Ireland's powerhouse blues man
by Don Waller

The crowd at the Spectrum had its hands full on the night of November 13. Along with the usual hi-jinks that accompany all Spectrum shows (the firecracker squad was out, as usual), the audience was treated to a display of fireworks (both musical and pyrotechnic) by the Doobie Brothers, and the Stratified guitar fire of Ireland's Rory Gallagher .

Gallagher, by now considered an institution in his native Isles, broke into the public eye in the late Sixties fronting a three-piece rock-blues unit called Taste. In its debut American appearance in Philadelphia, Taste opened for that star-crossed "super-group", Blind Faith, playing a blistering set on the revolving stage the Spectrum had then. Rory recalls, "It was a terrifying gig for us, because we hadn't played the States before; and we hadn't ever played an auditorium the size of the Spectrum before; and along with that, the stage going around was almost too much to take!"


Rory Gallagher looking more like a member of some demonic rock group than the staid blues man he claims to be

photo by Scott Weiner

Well, time went by, the Spectrum got rid of the revolving stage, and after four albums with Taste (including two live albums which Rory takes no credit for) Rory went solo. Some six years and eight albums later, Rory returned to the Spectrum, and moved and shook the crowd non-stop for nearly a hour. I haven't seen a crowd boogie so long and mean for anyone in a long time. The headlining Doobies were mesmerizing with an ultra-slick show, but the Gallagher band succeeded in striking that chord that live rock should strike. In short, their set was an absolute rave-up.

Despite all this talk of rock and roll, however, Rory  Gallagher considers himself a blues musician. But where are the twelve bar progressions and the other trappings of "traditional" blues as we know it? Quite simply, Rory Gallagher is not a blues man in the traditional sense.

"I'd rather play the blues in a different way musically, and try to keep the soul and spirit there. I think you're doing the blues a better service if you progress musically, rather than just try to reproduce an old sound. Sometimes we'll do a song in an old-time type of style, but I'm a writer, and I must write my own music. Also, as a  musician you become better technically, and you can't keep playing in one style all the time."

This outlook shines through in Rory's latest LP, Calling Card (Chrysalis Records CHR1124), where the guitar talents he has culled from years of blues playing are welded to some mighty tight and tasteful playing from the band (who have been with Rory for practically his entire solo career). Rory clearly loves the blues, and breathes their life into his own distinctive songwriting.

One question that inevitably come up concerns Rory's view on the political situation in his native Ireland. He states clearly that he has very strong feelings about it. "All Irishmen do. It's such a complex situation, it's really tragic. The history of Ireland has been bad news for centuries. I just hope I see the day when all of Ireland is united peacefully. But it's hard for an Irishman to talk about it; because it's such an emotional thing."

Many performers do not even consider including the Irish city of Belfast in their tour itineraries, placing the worth of their own skins ahead of the considerations of rock fans in that torn city. But Rory Gallagher believes in bringing his music to his people, regardless of what others do. "We've played in Belfast at Christmas time over the years, and it's really odd. I mean, you go into the city and you can see the places where the bombs were, and you see the army floating about- you can feel the tension. But you go in and you play the gig, and visually, it's the same as playing anywhere, but for the odd explosion in the night."

"We played there in 1971, and it was really bad then. While we were playing, bombs went off all over the city at the stroke of midnight. But really, you tend to get giddy, as opposed to being terrified."

No matter what his beliefs, Rory doesn't see much used in expounding his views from the stage. As far as he's concerned, his politics have no room on stage with his music. He said, "There's a strict dividing line between your responsibilities as a performer, as an entertainer, and as a person. You can express your feelings in your songs, and I have some pretty strong feelings on some issues, but I don't want to become a politician singing songs. We all have cribs with the system, but I won't say something until I have something concrete to say. And even then, I'd have to have the songwriting talents of a Woody Guthrie to make sure it's both a good sentiment and good music."

"I'd rather do something to help the peaceful element in the Irish state.  I'll play concerts when other people won't do them, and that, I feel, is doing something. But it isn't a political move - it's really an anti-political move, but at least it's something."

Gallagher is somewhat of a lost breed. He is a man who is in love with his country, his fans, and most of all, his music. He has been called the last "true journeyman of the Sixties British blues boom, " and is completely deserving of the title. His blues may not be typical by a long stretch, but they're not bad either.

This article comes from the  December 1, 1976 issue of happytimes. This was a free music and entertainment weekly newspaper published in Philadelphia and  distributed around area college campuses & music venues and stores
reformatted by roryfan

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added 12/14/08