In the pre-Beatles early 60s, the country’s music scene was dominated by showbands. A peculiarly Irish phenomenon, the showbands were, in effect, the highly efficient covers acts of their day, and their biggest stars, such as Joe Dolan and Brendan Bowyer (the latter sometimes referred to as “the Irish Elvis”), generated a hysteria akin to Beatlemania on the Irish club and ballroom circuit. Having acquired his totemic sunburst Fender Stratocaster from Crowley’s Music Store in Cork during 1963, Rory duly joined the Fontana showband: a sextet playing the popular hits of the day.
Though struggling with the restrictions of being a sideman, Gallagher nonetheless succeeded in injecting some much-needed fire into Fontana, and his blues-y style bled into the band’s repertoire as they began performing several Chuck Berry numbers. Fontana kept busy on the UK and Ireland club circuit – not to mention playing the same Hamburg clubs as The Beatles – with Gallagher later moulding them into an R&B outfit renamed The Impact before they split in 1966.
Having paid his dues, Rory moved centre-stage, forming Taste – an on-trend blues-rock power trio. He was initially accompanied by two Cork-based musicians, Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham, when Taste began in 1966, but by ’68 the band’s classic line-up had fallen into place, with guitarist/vocalist Gallagher joined by Belfast-born rhythm section, drummer John Wilson and bassist Richard McCracken.
A residency at London’s Marquee Club helped the talented young outfit amass a burgeoning fanbase (their number including a smitten John Lennon) which led to Polydor signing the band in the thick of the late 60s British blues boom. Taste recorded two excellent studio albums, Taste and January 1970’s On The Boards. Climbing to No.18 on the UK album chart, the latter introduced Gallagher and co to a much wider public, with legendary Rolling Stone critic Lester Bangs bowled over by the quality of Rory’s jazz-inflected guitar playing and praising Taste’s sound for its “impressive… progressive blues”.
Taste burned brightly during their brief, mercurial tenure. Aside from their Marquee residence, the band supported Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert and toured North America with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker’s short-lived post-Cream supergroup Blind Faith. Their prowess as a stellar live act can still be rediscovered on two dynamic live albums, Live Taste and Live At the Isle Of Wight: both released shortly after the band split in 1970.
Taste’s electric performances of ‘Sinner Boy’ and ‘Gamblin’ Blues’ also remain among the highlights of their performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival, captured for posterity by director Murray Lerner and released, in 2015, as the Eagle Rock DVD What’s Going On: Taste Live At The Isle Of Wight, the same year that Polydor’s 4CD Taste box set, I’ll Remember, attracted unanimous critical praise. Record Collector’s review sagely pegged the blues-rock trailblazers as “surely the most impassioned and rapturous unit to have blasted into the public ear during the fat years of blues-rock dominion”.
With the world seemingly theirs for the taking, Taste were torn apart by management disputes and they split after an emotional farewell show in Belfast on New Year’s Eve, 1970. Though the loss was shattering, Rory forged ahead, choosing to go solo and seeking a suitable new rhythm section. He initially rehearsed with former Jimi Hendrix Experience rhythm section Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, but eventually recruited two more Belfast natives, bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Wilgar Campbell, to complete his durable, new-look power trio.
Prolific from the off, the newly-established unit were in the studio recording Gallagher’s first studio album within weeks of their initial rehearsals. Released in May 1971, the ensuing Rory Gallagher featured an eclectic mix of songs, ranging from hard-driving live favourites (‘Laundromat Blues’, ‘Sinner Boy’) to delicate, Bert Jansch-esque acoustic folk (‘Just The Smile’) and the jazzy ‘Can’t Believe It’s True’, but it was hungrily embraced by Gallagher’s expanding fanbase and yielded the first of seven consecutive gold discs.
