At midnight, Rory Gallagher came off the stage at Wycombe Town Hall, streaming with perspiration and no doubt rippling with pleasure at having sent an over-capacity audience into a riotous frenzy and he found me there, waiting to poke a microphone at his face. But he was charming. . . . nice as pie, and startlingly different from the impression I had of him from the papers — it's easy to see that he's only interested in playing his music just as he wants to, and you can sense a strong mutual loyalty between him and his audience. His integrity and ideals aren't about to be eroded by the lure and sparkle of hit singledom, and he manages to keep the showbiz bullshit that inevitably surrounds a successful ‘star’ to a minimum.
ZZ: As far as I can discover, you got into music through showbands in Cork —is that right?
Rory: Well, if
you want to go right back, I actually got my first guitar when I was
9 .. but even at that age, I used to sing at parties. And around that
I used to hear stuff by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Guy Mitchell and so on,
I was never really struck by music until I first heard Bill Haley and
Donegan, who was my first real hero because he used to play with such
From there I got into Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, then into Chuck
and that whole R&B thing. People tend to underestimate old
he wasn't just doing things like ‘Does your chewing gum lose its
— he used to do some really nice blues... Leadbelly songs and
songs — yeah, he was airtight.
Anyway, when I was about 10, I was in a few skiffle groups and I also sang at concerts on my own, and, like I say, I was always being asked to play at parties. Then when I was twelve I got an electric guitar and started a group, but all we ever did was practice, and I think we only ever played one gig — we were just doing rock and roll. Well, I tried to get several bands going over the next three years, but there were all sorts of problems; for instance, at that time, you just couldn't get a bass guitar in Ireland for love or money, and the only guitars you could get were Rosetti Solid Sevens and Hofners and things like that.
So, as you said, I joined a showband. I answered an ad, and joined the Impact, or the Fontana as it was called then, and I stayed with that for about 2 years. We did all the Irish dancehalls, all the Irish dancehalls in England, played bases in Europe and generally got around quite a bit.
ZZ: What sort of stuff were you playing in that band?
Rory: Well, the top twenty, some Jim Reeves, and a couple of Clancy Brothers songs — that was the staple repertoire of most of the showbands.. . . but we weren't so tied down.... we were only masquerading as a showband really, and that's the reason I was able to stick it for so long. I used to sing ‘Nadine’, ‘A shot of rhythm & blues’, ‘Brown eyed handsome man’ and a couple of my own songs, and the rest of the band would do Georgia Fame type stuff — so we were just about as far out as a showband could be, though our drummer used to insist on sticking in the odd Jim Reeves song..., it was a good compromise, and I was able to get out and play rather than sitting around at home.
ZZ: So at that time, the group scene in Ireland was pretty non-existent?
Rory: Well there was a bit of a scene starting in Dublin, and Van Morrison was getting some things together up in Belfast, but when I eventually did leave the Impact, I was doing nothing for six months because there was nothing happening in Cork. I formed a trio with the bass player and drummer from the showband, which had split up, and we went to Hamburg for a couple of weeks in Summer 1965. The promoter over there had asked for a four piece group with an organ, so when we turned up each night, we had to give an excuse — like, “our organist's got flu” or “he's got appendicitis", when we didn't even have an organist. . . . but we got by, playing Chuck Berry, rock and roll and the usual German club music.
ZZ: How did the first Taste start up?
Rory: When I got back to Cork, the trio that I just told you about split up, and at the same time Norman Damery and Eric Kittringham left a group called the Axels, which was Cork's big group at the time. So there was a chance to get together with two really good musicians, and I took it. We played all over the place —moved to Belfast for a while, came over to England, went to Hamburg — and we stayed together from around August 66 to Summer 1968. It was very much a case of sleeping in the van, and long hard grinds around the various clubs, but it was pretty enjoyable even so... and then we just broke up — Eric wanted to start his own band and Norman wanted to get off the road for a while, and so we packed it in.
ZZ: By this time, you'd got more into Blues as opposed to Chuck Berry style ....... how did you become influenced in that direction?
Rory: I began to hear people like Buddy Guy, and some of the older acoustic players... it was just a gradual move; for instance I found out about Willie Dixon from Chuck Berry records, and then discovered he also wrote songs that were recorded by Muddy Waters.. . . and so I got into his music. You know how you get interested in something and try to find out more it was like that really.
ZZ: Tell us a bit about Hamburg... was it the usual 5 sets a night scene?
Rory: Yes, we'd play 45 minutes in each hour, and we'd go on stage about four or five times a night — that's weekdays. . on Saturdays we had to do seven sets. I was never there for months on end, like the Beatles, but it was good hard labour all the same. I wasn't complaining though, because in the showband it wasn't unusual to do five hours on your feet without a break... you'd get off the stage and your fingers would be mashed to pieces. I enjoyed every minute of Hamburg though. .. . it was fun unlimited really, because you often shared the bill with another band, and we used to have a lot of good times.
