Born in Ballyshannon, Eire, Rory has been delighting audiences worldwide for more than 13 years - his 100% commitment ensures his constant popularity.
With a new album completed, Rory is about to tour the UK having endured a busy season of European festivals. Bob Hewitt flew out with Rory to Spainís Calpe Rock Festival to catch the show and discuss this brilliant guitaristís career.
Youíve been keeping a fairly low profile in the UK lately, what are you involved with at the moment?
Well, the band and I are finishing off the new album; we have about fifteen songs that weíre working on. Weíve got keyboards on one track and sax on another, and there will be one or two other people involved. The good thing is that we have got plenty of material to work with. Itís a studio album, the fifteen songs will be narrowed down to about ten with proper mixes. Itís looking good Ė Iím confident about it. Besides that we have a busy season of festivals throughout Europe, and we havenít done a proper UK tour for a while. As soon as the album is released, we will follow it up with a good, stiff UK tour.
Whatís the line-up of the band?
Well, there is just the three of us. The drummer, Brendan OíNeill has been with us since the Jinx album, and we are using a harmonica player occasionally - Mark Feltham. Mark did a gig with us in Italy during the summer, and has worked with us on a few festivals. He used to be with Nine Below Zero, but now he does session work.
You have been together with your bass player Gerry McAvoy for thirteen years. What makes you so compatible?
I think it is because heís a great player and a very enthusiastic musician. Some musicians understand each other Ė itís like an ESP kind of thing really, and thatís what Gerry and I have.
What kind of gigs do you prefer playing?
I like to try and make the best of wherever Iím playing - I like clubs, but I wouldnít like to do clubs all the time. I also like playing in universities, because there is less heavy organization, but I think a variety is good. I like festivals if they go well, but there you really are at the mercy of all kinds of things.
You are one of the Fender Stratocaster ĎHall of Fameí members. What makes the Strat so special for you?
was a great fan of both Buddy Holly and the Shadows; I really liked the
Strat sound. Itís just such a resonant guitar. I love the
three pick-ups - especially the middle one; in fact, Iíve even stuck a
middle pick-up on some of my Telecasters. I like the five way
selector, and the way the volume and tones work - the guitar never gets
Ďdeadí if you take it below 7. Itís a good tough guitar - you
never have to treat it like a baby. I like all sorts of things
about it Ė itís good and clangy!
There are things about Gibson Juniors I love too - the P90 pick-ups for instance. I like some Les Pauls - and Danelectros, but I think the Stratocaster is just about the classiest guitar you can have Ė itís my ĎDesert Islandí guitar!
Would you ever use anything else as your main guitar?
Not as a main instrument. I have other good guitars that I use for other songs, and I donít always play the Strat in the studio. I really like Telecasters a lot - especially the lead pick-up sound. I prefer the lead sound on a Tele even to that of a Strat. I have a Gretsch Corvette which I use for some slide, a Gibson Melody Maker which is very nice and a bunch of other things Ė a couple of Danelectro guitars, which are so clear and clean you really have to watch where you use them. I have a Guyatone and a Vox Phantom 12 string and just lately Iíve acquired a Supro guitar. I like to use different sounds for different situations. At home and in the studio I can swap around, but on stage I donít have time to change guitars every few numbers. As it is, I use three or four in a show, but thatís usually for different tunings.
My very first guitar was a Rosetti Solid Seven - I think it was Italian - they made the Lucky Seven as well. It was pretty good. I used a Selmer little Giant amp, but I got rid of it because it was distorting! If I had it now Iíd be delighted!
I moved from the Rosetti to a Hofner Colorama, but it was a little hard to play. Then, early on, I got the Stratocaster - in fact it was the first one I ever saw. Itís supposed to have been the first Strat brought into Ireland. The guy who had it before me was in a show band and he ordered a red one. They actually sent a sunburst so he decided to wait for a red one to arrive, and I had the sunburst - it was luxury! It was easy to play from the start and Iíve kept it ever since - in fact itís getting better!
