See more of the story

A former Prince sideman and co-founder of Greazy Meal, Brian Gallagher had the right mix of professionalism, musical chops and personal likability that made him a go-to saxophonist, flutist and bassist for countless other Twin Cities rock, funk and R&B bands.

The versatile musician died unexpectedly Thursday of a pulmonary embolism. He was 52, and leaves behind three teenage children.

Gallagher played saxophone with Prince's New Power Generation in the early 1990s. He made a strong impression early into his NPG stint with a swaggering solo in "Sexy MF," from 1992's so-called "Love Symbol Album." He was also featured on later records such as "Emancipation," "Come" and "The Gold Experience."

Not long before his NPG tenure wrapped, Gallagher booked a month of Sunday gigs at the Cabooze in 1995 and invited friends out to jam with him, which became the impetus for Greazy Meal. The locally beloved, sexually spiked funk band's weekly gigs became a party ritual for local music fans in the late '90s.

He continued playing with Meal singer Julius Collins in a variety of other bands, including Smart Mouth and the rocking gospel group Sons of Almighty; the latter group featured Collins, NPG/Greazy keyboardist Tommy Barbarella and former NPG bandmates Michael Bland and Sonny Thompson.

"He was the hardest-working musician I've ever worked with," Collins said. "He and I would try so many different things musically. Even when we failed, it was a joy trying to work it out with him. Nobody worked like he worked."

A Shoreview native, Gallagher temporarily moved to Las Vegas a few years ago to perform in "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks' band, but he was eager to move back to his hometown, said his girlfriend, Gina Feinstein.

"He had so many great friends here, and they knew how good he was," she said.

Other groups on Gallagher's résumé included the TC Jammers, Vintage Raggs with Jody Hanks, the Droppers with Jim Anton, Alison Scott's band, the GSM Trio with George Scot McKelvey and his own Brian Gallagher Quartet.

"He made everybody he played with sound expensive," said McKelvey, who was supposed to perform a happy hour gig with Gallagher early Friday evening. "He's one of the few guys I not only looked forward to playing music with, but I looked forward to just seeing him."

"He knew and could play all genres of music," said Jeff Taube, Cabooze booker and local promoter. "As much as he loved music, I think he also loved the camaraderie with his fellow musicians, all of whom loved the guy dearly."

Taube said a benefit for Gallagher's family is being planned for an upcoming Sunday night at the Cabooze. Sons of Almighty also have a Cabooze show booked April 15, which will likely go on as a tribute to Gallagher.

Survivors include his children, Ava, Magdalena and Cesar Gallagher. A memorial service is set for Thursday at 7 p.m., with visitation starting at 4 p.m., at Bradshaw Funeral Home, 4600 Greenhaven Dr., White Bear Lake.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658