HOOKED ON GUITAR
The following interview of Bert van de Kamp with Rory appeared in Dutch leading musicpaper "OOR", March 1976.
The poll has shown it once more: after some Yes musician, Rory Gallagher is the most popular guitarist in the Netherlands. The Irish infant prodigy is still clearly present, although 1975 was not one of his most active years. For a moment, it seemed as if after the double "live" set "Irish Tour" the guitar-prince was resting on his laurels, but suddenly there was news again:, Gallagher had switched from record company and surprised friend and foe with a new studio album:' "Against the Grain", against the grain as the proverbial Irish doggedness has it.
"Determination" Rory calls it himself. We had a long and thorough talk with him at the start of an intensive European tour, which will take him to 4 Dutch stages from March 23 up to and including March 26. (Actually a 5th "concert" was given in the Dutch NCR V t. v. studios afternoon of March 26, where Rory did a 45 minutes long acoustic set, broadcast at a later stage, J.M.). A remarkable sympathetic and open-hearted Gallagher answered our carefully chosen questions about the past and present, music and politics and what have you. Averse to glamour and star-aspiration Gallagher is one of the rare rockstars who consistently remain themselves. He is willing to play the game called popbizz, he too can't escape that, but only on his own conditions. "Just doing your thing" is the little sentence that pops up again and again. An incorruptible musician of the rarest kind, but certainly not a saint, as he repeatedly adjures.
expect another record from you
at short notice? "Till early
April, I am committed to this European
tour, but after that we'll start rehearsing for the new studio album.
After a short rest-break that is. I have a few small things completed
already, a few jottings, but most of it still needs to be written. I
cannot write new material well during a tour. Hotels don't inspire me.
I want a very free concept for the new album, some improvisation, maybe
a couple of instrumentals if everything goes well. Everything has to be
very spontaneous, few overdubs also. Maybe we'll hire a mobile-studio
and start recording somewhere in a house.
- Do you find it hard writing new material? "During tours, I don't manage to write new, material that easily or well, but when I am at home in London or Ireland, I write 12 to 15 new songs in a day or 3 or 4. It doesn't stop then. Whereas... you know, I write a lot of things when I am on the road. I have a small notebook, in which I jot down ideas, detached sentences, lines, a couple of chords, but never a complete song.
- You always compose with the guitar? "Yes, always. I don't play the piano, but it is an ambition of mine to learn it."
- Does someone like Lou Martin not help you with writing? "Not yet. Maybe that will come in the future. Lou is very accomplished. He has been trained in classical music, is able to play anything, has a perfect command of the whole blues-piano idiom."
- How did you come to know him? When Wilgar Campbell, the original drummer, left I was looking for a replacement and found Rod de' Ath of an English blues band called Killing Floor. That band was about to call it quits and I said to Rod: Take that pianist of yours to the rehearsals as well. I wanna try him out. And it went down very well then, so I have kept him in the band ever since."
- It was not difficult switching from a trio to a four-piece band? "I really liked playing with a three-piece band very much, I could do whatever I wanted, had an enormous amount of freedom. With Lou in the band that has become somewhat less, although he was very easy to fit in. However, it is also fine to give someone else the chance of playing a solo."
-How do you look back upon your time with
Taste at the moment? A very good time,
but it's over isn't it?"
-Do you ever come across the other two Taste band members? "I have met Richard McCracken a couple of times. The last thing I have heard it that he is playing in Duane Eddy's band. He has played in lots of bands, he was a member of the Spencer Davis Group when that was reformed again he played with Medicine Head, a couple of gigs with Family...and John (Wilson) has also played in Medicine Head, if I am not mistaken, and has also done a lot of session work. I believe he returned to Ireland, but I'm not really sure about that." - What did you think of the Taste albums? "The studio albums are rather good, but I am not content with both the "Live" albums. Of course:' It's us who play on it, but both albums were recorded during the last week of the band's existence, both the Isle of Wight album and the Montreux one, and it is obvious that the emotions are not favorable when a band is about to call it a day. It's a shame that they have not released a live album from the time it still went well. I have a bootleg l.p. at home (Taste, Taste, Taste on the Swedish Violet label, J .M.) with a concert in Hamburg on it, the sound quality is appalling, the vocals can hardly be heard, but we were really 'together" then, really fantastic, I still find On The Boards a very good record and the first one as well, but I have been doing much more interesting things since." - Are there still songs from that time you would record again? "Not from that time, but I would like to re- record a couple of songs from my later albums. Songs such as "Race the Breeze", or "Living Like A Trucker or I Fall Apart" again."
