The SOUNDS Talk-in with Rory Gallagher

RORY GALLAGHER is the Irish guitarist who played a highly personalized brand of the blues with a trio called Taste, a group that became much bigger than the blues boom that spawned them.  Taste split up five months ago - Charlie McCracken and John Wilson, the other former members of Taste, are already on the road with Stud ‑ but Gallagher has taken longer.  He's ready now, he's completed an album and has a new group together which will be another trio of Irish musicians.  The interview, by Royston Eldridge, took place at Polydor Records who will release Gallagher’s new album in May.

"I'm my own man, I just do what ever I please . . ."


After the last Taste gig you stayed on in Ireland. Did you go home first of all?

Well let me see … we ended up with an Irish tour for four or five days and I think the two boys returned, maybe they stayed in Belfast for a day or two, Belfast being the last gig, and then they came back over here of course.  I went back down to Cork and spent two weeks there.  I came back then - a lot of people thought I was in Japan or somewhere, but I came back almost immediately.

Were you busy during this period?

Yeah … I've been almost as busy as always, but in a different field as you can imagine, you know, getting things sorted out.  I've been doing something almost every day, I've had to see someone or do something connected with the business every day, but I suppose it's better to be busy even if you're not enjoying it, you know.

Were you able to listen to much music?

Yes, the whole thing gave me a chance to.  A whole new set of circumstances for anyone and you start remembering musical ideas that you had before and musical directions which you forget.  I bought a lot of records and I listened a lot to the older 1920’s and 30’s guitarists who keep frightening me … you keep discovering them and how good they are.

Anyone in particular?

Well, Blind Willie Johnson plays beautiful slide and Scrapper Blackwell - I’d heard them in bits and pieces before, but I had a chance to really delve into them.  Even by standards now, they really had the edge, you know.  Obviously progress has been made, but Scrapper Blackwell is, well, frightening.  He gets this clicking sound from the frets, he was bending strings and everything.

The old names, you know, you just listen and they do boogies back to front and just natural things.  They don't sit down and try to be clever, it just comes out, it comes directly out.  Blind Boy Fuller, all these people, they've got so many albums, of course, but it's impossible to track them down particularly in this country; you have to get them imported.

How did you meet the two guys you used on the album?  Had you known them for some time?

Yes, off and on.  Over the years I’d seen them in Ireland and they were over here for a little while, I’d seen and heard them in various shapes and sizes.  I tried out quite a few musicians and I tried them, maybe the fact that they played together was a help, but as soon as I heard them, they seemed relaxing to play with.  You could just let your breath sink and just let it happen.  The main reason first of all was just for the record because they grasped the songs that I was going to use and since then with rehearsals it looks like it could last quite a while, I’d like to think it could, and I'm pretty happy with them, very happy.

Who are they?

Gerry McAvoy is the bass player and Wilgar Campbell is the drummer.  There's two tracks on the album with piano on and that's Vincent Crane sitting in, by kind permission.  He does a great job, he's got quite a feel for the old rolling piano, I don't think anyone would recognize him at all.  I'm just playing acoustic guitar, it's just acoustic and piano on those tracks.

Most of the stuff is done without overdubbing, it's just done, we went in with the vocals and everything under one thing.  It's the only way to record this sort of music because when you start doing the vocal later its … in some studios, of course, you have trouble with the separation but Advision, which is where we did it, got the sound.  If you dub vocals on you can't do any interweaving with the guitar as you would do normally, so in the future this is the way that I'm going to do it,  just go in and try and get it all first take.

How long has the group as such been together?

Let me see, I think I started recording the album about the twenty-second of February and we started rehearsals a couple of weeks before that, but there are no real formalized dates or even formalized situations, if you can grasp what I mean.  It's just that was the deadline I had to go in the studio by and I worked through to about March 6, I think.

Did the rehearsals go easy?

It just fitted into place, they grasped what was needed, but there again obviously in view of the fact that they'd seen me playing over the years at various intervals they had a rough idea of what kind of style was needed but to add to that there was a relaxed feel which is so important.  You've got to be able to sink back, you know. Maybe when you're about forty or fifty, if you're lucky, you can just let it happen without being tense at all, that's the important thing.

Were you able to relax when you weren't recording?  Did you feel relaxed in yourself?