Iíve had to take the neck off occasionally and dry it out Ė it was getting damp with doing so many gigs and I started to have tuning problems. The pots have gone and the pick-ups have been rewound and things like that. The tremolo arm is broken - but other than that itís still in one piece!
Itís a Ď61 model and it has a very flat kind of neck. Although they were making the bodies out of Alder and Ash, somebody said mine is actually Maple - which is really a one off!
Is it true that the Chairman of CBS/Fender asked you if your beaten up Strat was the best youíd got?
They gave me an Anniversary Strat and a Lead model, because I think they were a bit embarrassed about me playing this bashed up Fender! They thought it was bad for the company image.
You see people like Adrian Belew and Frank Zappa going on stage with cracked up guitars, in fact Zappa has an old Hendrix Strat!
I was honoured to receive a Strat from the Fender Company and I used it to record some of the tracks on ĎJinx.í But the first thing I did was to remove all the finish off the neck and put in some heavy frets. I also removed the middle tone pot - so it operates like a Telecaster.
Who looks after your guitars?
Kent Armstrong is the man for pick-ups and Chris Eccleshall does a lot of work for me. One or two other people as well, it depends on the emergency involved. If itís just changing a small part like a pick-up, then I do it myself.
With the Strat, I changed the lead pick-up for one of Fenderís hot x100 jobs, and Iíve tried the Fat Strat pick-up as well, but I always come back to the original.
I think there are some good guitars being made now. Chris Eccleshall makes some nice instruments, and Iím aware of people like Roger Giffin and the others. There are some really good acoustic makers around too Ė thereís a couple in Ireland; Lowden and Derek Nelson.
The latest Fenders have push button controls. I donít go for that idea at all. I donít like the three toggle switches on the Schecter - even though itís a fine instrument. I think the Fender vintage reissues are OK, and I like the very early Squiers - although Iím not too sure about the latest ones.
What advice would you offer the beginner?
Well, you could say, ďsave up your money and buy a secondhand FenderĒ but there are other good guitars around as well. The Tokai Talbo is a nice one -and itís original design. I think Strat copies like the Kay are quite good with a few adjustments. Thereís no set rule really - I think some of the old $50 guitars you can find in American pawnshops are amazing.
Iíd also advise someone starting out to buy an acoustic Ė electricís OK, but you get a good feel with an acoustic, the heavier strings give you a good tough start and train you right from the beginning. Lessons are fine - especially if you can read music, but I canít read music and I never had a lesson in my life. Never turn down lessons if you think they can improve your Playing.
I actually regret not being able to read music, so try if you can - especially learning to play the piano can help a great deal as a musician. Straight ahead rock and roll is a kind of instinctive feel, which by-passes the technical side of things Ė if you can do it in 6 months then itís great - and you keep on learning all the time.
Amplification And Other Equipment
I donít like stacks much, except the Marshall 4x12s and 50 watt heads. I like combos miked through the PA - the Vox AC30 is my favourite. Sometimes Iíll link that up with a 50 watt Marshall twin combo. Iím fortunate enough to have a couple of the old Fender tweed covered amps - a Bassman and a Concert. I use them with a Hawk Booster, which was made by Di Marzio before he got into the pick-up business.
Itís really difficult to find the perfect amp, especially if you play a Stratocaster, because there are limitations in terms of Ďdirtinessí you can get. You sometimes have to use pre-amp, whereas if you use humbuckers, youíve all the dirt but little clarity.
What about effects?
I use them off and on! I go through phases when I just use the Hawk Booster. At the moment Iím using some Boss units - a vibrato, flanger, octave divider and occasionally a distortion pack. I also have a little DOD analogue delay between the two amps. I donít like rack units, I prefer the battery power - it makes less noise.
I donít like the idea of radio transmitters on the guitar either. I much prefer that sort of umbilical cord between me and the amplifier - it makes you feel as if youíre in touch with something!
One thing I do insist on is a studio quality noise gate, but as regards effects I try to get as much from the guitar and amp as possible.
How about strings and plectrums?