ZZ: Do you remember which other groups were over there when you were?
Rory: Well, you had people who were big heroes in Germany but unheard of over here.. . like Lee Curtis, the Bats a Scottish group called the Live Wires, and a bloke called Johnny Law. .. . and then there were bands like The VIPs, who later became Spooky Tooth, and the Remo 4, who developed into Ashton Gardner & Dyke. It was good fun over there.
ZZ: So when that first Taste split up, you formed the next Taste and came to seek fame and fortune in London — is that right?
Rory: The first Taste had come over in May and split in August...then John and Richard joined and we got the recording contract with Polydor, who'd had their eye on Taste for some time.
ZZ: I read somewhere that you almost signed with Major Minor...
Rory: That's another story... . a Belfast incident with the first Taste. When we were living there, someone suggested that we do some demos in a certain studio. I don't really know the full story, but it looks as if they're going to be released soon....
ZZ: So when Taste 2 came over here, did you have a London base, or were you still living out of a suitcase?
Rory: No — the first time we were over it was guest houses, sleeping in the van and that sort of caper, but this time we had a flat in Earls Court.. . . and by this time we had a record company, and were also looked after by Stigwoods.
ZZ: Did you have all the gear you needed?
Rory: Well, we had a 100 watt p.a. , my Vox AC 30, a kit of drums, a 100 watt Marshall bass amp and speakers, and a couple of guitars. . . . we'd accumulated them over the years, and we haven't really changed too much since — except for a better p.a.
ZZ: Had you come over thinking that the streets of London were paved with gold?
Rory: Oh no, I knew what it was like. I’d been over with the showband, played the dancehalls and on my nights off I’d go to places like the Marquee — so I was fairly familiar with what was going on and knew what to expect. I knew there would be no sudden rise to fame, as it were, and, sure enough, we'd go to a gig hoping to impress so that they booked us back. We'd go out for ten quid or fifteen quid and hope to get booked back for more and our diary was always quite full because we didn't mind going up to Inverness one night and Plymouth the next, both for low money..., it was the only way to establish ourselves as far as we were concerned, because people soon forget what they read in a paper but they rarely forget a gig. . . .so we just gradually worked our way up.
ZZ: Looking back, how do you feel about the three Taste albums?
Rory: In what respects?
ZZ: Well, for instance, a lot of people thought the first one was a bit raw..
Rory: Well, around that time, everyone was using reverb echoes on their guitar, and we just wanted to go in a cut an album direct and, as you say, raw. . . we didn't want all that gimmicky sound of guitars floating in the wilderness. We've learnt a lot since then, of course — like you can't just go in and record it as flat as a pancake, or there won't be any depth or dimension. . . you've got to put a bit of echo on it. Anyway, that first album was a bit raw, yes, but I'm quite happy with it. We'd been playing a lot longer when we came to make ‘On the Boards’, but the approach was still the same - we didn't want to gimmick it up too much. Obviously we learnt how to enhance the sound a little, but we still steered clear of the multi-multi gimmick thing.
ZZ: I won't ask about the Taste split up because you must have gone over that enough times already, but I’d be interested to know how you found your present band... like, is there a pool of musicians over in Ireland, or did you go through a big audition number?
Rory: Oh I’d known them for some time —I’d known Wilgar from way, way back... we used to share gigs with his band, the Method — later to become Andwella’s Dream..., and the old Taste also used to play gigs with a group called Deep Joy, who Gerry used to be in. They were the first people I auditioned.
ZZ: And with this band, you're still doing clubs and things most nights, rather than concerts. Is this by choice, or did you feel you had to start from scratch again?
Rory: No, that's what I like doing.... couldn't imagine anything more boring than playing, say, 8 concerts a year or something. The time may come when I want to lay off for a while, but at the moment I want to keep going as I am —it's good fun apart from anything else. some of the clubs are really fiery, like up in Scotland, or Newcastle, but they don't really differ much over the country; they're mostly great. We're not the sort of band that lock ourselves away for a few months working on an album... we want to be out there.
ZZ: Talking of albums, I see that you produced the last two as opposed to Tony Colton who did the Taste ones. Was it just because you feel you learned enough to have a go yourself?
Rory: Well, Tony was a mediator as much as a producer.... he'd make suggestions to the engineer and the band... like “hey, let's try it this way” or “that sounds a bit weird, maybe we should do this”. . . .but, let's put it this way, I almost had as much freedom production wise with Taste anyway. Like you say, I've picked up a bit about recording and production and I want to give it a go, though there are always engineers and other people around and they give me lots of help and advice. So, at present, the sort of deal I have with Polydor is just to give them the finished tapes — they don't interfere with the actual recording, but they could come back at me and say “hey, what the hell have you recorded here?” Fortunately, though, we've been very lucky — they haven't complained yet.
