With a new album just about to be released and plans for British and Irish dates this year, Rory Gallagher is all set to go. Ireland has spawned a great lineage of brilliant guitarists, but Rory is also one of the most exciting live performers around ......
I'm looking forward to having the album out; that's really first and foremost because when you do twelve to fourteen albums and then have a long gap, it's irritating for the fans and the followers. It's also very irritating for the players and myself! We did 20 tracks and some of the material has been recorded over a two year period and half way through that we scrapped about five of the tracks and did five new songs. The temptation is to keep going back and remixing, and I write a new song every week so it's always tempting to go in and do that. But we've called a halt now and picked the best of the tunes and I think it should do the trick.
Is it a departure from what you've done before or is it basically still Rory?
Some of my albums veer more towards rock, but on this one there's a strong return to blues influences. There are a few rocky tracks and there's a few unusual bits in some of the songs - there are always things that influence you, like an Irish influence or a Spanish influence — but the blues tracks are fairly much in the blues tradition. The whole feel of the album is good and gritty and it's honest - and we've got the sound right. I wasn't very happy with the sound on Jinx compared to this one.
I was going to do an instrumental because I've never done one on a record before. Not for ego sake, but I always think it's nice for a guitar player to do an instrumental that becomes one of his numbers. I have one and I've been rehearsing. it - it's the eleventh hour now and we're very tempted to record it. We're going to call it ‘The Loop’ (the raised railway which runs round the centre of Chicago. Ed)
I think a lot of people might like that.
After all of these years I think it might be worthwhile. If not, we'll have it on the next album because whatever way the wind blows we're going to put about two or three out in reasonable succession, so we don't get stuck in that rut. . .
... So, with the studio in our veins we can go in — between doing festival work in the summer — laying odd tracks down so that it doesn't become a ‘big’ project. I think sometimes that's the best way to do it - do it in bits instead of starting on January 1 st and being at it for the next X weeks -which becomes months.
1955 Fender Twin used on the IT74 Tour
Bottom: 1934 Duolean resonator
Top:Panoramic amp. Really an accordion amp with an interesting
vibrato and an early 60's National electric.
Bottom: '59 or '60 Melody Maker with added humbucker
Do you find that limits its your creativeness?
I think it dulls your sense of decision. In the old days, because of all the gigs we were doing, you had to be in and out of the studio in order to be in Norwich by eight that night — or on the continent or somewhere. It's a good form of discipline; it didn't give you much time to hone the thing down. I think what we'll try to do is do a day in the studio and then do a gig the following day — some kind of process like that would be good.
It keeps it vital.
It does yeah. I didn't grow up working on 24 track — the first two Taste albums were 8 track and we always had tracks left over - we couldn't believe it, either. Then we did a couple of albums on 16 track, which was great because we could compromise here and there - like if you had a tambourine or handclaps the roadies could do it, or your friends could do it at the same time as somebody was doing acoustic guitar in a booth. It keeps a kind of a workshop feel to it; as you know, you can bring every musician in at different hours, but you lose that interaction of people playing together, which is pretty evident by some of today's music. I hope to go back to 16 or 8 track next time, I always threaten to do that.
There is a technical argument that the space of tape, per track, on 16 track is broader than 24 track and a few people have noticed that and you get a bigger sound. I think the Eagles bought a 16 track for that very reason, because it's broader and fatter.
Do you like to just go in with the band and sit down and play the numbers?
Yeah. You haven't got a million tracks and you can't be laying down four guitar solos to pick one from later - just putting off the dreaded moment. Plus, you see, most modern engineers wouldn't be happy to work on a session like that because they'd feel it was below their ‘state of the art’ thing. But in principle I like to go in and play with the band. In fact the first few albums we did, most of the tracks I sang live as well, and played the solos live and maybe overdubbed the rhythm guitar.
I was talking to some people the other day who were trying and find what it is that made old records sound better than the modern ones.
