A Reluctant Irish Hero

Last time we spoke, you were thinking about recording the next album in the ‘States.  Why did you choose Musicland?

Well, number one; I decided on Roger Glover for producer and he was over there doing his own album and he asked if we'd like to come over there and do it.  Just at the end of the last German tour, I went over and looked at the place and it's a hotel, which saves you coming all over the city to the studio.  That's the main reason, but I'd still like to record in the ‘States sometime.

How does it compare to Wessex, the last studio you used?

It's a completely different kind of studio.  Wessex is kind of "live" and very spacious, but Musicland is a bitreluc347-1.jpg different.  Like, they sometimes put drummers out in the hallway because it's concrete.  They didn't do that with us.  They put my guitar amp in the vocal booth and I stood outside the booth so I could hear it, but it wasn't spilling over into the other mikes, so most of the time, there was no need for cans which was great.

I know you like to record live vocals and guitar together.  Did you still do it that way?

It depends on the song.  I like the idea of a live vocal and live guitar but in some cases I re-did the vocals but left the lead guitar on and just overdubbed a rhythm afterwards.  But then, sometimes it's hard to distinguish between what I would call a lead and a rhythm, and sometimes, if it's a number that needs very precise timing and chord playing, then I'd play rhythm and then stick on the lead afterwards.  That's only if I want to kind of…head for perfection, but I still prefer to play live lead.  Sometimes, the drummer will be playing and you might hear a phrase which kind of inspires you, whereas if you're playing to a backing track, it's kind of mechanical.

Apart from obvious accidents like breaking a string or something, how often do you find you have to re-record a solo?

If it's like a live lead solo, eight times out of ten I do it O.K. and I'm happy.  Overdubbing a solo, generally I can get it in the first one or two takes.  I try to do the solo live.  Sometimes, I'll do the main "body" of the solo live and then maybe overdub a lead part of the fadeout.  

Last time, you spoke about your Strat and the Tele.  Could you tell me about your acoustic guitars?

I've got a Martin D.35, which is great for the acoustic stuff.  I usually use medium gauge bronze strings on that.  The neck's a bit fat for my liking - I'd rather a D-28 neck.  I use an Ibanez bug pick up - I think it's a copy of the Barcus Berry, but I prefer it to a Barcus Berry.  I've also got a National, which is the steel-bodied one.  That's about 1933 I think.  It's the first of the series anyway - the model with just one resonator.  After that, they made one with two and then three resonators.  Strangely enough the more resonators, the less banjoey the tone becomes.  Mine has a real banjo tone.  Then, I've got a 12 string Harmony Sovereign, which I use quite a lot on recordings - I had the neck taken off and put back on to get a better action.

Which guitar did you use on "Barley And Grape Rag "?

That was the National.  We recorded that in the canteen at Musicland because it's a big room and the voice sounds like it's on one big resonator.  They record in all sorts of places there - out in the hallway or down in the basement - that's where John Bonham likes to record.

What other acoustics do you use?

Well, there's a Martin Mandolin OM model, which I think was made in about 1935. I've got an Ibanez bug on that as well.  I've tried the bug on the National but it doesn't really work too well because the sound comes from the resonator.  Oh, yeah   I've still got a three-quarter size guitar I had when I was nine.  It was in my grandmother's attic for years and I'd forgotten about it.  I had a piece of a school ruler on it in place of a bridge.  I did that because I used to play it for hours and hours and my fingers would start to blister like mad.  The only strings you could buy in those days were heavy gauge, so I tried to shave the bridge down but I didn't have enough sandpaper, so I stuck a piece of a ruler on instead of the bridge.  The only trouble was that if you hit it really hard, it would fall over (laughs).

That was quite an early age to get into modifications.

Oh, yeah. I used to mess around like that.  I saw these people mess around with capos, and so I used to get a pencil and an elastic band and that used to do.  Funnily enough, I heard that was what Sleepy John Estes used to do as well.  I think that's all the acoustics I have.  Oh, wait a while - I've got an old guitar I used on the first Taste album on one song.  I got it in a pawnshop in Copenhagen for about two quid.  It had a couple of cracks in so I fixed them up.  It's quite a small guitar as well, but it's really good for ragtime stuff.  It's called a Bjarton - a subsidiary of Levin or someone like that.

Which is your favourite acoustic?

Well, they're all used for different things.  The Martin is really nice.  Depending on the way you mike it up, you can get a toppy or a middley or a bassy tone out of it, although it still sounds like a Martin.  As I say, my only crib about it is that the neck's a bit fat, but I think I'll leave it like that because the National neck is quite fat.

Have you any favourite tracks on the new album?

Well, it varies from day to day.  I like them all equally really.  I enjoyed doing each track for different reasons and I'm now kind of rediscovering the album.  There's not one that I wince at, you know.