On the Strat I change them every second gig, on the others maybe every four or five gigs. A lot depends on how damp they get. As a rule I donít like fresh strings, they have a kind of harshness. I use a Fender rock Ďní roll set Ė 10s, but heavier strings for different tunings and on the acoustics. I use Herco grey picks, which are a hard, heavy nylon type. I sometimes use the serrated grip for solo parts. For acoustic I prefer a tortoiseshell for crispness.
How do you like your guitars set up?
Well, I like the Strat set up reasonably high and I like the bevel on a Fender fingerboard - rather than a flat one. The first string is high, because I sometimes play slide in regular tuning.
How many different tunings do you use?
I use the D tuning and the G tuning, also DADGAG, plus a B and a C tuning for occasional acoustic work.
Tell us about your left and right hand techniques.
I use the middle and ring fingers of my right hand quite a bit and for little sweeps itís good to use the fingers rather than a pick. I think itís very important to play some acoustic. It helps develop fingering.
With the left hand I try to use the little finger quite a lot, especially on the mandolin; itís important for the little runs and things. With rock and blues in particular, you can become very lazy and not use the little finger, but I try to keep the strength in it, plus you can always get an extra note!
Your influences obviously lie in the early American Blues, but who in particular inspires the music you adapt and play?
There are a lot of people who have had a very strong influence, like Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Howliní Wolf. There are country blues people too, like Blind Boy Fuller, Scrapper Blackwell and a whole wealth of others. There are so many different divisions in blues style, but thereís always something magical about it.
How would you describe your particular style of music?
Iíd say it was a kind of mixture. Iíd hate to be pigeonholed as rhythm and blues or rock and roll - I canít claim to play 100% blues all the time. Some songs have little country licks and some have folk chords, so itís a sort of blues-rock. I think what I tend to do is take the music I love and try and create something unique.
I donít believe in changing style Ė itís like changing your personality. The blues roots will always be there, but whenever you write songs, you always get unusual twists. People like Brian Ferry or David Bowie wallow in changing their style from album to album, but I like to hang on to where I started and develop that way.
I was fascinated by the guitar from a very early age. I remember seeing pictures of Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers, the singing cowboys, when I was about 5 years old. Somebody left a guitar at the house once, and I remember just looking at it. I think the sound intrigued me - and the portability, the fact that you can carry it around.
I was listening to Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and I heard Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy early on too. I like the way you can sing along with a guitar and there are so many different ways of playing it Ė there still are. The rock Ďní roll and blues players really influenced me early on. I actually started playing acoustic when I was 9 years old (I had a ukelele before that), so I taught myself really. I had a couple of books from a music store, skiffle hits with chord diagrams, so it was a pretty modest beginning, because there were no guitar teachers around at the time.
My father was a musician - and there are plenty of singers on both sides of the family! But one side was more musical in terms of playing instruments - the tradition was there alright! Luckily in Ireland, every family has some musicians somewhere!
Taste was my first serious group, because before that Iíd only played with dance bands touring Germany and Spain. I was fifteen. Taste was the take-off point really, because I was playing the music I liked to play, whereas with the dance bands you were obliged to play their style of music. The first Taste album was done in November 1968, but we had done demos in the studio before that.
The break up of the group was just a natural thing really. Weíd been on the road for four years with two different line-ups, and things just came to an end. I also had a few differences of opinion with the manager at that time.
Which guitarists do you admire?
A fairly wide variety. I like Keith Richardís playing a lot, heís got such a nasty, but nice technique. John Hammond too Ė heís a white American blues player. Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Jeff Beck...and of course Eric Clapton. The list is endless! Buddy Guy, J.B.Hutto and lots of acoustic players like Doc Watson and Bert Jansch.
What influences the songs that you write?
I like songs with good stories and ideas in them - ones that get to the point. In my opinion, Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter in the world. I also like the type of songs Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry used to write - little gems and masterpieces. The structure of blues songs influences me a lot.
What will you be doing in ten years from now?
Well, I hope to be doing the same thing really - perhaps in a more accomplished way. Iíd like more musical knowledge and more success in the studio and Iíll be grateful to still be playing. Iíd also like to get involved in some sessions and maybe film music. As long as I can keep doing this Iíll be really happy!
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