The early 70s proved notable for Rory, with UK rock publication Melody Maker voting him their International Top Guitarist Of The Year ahead of Eric Clapton, in 1972. His new outfit’s second album, Deuce, also appeared in November ’71. Earthy and raw compared to the relatively polished Rory Gallagher, Deuce included the fiery, Celtic-tinged ‘I’m Not Awake Yet’, the slide guitar-imbued ‘Whole Lot Of People’ and the emotional, Irish Troubles-related ‘In Your Town’, which frequently closed Gallagher’s live set. Attracting widespread praise, Deuce inspired future guitar legend Johnny Marr, who later informed Guitar magazine that the album served as “a complete turning point for me as a guitar player”.
By this stage in his career, Rory’s reputation as one of the blues-rock scene’s master craftsmen had attracted the attention of some legendary figures. During the early-to-mid-70s he also had the opportunity to guest with many of his own key influences, putting his signature stamp on milestone titles such as Jerry Lee Lewis’ The Session and Albert King’s Live. Perhaps most of all, however, he relished the opportunity to appear with his old hero Muddy Waters on the latter’s much-acclaimed The London Sessions album, released in 1972.
Keeping Rory’s own career on an upward trajectory, 1972’s Live In Europe was unusual for a live document inasmuch as the record included mostly new Gallagher-penned songs such as ,the mandolin-led ‘Going To My Hometown’, alongside fierce reinterpretations of blues numbers such as Junior Wells’ ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ and Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘Pistol Slapper Blues’.
Gallagher and McAvoy recorded 1973’s Blueprint with a reconfigured line-up, having recruited keyboardist Lou Martin and replaced Wilgar Campbell with Rod de’Ath. Another UK Top 20 success, this inspired and consistent set included several evergreen live favourites (‘Walk On Hot Coals’, ‘Hands Off’) and a spirited reworking of Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Banker’s Blues’.
This extended line-up enjoyed further artistic triumphs with November 1973’s Tattoo, ’75’s Chrysalis debut, Against The Grain, and ’76’s Calling Card – the latter title co-produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover. Arguably the band’s most significant mid-70s release, however, was Irish Tour ’74: an impassioned and much-celebrated live double-album recorded during homecoming shows at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Dublin’s Carlton Cinema and Cork’s City Hall.
Undoubtedly one of rock’s truly great live recordings, Irish Tour ’74 eventually notched up worldwide sales of around two million copies and spawned director Tony Palmer’s acclaimed spin-off documentary of the same name. Throughout the dark era of The Troubles, Rory insisted his domestic tours always featured gigs in Belfast, where his vibrant, life-affirming music spread some much-needed hope and optimism throughout a city whose people were so frequently torn apart by tension, fears and divisions – both religious and political. Belfast continued to loom large throughout Gallagher’s later career and he went on to appear on records by bands he directly inspired, including Stiff Little Fingers and Energy Orchard.
Across the border, Rory’s influence should never be underestimated either. He funded Ireland’s premier rock publication Hot Press and headlined Ireland’s very first open-air rock festival. Organised by Rory and his brother/manager Donal, this event, billed as Macroom Mountain Dew, took place on 26 June 1977 in Macroom, County Cork, and attracted over 20,000 loyal fans, paving the way for large Irish outdoor gatherings ranging from Thin Lizzy and U2 at Slane Castle to the present-day Electric Picnic.
During the build- up to the event, Rory had expressed reservations as to whether he could achieve the high quality sound his fans expected of him, but after the services of the band’s regular stage team (who included future U2 sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy) were secured, things went off without a hitch. Remarkably, despite the fact that the festival was the first of its kind in Ireland, it wasn’t covered by the country’s national TV broadcaster, RTE. Yet Macroom remains a landmark event in Irish rock’n’roll history (and was the first large-scale concert that The Edge attended); as Gerry McAvoy recently told The Irish Examiner, “The time around the Macroom Festival was the high point of Rory’s career.”
Featuring a new line-up, including former Sensational Alex Harvey Band drummer Ted McKenna, Gallagher’s next studio album, 1978’s Photo-Finish, again included a clutch of long-term live favourites such as ‘Shadow Play’ and ‘Last Of The Independents’. The record’s raw, stripped-back sound more then held its own in the post-punk landscape and it was followed swiftly by another high-octane blue-rock studio set, 1979’s Top Priority.
