Rory Gallagher and the Blues by Markus Gygax

Note: This was posted 'as is' from Deuce Quarterly in 3/86. Markus Gygax was the publisher of the fanzine.  An occasional mix-up in the translation from German)

After his first album "Taste", Rory has recorded a number of songs which he had adapted from black blues musicians. Here are the titles and composers: "Leaving Blues." (LEADBELLY), "Gamblin' Blues" (JACKSON), "I Feel So Good" (BIG BILL BROONZY), "Pistol Slapper Blues" (BLIND BOY FULLER), "I Wonder Who" (MUDDY WATERS), "Too Much Alcohol. (J. B. HUTTO), "Just a Little Bit" (GORDON), "Out on a Western Plain" (LEADBELLY), "All Around Man. (BO CARTER) and "Ride on Red Ride On. (LOUISIANA RED). Moreover, there are four more songs published on albums on which the original composers are not mentioned. However, those are also old blues songs, and the last three are among his most famous ones: "I Could've Had Religion", "Catfish", "Sugar Mama" and "Bullfrog Blues"

Those who are a bit more familiar with the blues may wonder 'What in the World" is this -not even one of them is a classic blues song. Quite right. There are only two songs by other musicians which are at least somewhat famous: "Just a Little Bit" or "Messin' with the Kid'. Even "I Wonder Who" by MUDDY WATERS is rather unknown.

You may wonder why RORY hadn't recorded things like "Dust my Broom", "Hoochie Coochie man", "Help me", "The Thrill is Gone", "Goin' to New York" etc.  All the well known blues-rock bands like JOHN MAYALL, FLEETWOOD MAC, SAVOY BROWN, CLIMAX BLUES BAND, CHICKEN SHACK, MIKE BLOOMFIELD or PAUL BUTTERFIELD, who, as well as RORY; had become famous during the sixties (and also those who were successful fifteen years later) have played those classic songs, though. But you might consider the fact that it took all these groups (and many others, too) several years to find their own personal style. Even on their first albums are heaps of classic songs, whereas RORY has found his style right at the beginning. Although RORY was still pretty young in his "Taste" period (when the band split he was only 21) you will find not even one 'blues hit', there is only "Leavin' Blues: "Gamblin' Blues: "I feel So good", "Catfish" and "Sugar Mama" All these songs were introduced by the various musicians in the twenties and the thirties. The rock fans have known only RORY's adaptation. Even today "I feel So Good", "Catfish" and "Sugar Mama" number among his classic songs, although the TASTE period dates back nearly 15 years. It is only because of GALLAGHER's odd attitude - he refuses to play the old stuff -that we have been waiting for these songs since 1970.  Wouldn't you 'Feel So good' if he suddenly shouted out "Sugar Mama" again?

As for the songs which RORY has 'stolen' from the old blues people something else is striking. Almost all these songs like " Leavin' Blues"," Gamblin' Blues", "I feel so Good", "Pistol Slapper Blues", Bankers Blues: "Out on a Western Plain", "All Around Man", "I Could've had Religion", "Catfish", "Sugar Mama" or "Bullfrog Blues" had been recorded during the twenties and thirties of this century. To be sure, electric guitars were not invented yet at that time. It stands to reason that these songs are now "Gallagher-like" rather than "Big-Bill-Broonzy-like".  But that does not mean less value of Rory's adaptations. Acoustic songs, too, which actually blues musicians had recorded, are quite different now. What you still my feel at the most is the soul of BLIND BOY FULLER or LEADBELLY.

For example, do you still recognise BO CARTER's "All Around Man" when RORY plays it? Although some of the lyrics are still like those of the original, the text is now different. 1975 is not 1925, after all, and the concentrated charge of sex that you can find in these texts has all been canceled in order to avoid the prohibition of broadcasting these songs and wet panties of female teenagers in the show. Another example is "Bullfrog Blues" He heard this song for the first time from CANNED HEAT and immediately fell in love with it. Nevertheless this song did not become part of RORY's repertoire until he heard the original song by WILLIAM HARRIS (from 1924). "Bullfrog Blues" played by CANNED HEAT, was fairly similar to the original, or one could simply say that the difference between the two songs is that CANNED HEAT had an electric guitar. RORY's song, however, is doubtless his own typical style, today even more than in 1972. In the meantime he has changed and improved it several times. Perhaps it comes to the point when you try to describe RORY's style as it is now and you say either "Bullfrog Blues" or "Goin' to My Hometown", "Messin' with the Kid" is another song on which RORY has stamped his unmistakable brand. It may be the most famous one which RORY has ever adapted. It is still part of JR. WELLS repertoire, and other bands like the BLUES BROTHERS have also adapted it. But listen to the original by JR. WELLS, after that to the BLUES BROTHERS, and finally to RORY GALLAGHER.  JR. WELLS and the BLUES BROTHERS sound like musical twins, RORY plays it more detailed and also better. I heard JR. WELLS and BUDDY GUY, of all musicians, compliment RORY on his individual style when they played at the JAZZ FESTIVAL in MONTREUX in 1975. During every break between one song and the next one of the fans was clamoring for "Messin' with the Kid". Eventually, JR. WELLS announced the song with the remark: "This is not a RORY GALLAGHER  song". The TAFGESANZEIGER ( one of the most important Swiss newspapers) reported on a concert of the CHICAGO BLUES FESTIVAL with stars like SUNNYLAND SLIM, JIMMY JOHNSON and ODDIE PAYNE: "It was nice that the six musicians did not play only the common songs but also songs like "Messin' with the Kid" by Rory Gallagher."  BANG! That's it!