Well they let the bass rumble round, spillage was allowed and separation wasn't the first commandment. I think that's a major part of it, plus the decks and things in those days were valve decks and they were slightly distorted in the nicest possible way. The old compressors and echo chambers were very mechanical and they just did the one job, but did it very well, it's like if you compare Dylan's ‘Highway 61’ to his last two albums - he himself has said that he's yearning to get that sound again but obviously somebody's mis-directing him. It's just a combustion’ of sound.
A technician would probably say “Okay Rory, can't you hear that cymbals peaking at such and such, can t you hear that bass is not forward enough. I'm not against progress, but you have to admit to your soul that some things are lacking in some of these newer recordings.
You're very much thought of as a live player; do you enjoy playing in the studio or is it like a chore that you have to get over?
I enjoy some nights in the studio. I'm not the greatest person in an enclosed space; I'm a live player by birth - like a gypsy folkplayer, I just sit in the corner and play. I like looking at people, because you get a good vibe back or a bad one, whatever, whereas in the studio certain things can irritate - you get to know every spot on the wall and every mark on the carpet and if you're not getting on with the engineer it doesn't help, either. That said, it's great to hear the track coming together; it's lovely to go home with a cassette of a new song and check it out. I like that part, but it can be a grind I must admit, it really can be.
When it comes to a solo in a live situation you go for it and generally it's 95% great, but there's a bum note or you get an open string when you didn't want it and that's fine live — but in the studio...
I don't play many bum notes; I do play open strings now and then but, even in the studio, if the solo had feel and fire I wouldn't mind a fluff in it. I mean Jimmy Page makes a point of it and congratulations to him and Keith Richards, some of their best notes are the ones that are fluffed and they know what I mean by that. For instance there are certain solos on certain records I've played that I wouldn't say I couldn't do live, but I wouldn't have the patience and the calm. Like I did an intro on Edged In Blue years ago, which was like a poignant type of Intro. If it's a track that needs a very thought out type of line and has be very much in context, I think the studio wins on that occasion. But if it's for a fiery, nuts and bolts thing and it's a little out of control, I think the live thing is better.
What about live work?
There's a bunch of festivals on the continent coming up. We've done these for the last couple of years, but the prime thing, other than the album, is to do a British tour and to do some Irish dates as well, because we've neglected this part of the world. It will be good fun because we used to do like a couple of tours here every year; it was almost like you could have a winter and spring thing, but we'll enjoy doing some dates here.
You are one of the best slide players around; are you playing much of that these days?
Oh I play a lot of slide on the new album - I’d say on half the tracks the solo is slide, but then again a lot of the time I use a slide tuning for the rhythm part anyway. I play a lot of slide in regular tuning as well as open tunings. I'm still mad about slide; everyone can play guitar, but not everyone can play slide and there are so many ways of progressing on it. Every now and then you buy a record by some country bluesman from the thirties who just wipes the floor with you and you have to start again — but I'm getting there.
Are you still using the Tele for that?
I use the Tele sometimes. Obviously for regular tuning it would be the Strat, and I use a one pickup Gibson Melody Maker on stage, as well. But for most of the open tuning things I've been using a Gretsch Corvette with the heavy strings. It's a very tough guitar —my brother got it for me for 75 dollars in a pawn shop in Los Angeles. I took the pickup off that and put a P90 on. I should have hung on to it, in retrospect, because they're very good pickups — similar to the Tennessean. But, in my opinion, the P90 is the best pickup for slide —it has the right overtones. The best slide guitar, unless you're playing the Muddy Waters style, is the old Cold Top Les Paul's — the very old ‘52 with cream edges, it's amazing. You can play slide on any guitar, but to be serious about it you really have to use the medium gauge or a good tough set of strings, otherwise you don't get the full attack.
You can't dig in.
No, you tend to be polite on it. The strings
on the Strat are only a set of 10’s, but for regular tuning slide it's
acceptable. Muddy used C tuning once in a while, but for most of his work
he used regular tuning, as did Earl Hooker — who's the king of the single
When I first heard you I had been very used to the Clapton style of playing and I knew every note in his repertoire. He never stepped outside that, but you were suddenly playing unexpected things. Was it inside you, was it tons of practise, did you just happen to find things or did you sit down and think “I'm going to play differently to anybody else?”
