Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

After the Isle of Wight Festival, Gallagher decided to disband Taste and embark on a solo career. According to Harper and Hodgett, “Taste were the victims of their own rapid success and inexperience. Eddie Kennedy had steered them from a fiver to £2000 a night in two years” (230). for many years after the break-up of Taste, the Gallagher brothers sought to recover lost earnings–first from Kennedy himself and later from his estate. their final concert was played at Queen’s University, Belfast, on December 31, 1970, as part of a tour that took place purely to satisfy contractual agreements. According to Coghe, Gallagher was blamed for the split and was viewed as someone who, as a consequence of his success, had become a dictator. The result of this acrimony was that Gallagher refused to play Taste songs for years afterward (51).

As a soloist, Gallagher recorded fourteen albums between 1971 and 1990. In addition he played on recordings by such artists as Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lonnie Donegan, Davy Spillane, the Furey Brothers & Davy Arthur, Stiff Little Fingers, the Dubliners, Peter Green, and the rolling Stones (on “Miss You”), who sought him out as the replacement ofr Mick Taylor (Harper 233). Gallagher, though flattered, was not interested. It is ironic that even though Gallagher’s most important work was composed after he had disbanded Taste, he would face an uphill struggle to capture the imagination and support of music fans that he had enjoyed around the time of the Isle of Wight festival. Gerry Smyth believes that Gallagher’s “music and image stalled…around 1970,” though I would argue that it was the reception that had stalled rather than the music itself (36-37).

When we evaluate popular music, and equally other artistic endeavors, we are inclined to assume that commercial sales and artistic success are part of a continuum though this does not reflect hard reality. Often in popular music in particular, large-scale success is short-lived, and the best music has been composed and played far beneath the radar of the charts. At the same time, Taste emerged at the height of the British Blues explosion and, like Cream, who were the dominant figures in this movement, successfully wedded Mississippi Delta and Chicago blues with British Blues-rock, as Smyth points out:

The form was organized around two central elements: the traditional, three-chord blues song and an instrumental ability to improvise at length around the basic chordal structure. The electrification of instruments owed much to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, and the idea of a long, semi-improvised solo was clearly borrowed from the jazz tradition…(36)

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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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