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Rory Gallagher, King of the Blooze
By Stephen Roche
Gaelic guitar go, RORY GALLAGHER, is back with a vengeance
Originally published in SECONDS
January 1st, 1991
For years, Rory Gallagher was arguably the hardest working man in showbiz - at least in Ireland. You see, for thousands or Irish rock fans during the '70's, Rory was a god. Not that Gallagher's fame was confined to that island alone; he was an intentional star who toured the world. If you went to any major European rock festival during the early '70s; Rory Gallagher would likely be sandwiched between Deep Purple and Faces. While the musical giants of the day were off conquering the United States, Rory was busy playing cities and venues which they left behind. Consequently, he never really cracked the lucrative American rock market in big way.
But Ireland was Rory's bread and butter, his shows the Irish equivalent of a Dead show; socially, culturally and musically satisfying. Like-minded people would gather and punch fists in the air singing his anthems, of which there were many.
Then came punk rock, and respected guitar heroes like Gallagher couldn't so much as get arrested. After a brief period out of the public eye, Rory's back for '91 with Fresh Evidence (IRS) - his finest studio offering in years - ready to retake the world by storm.
SECONDS: Let's talk about your first band.
GALLAGHER: My first band that I actually consider a band was Taste, anything before that was pick-up stuff. I played in a cover band called Fontana Show Band for two years. I was only fourteen or fifteen at the time, so it was a good experience. I went to Spain and London with them. We would play and then I'd head down to the Marquee to see the Yardbirds or the Spencer Davis Group. But eventually I couldn't put up with the material that we had to play, so I left and formed Taste. That was in 1966, we had two different lineups, made four albums, and broke up in 1970.
SECONDS: Was Taste Ireland's first rock group?
GALLAGHER: Apart from Van Morrison and Them, I suppose we were the only active Irish band of the late '60s and the early '70s, until Thin Lizzy came along.
SECONDS: Taste was a power trio in the Cream/Hendrix mold. Was that a conscious thing?
GALLAGHER: No, it was a three-piece by coincidence, it was just a sound we were going for. We liked Hendrix and Cream, but we were less of a power trio than they were; we could spend all night going into the differences. I suppose we were similar in that we were all into blues with a rock feel, but I think we were distinctive enough to have our own sound and style.
SECONDS: Why did Taste break up?
GALLAGHER: We just came to the end of our natural life. The drummer wanted to play jazz and I wanted to play blues. We also has management problems that went on to cause me terrible legal hassles; I couldn't play for six months after Taste split up because of the contract I was under.
SECONDS: Did you find it difficult to get a solo career off the ground back then?
GALLAGHER: Well, I had quite a reputation as a member of Taste, so luckily I got a contract with Polydor. I made my firstblooze412b.jpg solo album for them in 1971 and started touring again. It was a one-album deal, but Polydor were so happy with it that they signed me for six more.
SECONDS: A lot of people consider you a graduate of the Beck, Clapton, Page school of guitar playing. Do you feel that's a fair assessment?
GALLAGHER: Well, coming from Ireland, I have a totally different background than them. When I was growing up, I was aware of what they were playing, but I was also listening to the same people they were listening to. So, I do belong to that era, but Irish folk music and Irish songwriting would set me apart; which would be to my benefit. I certainly admire all those people.
SECONDS: Who do you see as guitar heroes of today?
GALLAGHER: Well, there's Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Morse. I mean, they are guitar figures more than guitar heroes, that is an older term that meant more than just playing. Attitude was more important than technique; now you have guitar superstars and technicians. Years ago, having technique was great, but you still had to have a lot of feel to your playing. It wasn't all speed and licks, you had to have some soul.
SECONDS: Most contemporary players seem to want to play as many notes as possible in the course of a song or solo.
GALLAGHER: Their influences would only begin with Deep Purple or Jimmy Page. Younger players wouldn't be influenced by black players or blues players. Their influences would mostly start yesterday, and it's all about speed and technology. It's the media age, and the faster you can go, the better. There's a new attitude to guitars where it's all about effects and gadgets. The present standard of playing is frightening technique-wise, but it doesn't turn me on like a few notes by Steve Cropper. I mean, look at Hendrix, aside from being a great innovator with sound and distortion, he could play great blues and he could play lovely soulful licks. So, the guitar players like Hendrix had more than just technique, they also had a lot of musical background.