Ted McKenna stayed on for the Top Priority tour, from which selected highlights were chosen for Rory’s third live album, the hard-edged Stage Struck. He was replaced by Brendan O’Neill for 1982’s Jinx: an oft-overlooked jewel in Gallagher’s crown which included tenacious rockers (‘Big Guns’, ‘Bourbon’), elegant, semi-acoustic ballads (‘Easy Come, Easy Go’) and a tough, Delta-fried version of Louisiana Red’s ‘Ride On Red, Ride On’.
Jinx proved to be Gallagher’s swansong release with Chrysalis. Though he remained steadfastly loyal to hard rock and the blues, his impassioned guitar-driven oeuvre suddenly seemed anachronistic during the early-to-mid-80s, when synthesisers and glossy production values seemingly ruled the roost.
To his credit, Rory remained dedicated to maintaining what he referred to as “a good vintage, ethnic sound”, steadfastly favouring analogue over modern recording equipment. Indeed, 1987’s Defender (recorded for stalwart indie imprint Demon) saw him back in harness with McAvoy and O’Neill, blasting through some of his most memorable tunes, such as the Sun Studios-style rockabilly of ‘Loanshark Blues’ and the imperious, slow-burning blues of ‘I Ain’t No Saint’.
Gallagher’s loyal fanbase devoured Defender. However, while his health had begun to decline in the late 80s, partly due to medication prescribed to counter his phobia of flying, Rory’s final studio album, 1990’s Fresh Evidence, showed that, creatively at least, he remained in the rudest of health.
Recorded with an extended line-up including returning keyboardist Lou Martin and a horn section including ex-Thin Lizzy/Graham Parker alumnus John “Irish” Earle, Fresh Evidence took an atypical six months to piece together, but included some of Gallagher’s finest songs, not least the defiant ‘Walking Wounded’ and the haunted ‘Heaven’s Gate’, inspired by Robert Johnson’s eerie blues ‘Hellhound On My Trail’.
As a live performer, Rory’s reputation was second to none, and he toured heavily to the very end, regularly notching up 300 gigs annually and never giving less than 110 per cent onstage. By the turn of the 90s, he had played 25 US tours and appeared at both the Reading Festival and Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival more times than any other act. Sadly, however, his health began to fail and, as drink and various prescription medicines took their toll, Rory literally played on until he dropped, collapsing onstage in Rotterdam, in January 1995.
Within months, Rory had undergone a successful liver transplant, but sadly passed away from complications while convalescing, aged just 47. He was buried in St Oliver’s Cemetery in Ballincollig, just outside his adopted hometown of Cork, where his headstone is a replica of the award he received for winning Melody Maker’s International Guitarist Of The Year award for 1972.
The music world was united in grief at Rory’s passing and 15,000 people lined the streets of Cork as he was laid to rest. Yet Rory Gallagher’s music has continued to defy the ravages of time. Posthumous releases such as 2003’s acoustic collaborations collection, Wheels Within Wheels (including contributions from the high-profile likes of Bert Jansch, Lonnie Donegan and The Dubliners), and 2011’s Notes From San Francisco – a welcome issue of unreleased songs from Eliot Mazer-helmed studio sessions from 1977 – have attracted a new generation of fans, not to mention reams of critical praise.
Rory is commemorated throughout Ireland and the wider world. A bronze statue stands in Ballyshannon, while there’s a sculpture in Cork where a theatre and a city square – Rory Gallagher Place – are named in his honour. There’s a mounted guitar in Dublin and a blue plaque adorning Belfast’s Ulster Hall, while, further afield, there’s a Rue Rory Gallagher in Paris.
Elsewhere, Fender have globally marketed a tribute model of Rory’s ubiquitous paint-stripped sunburst Stratocaster. A diverse younger breed of guitar heroes, ranging from Guns N’ Roses’ Slash to Joe Bonamassa and Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield continue to sing his praises, reflecting his across-the-board appeal and ensuring Rory Gallagher will cast a long shadow across the global stage for many years yet to come.