If I can be immodest, it's a mixture of all of those things, really. I mean as a compact blues player you have to doff your hat to Eric Clapton, there's no doubt about it. But he worked within, shall we say, the limits set down by Hubert Sumlin, Willie Johnson, with Howlin’ Wolf, some parts of what the Kings had played -but he did it so well. He had the attack, the tone and the fire, which was something of his own. I can work within that region, but maybe it was because I was so young. I was playing when I was nine and then coming from Ireland you're aware of different scales and different tonalities and things, and then I played mandolin and banjo and so on and was interested in certain jazz phrases. So I never liked working strictly within the dead set sort of framework. I really didn't want my epitaph to be “Oh Rory was great; he played exactly liked BB King”, or whatever. I want to - I mean it's a very big headed thing to say — but I just wanted to pull a stroke here and there — to just change the idea of the thing by a weird note. Also I use my little finger a lot, because of playing mandolin, plus obviously I was digesting other people that I heard. So if I had anything different it's probably something that was in all of that, I don't know.
There have been some really great Irish guitarists.
Well, he'd be the first to tell you wouldn't he (laughs) - yeah a great line of guitarists . . . Henry McCullough, Gary Moore, Eric Bell (Thin Lizzy's ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ guitarist — Ed) Eric has a little unusual touch to his style as well, I think. I'm probably forgetting a few players now, which would be sinful, anyway there're some fine players.
But also, as a child, I heard Django Reinhardt. I think maybe what we had in common is that he didn't work a strict time on the guitar; he was just a little bit independent in his rhythmic approach. He danced around the rhythm or the beat, whereas a lot of blues players tend to work rigidly on the on-beat, whereas a jazz player or maybe a folk player would just pick their own time. That's the secret I think, myself.
I don't notice any Irish music in your playing, but I suppose it must have an influence.
I think it would come out a lot more in chords and odd little phrases. I haven't delved into it. I mean, I can play Irish music, per se, but primarily it's blues and rock. But, you see, when you write most of your own material anything's possible - that's the difference. Compared to, say, Fleetwood Mac - the Mac were doing, like, 90% of other people's material, while we were doing 90% or our own material, with a couple of standards.
Do you find it easy to write music?
Fairly easy — I have rough passages here and there where, like every writer you get a block. If somebody came to the door and said “Look I need a song by eight o'clock in the morning” I could deliver one, certainly, but I try to wait till it's semi inspired, at least. I'm always jotting down bits in notebooks and on envelopes and always remembering little melodies and putting chords on cassettes, it's an ongoing thing. But the actual business of getting it down and saying “Well, I'm going to go for these two today” I mean it's not that hard then. But the trouble is that once I've decided on the musical part, that stays stuck, but up to the day the record is delivered, on some songs I'm never satisfied with the lyrical part. I might keep honing it down and changing it, but I think every writer does that, you know. But then some songs are pure gift, pure luck —it's almost like somebody's pushing the pen for you; you can feel it's all there —lock, stock and barrel.
When we chatted earlier, you mentioned retaining a bit of the outlaw in you....
I just meant that the whole rock establishment
now has blended so much with the so called ‘social high life’ and I think
that it's gone too far. I mean, I don't think that's what Eddie Cochran
had in mind.
Would you ever have liked to become a sort of ‘household name’?
Well my ego would have to admit that I would, but I wouldn't want to have to bend the knee too much for that. I’d like to be more well-known for what I do - or what my playing does. But I wouldn't want to be a household name just because I wear orange shoes or I got kicked out of Tramps last night or some other daft thing. That's the old question; would you rather he on the front of Time magazine, or do you want to do what you're doing and believe in it - for your life. But I don't deserve a medal for that — that's just the way it is .
The European festivals seem to be a great stomping ground; they seem to still love the music for what it is.
