Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

This is how Francis Davis describes a central journey in the history of the blues:

In Clarksdale, Mississippi, one Friday afternoon in May 1943, a twenty-eight-year-old tractor driver on Stovall’s Farms who had somehow eluded the draft caught the 4:00 P.M. train to Memphis. Carrying only his guitar (mail-ordered from Sears, Roebuck for $11) and a suitcase with one change of clothes, McKinley Morganfield–nicknamed “Muddy Waters” from his childhood in Rolling Fork, Mississippi–switched trains in Memphis, boarding a northbound Illinois Central and taking it to Chicago, the end of the line. (Davis 175)

I participated in a panel on Irish Popular Music with Larry McBride and George O’Brien one Saturday afternoon at the ACIS national conference at Fordham University. That round table discussion was the first such ever organized at an ACIS national conference. I reflect upon Rory Gallagher because Gallagher was Larry McBride’s favorite Irish musician. When I think of Larry, I think of rory. I think of Larry in Chicago, the place I associate him with the most, and the blues he heard performed there, the blues that is part of the fabric of that great city, and i think of the many Gallagher concerts Larry attended in the Chicago, and I imagine his excitement as he waited for Rory to appear on stage. Of course, at one level I might want to separate the world of Larry Mcbride the historian from Larry McBride the blues fan, though equally, we might want to assert the connectedness of everything, the sense that the parts of the man cannot be separated from the whole. I recall talking to Larry about music and being in awe of his encyclopedic knowledge. And, like any of us who knew and loved him, I marveled at his kindness generosity. I will finish with some lines from Mary Oliver:

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal–a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green. (68)

Larry McBride made of himself a light.

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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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