William Rory Gallagher (March 2, 1948 - June 14, 1995) was an Irish blues/rock multi instrumentalist and producer who reached the stars with his stellar style and energy, recognised the world over as one of the best guitarists ever to shred one. Through his time with Taste and to his solo albums in the 70s and 80s, he amassed over 30 million records sold. The vessel he used to attain such heights was usually his trusted worn out 1961 Sunburst Stratocaster, said to be the first one in Ireland. His brother Dónal once said, “His dream ambition was to have a guitar like Buddy Holly...This Stratocaster was in the store as a used instrument, it cost 100 pounds...in today’s money you couldn’t even compare, you might as well say it was a million pounds”.
In today’s piece we want to look back on some of his finest moments, and in the process find out what made Rory roar.
In 1969, at just 20 years of age, Gallagher and his power trio Taste put out their eponymous debut. It opens with Blister on the Moon, a ripping rocker that displays the raw edge of Gallagher’s touch with menacing staccatoed finger work which moves into the power chords and a seering solo that shows the licks that would become his sound and brand. Another memorable solo appears on this album with Born on the Wrong Side of Town, a high-octane rocker with a touch of Irish folk that perhaps solidified him as an Irish blue-collar legend. Taste cut one other studio album, On the Boards, and two live cuts with Live Taste and Live at the Isle of Wight, but dissolved in 1970.
After Taste, Gallagher launched into a solo career that honed his formidable skills even more with spark-flying solo work on classics such as his Shadowplay performance at Montreux in 1979, where he starts shredding his Strat in what looks like a trance, then descends the stage to play among the masses, a truly awesome display of dexterity, energy and grit.
Two of his signature albums where Calling Card, and Deuce, and include some of his most amazing work such as Tattoo’d Lady, where he strangles his Strat to perfection before an adoring army of crazed fans on Rockpalast, a German TV rock show. Then his inspired solo in I’m Not Awake Yet from Deuce, another treat.
In 1971 he was named Melody Maker’s International Top Guitarist of the Year, in front of Eric Clapton, no small feat. He made a point of touring his homeland Ireland once every year which earned him deep fan approval and almost saintly adoration. His famous marathon concerts were testimony to his commitment to his trade, he played and recorded because “it was in me all the time, and not something I just turn on”.
His influences at a young age were the above mentioned Buddy Holly, and then Eddie Cochran, but the big push for him was when he heard Muddy Waters, he got instantly hooked on the blues. His interest in it expanded, he says, by listening to Big Bill Broonzy and Lead Belly. He did a retro-charged slide guitar cover of Lead Belly’s Leavin’ Town Blues, showing once again his depth of talent and resourcefulness. He also had various degrees of skill on a number of other instruments including the alto saxophone, harmonica, bass, banjo, mandolin and the coral sitar to keep himself busy.
Other highlights of his outstanding solo work appear in I Take What I Want, a cover of a Sam & Dave song, from his 1975 release of Against the Grain. On it, he vocal riffs along with the guitar riffs to dizzying extremes and thunderous applause of the baptised public. His roaring rock expression in Kickback City, from his record Defender is another hot item that inspired such names as Brian May of Queen who tells it this way, “So these couple of kids come up, who’s me and my mate, and say ‘How do you get your sound Mr. Gallagher?’, and he sits and tells us. So I owe Rory Gallagher my sound”. He also had disciples such as The Edge (U2), Slash (Guns n Roses), Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest), and Gary Moore, to mention a very few.
However, as long as the list of his magnificent guitar wizardry is, we’ve not mentioned some other rousing relics of rockdom such as Walk on Hot Coals, Shin Kicker, Philby and Follow Me, just to scratch the surface, but he never had a hit single, and therefore was almost criminally overlooked by the charts. Yet he was adored by his contemporaries for his kindness and generosity, his abundant talent, and effortless energy.
On the gear side of his roar, he also owned a Patrick Eggle JS Berlin Legend, (which fetched £25,000in a 2014 auction), a Vox AC30 amp with a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster jacked into the normal input. He also played with Marshall and Ampeg VT40s and VT22 amps.
He was never married, except to his music and the road; he literally played until he dropped, collapsing onstage in Rotterdam in 1995. He was taken to hospital with liver failure and died of an infection after the transplant.
Until the very end, he was steadfast in his determination to write original music that remained true to his roots. He never showed any love for studio trickery, booming bass drums or razzamataz, and left a legacy of raw purity of feeling and form. This “feet on the ground” approach took him into such styles as “kickass country, jazz sophistication, spit n sawdust folk, floorboard quaking roof raising rock” (from his homepage). He told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1972, “It seems a waste to me to work and work for years, and just turn into some kind of personality”. Indeed. He went on to show the world he was ‘the real deal’ with his scalding slide work, hard-boiled songwriting, and an essential rock/blues heart.