Rory Gallagher....
working bluesman from Ireland

IN ALL THE YEARS I've known Rory Gallagher I never had him down as a con man. A brilliant guitarist, a fair old songwriter and a capacious Guinness drinker yes, but a trickster never. Yet he once pulled one so fast that it helped him bridge the gulf between the Irish showband of which he had been a member and a more realistic world of rock and roll and de blooz.

After two and a half years with the Impact Showband, young Rory not unnaturally got fed up and after a period of session work "for anybody and everybody" hit the well-worn trail to Hamburg with the drummer and bass player from the showband, which had by this time split up.

"We didn't have a name, but we were supposed to have an organist, so we took a picture of the three of us plus a friend, who couldn't play anything, to show the promoter. We arrived in Hamburg and told him that the organist had got appendicitis at Dover and had to go home to Ireland, so we carried on as we were, a three-piece," he revealed, reveling in the telling of the tale.

"That was our first real chance to work strictly on the stuff we wanted to - Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed et cetera," he added .

Rory can recall becoming first aware of music at the age of six or seven when he listened to the likes of Buddy Holly, Lonnie Donegan and Eddie Cochran, all nifty guitarists of one kind or another. He used to singalongaradio, and when he was nine, got a £3 10s acoustic guitar and played at school and charity concerts, graduating to an electric job three years later. It was a Rosetti Solid Seven with fifteen controls and ten pick ups. He describes it now as "a very strange guitar" .

"The guitar struck me because it was a rock and skiffle instrument," he says.

"I joined the Impact Showband when I was fifteen," he continued. "They were professional though I was still at school, it was a good chance to play every night - I could afford to get a Stratocaster and they let me do Chuck Berry material while they did the top twenty. You did three numbers, it was called a set. Quite often there was a rock and roll finale which was left to me."

The nameless band was followed by the Excells who became the now legendary Taste and who worked around Cork and then Belfast before coming to London in early 1968, finding fame and fortune, changing the line-up and then disintegrating at the end of 1970.

"We were doing Marquee gigs early on which was a big break because that's a place where you can be seen and heard by everybody and I went back there recently and played a few nights."

Now recognised as one of the leading lights in the rock/blues guitar field, just how hard or maybe easy was it for Rory to learn the instrument in the first place?

"I picked it up very quickly," he replied. "In a matter of days I could play a few chords. It was a hard grind for the first two years to get to the state so that you could go on stage relaxed and play in half a dozen different keys. Even now, I think I'm striving. I always try to keep the guitar in the context of the song, the singer and the writer.

"If you're playing a song that's bluesy it's never 100 per cent because it's improvised. It's a neverending challenge to perfect the technique and the feel. The technique must never over-ride the feeling of the blues, they are best when they're fairly simple and primitive. If I'm doing a straight 12-bar I try to keep it simple. I play ordinary, acoustic and slide guitar so I've got enough room there."

And was he conscious of having been influenced by any people in particular during his formativemusicscene2.JPG years?

"Everyone heard Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly solos. Since that I've heard a million people who've really inspired me, Little Walter's harmonica, Muddy Waters' voice, a good Rolling Stones riff, it's getting down to a series of notes. Bert Jansch, John Hammond, they're all good.

"A lot of people have one idol, like the B. B. King cult bowing to him or John McLaughlin, one should never do that, it's wrong. I try to be an individualist when it comes to playing. The main thing is not to become influenced by one guy, no one is that good that he deserves the whole world.

"J.B. Hutto is a very good slide guitarist, he's a very obscure Chicago player, he plays a very rough Elmore James style. I just close my eyes and let it happen. It's inevitable that some things are gonna stick, some people use flash, but I don't try to be a virtuoso and say 'Now I'm gonna stop everyone in their tracks for five minutes'."

Rory has, through a number of arduous tours there, become immensely popular in America of late, but when I joked that maybe, in view of three States tours this year, he should live there, he answered seriously: "It would be very easy to just go and live in America and do the one token tour a year here, but you lose your bearings that way."

He was by now into his second pint of that black and white drink that is featured on some of the very best TV ads and we drifted into a debate on whether a certain person standing outside was male or female. The issue remained unresolved, and we moved on to which of his three guitar styles Rory found the simplest to play.

"How can I say this without sounding pompous?" he mused, then went on, "in my case they're more or less equal, luckily. But I have found some people who can play amazing acoustic, but not slide."

Did he consider being able to play the guitar a gift, enquired a Stork Margarine - taster friend of mine who had come along for the ride, to which the Irishman agreed: "It's a gift to be able to take it out of the three chord party playing, it's inside you somewhere. It's in your brain and it's in your fingers. Everyone has to do their own thing, it's exciting to watch Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore smashing a guitar, but it's got nothing to do with the guitar, it's more the history of rock, not so much the music.

"It's almost like the guitar getting out of control and you have to kill it. A good final blistering solo can be as good as smashing a guitar or an amp. When it becomes breaking a guitar every night of every week it becomes premeditated, it used to be sort of plausible. A lot of guys don't smash expensive guitars, a smoke bomb goes off and they run behind an amp and pick up a £ 12
musicscene3.JPG instrument which they smash."

There doesn't seem to be much danger of Rory Gallagher having to resort to that kind of eye-catching trick. He is content to rely upon his playing and singing to enhance his reputation. He has just had a double album comprising three "live" and one studio sides released, another is planned for the autumn, a lengthy European tour, a visit to America and dates in Japan and New Zealand are set to take place by January.

He also believes in recording songs written by other people and the album includes numbers by Tony Joe White and Leadbelly "as basic as you can get" as he puts it, adding: "The live album didn't draw on my songwriting abilities as such, but I've got some good ideas for an album in the autumn. I've been writing in Ireland and I'll be using one or two songs by other people. It's important to interpret as well as create, you can look at the song from the outside as well as the inside."

words: Richard Green    pictures: Ian Dickson/ Mike Putland

This article comes from the September 1974 issue of  Music Scene
reformatted by roryfan
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added 8/7/05