Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

The principal theme of the country blues, and probably of all blues, is the sexual relationship. Almost all other themes, leaving town, train rides, work trouble, general dissatisfaction sooner or later reverts to the central concern. Most frequently the core of the relationship is seen as inherently unstable, transient, but with infinite scope for pleasure and exultation in success, or pain and torment in failure. This gives the blues its tension and ambiguity, dealing simultaneously with togetherness and loneliness, communion and isolation, physical joy and emotional anguish. In Patton’s blues, even the sound itself has the feeling of tension, with damped down, “dirty” toned, monotonously repeated bass figures giving a heavy emotional undertow, lightened by the sensuously rising and sliding notes, driving and swinging with the joy of release (55).

In addition to writing his own songs under the influence of his American predecessors, Gallagher performed, recorded, rearranged, and imitated the works of the masters: Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Boy Fuller, and many others. It was in their footsteps he walked, to their tradition he owed allegiance, and his achievement ought to reside alongside theirs. Gallagher’s songs are full of the themes that Oakley enumerates and are based on the structures and techniques that passed from Clarksdale to Chicago to Cork. Even though the blues had emerged from the American South, was rooted in the lives of the dispossessed and the particular conditions of their dispossession, and was African American at its roots and core, it contained elements, or archetypes, that would give it wide appeal beyond its various borders for, as Little Brother Montgomery has said, “blues come from within, the music come from within a person, it don’t come out of a conservatory” (Oakley 42). When asked about the music of Robert Johnson in a 1993 interview, John Lee Hooker concluded that “it could be any country or any state, and over the years, I guess it would be. Nowadays, he could be any state or any country. But then, that was the kind of music in the South” (Davis 53).

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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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