SECONDS: You've been keeping a fairly lo profile in recent years. Why is that?
GALLAGHER: My routine changed. I used to our about eight or nine months of the year, where I'd go everywhere, including America. The after our last American tour, five or six years ago, we went back to Europe and just got stuck there. We didn't go to Australia or Japan either, like we used to every couple of years; we just didn't tour as much. There was a lot of time spent working out a record deal here, and we weren't coming to the States if we were going to be stuck opening up for for someone on a stadium bill. We wanted to play clubs and colleges, doing our won thing. I did some stadium tours where the headliner would only give you six feet of stage and no monitors, and that's not very musically satisfying. Some of the groups we toured with were fine, but a couple of bands gave us a very hard time, and I had to quit one tour because of the treatment we were receiving. So. we said that if that's what America's like, to hell with it it and we'll stick with Europe. We're back playing clubs here now and I'm happy. I mean, I wouldn't mind going out on a big tour but only with a very sympathetic headlining band. There comes a point when you ask yourself what are you doing in life, do you want to be a good player or do you want to be on the cover of Newsweek? I just want to be a good player who gets satisfaction from what he does, and be a happy person. It's an old proverb, but you can't have everything. I like to go home and pick up my guitar and still have fun.
SECONDS: Do you consider yourself a cult artist?
GALLAGHER: I suppose so, although I don't go out of my way to be known as a cult artist. I seem to have ended up as a cult artist because of circumstances and my attitude toward th way I play, but I don't feed on it.
SECONDS: I heard you once auditioned for the Rolling Stones
GALLAGHER: I didn't audition. I was a session man with them in Holland for a few days. Mick Taylor had just left, and Jeff Beck was there, too. There was no audition as such; I just sat down and joined some of the songs I was involved in.
SECONDS: Do you still enjoy playing guitar?
GALLAGHER: I do. I'm getting a great kick out of playing at the moment, and I'm writing more over the last couple of years. I still have a lukewarm attitude towards the music business and the certain kinds of pressures that come with it., but I love playing and I generally like life on the road. It is a bit difficult for a record company and the people who work with me to see what kind of direction I'm going in sometimes. I have a gypsy attitude to what happens. I don't sit down and scheme about how this time next year I'll be #8 on the charts. I know what I do isn't the way you're supposed to do things, but it makes me happy.
SECONDS: Where does Rory Gallagher fit in today's world of music?
GALLAGHER: I don't know, but they'll have to find a slot for me somewhere. I can't go away and vanish like some people want. In the '80s, I felt adrift because I was doing something that wasn't part of the the new wave or punk thing. It wasn't MTV video material. I was developing my music, but I didn't fit in the music press or in a social way. But I've always had a following, and I think that maybe in the '90s I'll find a niche; if I never do, that's okay. It is important that in the '90s I re-establish myself in the States, and my last two albums have done well. I feel good, I have a renewed interest in what I'm doping; no that I ave lost it, but in the 1980's I felt what within the music industry I was getting nowhere.
SECONDS: There are a lot of music fans out there who don't know who Rory Gallagher is. How do you feel about that?
GALLAGHER: Well, it's very frustrating, particularly in Ireland. Because of the success of U2, you can easily become forgotten, especially if you don't have hit records for awhile. I don't mean to sound envious. Staying away from America for five years hasn't helped, but I never went out of my way to be a pop artist. Like I said, I'm not a record company dream. I'm not selling an image or standing on my head too much. There are certain TV shows I can't do because I refuse to mime. So I have been my own worst enemy.
SECONDS: If you could go back and change anything about your career, what would it be?
GALLAGHER: Like any artist, after fourteen albums I hear something on each one that I would now do differently - the same goes for my stage show, when I look back at old films or videos. I just played from the heart, that's all I could do. Now, I probably play with more concentration. From experience, I know know how to do a better show, we're still crazy, but we try to cover a lot more musical territory. I certainly don't want to get too staid and old.