ZZ: How long did it take to record and mix "Deuce"?
Rory: The recording took 4 or 5 days, from eleven in the morning to twelve at night. ... it was a pretty relaxing time though, because we'd rehearsed all the material and we did most of it in one take. The mixing took about a day.... I mean, a lot of people think that recording is a big deal; it isn't really. What happens is that you arrive at the studio and set up, the guy puts some mikes up, and you try out the sound until you get what you want, and off you go.. . . it's as simple as that really.
ZZ: That album sounds very live - was it done live as opposed to adding the vocal to a finished backing track?
Rory: Oh no, some of the early Taste things had the vocals put on afterwards, but ever since we've done it live for the most part... .I don't like the other way, though sometimes it's necessary, like when you mess up the vocal, but you like the backing track and want to hang on to it. . .. but I think that the best tracks are the ones done straight, live. We put a second guitar on in places, or the odd maraccas or tambourine, but I always like to keep it as simple and un-gimmicky as possible.
ZZ: Why do you never release singles? I mean, Canned Heat are very sincere bluesers, but they're not averse to a bit of bending to make a commercial single...
Rory: Yes, we've often thought “that'd make a nice single”, and there are gaps when a single would be very handy... not to mention the fact that it could make you overnight — but somehow I just don't want to get into the singles field. I'm not saying that it's selling out or anything, because the quality of singles is often very high, but once you have a hit, then the follow-up is the big con..., and you're on Top of the Pops — it's just a little too Max Factor for me. ...I’ll stick to albums.
ZZ: You don't fancy being on Top of the Pops then?
ZZ: Let's talk about songwriting a bit; how do you do it?
Rory: Well, sometimes I don't write anything for quite a while, but I still seem to store up little bits and pieces, the odd lines, in my head... .sort of like little bubbles. And then you suddenly write one.., it may be just plucked out of the air, as you might say, and you write the words down in the bus, or you may be tuning your guitar and accidentally hit on something you like. It's very hard to sit down and write a song mechanically —you can try, but it never happens.. . . but you can often put yourself into a writing frame of mind by playing around on the guitar for a while, so I can't really say that I write in any particular way. The amount of time you have at hotels and things isn't really enough to write, so you have to make time, because it's very often a slogging affair. . . . writing, then rewriting, changing things around.. . you often spend a very long time before you're satisfied.
ZZ: Now you're still doing 4, 5 and even 7 gigs a week, but how have things changed? Like have you got more roadies, and better amps and so on?
Rory: We've got a better p. a. system -it's a German firm called Stramp, and the equipment is very powerful and very robust, but it's compact... you don't need great walls of speakers. But I still use a Vox AC 30, same as I always have. I got my old one stolen, but I got another second hand for £40.
ZZ: Why do you still use that, when most other guitarists have about a million watts and a couple of dozen speakers?
Rory: Well, it just suits me — but a lot of Americans like Muddy Waters and Mike Bloomfield, they only use small Fender amps. I don't know why these people have such a lot of gear — a sense of power maybe, or else they argue that you can't get real volume using the p. a. (because I mike up the Vox and put it through the p.a.). But most of the time I was in Taste, I just used the Vox unmiked — it still had sufficient power....it’s only recently that I've put it through the p.a., just to spread it over the speakers and get a rounder sound.
ZZ: Is that Stratocaster the same one you've always had?
Rory: Yes, I sunk everything I had into that when I was 15, and I had some very weird weeks paying for it.... but I figured it was worth it. I went straight from a Solid Seven to that, and it's proved to be a very nice one. The Telecaster is a 1953 Esquire — a guy phoned me up and told me he had one, so I tried it out, and sure enough ~ one of the real McCoys. I had to have new machines on it, and it needs a new scratch plate, but it is a good one - you know that a guy sat there and put a lot of work and craftsmanship into it. You plug in a new Telecaster and you would appreciate the difference - the newer ones are mass produced and they don't feel the same as far as the neck and the balance are concerned, they don't sound the same, the paint's a bit thicker and more synthetic, and so on. I mean, I'm not a fanatical guitar collector or anything, but I'm pleased with the two I've got.
ZZ: Don't you collect guitars at all - not even for amusement?
Rory: Well, I don't make it a pursuit or a hobby, but I always look around the second hand shops and pawn shops. I got an old Kay in a New York pawn shop —that cost me about £14 — a real gritty old guitar it is, a white one, like .J. B. Hutto uses, and Elmore James used to play.
(To be continued in
next issue) Pete
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