Rory Gallagher's eponymous debut album was first released in 1971 and included the tracks 'Just The Smile', 'Hands Up' and 'It's You'.
Released in November 1971, just six months after his solo debut, Rory Gallagher's second album was the summation of all that he'd promised in the wake of Taste's collapse, and the blueprint for most of what he'd accomplish over the next two years of recording. Largely overlooked by posterity's haste to canonize his next album, Live! In Europe, Deuce finds Gallagher torn between the earthy R&B of "Used to Be," a gritty blues fed through by some viciously unrestrained guitar playing, and the jokey, country-billy badinage of "Don't Know Where I'm Going," a too-short snippet that marries Bob Dylan to Ronnie Lane and reminds listeners just how broad Gallagher's sense of humor was. Reflecting the laid-back feel of Rory Gallagher, "I'm Not Awake Yet" is a largely acoustic piece driven as much by Gerry McAvoy's gutbucket bass as by Gallagher's intricate playing; "There's a Light", too, plays to Gallagher's sensitive side, while stating his mastery of the guitar across a protracted solo that isn't simply spellbinding in its restraint, it also has the effect of adding another voice to the proceedings. But such notions of plaintive melodicism are utterly exorcised by the moments of highest drama, a sequence that peaks with the closing, broiling "Crest of a Wave." With bass set on stun, the drums a turbulent wall of sound, and Gallagher's guitar a sonic switchblade, it's a masterpiece of aggressive dynamics, the sound of a band so close to its peak that you can almost touch the electricity. Of course, that peak would come during 1972-1973 with the albums upon which Gallagher's reputation is today most comfortably set. Deuce, however, doesn't simply set the stage for the future, it strikes the light that ignites the entire firestorm. Words: Dave Thompson
Kicking off with the furious "Walk on Hot Coals" where Rory Gallagher's stinging guitar and Lou Martin's insistent piano pounding spar within the context of one of Rory's classic rockers, the album presents a well rounded picture of Gallagher's eclectic influences. A jaunty, acoustic run through Big Bill Broonzy's "Banker's Blues" (oddly credited to Gallagher), the ragtime "Unmilitary Two-Step" as well as an unusually straightforward country tune "If I Had a Reason" with Rory on lap-steel and Martin doing his best honky-tonk, effectively break up the blues-rock that remains the soul of the album. The album's centerpiece, a brooding "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" finds the band locked into a swampy groove for over eight minutes as Gallagher abbreviates his own solo providing room for Martin's aggressive piano. On "Hands Off" the guitarist even picks up saxophone, and he shows off his spooky Muddy Waters' inspired slide on the train chugging "Race the Breeze," one of the guitarist's best tunes. The final two bonus tracks tacked on for this reissue don't add much of interest; an early, shuffle version of "Stompin' Ground" lacks the tension of the song that later showed up as the only studio tracks on the live Irish Tour 1974 album, and Roy Head's "Treat Her Right" sounds like a soundcheck warm-up, which it probably was. Concise track-by-track liner notes from Rory's brother Donal provide useful background information, and the remastered sound taken from the original tapes is a revelation, with Gallagher's guitar parts and especially vocals, clear and precise in the spiffed up mix. Words: Hal Horowitz
Gallagher's work ethic was in high gear as he somehow found time to write nine more songs in the midst of non-stop touring for his second album released in 1973. Even more astounding is that far from sounding fatigued or burnt out, his performance here is loose and impassioned, and the tunes are some of the best of his career. Lou Martin's keyboards are better integrated into the band, and drummer Rod de'Ath swings and burns with easy confidence. The double whammy of the album's two crunching leadoff tracks, "Tattoo'd Lady" and "Cradle Rock" illustrate just how comfortable Gallagher is with his backing group, and the smooth-rolling unplugged guitar and harmonica of "20-20 Vision" proves that the blues rocker is a more than adequate Delta/folk musician. Better still is the acoustic slide intro to "Who's that Comin'" that effortlessly and discretely eases its way into a Chicago styled, mid-tempo, electric attack. "A Million Miles Away" pushes the envelope even further with a slow, greasy swamp groove against which Gallagher picks clipped, staccato notes over a well-oiled rhythm section, thick Hammond organ overdubbed with piano from Martin, and even a multi-tracked sax section from the guitarist. The 2000 reissue adds "Tuscon, Arizona" an unusual acoustic waltz-time country Link Wray cover, and a seemingly unrehearsed driving version of the blues standard "Just a Little Bit" that runs almost eight minutes, and is interesting for about half that. Short but informational track-by-track liner notes from Gallagher's brother Donal and crisp remastered sound makes this an essential purchase for established fans and an excellent place to start for new Rory Gallagher listeners. Words: Hal Horowitz