This is also typical: He has never become arrogant and that is why he mentions the original composers. For example, nobody would have minded him claiming himself composer of "I feel So Good" instead of BIG BILL BROONZY.  For it is most unlikely that anybody would have expected that BBB was the 'father' of this song. But RORY seems to be very honest about this (as well as generous), so that the old blues musicians get some money at least every now and then. In spite of this fact, J. B. HUTTO said one time to a journalist he had not known that RORY had recorded "Too much alcohol"  However, he had not seen a dime so far. ..This is quite possible (the blues musicians usually have not the foggiest idea of the business, simply because they have not the say and have been fooled so many times that now they still do not trust anybody) for by the time HUTTO would get RORY's money it probably had passed many 'mediators' ...and we know that there are corrupt people. The following example might be apt: One time ERIC CLAPTON recorded an old blues song by SLEEPY JOHN EASTES. CLAPTON himself gave the share in the profits to EASTES, although it took him several weeks to find EASTES. But sometimes the English rock musicians are not much better than their managers. They claim that a song is their own composition, although it is doubtless a copy. The most foolish thing to do was probably when FLEETWOOD MAC copied to a T- "Dust My Broom" by ELMORE JAMES, and even though this is one of the most famous blues songs in the world, "FLEETWOOD MAC & PETER GREEN were given as composers. Nothing can be more stupid than that!

In regard to live performances, it is rather similar. RORY is reputed not to simply rattle off day by day
his programme in a narrow-minded manner. Nearly every time he has other songs too, in his repertoire or he improvises. They are usually 'new' songs, not his unpublished material, but old blues songs 'trimmed' with RORY's own ideas. Among the songs which he nowadays still plays rather often, are for example "Garbage Man" (MUDDY WATERS), 'What in the World" (JOHN LITTLE JOHN), "It Takes Time" (OTIS RUSH), "I'm Tore Down" (FREDDIE KING), "I'm Leaving" (HOWLIN' WOLF) etc. This proves that he does not care for going down in history as the 100th man to play "Hoochie Coochie "Man" as an encore.

Accidental sessions are somewhat different. In such occasions even RORY plays the conventional songs. But what else could you play when people like ERIC BURDON or FRANKIE MILLER rush on stage unexpectedly? Actually, the best songs to play are songs like "Help Me", "I'm Ready", "Got Love if you Want It", "Around and Around" or "Roll over Beethoven".

Nowadays, every amateurish band knows their texts and music by heart, no doubt. These sessions are usually very interesting, but would be wrong to expect new sensations. The more I was surprised when I saw the two sessions of RORY and ALBERT COLLINS. Maybe it is their respect for each other which drives these two guitarists to give remarkable shows again and again (in regard to their sessions). COLLINS might think "I'll show Rory what the blues is really like; whereas RORY might be eager to show ALBERT what Rory Gallagher's opinion of blues is like. After the opening number at the NYON FOLK FESTIVAL in 1983, which was a blues medley, the whole session turned out to be a mixture of jazz and rock -and it was also a mixture of two kinds of modern blues. Four years ago (with CHAMPION JACK DUPREE on piano as guest) GALLAGHER and COLLINS finished with a encore of an old TASTE song, which was most surprising, especially when you consider the fact that no one had ever heard RORY playing a TASTE song after he started his solo career.

And what about his own compositions? As mentioned above, RORY is not one of those people who cling stubbornly to the black blues style. He plays his absolute personal style, and so you realise only when you are listening a second time to songs like  "A Million Miles away", "Cradle Rock", "Public Enemy No. 2" or "Cloak and Dagger" (you can go on citing other songs) that they are actually blues songs. When he composed pure and genuine blues, even RORY had difficulty in casting off the shadow of the past. This was much harder for him than adapting an old blues song and recording it in his style. There is certainly no doubt that "I Should've Learnt My Lesson" on "Deuce" is an adaptation of a CHICAGO- song. However, when "Calling Card" was published, he had finally dropped this attitude. In opinion songs like "Calling Card", "Off the Handle" or " Jinxed" number among the best songs that a white man has ever recorded and which do not even show a vague connection to MUDDY WATERS or B.B.KING. And that is saying something when you consider the fact that the average rock music fan of the blues movement is only familiar with "Hoochie Coochie Man" or "Dust My Broom" 

 written by MARKUS GYGAX    translation from German by Edith Viertelhausen

This article comes from Issue #40 of Deuce Quarterly in 3/86
Thanks to John Wainwright for passing it along
background is B&W photo from the article mutated by roryfan
reformatted by roryfan

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