Between the time of recording and the actual release of an album, is it unusual for you to find you still like the tracks?

reluctant2.jpgOh, yeah. I think to myself sometimes "Oh, I wish I'd done this here and that there," but then I'm sure The Beatles had that feeling about "Sergeant Pepper."  It's one of those things.  Songwise, I felt very happy with the songs.  Like "Barley And Grape Rag" - it sounds as though it's a throw away song to write, but it's not.  The first line is "I don't care if I get arrested" and whatever comes after that has to be good.  It's demanding attention right from the first line, like a bluesy song.  We tried to get that feel - Rod tried to play it like a…a sort of 1940’s ragtime drummer.  He originally did it as just straight backing drums, but then he got more of a Salvation Army, jug band type of thing which is much more effective for it.  But only just to the point where it isn't frivolous.  The song itself is sort of humorous but you don't want to turn it into a sort of kazoo job!  "Country Mile" is a song I've wanted to do for ages too - a really fast, rockabilly thing.  I remember the night we did it - we'd been rehearsing it and it was hard going to keep up with the tempo.  Normally, the policy in the studio is to rehearse it and do it about two thirds of the tempo and lay it back all the time.  That's fine.  That works nine times out of ten, but I think a lot of people forget that the old fifties rocky things were really exaggerated tempo things.  On versions of that song, where we held the tempo back, it's not half the number.  We just did it like we were a bunch of headcases in the ‘fifties, you know - 1 2 3 4 bang!  At first I was worried that it was a bit too fast, but now I think it's just right.  

The band has been together for quite a while now and you must have a good repertoire.  How do you decide what goes into a particular set?

Well, it's a mixture really.  We usually do a couple of hours onstage and that's plenty of time to do some old favourites and also put some of the newer material in, which you have to do, you have to keep updating the set.  You usually improvise anyway.  We never had a very strict set worked out.  We've done "Calling Card" and "Secret Agent" live already in our set, before the album came out.

The last time you released a single was with Taste years ago. Have you thought of releasing one since?

That's kind of an annoying thing with me.  I admit that the need for a single was less important a few years ago, because your so-called underground thing was there.  I must also admit the radio over here is getting a lot better recently.  The only airplay I get is one or two late night shows and sometimes, I'll be driving along and think "I wish to God they'd play one of my songs" and they won't unless it's a single.  Subsequently you're on a kind of a limb where you're not getting a lot of airplay and only getting through to your own main body of followers.  There's a great argument for singles but, to my mind, there's a bigger argument against them.  I just seem to have this mental block against singles for some reason.  I mean, I would like to be on the radio every ten minutes like everybody else but…I don't know.  It's just one of those things.  I certainly wouldn't bring out a "pretty" song just to get a hit single.  This business of getting a pair of scissors out and chopping off this verse and cutting out that solo - that kind of thing annoys me.  The E.P. idea I quite like.  I was thinking of doing one ages ago.  At that time, the record companies said that it was impossible and they couldn't be made.  Since then Status Quo came up with a live one and there's been a lot of them since then.  Then there's been all these so-called "Maxi singles" - E.P. always sounds better to me than maxi singles anyway.

You see, talking to me about the ethics of singles…I’m, the worst one in the world.  I tend to agree that if you don't release singles, then you'll probably never achieve a certain communication level with what you might call surface listeners - people who aren't that keen about going to concerts or clubs.  But, as I said, I have this block about singles.

In terms of promotion you've always had a low-key approach.  How would you react to being pushed into a big hype situation?

Well, we've been very successful in terms of we can draw as big an audience up to a point in this country and Europe and America. We haven't been overly publicized and yet we haven't had flop tours.  In that respect, I don't think we could become that much more successful.  Number two, I don't fancy being on the papers every week and thinking about new quotes to say.  That's just not my personality.  I mean, if I could be played on the radio every half hour or even twice a day, then that'd be great.  I couldn't go for a big promotion drive and all that.  I'm not knocking it, but it just wouldn't suit me.  Like having a single out to me means you have to kind of wear a funny hat for a week.  It's all trivial and eventually you just become a local Punch and Judy show.  My mind is really taken up with playing so much - I know it sounds like an old cliché, but it's true.  That's the way I feel.  

You perform a fair amount of acoustic material in your sets now. Where do your preferences lie?  With the raunchy stuff or the acoustic?

I don't really know.  I'm just trying to develop to the point where it's just Rory Gallagher music.  But I mean I don't think I'd ever stop playing things with a bluesy feel.  I'm not afraid to let a thing rock and on the other hand, I'm so interested in acoustic and folk style that that stuff creeps in as well.  I'm a bit of a jazz fan and I like soul things as well - I think it's really hard to pigeonhole anyone in most bands, because it's not unusual now for a blues musician to play a soul thing or even a country style thing.  I think that's the way it should be.

From International Musician and Recording World– December 1976
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for supplying & typing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 1/14/07