- Can you tell us a bit about your childhood; what were you like at school? "My schooldays were quite chaotic. Sometimes it went well, then, much less. I was always good at drawing and painting, sometimes at history, geography and at English. I was always bad at Gaelic, the Irish language, which I regret now. You know, it always went pretty well till I started playing the guitar. I already was on the road with showbands, Irish dance bands when I was twelve years old. I returned home at about six o'clock, had something to eat and then it was up to school. Even on the day of my exams, I had not seen a bed during the night"
-What did they think of it at home? "They disagreed, but I did it anyway."
- Do you have brothers and sisters? " I have a brother. He is a bit younger than I am and he is still with me. He arranges my business affairs. Donald is his name, he is much smarter than I am. He has had a much better education and has a good head on his shoulders and can't be deceived easily."
-How exactly did the transition go from playing with the showbands in Ireland to playing with Taste? "Well, at a certain stage we started traveling abroad with the showband I was playing in. we went to Spain in '64. I was still very young then, looked upon it as kind of holidays. After that it was back again to the Irish dance-halls. I got the chance to play in Hamburg with a trio in '65. We did not have a name then. Back in Cork, I formed Taste, with which I returned to Hamburg a couple of years later. After that, concerts all over Ireland and England. I more or less went living in London on a permanent basis in '68. I still have a flat in London, but beside that I often return to Ireland. London is a fine town, but emotionally I feel drawn towards Ireland again and again. The people there, like in bars and restaurants, the way you can talk with them, they are such incredible conversationalists. They don't care whoever or whatever you are. You can drink with them, play darts with them, talk about soccer or politics with them."
- Are you married, by the way? "No. Not yet. (laughs)
- What do you do when you are at home? "I still draw and paint, I read a lot too, but most of the time I spent on music. That is my biggest hobby.
- Do you have much contact with other Irish bands such as Thin Lizzy or Horslips? "Horslips are from Dublin. I don't have contact with them. I occasionally see Phil Lynott or Brian Downey (both from Thin Lizzy, BvdK), but for the rest contact with Irish musicians is rather limited. There are many good Irish musicians. They all too have difficulties with the business side of music. They just want to play, without complications, but that's the way it is nowadays."
- Why did you switch from Polydor to Chrysalis? "The old contract expired and it seemed time to change. Chrysalis seemed to be a young, energetic company. Polydor was okay all those years, I won't criticize them, but there were some difficulties with the distribution in America."
-"Against the Grain", your first album for Chrysalis, shows some differences with the preceding albums. " "That may be the case, but of course it is not something- totally different, just because it is with another label. It is our first 'studio 'album in 2 years. That explains the difference. Many new ideas, which we had saved up, and the fact that the band is just getting better playing together over the years. W e have learned from our mistakes, also as far as production is concerned. "Against the Grain" is our most coherent album so far."
- Any favourite songs? "Yeah...ugh..."Souped-Up Ford" and "Bought & Sold", "Out On The Western Plain".. actually all of it really. I don't think there's a weak song on it."
- You are fundamentally opposed to releasing singles?'"I am not interested in singles, but if someone wishes to release one I won't have him shot down for it.
- But you won't lip-synch them in a TV studio? "No. That is something I will never do!' Singles fine. If they become hits: nice. But no lip-synch business. "
- Music means a lot to you? "I couldn't live without it. I am hooked to it, like someone else is hooked on drugs. I'd play rather long sets and after the show I'd like to play somewhere else as well. I do that quite often. Then I go and play some acoustic stuff somewhere or go to a club to jam with some other musicians. Sometimes, if it were possible, I'd like to give 15-hour-concerts. but a certain kind of discipline, an organization should remain.
- Have you changed a lot through the years? "I don't think I have changed that much. The obligations become bigger, I have less time for myself and for my relatives and friends, but all that is also temporary. I don't think that the success I am having right now is something permanent. At a certain moment it will decrease."
- Many pop-stars live a luxurious life. Is that the case with you as well? "It may sound stupid, but the only thing that interests me is to play, to think out new songs, the next show. I don't have any ambition of owning a Rolls Royce. I don't drive cars. My ambitions are mere creative. Writing songs, stories, or a film script... those are my ambitions. . . or to learn to play classical guitar... That doesn't make me a saint, no way, I love all joys anyone else loves."
- Do you have many guitars? "Fairly. The most are from second-hand little shops, merely for fun. I have just bought a new Stratocaster, also second-hand, it looks newer, but it is older than the one I already had. This one is from '58. The Telecaster is of '53.