You see, on the continent they aren't hooked up, as they are in London, about ‘this years model’. I’d retire tomorrow if I thought they just wanted to see you because they remembered you were around, this year or that year. I mean, all the albums have held their ground and I think, in parts of the continent, they see a kind of rock and roll lineage and they don't even mess with certain pop things. Either you can cut it on a street level with them or you can't - and they soon let you know! Hopefully, we've been able to do that.
Anyway, with Taste, we scoured it all over - we played The Star Club in Hamburg and we played The Big Apple in Hamburg. Hamburg at that stage was almost the Mecca of rock and roll in Europe. In fact, when Jerry Lee and Fats Domino couldn't get work in England they'd go straight over to the Star Club — and Gene Vincent and so on. That makes me sound very old -but, so be it.
They seem to still want the music, not nostalgia.
Yeah, it's no big knock against London, but I think it applies in other British cities; once you get out of London the media thing isn't so much of a big deal and, on the continent, I think a lot of people are suspicious of things that are too ‘yogurt’. They know their blues and rock and roll, one would like to think, anyway. We mustn't get too big headed about it. There again, there are some good people in this town who have come to see us. I'm not annoyed with people, I'm just annoyed at certain acts, I always have been cribby about that -people with credibility who sell out at the turn of a coin, it's awful.
You're deep in rehearsals at the moment.
We had a good blast yesterday, we'll do some tomorrow and we'll do some next week, but there's a lot of material we have to cover - remember all those lyrics and build up the blisters. We weren't that rusty, though, funnily enough.
Who's working with you?
Gerry McAvoy is still on bass guitar, Brendan O'Neill is on drums, and for a lot of gigs we sometimes use a guy called Mark Feltham who used to be harmonica player with Nine Below Zero, a superb player. We have worked on and off with one or two other people - a keyboard player for a while and then sax for a couple of gigs— generally lately, it's been three musicians plus harmonica, he's a great harmonica player. It gives a nice flavour to it, I think.
He actually practises; you can hear him in his hotel room at night, practising and practising — scales and things which you don't associate with blues players. I think he's the best in Europe, anyway.
You're a bit of a Telecaster man; I think they're your favourites aren't they?
I think they are. I mean, I'm a Strat player because of the three pickups, the out of phase thing, as well - even on my Stratocaster I've neutered the middle tone control. I think probably the ideal guitar would be like a Telecaster lead pickup on a Stratocaster body, but then that's what Lowell George use to do.
I turned against the rhythm pickup on Teles,
years ago, and I put two Strat pickups in the middle and rhythm position,
but then lately I've reverted back to the way they were.
What's your remedy?
The rhythm pickup, you just dip in protroleum wax and put it in the fridge and that one's cured, or at the very worst a bit of bicycle tape. The lead one is always the difficult one. What I do with that one, or should I say what Chris Eccleshall does with that one, is just take the brass plate from underneath the pickup and throw it away. He re-earths it somewhere else and that cures it. Plus, you have to put the protroleum wax in. Country purists would say that you lose a bit of zing doing that; I don't know, that's debatable. But then, in the old days, there were certain Teles that you didn't even have to touch because they came out waxed and everything. Fender brought the re-issue Tele out lately which looked good, but the pickups still squealed, and I thought they could at least get that right. It was a fine guitar otherwise; some of those re-issues are not bad at all. And the anniversary Strat, which I was privileged to receive, is a very good guitar. On Teles and Esquires the lead pickups change a lot — the rhythm pickup rarely changes, but I find on the rosewood necks the rhythm pickup sounds better than on the maple . . . I don't know ...
I think you're right; I think the construction of the neck adds a lot of difference to the sound.
I think it's like heavy guitars; weight wise they're going old fashioned again. There are slightly lighter guitars coming in. Rosewood necks are back in fashion instead of ebony, beveled necks are coming back in. One of the Teles I have, the black one which is actually an Esquire, is one of the rare ones where the strings don't go through the body, they come into the plate. I was going to change that and then I read Dan Armstrong, Kent Armstrong’s father, said that it gives an extra bite or something.
