Polydor whisked me off to Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day last year to see
Taste in concert, but even before then, Irish audiences were well into
the band and the word had spread across the sea.
It’s well known how big Taste became and for that reason, if for no other, a shame that the trio split when it was on the verge of world wide success.
While Ritchie McCracken and John Wilson formed Stud with Jim Cregan, Rory went into a period of exile. He eventually reappeared with a band called simply Rory Gallagher and within the space of five months has become one of the hottest properties in Europe.
Rory has a unique style of guitar playing culled from years of listening to a wide range of differing musical influences and delving into the background of such diverse modes as skiffle and rock and roll. He even went through the showband period, though anyone hearing him today would find that hard to believe.
After stealing the show at the Crystal Palace Garden Party a couple of weeks ago and starting work on another album, Rory and I had one of our periodical get togethers at his record company’s offices.
We were deposited in a kind of ante room-cum-corridor which had about five doors leading off it and Rory likened it to the underground due to the amount of human traffic continually passing through.
I asked him how far back his music went and what had led up to his present trio.
“From as far back as I can remember there was always music in the house,” he replied. “Relations would come round and someone would play the piano and someone else would sing and I’d have to sing even if I didn’t want to.
“I remember listening to pre rock and roll radio, people like Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine, but it wasn’t until Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle range that I noticed the guitar being played as against Roy Rogers strumming it. I went out and got a Woolworth’s Elvis Presley guitar, which was really a plastic four-string ukelele and when I was nine I got a wooden guitar and paid for it out of my pocket money for about eight years!”
Like a lot of his contemporaries, Rory went through the amateur skiffle group bit, playing at school concerts and the odd social before Eddie Cochran brought the electric guitar to his attention.
“When I was fourteen I tried to get a group together, but no one could play bass guitar, it was unheard of,” he revealed. “So I joined a showband, not particularly because I wanted to, but because I could play through an amplifier three nights a week. That’s where I got the grounding.
“We went to Germany and Spain and came to Britain and played the Irish clubs here. I could do Chuck Berry numbers, but I had to stand back while they did Jim Reeves numbers and a jig.
“Behind rock and roll I realized there were people who were influencing Elvis Presley and behind skiffle there were people who were influencing Lonnie Donegan. There were two lines of music coming together somewhere and I listened a lot and read a lot.
“I wanted to play something in between, but I couldn’t do it regularly, that’s why I joined a showband, because it was work. I felt it was absurd to turn up the tremelo to play ‘I Won’t Forget You’ by Jim Reeves, though.”
The showband was on the point of splitting up, so Rory took the bass player and drummer and formed his own group, but that was doomed after two months. Then he got what he calls “the first Taste” together, went to Hamburg for a while, returned to Britain in May 1968 and found that one floundering after another eight weeks. Then he got the real Taste together and it was all under way.
There is a noticeable difference between Rory’s playing now and in the latter days of the last Taste and I wondered who he had been listening to in the interim.
“I studied acoustic guitar a lot, which I didn’t have time to do before,” he pointed out. “I listened to people like Blind Boy Fuller and delved deeper into all the sources that I’d known existed before. It was the first time since I’d started that I’d had time to stop. I’d never been out of work before.
“Playing acoustic reflects on your ordinary guitar playing. I’d been very aware of the B.B. King style of playing a lot of single notes, but also the old guys who play a lot more chords as opposed to the single note stuff and what I’ve tried to do is combine the two styles.”
This was tried out on his album which didn’t, for some odd reason, storm up the charts. What are his feelings about the fate of it?
“Even with what it did I was quite satisfied,” he admitted. “It has sold as many as any of the previous albums and is still going along nicely. I hadn’t been doing any live gigs prior to the album, but I don’t get too depressed about things like that (albums not being big smashes).
“The next album will be out in late autumn. It feels a lot guttier, a lot grittier. There’ll be certain similarities with the last one, just a lot jumpier.”
Rory is one of the great showmen on stage and can always be relied upon to stomp about a lot, forcing the pace on and on. Is this a planned thing?
“It’s not as conscious to me as perhaps to other people,” he said thoughtfully. “If something comes on the radio that appeals to me, it gets my feet tapping. I just feel it’s a natural thing to do.
“It’s great when people come up and say ‘Now you’re going to do it today,’ but I don’t go on with a Cassius Clay complex. You do your best and if you happen to do it that day, it’s okay.”
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