IN an age where appearance has at least as much as do with an artist's success as his music, it's both curious and refreshing to be confronted by the essential Rory Gallagher.

Curious because the trend is towards more of a dressy stage appearance nowadays, and refreshing because Rory has attained that most elusive of goals, that of being unique through being natural.

Rory Gallagher was born, at a very young age, in Ballyshannon, Ireland, and soon thereafter, his family relocated in Cork. Ireland being a beehive of shipping, young Rory was soon exposed to the music of America via country and western music, as well as the blues of Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and countless others introduced into Ireland by American sailors. These influences, combined with the rock of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Bill Haley, helped shape the musical philosophy of Rory, and they're roots that he's never deserted.

Unfortunately, as Rory headed into his teens and hit the boards with a band for the first time; the music he preferred to play wasn't too popular with Irish promoters; what was (and still is) popular were 'showbands', groups that played the top AM hits of the day like so many mindless monkeys. So, faced with the decision of playing either something he didn't like or not playing at all, Rory joined a showband. It was a valuable time for him in that he became accustomed to working very frequently in a lot of places, an opportunity that comes all too infrequently to Irish musicians. "It's very hard to make it using Ireland as 'a base," maintains Rory; "bands usually have to go to England and work up through the English circuit ... a lot of Irishmen don't like to leave Ireland and live in England, and when they do, they've got to go through a lot of  starvation and all the rest of it to make it. Even the cost of going from Ireland to England for a young struggling musician is quite a bit."

However musically unfulfilling the showband ultimately was for Rory, it became a direct path to Taste, the first major rock band he was a member of. Again, though, the band had to do it from England, where work was more plentiful. It was 1969, and the guitar-bass-drum lineup was all the rage in England; Taste, with the blistering guitar lines and throaty vocals of Rory Gallagher, became a standard carrier for the movement. However, Taste failed to make a lasting impression in America, where Led Zeppelin, Cream and others like them were being greeted as the Second Coming. Looking back, armed with the knowledge of more than ten years on the road, Rory questioned only the business handling of the band, never its music: "If we'd had more of a chance to gauge management and things like that, we probably would've stayed together a bit longer and done better in the States ... I mean, we only did one tour of the States, with Blind Faith, whereas we should've come over and worked at it more, 'cuz that was the year of Ten Years After and bands like that ... "

Once more, a setback turned out to be a blessing. Taste had proven to one and all that Rory Gallagher as singer-songwriter-musician was a force to be reckoned with, capable of generating enormous energy on stage. With the demise of Taste, Rory became a "solo artist," forming a band consisting of himself, Wilgar Campbell on drums and Gerry McAvoy on bass, and a new slice of Rory was  unveiled to the public; this version was subtler, relying on a mixture of acoustic and electric instrumentation to more fully present the music.

And he toured. A lot. In England, Europe and America; he became a legend of sorts by giving a "lengthy New Years Day concert in Belfast a couple of years back, the first live music that sad city had heard in almost two years. At the time, he said he didn't know what all the fuss was about; sure, there were all the obvious dangers, but the kids deserved a concert, and Rory remembered being one of those kids. There are more roots than musical ones that help comprise Rory's philosophy, and that's the real strength of his music. It's built on a firm foundation and tapped into a current of honest emotion that glows like a coal on stage.
In the five years that Rory Gallagher has been a solo artist, he and his band (Lou Martin was added on keyboards in 1973) have recorded eight albums. Their music is as timeless and as consistent as the tide; punchy, no-frills rock, flavored by the blues and garnished with some country and western. The albums have delivered some songs that are the essence of good rock: 'Laundromat,' 'Used To Be,' 'Walk On Hot Coals,' 'Tattoo'd Lady,' 'Let Me In' ... the list goes on and on.

Rory Gallagher's critics claim that he's too plain, he lacks charisma, his music is too restrictive. Maybe. But the effects they miss are only useful insofar as they augment the music, and on-stage acting in costumes serves the same purpose; nobody's ever going to shell out $6.50 to watch a set of spotlights and laser beams playing over an empty stage. Rory Gallagher set his course long ago, and has been patiently following it ever since. "I'm prepared to wait a longish time to do it right, y'know, and whenever I hit that point, wherever that point is, I want it to make sense." To a lot of people, Rory Gallagher adds up quite nicely right now. Among his other achievements, he was a recent winner in The Melody Maker Pop Poll as Best Guitarist, he's been a requested sideman on albums by Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis, he's been invited to jam on stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival, etc. , etc. He'll probably be a bit embarrassed by my listing these items like a roll call, but that's just the way he is. To paraphrase the inscrutable Mr. Zappa, Rory Gallagher's only in it for the music; the extras are just that....extra.

Rory Gallagher represents that school of thought in rock that maintains that music is made by regular people  for regular people, and it's kinda false to make an artist into some unattainable idol. Rory Gallagher has always been, and always will be, that kid down the street who's in a band. But that kid has placed his fingers on a pulse that is common to all ages in all places. He plays like he's 15 going on 105. And always will.                               '

From the October 1976 issue of  Rock Around the World, a music monthly from Boston
reformatted by roryfan

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added 1/7/07