After releasing two albums in 1973 and a live, contract-fulfilling disc in 1974, Gallagher returned rested and recharged in 1975 with a new record label, Chrysalis, and a band with almost three years of hard touring under their belts. With its attention to detail, Against the Grain sounds more practiced and intricate than most of Gallagher's previous studio discs, but still includes some of his most powerful rockers. The supercharged "Souped-Up Ford," where Rory howls and wails, with his voice and smoking slide, and "All Around Man," an urgent blues rocker that begins with Gallagher screaming and crying together with just his electric guitar until the band kicks in with a stop-start blues rhythm, are two of the definitive moments. "Bought and Sold" adds congas to the mix to bring a more rootsy and even jazzy feel to Rory's table. But it's on the acoustic tracks where the guitarist and his band really lay into the groove. Gallagher's version of Leadbelly's "Out On the Western Plain," with its combination of Indian chords, American Delta folk and cowboy "yippee-ki-yay" chorus is one of the Irishman's unheralded highlights, and "Cross Me Off Your List" is affecting in its yearning melody, subtle keyboard and minor key. A playful and forceful romp through Sam and Dave's "I Take What I Want" shows Gallagher's soul roots.
Gallagher's second album for Chrysalis -- and last with his longstanding trio of Lou Martin (keyboards), Rod De'Ath (drums) and Gerry McAvoy (bass) -- was a milestone in his career. Although Calling Card was produced by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover and not surprisingly contained some of his most powerfully driving rockers, tracks like the acoustic "Barley & Grape Rag" and the jazzy, soulful, finger snapping title cut -- a perennial concert favorite -- found the Irish rocker not only exploring other musical paths, but also caught him on one of his most consistent songwriting streaks ever. Even "Do You Read Me," the muscular opening track, is a remarkably stripped-down affair that adds subtle synths to the rugged blues rock that was Gallagher's claim to fame. While "Moonchild," "Country Mile," and "Secret Agent" displayed catchy hooks, engaging riffs, and raging guitar work (the latter adds a touch of Deep Purple's Jon Lord-styled organ to the proceedings), it's the elegant ballad "I'll Admit You're Gone" that shifts the guitarist into calmer waters and proves his melodic talent was just as cutting on quieter tunes. And it's a crime that the gorgeous "Edged in Blue," certainly one of the artist's saddest and most beautiful pop melodies, was overlooked in his catalog. The 1999 reissue sports track-by-track and first person liner notes from Gallagher's brother Donal, crisp remastered sound, and two additional songs not included on previous versions, one of which, "Public Enemy (B-Girl Version)," later appeared on the Photo-Finish album in an inferior performance to this. Arguably Rory Gallagher's finest studio effort, it was among his best and most varied batch of songs, and it is a perfect place for the curious to start their collection as well as an essential disc showing Gallagher at the peak of his powers. Words: Hal Horowitz
Remixed and expanded (with two additional tracks recorded but chopped off the vinyl version) for its debut on CD in 1999, this is a sturdy, workmanlike Rory Gallagher release. Reverting back to a trio, Gallagher toughens up his sound and blazes through some robust blues rockers like "Last of the Independents," "Shadow Play," and "Brute Force & Ignorance" (one of his best hard rock riffs) with nervy energy. Gallagher's swampy side emerges on "Cloak & Dagger," another song that explores his fascination with B-movie gumshoes, a common theme for the Irish blues-rocker. His guitar work is typically excellent throughout, especially on "Overnight Bag," as he overdubs himself on acoustic. Still, the album has a samey feel due to some of the songwriting not being quite up to snuff, and a few tracks, like the moody, slow-burning "Fuel to the Fire," stretched well past its breaking point to over six minutes. Of the two additional tunes, "Early Warning" is a typically rugged chunky rocker, and "Juke Box Annie" explores the guitarist's jaunty, slightly funky country style. Neither is essential, but both will be important finds for the Gallagher collector. Brother Dónal's liner and track notes are short yet informative, and the sound is an enormous improvement over the original version. There is a remarkable clarity and fullness to the bass, along with a definition that exposes heretofore unheard instruments like the mandolin on "Brute Force..." and handclaps on "Cruise on Out," both previously buried in the mix. Not a great Rory Gallagher album, but a rock-solid one that won't disappoint established fans.
