SCENE Spotlight

Gallagher uses 'natural approach'

by Raj Babadur

Few individually billed per­formers get the type of reception blues-rock guitarist Rory Gal­lagher does on his visits to Cleveland. Audience response has always tended to lean a bit toward the fanatical side; and the fact that he doesn't look or dress flash, isn't trendy and relies on a very straightforward approach to guitar playing makes that response all the more remark­able. True, there are many blues-rock guitarists around, but what makes Rory Gallagher noteworthy? And what prevents him from attaining superstar status? A brief investigation may provide some answers.

For a person growing up in 1950s Ireland, as did Gallagher, the inaccessibility of the new rock 'n' roll was fact. Sure, Elvis. Bill Haley, and Fats Domino were heard on radio, but there weren't those records, 45s, that you could play over and over again in order to learn riffs. The blues, which had caught fire in Europe at the time, were what one had to settle for, along with the traditional rhythm 'n' blues. As Gallagher related to SCENE,

"Getting records was very difficult unless you grew up in a seaport town like Belfast where the American imports came in. I DID get to hear Muddy Waters,  Jimmy Reed, Ledbelly and Woody Guthrie, but the man who influenced me the most was Lonnie Donegan. His songs, like "Rock Island Line," were about trains and cowboys,etc. which appealed to kids, and his acoustic work was easy to copy,"

With the spread of rock in the '60s, the harder stuff crept into Rory's sphere of influence; and combined with the previous influences, the prototype for Gallagher's distinctive style was formed.

Having achieved a considerable degree of accomplishment by age 15, Rory joined the Fontana Showband (later re­named Impact) which played throughout Ireland, England and Spain. It was here where his confidence began to jell, enough so that two and a half years later, Rory was forming his own band, Taste, which won critical acclaim until its break-up in 1971. By this time, though, Gallagher's name had spread almost totally on the basis of his live performances. With this kind of following, Polydor signed Rory to cut his first solo albums. His reputation thus grew in the U.S. as well, and the rest is history.

Though classified as blues-­rock, Gallagher's music is, for many, too aggressive to be called blues, yet too emotional to be called rock. When asked where along that continuum he would place his style, Rory explained, "There is a strong blues undercurrent to my music, and some of the songs are more rock than blues, but it's all related. Where I come from, there are many blues purists who say that if you play electric guitar, or 12-bar songs, or use a plectrum, it's not really the blues; but that's just crazy. The influence is still there."

What makes the Gallagher style even more intriguing is the way he produces that aggressive sound. Using no artificial electronic sound effects and some of the oldest, most beat-up guitars available-he somehow manages to achieve a hard rock feel rivaling the better heavy metalists around. He actually prefers second-hand guitars to new ones, such as the 1932 National acoustic he uses on stage."It may be an old wives' tale, but older guitars seem to have an edge due to the age of the wood," he said. "There are also certain kinds of wood not available anymore. As for sound effects, I like doing them solely on the guitar, getting sounds out the guitar that aren't supposed come out." Summing up, Rory explained. "There's nothing wrong with special effects, it's just that I try to shy away from them. I treat the electric guitar the way you would an acoustic guitar-with a very natural approach."

There is also a non-musical side to Gallagher that becomes especially evident when he talks about his homeland. Living in Ireland can be hazardous to one's health these days, politically speaking, and Rory is no exception. When questioned on his involvement and own personal safety when playing back home, Gallagher stated that "I'm emotionally involved, and I am for a united Ireland, but I'm always conscious that something could happen ever since a band was ambushed six months ago. As in war time, there is a sort of silent agreement to leave the entertainers alone; but still, anything can happen." And when pressed as to whether or not he takes sides, either Protestant or Catholic, Gallagher confessed, "It's too dangerous to align politically with one side or the other, which is why you won't hear many people in show business taking a stand."

As for Gallagher's future, much of that may be spent stateside. Along with sidemen Lou Martin (keyboards), Gerry McAvoy (bass) and Rod de'Ath (drums), Rory intends to concentrate much of his playing time in this country. As he put forth, "My spiritual home is Ireland and working-wise it's London, but I'd like to get into the American theme for a year just to see what it would do to the music. In Europe, entertainers are still looked upon as a necessary evil; whereas in this country entertainment is loved and the whole country is geared for it. That's why I'd love to break up my tour between this country and Europe:'

The experiment would be an interesting one indeed. And should all go well, the burgeoning of guitarist/composer/ producer Rory Gallagher as an international star could very well occur in 1976 on this side of the Atlantic.

This article comes from the Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 1975 issue of Northeastern Ohio SCENE
reformatted by roryfan

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added 7/20/08