Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

Fittingly, Rory Gallagher was born in the Rock Hospital in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, on March 2, 1948, and later christened at the Rock Church. His father was a musician and Gallagher was given his first guitar when he was eight years old, after the family had moved to Cork, his mother’s birthplace. Quickly, he mastered his instrument, and his taste progressed from the ballads and traditional music so beloved by his mother to the skiffle of Lonnie Donegan, who was Gallagher’s musical idol as a child. He was also in the process of discovering the music of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry. In 1963, at the age of fifteen, he entered Michael Crowley’s music store–memorialized in Tony Palmer’s film, Rory Gallagher’s Irish Tour 1974–and bought the brown Fender Stratocaster 61 that would become one of the most famous electric guitars in the history of popular music. It cost £100, a small fortune to a teenager at that time. Without his parents’ prior knowledge, Gallagher negotiated a hire-purchase agreement with Crowley, who insisted that Mrs. Monica Gallagher be added as a signee to the agreement. (Her signature was duly forged.) By this time, Gallagher was already playing professionally with The Fontana [Showband], an outfit, according to Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett, that was one small part of the frenetic showband entertainment machine of the era:

At its peak, there were said to be around six hundred matching-suited acts shuttling up and down the island, packing them in on a vast circuit of rural ballrooms (fourteen of which were owned by future Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds) with grueling five-hour shows encompassing UK chart covers, comedy, Elvis and Jim Reeves… In joining The Fontana [Showband], later updating its name to The Impact, Rory was simply one of many creative souls obliged to learn their craft in a mohair suit. (226)

According to his fellow Irish guitarist and contemporary, Henry McCullough, Gallagher was the first of the showband musicians to successfully make the break from the showband circuit to the beat scene, which was achieved when he founded Taste, originally called The Taste, with bassist Eric Kitteringham and drummer Norman D’Amery, in Cork in 1966 (Harper 227). This was the beginning of a journey that would culminate in Gallagher being labeled “The First Irish Rock Star.” He set out to write, play, and record his own compositions and the blues of the Mississippi Delta and Chicago. At that time in Ireland, Belfast was the center of the Irish R & B scene and Taste arrived there in early 1967 to play such venues as the Maritime Hotel. The hotel had acquired legendary status in Ireland as the venue where Van Morrison and Them had played before becoming famous. It was there that they were taken under the wing of Eddie Kennedy, a former ballroom dancer who booked bands for the Maritime. In May 1968, Kennedy took Taste to England where they quickly secured gigs backing such well-known performers as Captain Beefheart and playing guest spots on John Peel’s Top Gear, until Peel’s recent death the most influential source of new music in the U.K. After Kitteringham and D’Amery were replaced by Richard “Charlie” McCracken and John Wilson, Taste recorded two albums, Taste (1969) and On the Boards (1970). In a short space of time, the band became enormously successful: they played throughout Europe and North America, where they toured in support of blind Faith, supported Cream at their farewell Royal Albert Hall concert, and played at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival alongside The Doors, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and many others. In hindsight, one can see Taste’s and Gallagher’s presence at this festival (he was barely twenty-two years of age) as a landmark–first, the emergence of Van Morrison and, second, the arrival of Gallagher had emphasized the fact that the Irish would insist that they had a role to play in the shaping of modern rock ‘n’ roll (Coghe 48-51). For emerging musicians in Ireland, particularly in the Republic, present and future, Gallagher’s success secured permission, to borrow Eavan Boland’s term, for them to find their paths in music (Boland xii).

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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.


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


    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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