by Chris Welch

Among the great British guitar giants, there are, men with powerful egos, possessed of erratic genius. Then there is Rory Gallagher. And here is a modest, gentle man who has proved to be more consistent and has stayed closer to his roots than any of them. Rory has always been a people's guitarist, but that unassuming side of his nature has never prevented him from turning into a lion of a player once he gets out there on stage. He's been winning over audiences for some twenty years now, and deserves respect and recognition for an illustrious career that has been devoted to playing passionate, down to earth music.

 It wasn't just the speed and intensity with which he played the blues that endeared him to fans when he first emerged from Ireland in the late Sixties. There was an appealing simplicity about his desire to play his level best for the crowds, to keep the music flowing, and there was also that innate feeling, sometimes melancholic, sometimes joyful inherent in all Irish music, that makes you wonder if the blues didn't start in Ireland. It could well be that their folk music was as much an influence on the original Black American blues men as what came out of Africa.

Certainly Rory, born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on March 2,1948, has always been aware of the origins of rock music. Like so many of his generation he was greatly influenced by Lonnie Donegan, the man who in the mid Fifties achieved enormous popular success when he revived the spirit of skiffle and blues. Without Donegan there would have been no Beatles, and probably no rock scene as we know it. Rory pays tribute to the way Donegan sparked off a great outburst of musical enterprise with the ‘Fifties skiffle boom.

Rory began his career playing in Irish showbands from the age of 15, and later took the- Beatles’ road to Hamburg where he gained hard won experience before moving to England in 1969. His first band, Taste, were signed to Polydor and the energetic trio soon won hugely enthusiastic audience reactions, as they toured heavily and released a brace of albums.

The original line up consisted of Rory (vocals, guitar), John Wilson (drums), and Charlie McCracken (bass). After their initial success there was internal dissent and Taste also had problems with their management. It was a period that is still painful for Rory to recall even today, (he is now managed by his brother Donald). Rory then reformed a trio under his own name with Wilgar Campbell on drums, and Gerry McAvoy on bass guitar, who is still with him today. The new trio was even more popular and toured extensively in America. A highlight of their recording career came with the live album ‘Irish Tour ‘74’.

But let's hear the story from the man with the Fender Strat, the check shirt and harmonica harness, himself.

“I've just released my fourteenth album, ‘Fresh Evidence’ (Capo). On the latest album we used 24 tracks, but I must admit we by-passed a lot of the new technology A lot of musicians I admire have fallen into the trap of letting the machines do the work. The first Taste album in 1969 was recorded on eight track which was then regarded as revolutionary and started off my career as a lone acoustic player - at the age of nine. I came from a musical family and started off playing skiffle. Then came rock’n’roll followed by the acoustic blues, thanks to Lonnie Donegan. I discovered Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed. But growing up as a kid of course, I was aware of Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry. But Lonnie was my hero for years and I still respect him. The sad thing is Lonnie has been overlooked really. He moved to America and pops up on TV occasionally, but usually in cabaret.” Rory recorded an album with Donegan in the Seventies, but hopes start on another project with him.

“The last one was over produced with singers and keyboards. I’d just like to make a skiffle and blues album with him using a washboard and a double bass and a couple of guitars!.”

Rory was 14 when he got his first band together. ”It was frustrating in Ireland then because you couldn't get a rhythm and blues band together. So I just joined a showband for a couple of years which was fun on one level, but you had to do material you didn't like”

The Fontana Show Band allowed him to do a couple of Chuck Berry numbers, but eventually the rhythm section and Rory broke away and formed the first version of Taste. While he was with the Fontana he had his first experience of touring in Germany and Spain and even came to England in 1964. Then Taste developed in Cork before moving on to Belfast.

They came to England in 1968, and after playing various Marquee and other London club gigs began to win a dedicated following. Every looked fine, except Rory wasn't happy with business affairs and like so many of his young contemporaries, felt he was being ripped off.

“Because we could get four or five gigs a week in club, we felt we were in such a special, privileged position- we'd do it for nothing! You'd sign anything put in front of you, just to get a record deal. It was a shame people in the music business were so devious really because there was no need for it.”

Rory was a self taught guitarist although he got music books out of the library and tried to enroll in the Cork School of Music. “But they wouldn't take me in because the only course they had was for classical guitar and that didn't appeal to me. So I taught myself from skiffle books and looked at pictures of guitarists to see how they put their hands on the instrument. I taught myself in exile really, which I don't regret. I do wish I had some flamenco lessons however because at this late stage I'm a frustrated flamenco player”

Rory has a great turn of speed when he gets on a roll, but that's not something he is especially concerned about. “I had to work fast because in my first bands we didn't have a rhythm guitar player and I had to play lead and rhythm at the same time. My favourite players of the time were Mick Green of the Pirates, Griff Griffiths of the Big Three from Liverpool who were superb players and could play a concise solo within a few bars, and they influenced me at the time.”