- A very famous guitar...."That's the risk... your guitar becomes even more famous than yourself"
- You don't like Gibson guitars? "Yes, I do, especially the little SG with the single black element is a very pretty little guitar. Maybe one day I will start playing Gibson at a certain stage. Besides: there are a lot of good guitars, it's not only the Fenders and Gibsons."
- You have also played on the London session albums of renowned people such as Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis. How was that? "With Jerry Lee Lewis? Someone called me up, whether I'd be willing to do it. Of course, I have always been a fan of Jerry. We did about 4 or 5 songs on one afternoon without rehearsals. The only problem was that there were too many musicians at the session. A good album, though. Especially the non-rock songs, such as Juke Box." .
- Who are your favourite musicians? "Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Django Rheinhardt, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders. . . "
- No pop bands? "I do not so much love the latest pop bands as I love musicians as such."
- Do you keep up with the music magazines? "I try to do so. We are playing progressive music, music that is relevant to the day of today, so you have to keep up with them, they are your newspapers. However, I never read the Top 20, that is so uninteresting, computermusic, the disco-sound, arghh. (makes a queer face). That has nothing to do with real music."
- What do you think of special visual effects on stage? " You mean smoke bombs and all that stuff?! That isn't all that new, I saw the Yardbirds do that years ago. I believe in creating dramatic situations by the presence, the person himself, like Muddy Waters does and so many others. The dramatic effect is in the artist himself, like he is standing on stage. The rest is nonsense. ' You might as well project a film."
- Do you ever go to rock-concerts? "I have hardly any time for it. And even then, I'd rather go and see Martin Carthy, Manitas de Plata or the Dubliners. My interest goes beyond temporary pop music, but, remember I am not slagging it off either. If I had more time I would go and see more of it."
- In articles about you one always reads you have been influenced by old blues legends, but seldom that you have been influenced by folk, country and rock & roll. "My influences and inspirations have always been described pretty well by the press. Too often, actually, for sometimes I am afraid people start thinking: that guy has nothing which is of himself. Yet, that what you have been given from yourself, from nature is the most important ,element in your music. There is an artist by whom I have been influenced strongly and who isn't mentioned anywhere and that is Tony Joe White. He is very important, but underestimated everywhere.
- How important are lyrics to you? "Very important. That is what I always start with. The music will then follow automatically. If I have returned from a tour, I have written down countless words and small sentences. I don't like super-intelligent or intellectual lyrics. They have to fit in with the music and to be honest. That is something I have learned from the blues as well: that there are various ways of expressing oneself: that you don't always have to talk like a professor to express essential things. Big volumes often tell less than a Willie Dixon tune."
- Blues lyrics are often full of self-pity. "No, that's another error people make. There is a certain degree of self-pity in them, but that applies to Irish ballads, French or Russian folksongs as well. In blues songs, the melancholy has always been weighed against a kind of cynical humour, a form of opportunism. There is no blues song that tells: What a torment this is, I'll make an end of my life. It is always more subtle, more optimistic than that.'
Ireland is a country very strongly charged with religion. "Forget that! (very emotional) That is not true. That is something the English press is willing to make you believe."
- ...But the civil war..."Forget it! That's the way the papers print it, but it is far from reality. The English conquered Ireland, Cyprus, India and all those other territories and built the British Empire, like the Roman Empire, but at a certain moment their influence began to decrease and they had to retrocede more and more of those territories. In 1922 English and Irish politicians agreed upon to retrocede three-quarter of Ireland to the Irish. A quarter remained in the hands of the English and everyone thought we would get that back as well, but that never happened. In the meantime, many English and Scottish people were living in Northern Ireland; who were originally Protestant and the original population, who were Catholic, became a minority with less rights, they became second-hand citizens... It's all very complicated. And I don't want to go further into the matter really. It would cost me a whole night to make it clear to you... but it is in no way a matter of Irish savages who are fighting out a religious war, it certainly is not like that....do not believe what the papers say.... but there will come a solution to this all...England and Ireland will solve this...I put my trust in that.
The master guitarist then gets up to go to the urinal, after that, dinner will be served. That night Rory just manages to witness how Vitesse (Dutch rock band, J.M.) is doing a rendition of a Robert Johnson's song;-"Steady, Rolling Man" at the Paradiso club in front of an audience of a dozen people. There is no soccer-game table anymore down in the basement, and so, Rory is playing a game of pool with his brother Donal, then returning to his hotel afterwards. I bet he has been working for a long time, playing his guitar. That's the way he is: he cannot help it.
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