Words: Hal Horowitz
Gallagher's fourth and final studio set for Chrysalis finds the Irish blues-rocker in prime form. Arriving only a year after Photo-Finish, when he spent much of his time on the road, it's remarkable that Gallagher could continue to churn out the hook-heavy high-quality tunes he wrote for this album. Playing larger arenas toughened his songs and attack, almost all of which here are high-octane sweaty rockers. While that makes for some thrilling, intense music, the nonstop vibrant energy rush is never balanced out with a ballad or even the rootsy, swampy blues that Gallagher always performed with such authority. So even though the opening charging riff of "Follow Me"; the slower, urging groove of "Keychain"; and the melodic, relatively subtle hard rock of "Bad Penny" were notable inclusions to the Gallagher catalog and his concerts, the lack of acoustic tunes or less aggressive music gives the album a one-note feel. This isn't helped by the two additional tracks added for the 1999 reissue, both of which stay locked in the same basic hard-edged format. That said, Gallagher and his backing duo are in top form, churning through the songs with remarkably crisp energy. Rory is starting to shout more than sing, but his voice was still powerfully expressive, and when he gets excited on the double-time, cranked up "Just Hit Town" as he overdubs his patented guitar lines, the blues-rocker's guttural screams make it sound like he's on fire. Gallagher also blows some snarling, overdriven harp for the first time in a while on "Off the Handle," one of the album's moodier tracks, and sounds enthusiastic throughout. Except for the lack of diversity, this remains a strong set from the Irishman, and is highly recommended, especially to his less blues-oriented fans. Words: Hal Horowitz
Rory Gallagher sounds inspired throughout JInx, gamely leading new drummer Brendan O'Neill and keyboardist Bob Andrews through the blues-rock paces, even though the guitarist's personal fortunes were on a downslide from which they would never recover. "Big Guns" and "Bourbon," the album's opening selections find Rory in full fiery form, tossing out muscular guitar lines and fiery solos with descriptive lyrics catering to his infatuation with American gangsters. The album also features two of his best, and least known, songs in the spooky, paranoid title track, complete with simmering sax section, boiling tom-tom drums as well as his own stealthy harmonica, and "Easy Come Easy Go," a beautiful, bluesy ballad where Rory double tracks his acoustic and electric guitars. Gallagher's tough vocals take on a new emotional depth not previously heard, and are particularly poignant throughout. Diving into the blues, Lightnin' Slims' "Nothin' but the Devil," one of the two songs added for this reissue, is an acoustic solo showpiece revealing Gallagher's delta roots and substantial slide abilities. Louisiana Red's "Ride On Red, Ride On" is a crackling double-time burner with Rory charging through with an appropriately whisky-soaked approach and a shimmering electric slide solo. Another extra track, "Lonely Mile," a finished tune previously omitted due to the time restrictions of vinyl, is a worthy addition to Gallagher's mid-tempo grinding rocker catalog. Although not his best album, Jinx is a tough and confident release, and it's 2000 reappearance after being difficult to find for almost 20 years, especially in this pristine edition, is reason to rejoice for Rory Gallagher fans. Words: Hal Horowitz