When the great Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher died in 1995, many obituaries reported that his former drummer, Rod de’Ath had also passed away a few years earlier, victim of anything from a violent mugging to a drug deal gone wrong.
But then de’Ath surprised everyone by turning up at Rory’s memorial service, very much alive, albeit blind in one eye.
“I couldn’t go to the funeral itself,” de’Ath told Classic Rock. “C’mon, everybody thought that I was dead. It would have probably ended up with a couple of more dead bodies from the shock of seeing me.”
Classic Rock tracked de’Ath down to an East London pub to get the truth behind one of rock’s great disappearing acts. Looking dapper in a black fedora, wearing an eye patch (“It’s to prevent double vision”) and holding himself steady with an ornate cane, he looked less like a rock’n’roll casualty and more like a hybrid of Alan Moore and Terry Pratchett.
After parting ways with Gallagher in 1976, he joined Ramrod and Downliners Sect, before moving to the US in the early 80s.
His problems started after he returned to Britain in the late 80s to visit family and friends. That’s when he suffered a mysterious accident that many people subsequently believed had killed him.
“There were several rumours as to how I had my accident,” he said. “Riding a high-powered motorbike, driving a fast car. All these stories had one thing in common: that I was out of my tree. Total bullshit. What really happened isn’t a very exciting story. I was running down some steps to catch a train, tripped over and went down on my head.”
The drummer woke up in intensive care after being in a coma. He had suffered brain damage and lost the sight in one eye. He’d also lost his memory and couldn’t remember who he was or how he got there.
Slowly, his memory returned, but due to missed payments he lost his house. But his surgeons had more bad news. Apparently, the damage he’d suffered to his brain was so bad that it would eventually kill him.
“I was told I had four years maximum to live,” he said. “That was difficult. I thought, ‘What’s the point of contacting people and saying: ‘Hi, it’s me – I’m back. By the way, I’m dying next year’.” Thankfully, that prognosis was 19 years ago.
When Gallagher died, Rod decided that “enough was enough” and made his re-appearance at the guitarist’s memorial. When Classic Rock met hum he admitted that the most difficult thing was accepting that he would never be able to play or produce music again.
“My hearing was gone, and making music was my life,” he said. “I probably wasn’t a very nice person to be around for a few years.”
De'Ath died on August 1, 2014. He was 64.
This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 170, May 2012.