Cleveland Comhrá: Pandemic Blues & Rory Gallagher
By Bob Carney
The last few months, I’ve gone to work, walked and played with the dogs, worked in the yard and spent a lot of time at home. I’ve even found time to pick up my old guitar on a regular basis.
Along with that, I’ve been listening to a lot of music that influenced me when I was younger. I “discovered “ the blues listening to bands like The Rolling Stones, Ten Years After, Cream and The Yardbirds. My uncle pointed out the music I liked, mostly English bands, were doing covers or versions of music that originated in America.
That led to immersing myself in the blues. Of those early influences, one player that I still find myself listening to is Irish native Rory Gallagher.
In an interview in London, Jimi Hendrix was asked what it was like to be the greatest guitar player in the world, he replied, “I don’t know, ask Rory Gallagher.” Eric Clapton told the BBC that Rory should be credited with getting him back into the blues.
Queen’s guitarist Brian May copied Gallagher’s equipment set-up to obtain his sound. Numerous guitar players cite Rory as an influence on their playing style, among them U2’s The Edge and Guns and Rose’s Slash.
Rory was born March 2,1948 in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. During his early teens, he took up the guitar. Starting out on a cheap Italian made instrument, he soon acquired the Fender Stratocaster he would be identified with.
“It was made in November ’61,” Rory said, “and I got it in August of ’63. So it was second -hand. It was the first Stratocaster in Ireland, apparently, but the guy that ordered it wanted a red one, like Hank Marvin’s, and they sent him a sunburst one instead. So he had to wait for a year and a half or whatever to get the red one, and then he sold this one through the shop. So I got it.”
Gallagher started his musical career at age fifteen in one of the showbands that toured the ballrooms of rural Ireland in the 60s, honing his skills. Each of the members of The Impact, were required to adopt the style of one of their musical heroes. Rory chose Chuck Berry.
Later in his career, he would perform and record with Berry. There’s a video on YouTube from a show in Germany in 1982 with Rory doing a cover of Berry’s “Nadine,” complete with all of Chuck Berry’s moves.
In 1965, Ireland had many talented musicians, but no rock stars. Rory Gallagher was about to change that. He formed the power rock trio “Taste,” a blues-rock band, to indulge his love of the blues. His hard work and determination paid off; his shows at The Shandon Boat Club in Cork became legendary for his fiery guitar solos and original music.
That led to gigs with Cream at The Royal Albert Hall and at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, alongside The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Free. They were called back to the stage at that performance for seven encores.
The Best Guitar Player in the World
Soon after, he was performing under his own name, his name making it a sure thing for promoters. By the early seventies he was being hailed as the best guitar player in the world by his peers.
Gallagher was also a brilliant slide player and a gifted songwriter. But according to the people who knew him, his best attributes were his genorosity, kindness and compassion. Offstage he was shy and unassuming, his fans regarded him as one of their own, only with a superhuman talent.
Rory’s brother and manager, Donal, said, “He never got above himself.” He said Rory was happiest on the road, on the stage he was at his best, everything else was just preparing or passing the time for the next show. His live performances bear witness to Donal’s assessment of his brother.
He was never over the top as a soloist, and never quite fit the the typical blues -rock approach that many of the great players of that era fell into. Johnny Marr said, “His solos are not as composed as George Harrison’s or my own, they are not guitar breaks but they are not blues-rock solos either. They are very daring, but not as out there as Hendrix’s. They are just the right side of dexterity, of flash, of showing off. He wasn’t musically blinkered, he saw merit in everything, it was liberating.”
Rory Gallagher sold 30 million albums worldwide and even though he toured the U.S. twenty times in his career, he never made it big here as he did overseas. Of his own admission, he never cared to develop commercial, three minute radio friendly material. But then Rory never cared about being a rock star, he just wanted to play. So, unless you were an aspiring Fender Strat blues player or really into guitar based music, you may not have ever been exposed to him.
Rory Gallagher passed away in a London hospital in 1995 from complications from a liver transplant. After years of alcohol abuse, life on the road finally caught up to him. Fortunately for us, Rory’s music is just a “click” away, check out YouTube, or any of the music streaming apps out there. Then dig that old guitar out from under the bed and pay tribute to Ireland’s first rock star.
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @PJ Mcintyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Morrighán and Rían and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at email@example.com