Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

As promised in a previous post, the following is the essay written by Eamonn Wall titled, “What in the World”: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues, that was delivered as the first Lawrence W. McBride Lecture for the American Conference for Irish Studies. This article was published in the Fall/Winter edition of An Sionnach in 2005. Thanks once again to Eamonn, and An Sionnach for allowing me to post this essay.

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Rory Galagher died, aged forty-seven, at London’s King’s College Hospital on June 14, 1995, at 10:44 A.M., from complications following a liver transplant. Although the transplant had been a success, and the patient was near the point in his recovery where his doctors were ready to move him from the transplant center back to Cromwell Hospital, near his brother’s and manager’s home, two days before the anticipated transfer Gallagher caught a virus that, due to a ravaged immune system, he was unable to fight. It has been estimated that his funeral mass and burial in Cork attracted four thousand mourners, many of whom had traveled from throughout Europe to be present. This large attendance included members of The Dubliners, U2, Martin Carthy, and many of the musicians Gallagher had played with over the years (Coghe 168-77). His death was big news in Ireland; photographs from his funeral dominated the front pages of the Cork Examiner, Daily Mirror, and other newspapers. On November 8, a memorial mass was held in London, followed by a reception at the Irish embassy attended by Bob Geldof, Van Morrison, and others (Coghe 179). today, to celebrate his music and commemorate his life, Cork boasts a Rory Gallagher Place, and the Cork City Library has opened a Rory Gallagher Wing, while Paris claims a Rue de Rory Gallagher. Since his brother’s death, Donal Gallagher has overseen the remastering and reissue of Gallagher’s back-catalog, and these ranked second in sales in CDs reissued by BMG Music during the first quarter of the reissue program (Harper 222). Only Elvis Presley’s back-catalog sold more during this period, a sure testament to the continued popularity of Gallagher’s music among those who had witnessed his concerts or owned his records or who had first discovered Gallagher’s music in the years after he had passed away.

My purpose will be to enumerate and examine Gallagher’s recordings with particular focus on work produced during the period 1970-76, considered by many critics to be the most important phase of his career. I’ll trace his development as a musician, noting the importance of the grounding he received during his early years in Cork, where he played in show-bands and founded Taste, and the significance of his early forays to Belfast, at that time the center of Irish rock ‘n’ roll. To find the roots of his music and to better understand what he sought to achieve, it will be necessary to look at what he learned inherited, and borrowed from the blues musicians and songwriters of the Mississippi Delta and Chicago. Then, to balance his achievement against the difficult circumstances of his personal life, I’ll probe his final decade, when his popularity, confidence, and health had begun to spiral downward.

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues”

  1. kathleenon 01 Apr 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Hmmm. Thank you for this, which I’ve just discovered.

    Your comments are astonishingly astute, intelligent, and very well informed.

    One of the (alleged) quotations from an interview with Rory in his last days is something like: “The checked shirt has become stigmata to me.”

    That, if true, says so much — frankly, for someone like me, who is of Irish descent and Roman Catholic childhood — and says pretty much everything. It’s uncomfortable, but revealing.

    I do wish that someone (and the most likely person is Donal) would write, or at least authorize, the definitive biography of Rory.

    Greetings from The States.

    Kathleen

  2. Richard Day Goreon 01 Aug 2012 at 6:38 am

    Hallelujah!

    I’ve been waiting for years for Rory to be examined at an academic level. He’s so much more than a guitarist or songwriter or uniquely lovable bluesman: he’s culturally important in a way that deserves serious, serious consideration.

    I’m sure many fans will read this piece and say “WTF” because of its dry academic-speak, but Rory’s music being part of an academic conference is a huge achievement! Even the intellectuals are waking up to the fact that Rory was, is, and will always be, relevant.

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