rory gallagher

You were virtually born playing the guitar??
Just about. From the age of six -as far back as I can remember -I was mad about the guitar .

What appealed to you initially?
I suppose mainly it was because Elvis had one and Lonnie Donnegan had one and the bass or piano didn't come across to me. It seemed like the Rock'n'Roll instrument. I was nine before I got really playing it.

Were you playing the music of the heroes of your day, or were you already into the Blues?
I was just learning out of skiffle books -things like Lonnie Donnegan's greatest hits! There was a man who had an ice-cream parlour across the street from us, and he played Hawaiian guitar:, and he used to tune my guitar for me, otherwise I'd never have been able to tune it myself! I worked out "It Takes a Worried Man" and "Freight Train" and all those folkie things, and then bit by bit I had a bash at Eddie Cochran songs and Buddy Holly ones, and the Rhythm'n'Blues came later once I'd learned there was more to Rock'n'Roll than met the eye.

Did the Hawaiian guitar player get you into the slide style you now have?
Not really -he was a fairly reserved character and I never really saw him play. I started playing slide while working in an Irish Show Band on a semi-professional basis because I couldn't get a group together. That was strictly in ordinary tuning and after having seen pictures of people like Alexis Korner and Brian Jones with bottle necks. Then I discovered all the greats behind these people -players like Elmore James, Tampa Red and others. Getting Blues records in Ireland
at that time was rather like taking library books out which no one had ever heard of! The best you could do was to get those Chess EPs which might have two tracks by Chuck Berry on one side and two by Muddy Waters on the other .

I remember a great EP by Muddy Waters with "You Need Love" which later became "Whole Lotta Love" for Led Zeppelin. It wasn't really until I came over to England when I could dig out the old records for myself. In some ways this form of discovery was more interesting than having had it all laid out on a plate for me. It became more of a real challenge.

There was no one in the city that I came from who knew anything about these sort of people. You could discuss the Ventures with them, or the Shadows, or Fats Domino, fair enough, but anything deeper was a bit of a closed shop. If I had lived in Belfast where Van {Morrison} and Them and all those people were playing it might have been different. When I got to Belfast with the Taste in 66/67, there were a lot more Blues records there in the shops. Initially, though it came from learning Lonnie Donnegan material which was really and truly made up of Woody Guthrie songs and Leadbelly songs.

Does your style of Blues playing come very easy to you now?
It's easy in as much as you could throw me in at the deep end at almost any Blues session, and I could provide what was required. If someone wanted a Chicago Blues style, or Delta Slide, or Detroit or North Carolina, I'd know what they were talking about, so in that sense it's easy for me; but by the same token, playing the Blues is one of the hardest things to do because it's the one music that is so emotional that if you can't summon up the feeling, you can't play the Blues; it sounds false and hollow. That applies to the real Bluesmen as well: I mean, even Muddy has to work at it every night and you can't get more of a giant than that. Rock'n'Roll's more of an aggressive, rhythmic thing, but with the Blues you've got to summon up an atmosphere -you can't act it.

Let's talk about your guitars and hardware -does the slide get you through strings quicker than other guitarists?
Not really, but I change strings on my main guitar, a Fender Strat, every second night, and they're completely played out by then. But whether you use a glass or metal slide, the trick is to connect gently, and make sure you don't hit the frets. I have another guitar set up in open tuning with heavier strings for my slide playing. If you're playing open tuning like Elmore James, there's no doubt you're going to crack a few strings!

How many guitars do you use, actively?
Well, in any given show I probably use three electrics and one acoustic -depending on how many strings I break. I don't like going on stage with an array of guitars looking like a music shop: that looks pretentious, but you have to have I couple of spare ones for different tuning, plus if you do numbers with a capo, the last thing you should do is try and tune it up in front of an audience. The scale goes funny if you put a capo on even a perfectly tuned guitar -it seems to work for folkies, but you have to be very cautious on electric guitars with light strings.

For studio use I have up to half a dozen or more guitars which I can pull out to give the sound the session may require. You might want a Fender rhythm sound or a Gibson lead, or you might want a cheap sounding guitar -I' ve got an old American Pawn Shop -Thirty Dollar Model which gives a real raspy Chicago sound which a Fender is too sophisticated to create.

Ever since you left the Irish Show Band you've always run a very tight outfit - never more than four, I think I'm right in saying.
Yeah, that's right -four maximum. The only exception to that has been last year when we added a couple of tenor saxophones to the three piece for a few numbers, but usually just three or four.

You seem to actually do more on stage than many other bands?
I suppose so: we only aim at an hour and a half, but if it starts rocking we'll carry on for two hours or even more, but the next thing is, you get into that Bruce Springsteen marathon of three hours and I think that's too long myself, and I'm a Springsteen fan. It's the quality, not the quantity, I suppose, but I only start warming up after say 45 minutes. It's an emotional thing: it's not a question of just having a list of songs on your arm which you run through from start to finish. I vaguely know what we're going to play, but I can't work with a list.

How about amplification: have you settled with any particular set up or has it changed over the years?
I have changed: I started off with a Vox AC30, and I still have one which I use in the studio quite a bit. It's still the best all-purpose amp that's ever been made. I don't go for Solid State amps, with the exception of the Roland Cube which is good, and I have one of those which I'm just messing around with at the moment. They've developed the transistor system now - this FET system and I'm no great technician, but they work in a similar way to valves.