There's always one that defies the rule; it's got everything wrong, but it's a great guitar.
I saw a Tele in the studio a couple of years back now, it was a real standard one - it even had a sticker stuck on it. I just had it plugged into a Champ amp, and that was the guitar they used for, like, taking to the canteen to write a song on, but it was outrageous - the full Steve Cropper sound. And it was early 70’s model -so there's no telling you.
Are you still using your old Strat as main guitar?
Yes, but I don't stick with it all through the set, like I used to. I've got an old ‘57 which is in good shape, but for some reason that ‘61 is great. It has less ‘twang’ than a lot of Strats, but a lot of raw edge - it's almost got about one percent of SG about it.
Of course, that's another experiment I haven't tried yet. Ry Cooder put a P90 in the lead position of his Strat, but I don't like having pickups of different values. And then Johnny Winter used one in the rhythm position on a Tele, as did Steve Cropper, and that's not a bad idea, but you then have the problem about which value pot to use and so on. It's like the BC Rich guitar, which is a beautiful guitar, beautiful construction, but it's got about a million tonal varieties but, on the day, it's like how many cricket bats can you use?
A Les Paul Juniors a nice guitar; you get a good, tough Junior that's a great sound. I've heard some great sounds on those. Or you get a nice Danelectro or a Supro. Those guitars you just have to leave well alone because you can renovate them too much and you blow it. You can pick up the bodies in the States, but they're wrecked, they spray them with graffiti paint and all that. Even though you know that they're not perfectly accurate and all that, if you get a good Danelectro with the right tone pot —that's the big clue there — and if you take the tone down and turn the volume up you get that Hounddog Taylor tone — really obnoxious dirt. But, because the pickups are wired concentrically they're still clear, you know. I can't even solder two wires together — well, I can — but I wish I knew more about the possibilities of capacitors and things. James Burton, I believe has done a few capacitor changes in his Teles; you can change the general smoothness of the thing —there's a lot of leeway in there.
Of course, a lot of guitar players don't use the tone control and they don't even have them on guitars now, because of Eddie Van Halen. OK, that's cutting the circuitry down a bit, I understand the plus for that, but I always use the tone control because there are a lot of different ‘spongy tones you can get half way down on a Tele or a Junior. Particularly if you play slide as well, you don't want it to be clanging all the time, you want to take the rough edge off the top.
So what are your plans from here on in?
Well. obviously with the album out we'll be doing all these continental festivals and hopefully doing a British tour and an Irish tour soon. Then we'll be looking at Japan and Australia and then a States trip, because we haven't been there for two or three years. Hopefully we will follow the album up fairly fast, without being crude about it, because there's a lot of good material left over and there are new things coming along.
Also, hopefully, along the way I’d like to do some film music, if somebody's interested. Knopfler’s done a lot of bits and pieces; it doesn't have to be a guitar project, but it would have to be a picture I liked, in style. But then again, if I get time, the longest project I've had on the shelf is an acoustic album, so that's a possibility; there's plenty to keep me going, anyway.
And a single from this album? We haven't even said what the album is called!
Well, the album will either be ‘Torch’ or ‘Loan Shark Blues’ which is one of the tracks on the album. I don't know about a single; we've avoided it, but I mean we might ruffle a few feathers and bring a couple of tracks out in some form of mini EP or something - see what happens. The DJs now are so lazy that they wouldn't get up off their backsides and dig out your record, but it's not their fault. We'll try for some radio play and if it means bringing a record out in some sort of single form we'll have to do it -but it won't be ‘Three Blind Mice’ it will be something strong.
What would you think of being in the charts?
I could bear being in the charts and being on
everyone's car radio ten times a day. I'm just terrified of . . . a lot
of people I respect have done it with a real little ‘ditty’ and that was
the end of it - that was all they were ever known for. But if we could
break through with something dangerous, I could live with that. I mean,
you could be too rigid about things and too silly with your theories and
your ethos, cutting off your own nose, but it's certainly better than disowning
yourself in a year's time because you did some silly thing that you regret.
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