Not really.  I was too frustrated to play all the time.  I was either having a blow with somebody or playing every day myself, I played a lot of acoustic guitar which has helped my technique a lot with the other thing.  I had to do a lot of things that I didn't like doing, I just had to see so many people that I'm not interested in, business people, you know, but it's probably just as well because I couldn't just sit down and solo for so many months you know.  Everything seemed to be getting together the following week, then the following week, but it's all together now so …The lay off has done me a lot of good though, actually.

Do you feel easier in yourself now?

Yeah. I'm my own man, just do whatever I please.  There's no why's or reasons or anything else, it's just that things have worked out and everyone's happier from it, I suppose.

Is there more acoustic guitar work on the album than there is electric guitar?

Oh no.  There's a couple of tracks acoustic, you can get carried away and lose what your real thing is, so there's a certain amount of acoustic guitar, but you've got to do a certain amount of practice on acoustic with good heavy strings ‘cos then when you move over to electric with the lighter strings you can, well, it's just like floating on a piece of jelly or something, but your right hand, it gets your picking together a bit ‘cos that helps rather than just using plectrums totally, you know.  It gives you a lot more scope.

Did you manage to write many songs while you were away?

When I went into the studio I had too many songs, it was killing because there was enough for two albums, I’d say and maybe more.  We just kept it down to ten songs and as much time on the album as you can get.  We stretched it a bit, you can do a few technical things when you're cutting a record so it's about twenty two and twenty five minutes the other side.  Any more than that and you would have no sound.  It's probably better to have too many songs ready than to have to jam in the studio to fill out time.  I suppose with a more relaxed state you find it easier to write more.

Did you find it easy, did the songs come easily?

Yeah, I did but there again songs come in bulks.  With songwriting again there's a certain amount of technique that you've got to learn.  It's like anything else, it's not all technique, it's only a small amount, but once you realize how to handle the mental circumstances you can stop and use a kind of very rough patter so you don't lose songs like you might do, you don't lose phrases here and phrases there.  And of course you always carry a notebook for a change, just in case, you know, because that's the worst thing if you're going along in a train or something and you're thinking of a song …

Did you find it hard to write songs towards the end of Taste because the act that you were doing towards the end was basically the same one that you had been doing for a little while?

Er … well, I won't say anything about that but no, I didn't really.  I had a lot of songs but it was just the whole situation didn't really … In answer to your question, no, I didn't find it difficult.  I was very busy so it wasn't quite as easy to put them together and prepare them.  They were still there, there was quite a stockpile, maybe that's half the reason I've got so many now.

When do you go on the road with the new band?

I think it's May the eighth and the album should be out that week as well.  We'll do a couple of concerts and a lot of clubs all over the country and then late June we do a tour at home and then after that I do a tour of the continent which should see me into the autumn sometime.  Then the States should be hovering then, please God.  It looks nice, I've got a good agent and he's, you know, he knows where I like to work.  It's just taking nice shape, thank God.

Do you think you may increase the size of the band?

Let's put it this way.  I didn't sit down and say it must only be a three‑piece.  Maybe if the right guys turn up I might expand it, but if you expand a group what you gain you lose a lot, you know.  With the three‑piece – I suppose it's old hat to say it now ‑ for this kind of music, let's say if you're doing something that's very much in the blues thing it's impossible to have too many instruments hanging about the place.  I'm still quite happy using a three‑piece, so much can be done with it, but you never know, I might bring guys on as guests for a couple of numbers and so on.  Strangely enough I still feel better with the three.

When you decided to get another group together, did you have anything special in mind?  Did you have a format for the band?

I was open to everyone that I could hear and so on, but obviously going back over the years as far as I can remember I've had a rough idea of what I want, and of course, I had the songs so that was some direction.  My ideas are just the same going way back, but if it had turned out that there were enough guys for a big orchestra, great, but you've got to keep your wits about you and I just feel better with bass and drums.  And even more better when they're playing like these guys do.

Did you audition a lot of musicians?

Not hundreds but a couple; you know.  I can't remember what the number was, I went to hear people as well as audition, but these guys came to mind pretty early anyway.

Were you approached by many people wanting to play with you?

Oh yeah, all over the place … but that's only natural.

Did you find Gerry and Wilgar in Cork or were they over here?

I think Wilgar was over here, but they were in transit going back and forth like myself.

It seems ages since you've been on stage, did you miss playing?

Yes.  Very much.  I suppose you are what you do, a lot of people don't admit it, but you are what you do best, let's put it that way.

Do you feel that you are at your best on stage rather than in the studio?