Anyway, the AC30 was my main amp for years, but then I moved over to an old Fender, a yellow Fender which I got in the States. I went through two old Fenders -including a Bassman which
was a 1954 similar to Buddy Holly's amp. Then I changed over to Ampeg for a while which were quite good, and then I went over to two 50 watt Marshall's which is what I have at the moment- two combos. Occasionally I go back to a Vox and a Marshall, but they tend to put each other out of phase which is a problem.

I like the Marshall's, but I use a graphic equaliser to round them off because I find them a little bit twangy, but with a push and pull in the mid range I can get them sounding meaty: they're reliable and they're loud.

I've never actually owned a stack: I don't like the 100 watt system where you've got a 100 watt amp pushing eight speakers: it just doesn't sound right to me. Maybe a 200 watt with the speakers really working, but then I don't like hard cone speakers either. I've always gone for regular speakers and regular factory pickups. I like a raucous sound.

I guess if I was a Gibson guitar player I'd go for a cleaner amp, but with the Fender you go for the dirtiest amp you can find because the Fender was never really made for my sound: it was
designed for Rockabilly and all that, but the beauty of them is the ability to mix the distorted sound of the amp with the clean guitar sound of say Buddy Holly or Hank Marvin to get the clear twang of the string with a dirty edge to it. Whereas with the Gibson you get all the  'meat and potatoes' but you sometimes miss a bit of the clarity. It's swings and roundabouts really.

A lot of people are doing things to their guitars now anyway: my Fender's got a couple of humbuckers on it which helps as well, but the longer scale on the Fender's a real advantage. It still sounds like a Fender -you can get that nasty and dirty Eddie Van Halen sound. Mind you all the guitar companies are coming out with all sorts of pickup combination.

I still prefer the single coil sound, and I like the Gibson P90 pickup which you see on the little Juniors or TV Specials. It's a little black pickup which is sometimes covered in metal or white
I' plastic, but it's got a real raunchy sound for dirty rhythm, a real 'humpy' sound. They're not great for clarity or anything else, but they are for overdriven rhythm.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to play to your standard?
Well, I think a lot of younger people now have the benefit of buying really good cheap guitars. I don't think youngsters should be snobs about their guitars immediately wanting a Fender or Gibson or one of the other big names. There are a lot of good guitars out there and some really good cheap amps, and I'm impressed with the overall quality of the cheaper Japanese acoustics,
whereas years ago the cheaper guitars were fairly rough on the hands and most of the strings then were medium or heavy gauge.

On the other hand, there's a lot of catching up to do, depending on who you want to listen to. I mean, who would a youngster listen to now? If you didn't listen to the modern players like Blackmore or Schenker, but it's 10 to one whether they'd bother to go back and listen to the early Rock or Blues players. I'd like to think they would, but then watching what's in the charts nowadays, a lot of the bands are all synthesizers now. I'd be very confused now.

Really, the only advice is the usual one -play with as many people as you can, and keep practising. There's just no short cut. Some have a lot at the beginning, and learn quicker than others but, then there have been some slow learners who turned into amazing players: I mean, Hendrix and Clapton for instance were playing at an amazing level in their early 20's, and yet they only started playing when they were 17. Other guys might take 10 years to get to a certain point. The only benefit of playing a lot of years is like an actor - you don't get caught out when you forget the line, because you can always improvise. One thing you should learn is never to throw the show for the sake of a broken string, or an amp going on fire....seeing musicians yelling at roadies on stage really ruins a show for me. It's probably an old fashioned attitude but it always gets me.

So, what are you doing now?
We have a new album scheduled for February called 'Jinx', and there's a song on the album called Jinx as well which is a sort of Bluesy type of thing with a Latin American beat if you can imagine that. It has been done before though -Junior Wells has done odd numbers called 'Cha Cha Blues' and things like that. It sounds bad on paper : but it sounds all right on disc! At the moment (early December) we're still sorting out which songs we'll end up putting on the album, and finishing the mixes. It's looking good. We've got Brendan O'Neill, the new drummer , Jerry MacAvoy on bass, and a couple of saxes around, and we have Bob Andrews who has been with The Rumour playing keyboards on two songs. ~

As time goes on, do you find it progressively more difficult to do albums?
Yes. ..I find it a lot harder. I'm hoping this year.'s a dangerous syndrome to get into. You come to expect so much from yourself, to expect too much from the mixes. You try to beat everything else you've ever done, and everything that everybody has done, you know what I mean? You have to drive harder to get more out of yourself , but if you go over the top you lose your vision; whereas in earlier albums -not that I used to do them with any less attention to detail -but you'd work in a shorter time scale, fewer tracks on the desk, and go for a live vocal, or live guitar, or leave little bits of roughness in. I want to get back to that this year .

l' d like to work in the way that Neil Young has made some of his albums - "Tonight's The Night", or "On The Beach", which are a bit rough but seem very spontaneous. It's almost mixed as you hear it back, rather than mixed later. If you do the recording and then go out on tour, it can be a long time before you get back to the mixes, and it's hard then to pick up on your train of thought about a particular track or mix.

I'm going to try and simplify it this year, to try to give myself the challenge of using say an eight or 16 track studio, and set a time limit or something like that. Studio developments and advanced technology are all usable and good, but I'm not the first musician you've heard getting hung up about this sort of thing. You really only need a good room and a couple of good mikes. The Stones used that sort of process on one of their albums: a lot of backing tracks were done on a cassette. They took out the limiter, and had Charlie playing the drums: it sounds rough, but it adds something.

That's the problem with a lot of Rock'n'Roll: if it gets too advanced and too sophisticated, you'll end up with Herbert Van Karajan conducting it .

This article comes from the Feb.1982 issue of International Musician and Recording World
reformatted by roryfan
photos came from the magazine
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