Gary Moore was a 15 year old in Belfast around this time, and we wondered if Rory saw him around. ‘Indeed, yes. He had a little band called Platform Three who played some dates with Taste. He likes to tell stories of borrowing guitars from me, and lending strings, now that's part fiction and part true! He was superb even then. He played a Telecaster and Jeff Beck was his hero. Gary was a flash little player for his age and very self confident.”

When Rory went out on the road with Taste and his later trios, audience showed their affection for the shy young guitarist with storms of cheers. How did he feel about the fans’ reaction? “Well it just sort of happened. Obviously we felt great. see we worked hard at it. We were never laconic about audiences. I wouldn't say we were just crowd pleasers, but we were never snobby. We used to do all these blues festivals and the reaction was incredible and a big following developed. It was a fantastic time, but we weren't driving Rolls Royces or acting like millionaires."

There was a traumatic time when Taste split up in 1970, and Rory went solo with his own band. “We had serious legal problems then. It was a difficult time because I was put off the road for six months and was obliged to retire really because I had to fight back and get my own little band together. We did a new album called ‘Rory Gallagher’ in 1971 on Polydor. Then we went on to do albums like ‘Deuce,’ ‘Live In Europe,’ ‘Blueprint,’ and ‘Tattoo.’ Later albums included Against The Grain’ (Chrysalis), in 1975, ‘Calling Card’, which was recorded in Germany."

As the music scene changed, punk and pop challenged rock's supremacy, and Rory’s album output became more patchy. There was a long gap between ‘Jinx’ (1982) and ‘Defender’ (1987) his last LP.

‘After Chrysalis, we had offers from different companies, but they were too restrictive about material, sleeves etc. So I hung out and did an independent deal with Demon records and released ‘Defender' on our own label. But that five year gap was painful really. We did a lot of recording, but we couldn't get the go ahead. The scene became.... I don't know.. it was all New Romantics, Blondie and Adam Ant. Now things are a lot healthier because kids are fascinated by real guitar players and guys with drum sticks in their hands. B.B.King through the U2 connection, Albert Collins and Gary Moore, are bringing back attention to the blues. Who would have thought in 1990 the old blues guys would be on MTV and getting reasonable record deals. They are looking forward rather than back.”

Although Rory has been neglected by the media in recent years, he has always had his fans and he's never stopped working. ‘Regardless of fashions there are still blues and rockabilly fans. Certainly for a while the press overlooked rootsy music they thought was old fashioned and irrelevant. But what I'm trying to do is create music that respects the roots, but is based on new material as opposed to just me doing old blues, acid rock standards all the time. That's the key really, to update the music itself by hitting it on the head, and coming up with new chord changes and tunes."

"What's ruined all the blues and rock’n’roll revivals, has been the tendency to pander to the past. The music needs to be renewed. That's what we're trying to do on our new album. Next I'm hoping to bring out an EP with such tracks as ‘Kid Gloves,’ ‘The King of Zydeco’, and a tribute to the late Alexis Korner called Alexis.”

Rory has fought shy of video and TV in the past, but now says he'd quite like to do a video perhaps based on "The King Of Zydeco" just as long as it doesn't try and portray Rory as a king of glam and punk! There is an old film of Rory playing in Belfast, made by Tony Palmer at the height of the Troubles in the early Seventies. “We were probably the only band to have played there for months at the time.  It was great and its kind of spooky to look back at it now”
Rory today doesn't want to spend all his time looking back.

He's got extensive tour plans, a great new album and a new generation of fans cheering him on. His band includes Gerry McAvoy (bass), and Brendan O'Neil on drums, with Mark Feltham, ex-Nine Below Zero, guesting on harmonica, and they sound much tighter than even in the hard hitting Seventies. “Life is pretty hectic. The new album has brass and keyboards on a few tracks so when we go out on the road, we might have to expand the band, but I still like the sound of the trio. We are looking for a guy who can play piano, saxophone and accordion!”

Rory will be playing festivals throughout the summer and a full British tour in the Autumn. He has been offered dates in America, Japan and Australia, but has had a problem with flying for the past couple of years.

“ I could do it for years, two or three times in a day, but then I had a couple of bumpy ones in Norway with five helicopter trips in one day which put me off."

Not surprisingly, Rory prefers to do his flying on the guitar and from the evidence of his latest album, he's still soaring....into the wild blues yonder!

This article comes from a 1990 issue of 'Metal Hammer' in a column called "Root Notes"
Thanks to Annet & Klass Spijker for passing it along.
reformatted by roryfan
The background is a capture by donman from Montreux 1979, mutated by roryfan
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