Mike Flood Page and Rory Gallagher discuss
the state of the art of Guinness drinking over a pint of blues
Rory Gallagher’s local, though it may not win the pub-of-the year award for decor or cleanliness, in fact it’s downright seedy, does have one virtue which over-rides any and all other considerations: they do a superb pint of Guinness. Trust an Irishman.
It’s strange, but after meeting so many people who differ strongly from their image, it’s something of a surprise to find that Rory is all he seemed or reported as. He dresses in old denim gear and a work shirt, his accent is soft and he is charming, undemonstrative, except when waxing eloquent on the blues. I’m sure not another regular in his boozer has any idea what the quiet sort of studious looking fella with the fondness for a good drink does when he’s not a home.
What he does, and he’s probably doing somewhere along the concert circuit the day you’re reading this, is to play some of the most exquisite blues guitar you’ll hear from a white boy. When he gets in gear, those flurries of notes spin off his fretboard like sparks from a Catherine wheel: the blues rain down in incandescent showers; those fingers make the wood and steel sing out – that vanishing figure, like a Peckinpah character finding himself caught out of time, the lone British guitar hero, stalks the boards again….Well just another half, Rory…no honestly. I’m trying to keep my head together man, got to turn all this garbage into a feature, man……no honestly, you haven’t met my editor, man he’s a killer for all that deadline stuff…well alright, just a small pint…then we’ll do the interview.
Now what you were saying about the British blues boom?
“I’ve never really felt 100 per cent at home with that thing. Whatever flag I’m carrying is a notion I had from when I was a kid, you know. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and then later on listening to all the blues people – all those things creeping in, and whatever I added to it myself.”
The British Blues Boom was a fairly neurotic period whereas: “If you ever get to talking to any of the blues people themselves, like Muddy Waters, they’re so easy, and they’re still not as dogmatic as that.” The British Blues scene was the most dogmatic thing….yet the the reason why ninety per cent of the musicians that came up on that scene could come to grips with blues guitar was because they’d played Chuck Berry, which is pretty obvious, but also Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Without that rock and roll basis they would have had an awful job coming to terms with the blues. A lot of them denied they ever heard of Gene Vincent, although they grew up on it.”
When you get Rory talking about music, generally it emerges that the biggest influences on him were Lonnie Donegan and Buddy Holly. Indeed he is something of an expert on Buddy Holly: “I’d give my left hand to have seen him.” Fortunately he has not had to make the exchange or we’d have been short of one of the best, and, most consistent white blues players around.
In addition to correcting the misconceptions about his musical likes and influences, he cited Roger McGuinn and Ornette Coleman among his favorite musicians. He emphasized the reason for this own single-mindedness of approach; “ I think you have to be open minded in what you listen to and absorb, but narrow minded in what you do.” His love of the blues a la Gallagher and his solid Trojan-like touring capacity (his schedule has him on the road, including recording stints, which are few and far between, for maybe ten months out of twelve) make him a rare figure these days; but unlike many prima-donna performers; who seem to curl up and die if they work more than a fortnight a year, Rory drives on touring.
He really couldn’t see what was so weird about playing an almost non-stop schedule all year without becoming an ulcer casualty. For him the road and the boards are what it’s all about. His current schedule runs as follows: he returned from a one-month American tour as week before the British one began, which gave him a couple of days in Cork before flying back to England. After the current British tour is completed in mid-December he plays Scotland, Ireland, for Christmas. Then it’s Japan in January, followed by Australia, New Zealand, a quick “two-weeker” in America, on the way back to mop up the last areas of British resistance missed out this time, and off to France and Scandinavia. And so it goes. No slouch, this boy.
Meantime, his film of the Irish Tour, which had its premiere in May, begins its way around the Irish circuit in January, and should be here later in the year. The other big ambition for ’75 is to do something about the imbalance between his records and his live gigs: “I’m regarded as a live artist. That’s my main strength. That’s true, and that’s fine, but I would like to be regarded equally as a recording artist. The mobile recording unit system seems to be the answer for us; rather than the clinical studio. I hope to get a really hot studio album out next time. “
Beyond that what are his more remote goals, what would he like to see himself doing in ten years’ time? “My main ambition is that I stand for something musically strong in ten years time….that useful spark which Muddy Waters has, and Howlin’ Wolf has which is ageless: that street gut, that’s the important thing. I want to write stronger, more coherent songs that can stand up on their own two feet, without my guitar and reputation.”
Rory was quick to point out that he is frequently seen as making no progress in his music because for him much of the progress comes improvision, “it depends on the night, on the moment; the half hour of a show….you might hit a certain feeling.”
“A lot of the goals of my sort of music, they can’t be reached by technique, nor by hardship either, sometimes you just hit that real….it’s tough…. it’s city, but it’s country. It’s all these things; you just get that certain thing that it stands up on its own. It’s a physical presence.” And here he again cited Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker: “that spiritual thing they get across to me….it’s as fresh as a new born baby, but it’s as old as a man of 65, and its pure twentieth century. It’s twice as flash, tough as any of your metal rock or street punks. The music’s beyond that altogether…..and there again, it’s something you can’t explain.”
For a bloke not given to flights of eloquence, that’s quite a mouthful Rory. Must have made you quite dry: what’s yours--- or need I ask?
From the December, 14, 1974 issue of SOUNDS
reformatted by roryfan
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