Selected Interview

Rory: Rockin' Irish Rover

By Linda Solomon
Originally published in The Gig
September 15th, 1974

Rory Gallagher, the powerhouse Irish guitarist who scores many votes as the quintessential British blooze conceptualizer, who successfully fuses black polyrhythms with Anglo rock dynamics, doesn't rest on his laurels. He likes to be up there where the action is, on stage, performing to demonstrative crowds who feed back the energy that flashes from Rory’s flying fingers and from the collective punch of his bassist, drummer and keyboard player.

Rory Gallagher-Irish Tour ’74. A double-disc on Polydor was released on the last day of his six-week American concert tour, a day that also happened to conclude this year’s Schaefer Festival in New York’s Central Park, where Rory shared the bill with Aerosmith. Although he has been booked in recent weeks with ZZ Top, the J.Geils Band, and Sly Stone, Rory is a headliner in his own right—as he proved at Schaefer, where his fans gave him an ovation that must have been extremely uncomfortable to follow.

Back Here in November

Over dinner, Rory expressed enthusiasm for his upcoming three-week European tour, which the band will undertake after a much deserved week and a half rest in Ireland. They will play Germany, Belgium and Holland, with a one-night performance at the legendary Olympia Theatre in Paris. “And then we’ll come back here in November,” he said, without losing a breath.

It is obvious that he is one musician who really likes being on the road. They played several cities in Japan in January, and enjoyed the experience which whetted their appetites for additional distant places. “I’d love to play behind the Iron Curtain, “admitted Rory, “and also in South America. They don’t let anything go in East Germany, concert-wise, and it is also difficult to get bookings in South America.” With all the ground he’s been covering, the peripatetic Gallagher may get there yet.

Songs and Skeletons

The “Irish” album, which Rory produced, was recorded in one week from concerts at Belfast’s Ulster hall, Dublin’s Carlton Cinema, and at Cork’s City Hall. It was mixed in London, mostly at Tangerine Studio. “I’m always there at the mixing” explained Rory. “Robin Sylvester is our engineer, and he works at the board. But if I want to flick a switch, I can do it. I work with my ears, mostly, but it’s good to have a guy who’s a third ear. It’s not that easy to mix yourself. It’s very hard to keep a perspective on it.”

Asked if he had any plans for a subsequent project, he replied, “A studio album. We might record it with a mobile unit in Ireland in the autumn, or we may do it in a London studio, and maybe bring it out in January or February. I have some songs written already, and some ideas. It’s hard to spell out what they are. They’re just songs at this stage, or songs and skeletons.”

Ninety percent of Rory’s songs are his own compositions. Although he neither reads nor writes music and has no formal training, he has no problems conveying his intentions to his band. “I have little signs that pass as music,” he said, “little notes and crosses, you know. I just play them the notes, I write “second fret, third string,’ or just do re me fa so la te do.’ Normally, you sing and play so it so often that you know it, and play it that way to the band. Or I give them the chord sequence, and do it that way.”

Has Played Guitar 16 Years

“Usually, lyrics come first when I write, but mostly, its chords and the melody. Luckily, sometimes it’s both together. But it tends normally to be kind of the musical structure, and then I blend in the words.”

Academic exposure has never been a hindrance. By listening to records and reading books, he trained his ears and taught himself to play by playing. “There was music at home, “he noted. “My relations played. Not guitars, but accordions, fiddles, and all that sort of stuff. I wasn’t interested in Irish music all that much, although I am interested now.”

I played in dance bands and did a bit of ceilidhe (parties with singing, dancing and storytelling). I played some alto saxophone on recordings. Mainly, I concentrate on guitars. I’ve been playing guitar for about 16 years.”

“I use a Fender Stratocaster, mostly, and have a Telecaster for slide guitar. I kind of like Fenders. They’re good and crisp, and they travel well. Gibsons are nice, but they’re a little more low key. Fenders have a much more vicious sound. People have made guitars for me, but I never end up playing them, or I haven’t so far. I’m attached to the one I have.”

“For acoustic, I have a Martin D-35 or a National steel-bodied, “the one-resonator Acolian. I used to play the Martin a lot more, but now I just, more or less, work on the National because it’s a lot brassier. The material I do suits the National.”

“I don’t have any real Irish music in my thing, even though it creeps in here and there. But I don’t deliberately play any Irish gigs or anything. Oh, I like that when it happens, but I don’t see myself as an electric Celtic rocker.”

With Muddy in London

“When I started playing , the first guys I liked were Lonnie Donegan (of “British skiffle” fame), Buddy holly, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Gene Vincent. And later on, Tommy Tucker, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters….the obvious blues people. I played on The London muddy Waters Sessions (Chess), and did a few Willie Dixon numbers that time. I have the album, yeah. Muddy was really good at it. I have the London Muddy Waters-Howling Wolf Sessions as well.”

Rory Gallagher is Celtic who has avoided traditional trappings. His music is rock Esperanto. It embraces many influences- rock, blues, and a smidgeon of folk. Mainly, what you see is what you get, Rory’s mind pictures, a long way from glitter, American gothic, Irish trad, or straight-on copycat blues.

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