think Junior was joking with me to get a message to Buddy.
I would still be with Buddy, except for traveling so much. I had a young child and I had to stay home. Got off the road, started doing corporate audio. Got in the union [the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 16] in San Francisco. And started working corporate production.
And so, I go and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Wells” – this is how I address people (“Mr. King,” you never called him B.B.) – I said, “Mr. Guy would like to see you in his dressing room.” And Junior Wells pulled a knife on me and said, “Tell that motherfucker if he wants to see me he can get his black ass over here!” And that was my introduction to Buddy Guy. Buddy had set me up.
PKM: What was the highlight of that corporate work?
Frank X. Gallagher: Money and health insurance – that was the highlight. I had to bite my tongue a lot with the corporate boys, but in the end, I grew to like it. Because in rock ‘n’ roll, I made the decisions. In the corporate world, there were three or four levels of client to deal with – and everybody wants their fingerprints on it, but nobody wants to touch it. At first, it was very difficult having layers of people all getting paid, instead of just going, “Put it there and leave it there” – which is what I do in rock ‘n’ roll: “Put it there, leave it there – we’ll take it out at the end.” But I learned a lot about sound. I learned a lot about audio, because they had speakers all over the place at events, doing those shows. We did all the high-tech companies in San Francisco, we did all those shows. They shall remain nameless, but you know who they are. They had budgets – I’ve never seen unlimited budgets. “You need that? Okay. Bring that in.”
And when my daughter got older, I started to do little jobs. Chris and Tina called me up and I did some Tom Tom Club touring. We opened for the B-52s, who I’ve known since 1978, because Talking Heads, Ramones, and B-52s had the same manager, at that point, Gary Kurfirst. I knew them, so getting back on the road was quite easy. And I juggled both. So I’d work local [corporate gigs], when I was off the road, and tour when the phone rang and I got freedom [to get out of the house, go on a tour]. And it was great. I’ve still got that: a union card. But nothing’s happening [due to COVID].
PKM: What’s been the experience working with the B-52s?
Frank X. Gallagher: Oh, it’s been great. They knew me as a wild man back in the day.
PKM: Is that when you were known as “Galligula?” [A play on the Roman emperor Caligula’s name].
Frank X. Gallagher: Simple Minds christened me “Galligula,” yeah, back then. And they had good reason to call me that.
PKM: And why’s that?
Frank X. Gallagher: Because the party was always in my room. I’ve been sober for 30 years, so far; I went through it and came out the other end.
Tom Tom Club opened for the B-52s in the early [days] of me being back on the road. I left Buddy in ’00. So yeah in 2008 or 2009, I started doing some [gigs] on the road. And we opened for the B-52s and their manager came up at the end of the show and said, “How come your band sounded so good, better than my band?” “I don’t know…I’m working with less equipment…We don’t have the budget, we’re the opening act, so…It must be me.” And he said, “Can we steal you?” I said, “No, you can purchase me.” And so that opened the door.
PKM: What do you like about working with the B-52s?
Frank X. Gallagher: First of all, great songs; they give me really great stuff to work with. They’ve got a great organization, they take care of me. It’s just mixing those songs every night; I never get tired of it. And bringing joy to people: People love this band. There’s nothing generic about it, it’s still very original.
Podcast guest Kate Pierson of the B-52s to Frank Gallagher: “We know we can trust you to make it rock and make it roll.”
PKM: I read that you did a remix of an album by the Japanese band the Plastics. Why didn’t you get more involved in studio work and that type of mixing?
Frank X. Gallagher: Because there’s no windows. And the repetitive nature of the studio.
Saying that, I’m going to go back in and do some. But I produced a record for a French band, Lili Drop, a three piece, who opened for Talking Heads, in the late ’70s. Maybe 1980. And I worked with The Rattlers, with Mickey Leigh, who’s Joey Ramone’s brother. I produced a couple tracks for them. When I first went to New York, I hung out with Mickey Leigh, Joey’s brother, and he had a band with Lester Bangs called Birdland.
PKM: What was Lester like?
Frank X. Gallagher: He was forthright – to say the least – with his opinions, but I got on well with him. Birdland became The Rattlers. I would mix The Rattlers, and we’d open for the Plasmatics, who I also mixed, as well. I used to weekend with the Plasmatics, when Talking Heads were off the road; I would just get in the car and go down to the Jersey Shore with them. First time I ever had to put a pickup on a chainsaw – not kidding! And [Wendy O. Williams] would ask for more chainsaw in the monitors. And the manager would come to me out front and say, “More chainsaw, more chainsaw!”
PKM: Here’s something I heard you ask a podcast guest, so I’m going to ask you the same question: “What question would you ask yourself?”
First time I ever had to put a pickup on a chainsaw – not kidding! And [Wendy O. Williams] would ask for more chainsaw in the monitors. And the manager would come to me out front and say, “More chainsaw, more chainsaw!”
Frank X. Gallagher: What would I ask myself? “How did a boy from a tiny little village in Scotland end up living in Manhattan and mixing Talking Heads, and everything else that’s followed it?” Well, the answer is: It was in me. It was in me. I’m a certain type. And I still pinch myself. “How did I get here?” – like the line in the song [by Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”].“How did I get here?” Because I wanted it – and you’ve got to want it or you won’t stay in it. Because this is not a life for everybody. This is a tough life, before you know how to do it – and even when you know how to do it. But, you know, I don’t sleep in vans anymore. But I wanted it, so that’s what I did. I worked long and hard for it. But just the way the planets lined up to get me here is nothing short of a miracle.
And I still pinch myself. “How did I get here?” – like the line in the song [by Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”].“How did I get here?” Because I wanted it – and you’ve got to want it or you won’t stay in it.
Frank X. Gallagher remains at work on a memoir, in addition to hosting his podcast.
Additional guests on Soundman Confidential have included: Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs; producer Steve Lillywhite; singer Dolette McDonald; Alan McGee of Creation Records; Richard Jobson of The Skids and The Armoury Show; Vernon Reid of Living Colour; and Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Upcoming guests: Sleaford Mods; Fred Schneider of the B-52s; and Skylar Funk of Trapdoor Social.