Yeah, but I mean but a lot of people say that the albums don't come over as well as the songs do on stage, that's true to a point, but you gain certain little intricacies, certain things that you get in the studio that you wouldn't get on stage, so it evens it up or it almost does.  Eventually I think you get the studio sound to be like the live, but live is different, you see, because you've got that more time etcetera etcetera, you've got certain acoustics and so on.

Audiences have always seemed to fire you though?

I suppose it's a fair criticism for the kind of music because there's excitement and there's people involved.  It's different if you're playing more clinical music where you can just sit there and play it as you would on a record, but I use the same approach in the studio. I go in and try and get the atmosphere in the studio as I would on stage.  That's as much as you can do really.

There are certain little techniques that you cast aside when you go into the studio at first, you treat them as just superfluous gimmicks or something, but they can be used to make the sound not better but to make your real sound come over as compared to a very dry sound in the studio.

How did you feel about the last Taste album that came out, the Live Taste one?  I believe it was recorded in Montreux?

I believe it was … I don't know, what can I say, it's …

A lot of people felt that it was one of the best Taste albums; that it captured everything that Taste was about?

Well, I'm glad if they felt that way.  Let's just say I read about it in the paper.  It's fine if they enjoy it, maybe there's better live material about, maybe there wasn't, but maybe if they like it as a souvenir, to play it to remember by or whatever without All Your Yesterdays about it, you know, that's fine. I’ll be doing a live album, maybe the next one, but with live albums you have to know that you're doing them on a certain night, you've got to know they're coming.

If Taste had stayed together do you think there were a lot of things that you still could have done?  Had you reached the end of your potential as a unit together?

Yes, I think so.  Obviously there are lots of little avenues that might have cropped up under different circumstances, let's put it that way, but all in all, it had … well obviously, you know.

Do you think your new group is going in the direction that maybe Taste would have gone in if you'd stayed together and everybody had been happy?  Is it a natural progression for you as a musician?

In view of the fact that I wrote most of the stuff before and I'm writing most of the stuff now there's bound to be, from my point of view, a progression.  It's not like a new version of, it's not a new version of, it's just that I'm the same guy so there's bound to be certain similarities.  I can trace it way back through the various changes that I've made.  It's still Rory Gal­lagher and whatever he was to the old group … let's just say that I'm writing all the stuff and doing what I want to.

People are obviously going to compare the old group with the new group; is that something that worries you?

 I won't worry about it.  I'm quite proud of what we did before.  I suppose they'll compare but I don't mind, there'll be a lot of new ideas and a lot of new things.  I mean I can see a lot of differences now just jamming and rehearsing.  Obviously different circumstances and different musicians will change the thing, but I'm the same guy so I've moved on and there's different things with me.

Have the two musicians with you been involved with the blues for some time?

Yes, but they've had experience with other sorts of music as well in passing which is good.  They've backed a lot of people, they backed Champion Jack Dupree for a while although a lot of people have done that.  They've got the feel for it and the ideas for it, they must have, you know, because I can relax and fall back and then you can attack, not that I didn't before, it just seems that way now a little more.

Are you looking forward to going across to the States?

Yes, you can hear a lot of different people there and there's always these people arriving at the clubs with their guitars under their arms.  They come up to sort of destroy you, you know what I mean, and that's great because it keeps you on your toes.  I’d like to take a trip down South and look around, but I don't know if we'll get work there because most groups have to avoid certain states because you get your head chopped off or something.  I’d like to see some of the towns, I was talking to a group who were in New Orleans at one time, which I suppose is the source of the music, and you can walk down these streets and there's all these old bars where apparently you can walk in there's Fats Domino on stage blowing for eight hours.  That's the way to see the music, it's totally different from what they do on record.  Fats is an amazing musician, you know, because in 1949 he was using the chords that Fuller, Blind Boy Fuller, used.  It's almost an insult to call him r & b or rock and roll or any term …

How do you rate the new wave of guitarists?  What do you think of someone like Duane Allman?

I think he's one of the best around, you know.  He's a little over‑rated slide wise, comparing definition of note and so on, but he's certainly got his soul there.  Ry Cooder?  He's very good too, but again, he's very derivative.  I'm more interested in a new kind of technique for slide which has a little more country and western technique in it.  There's so much more that you can do with slide, you can keep on developing.  Ry Cooder is very good, though, his album is fantastic

This interview was done by Royston Eldridge for  SOUNDS – April 10, 1971
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for providing & preparing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 08/21/05