Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

The break-up of Cream marked the end of the Blues Explosion–from this point onward, other forms and variations would become more popular, and the three-piece blues ensemble would seem constricting and somewhat out of step with the new aesthetics and a more “modern” Zeitgeist. Many of the guitarists who had popularized the blues in England–Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Mick Taylor–would abandon the three-piece unit and progress to play in a variety of bands and musical genres. Of the great players of this period, only Gallgher and Jeff Beck remained rooted in tradition; over time, despite their artistic accomplishments, they would become marginal figures. However, such conclusions are easily available in hindsight–throughout the 1970s, given Gallagher’s recordings and touring schedule, one could hardly have claimed that he was a marginal figure, except in America, where, despite many tours, he had never succeeded in reaching a large audience. Eventually, to expand musical possibilities, he would add a keyboardist to his band and, later on, a harmonica player.

Gallagher’s first solo recording, Rory Gallagher, was released in 1971 and featured a second Belfast rhythm section–Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums–with Vincent Crane of Atomic Rooster guesting on piano. Harper and Hodgett write of the album that it

is a beautiful, subtle album of virtually end-to-end highlights. It stands alongside Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and with Led Zeppelin III as one of the year’s defining moments…Not quite as macho as Zeppelin, nor a willfully quirky as Tull, Gallagher had created his own sound, drawing from modern jazz chordings and octave soloing, urban and delta blues, straight-ahead rock and Celtic folk (223)

Recalling the making of the album, Gallagher remarked, “it had a nice atmosphere…Not as hard or rocky as some of the Taste stuff, nor the later recordings either. A little tight sound–all live vocals and live lead guitar. Recorded very quietly with one little Fender amp and a twelve-inch speaker” (Harper 233). In addition to the influence of the blues, the album illustrates the degree to which Gallagher had steeped himself in jazz and folk music. It was through his immersion in the work of Django Reinhardt, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and as a result of his friendship with Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, that Gallagher was led to “give freer reign [to] his creative process” (Coghe 41). From playing in showbands, Gallagher had learned the operational etiquette of “unbending musical discipline where nothing was left to chance” and this was eventually superseded by lessons learned from jazz (Coghe 41). While living in a bedsit in London in 1967, he had learned to play the saxophone from books, records, and from setting himself the task of learning a tune each day. So as not to annoy his landlord, Gallagher practiced in the room’s one wardrobe (Coghe 41).

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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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