It's taken RORY GALLAGHER some 13 or 14 albums to get back to his roots, but with new LP 'Defender' he's finally succeeded. He may have invested in a new shirt, but as DEREK OLIVER found out, the tricks up his sleeve are still the ones he knows best

I'VE GOT to admit that life without Rory Gallagher has been a bit like having to suffer fish 'n' chips without salt 'n' vinegar. I mean, one minute he was busy thrashing out solid slabs of blues-boogie to all and sundry at every available opportunity and then, in the wink of an eye, he was gone. But where?

"Basically, we had a lot of problems sorting out the album," Rory confided to me recently at the Reading Hexagon Theatre, minutes before leaping in front of a capacity audience: "I didn't anticipate a gap of this length, but I have been working very hard, mainly outside of the UK, doing festivals, European tours and a couple of trips to America as well as trying to record the latest album ... "

Ah yes, I'm glad he mentioned that, because from what I've heard on the grapevine Rory's recording schedule was dogged by a lot of complicated problems resulting in certain songs being recorded three or four times over. Mind you, who could blame him for being a little over-protective, especially when there's so much at stake.

Let's face it, Rory's a member of the old school of guitar giants, and faced with the severe competition of speedy whizzkid axemaniacs like Yngwie J. Malmsteen those old blues triplets could be viewed as, er, rather passé to say the least.

"Yngwie Malmsteen ... he's a very dangerous player, isn't he? Sure, I'd have to admit that the new breed of guitarists are incredible, but the problem they're now facing is that they all sound exactly the same. Y'know, the same Charvel guitars, whammy bars, effects, hammer-ons, harmonics and tapping. That's fine if it's used sparingly, but these kids tend to go full tilt from the beginning to the end so it loses its meaning.

"Personally, I still believe that the key to being a successful and influential guitarist is to be economical. Playing at such fast speed is like playing yourself into a corner and there's only a few clever souls who are capable of getting themselves out of that sticky situation. That's the difference between a good and a bad player ... "

One of the things you notice with Rory in conversation is that he's no dinosaur stuck in the late  Sixties blues boom even if
roots music indicates otherwise. He's got a sense of humor too: "A lot of guitar players have retired or become farmers, but I'm not like that -  I'm hyperactive compared to them!


"There's nothing as fresh and dynamic as a
four or eight-track recording"

But let's steer the conversation back to the man's latest album, " Defender", his first since 1982's lacklustre "Jinx" and currently available on the Demon label: the subject of much praise from many a source, sticking as it does to his beloved blues n' boogie, but strangely devoid of contemporary tampering (I'm referring, of course, to the sparse production).

"I've never consciously worked in a way where I've been swayed by fashion," Rory retorts. "I just record for me, it's a personal statement of what I want to achieve and thankfully we found a company (Demon) who saw it that way too. At a certain point we were on the verge of signing with one or two major companies, but the conditions and the way they saw my future weren't quite right. Then Demon showed up and we hit it off straight away because they had artistic trust in me and didn't have any qualms about the conditions I was asking for.

"As far as the actual recording goes, I laid down every song at least twice, sometimes more, and ultimately I ended up with  around 20 songs to choose from. The more the record got delayed the more the pressure was on to make it better - it got pretty scary towards the end. It worried me to have to prove that I could still cut it, but thankfully I think the album has more than done that."

Did you feel the desire to become, er, a little bit more contemporary?

"Look, I spent 13 or 14 albums getting back to the 
fundamentals and I'm certainly not prepared to give it up that easy! It's not that I'm adverse to using modern technology, synthesisers and things, but I do think that there's nothing as fresh and dynamic as a four or eight-track recording. The song always comes first and that's my principal objective. If you haven't got a good song you might as well forget it."

Fortunately, Rory Gallagher has plenty of good, nay great, songs helping to compile a live set that stretches these days to a mammoth two-and-a-half hours of solid sweat-soaked rockin'. From the moment he hits the boards to the very last climax, Rory pumps out an amazing selection of red hot solos and dynamite riffs, mixing old favourites like 'Moonchild' and 'Shinkicker' with newer titles such as 'Loanshark Blues' and 'Don't Start Me Talkin" taken from the 'Defender' album.

Apart from his hair being a shade shorter and his bones carrying a little more weight these days (whose aren't?), Rory's appearance hasn't altered that much - the only disappointment was the fact that he wasn't wearing a check shirt!

HELPING TO pile on the pressure is a blistering backing band tighter than a rush hour tube carriage; perennial bassist Gerry McAvoy, deft drummer Brendan O'Neil and, stage left, a new addition in the form of harp player Mark Feltham. A good line-up familiar enough with Rory's vast catalogue of material to allow him the freedom to stretch out from the main course of events and solo away at leisure. This works best, of course, during the many blues numbers, although his use of bottleneck during the acoustic segment of the show is pretty awesome by any standard, and here I'm referring in particular to the old Ledbetter toon 'Out On The Western Plain'. Why bother listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds or Robert Cray when Rory's still treading the boards?

And the future?

"I'm using the tour to convince people that I didn't retire. From now on I'll be doing things on a regular basis and for a start that means releasing another album in June or July next year."

An eminently likeable geezer to be sure and, hey, let's hear it for that old and battered 1961 Stratocaster. Surely he could afford to buy a new one by now?

This article comes from the 11/14/87 issue of Kerrang.  (thanks to Brenda O'Brien for nailing down the date)
reformatted by roryfan
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added 3/12/06