One of the UK ’s great unsung guitar heroes Rory Gallagher’s badges of office were his plaid shirts, his weather-beaten Fender Stratocaster and his lifelong addiction to touring. Gallagher was so well regarded by his peers that at various stages in his career he was invited to join the Rolling Stones, Free and Deep Purple, but preferred to continue ploughing his own unique furrow – sadly Jimi Hendrix being asked what it felt like to be the greatest guitarist in the world and responding ‘ask Rory Gallagher’ is an urban myth, although given the quote’s ubiquitous spread it’s clearly very believable. A master of the musical style previously known as R&B (that’s proper old skool rhythm and blues not the anodyne Simon Cowell endorsed slush masquerading as R&B today), Gallagher also drew from country, indigenous Irish folk, good old fashioned rock’n’roll, and was unquestionably a massive influence on the entire Irish rock movement. But first and foremost Rory lived to play the guitar (although he could also turn his hand to alto saxophone, bass, mandolin, banjo, and sitar).
Born on the 2nd March 1948 in Ballyshannon and raised in Cork, like many before him Gallagher picked up the rock ‘n roll bug at an early age when he saw Elvis Presley before moving inexorably onto Lonnie Donegan, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis (many of whom he went on to record with). Joining a professional show band whilst still at school he soon formed The Impact and headed for Hamburg in the mid-1960s. By ‘67 he had formed Taste and headed over to London finding immediate success at London’s Marquee Club and picking up fans like John Lennon along the way. It wouldn’t however be until the end of the ‘70s, when he finally went solo, that his career really began to fly and following intensive touring around Europe, in support of his eponymously titled debut album, he released Live In Europe album (’72) which hit the top ten in the UK (ultimately going gold), highlighting his hurricane force live set and his oft copied but seldom bettered bottleneck pyrotechnics.
1973 saw the release of Blueprint and Tattoo and at the end of ’73 he once again toured his native Ireland – a tour that was documented on the Irish Tour ’74 album and filmed by Tony Palmer, a film that is still well worth watching if the opportunity arises, Gallagher being one of the few artists who would actually play in Ireland during the troubles. In the years that followed he would accept invitations to play with a galaxy of rock’n’roll luminaries and make television history as the first ever artist to appear on Germany’s Rockpalast, a show that was transmitted live to some fifteen countries with an estimated audience of 50 million. This was Gallaghers peak and sadly he would never again scale such towering heights commercially – although albums like Calling Card (’76), Stage Struck (‘81) and Fresh Evidence (’90) prove he subsequently lost none of his skill and passion even if the sales were disappointing – however he continued to tour successfully due to his explosive live performances, performances which would remain the mainstay of his career right up to the European Tour of 1995 which was cut short by the illness that would ultimately lead to his death on June 14th due to complications after liver transplant surgery. He was just 47 years of age.
Leaving behind a large and impressive body of work Gallagher newbies should head straight for the double CD retrospective Big Guns (Sony/BMG) which comprehensively touches on everything from his late ‘60s trio Taste right up to Fresh Evidence the last album released in his lifetime some 20 odd years later. Next port of call should then be Live In Europe or Irish Tour ’74 both of which expertly capture the sort of frenetic energy you might have experienced at a Rory Gallagher live show and you really can’t go wrong with any of the first four studio albums Rory Gallagher, Deuce, Blueprint or Tattoo. Andy Basire
Sony Legacy Recordings in association with Capo Recordsm release the next in the series of Rory Gallagher’s re-mastered classic albums . The reissued series of classic albums continues with Against The Grain, Calling Card, Photo-Finish, Top Priority, and Jinx all of which will be released on 1st of October.