- Melody / Hooks
“How does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world?”
“I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher.”
— Jimi Hendrix comment after his 1970 Isle of Wight concert – he was dead within three weeks.
Play like you mean it
YOU can ask yourself a question too? Do you wanna listen to shallow guitar pyrotechnics or pure firebrand guitar – chock full of grit, soul and style? Wild, untamed, meteroic? Melodic? Try the Rory Gallagher medicine. A huge talent. Character. If there’s one thing a great guitarist needs, it’s character – plays the guitar like he means it. And he does.
What makes Rory Gallagher so damn good?
Writing about a musician like Rory Gallagher isn’t an easy task. Rory Gallagher’s got taste, and talent, in spades. An indefinable quality. The guitar playing of Rory Gallagher encapsulates so much – the fiery torch burning blaze of Johnny Winter, the flashing melodic brilliance of Jimmy Page, the timing, phraseology and cool of early Clapton. The guts-on-the-floor honk and steam train muscle of great blues bands lead by the likes of Wolf and Waters, the other-worldly atmosphere of Son House, the attack and groove of S.R.V. (“Seems to Me”) – a fluid, natural, Hendrixian feel (“Road to Hell”). Southern Harmony, dirty shuffle, rootsy, and rustic, Celtic and Piedmont blues. Balls-to-the-wall, no nonsense, hard hitting. Maybe even mystical. It’s a potent mix.
Many people have tried the fit of Hendrix’ empty velvet boots, but maybe Rory’s the man with the right feet.
Gallagher also happened to possess an innate ability with sonics – a rich tonal depth of field. His slide playing is perfect (“Road to Hell”). Rory Gallagher encapsulates all that is great about modern blues rock. Everything great about playing guitar. No cliches – unpredictable – edgy – risk taking – listen to the live version of “Continental Op” from “Meeting with the G-Man”. W.TF.? It’s almost unbelievable. After his power-trio Taste disbanded Rory released 12 studio albums up until his death in 1995. We are going to have a look at four of Rory’s records.
Deuce 1971 & Blueprint 1971
“Deuce” – an attempt to capture the natural sound of live musicians. It’s a pure and unusual record with a dry-as-a-bone production sensibility – much like Bob Dylan’s, stripped back “John Wesley Harding”. Somewhere in between garage-blues-folk-beat-country, Deuce is a recording that strives as hard as possible to remove any illusion that it wasn’t performed in the cupboard underneath your stairs.
Sometimes strangely reminiscent of the Small Faces, with flavours of The Groundhogs, and, even briefly, eerily portentious of the Kings of Leon debut disc – Gallagher’s exceptional (guitar) talent is burnt across its surface like blisters on the sun. This is an idiosyncratic and brilliant record. His next release the ambitious “Blueprint” from 1973 added keyboards to the mix through an eclectic and stellar mix of ragtime, country, swamp, honky tonk, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Against the Grain 1975
…is perhaps Rory Gallagher’s defining album. “Against the Grain” combines his outstanding guitar work matched to a set of great songs including Sam and Dave’s up-tempo “I take what I want” and the adrenachrome, high energy of the opus “Souped Up Ford”. The encyclopaedic neo-rock ‘n’ roll of the opener “Let me In” growls, whines and propels this album out of the blocks like a feedback missile into the abstract fusion of “Cross me off your List”. Any fans of Beck’s “Blow by Blow” will be equally well rewarded with “Against the Grain” – perhaps more so.
The laid back, bar room, sing-along stomp of “Bought and Sold” and the unusual “Lost at Sea” – flavours of Cream, Axis-Hendrix, and The Beatles – exemplify Rory’s idiosyncratic, unmatched approach to “the blues”. The formulaic blues back catalogue that some blues artists seem content to wheel out time and again, being significantly absent – Rory Gallagher could never be one-sided. The other stand out cuts are Rory’s stunning re-imagining of Leadbelly’s “Out on the Western Plain” and, the outrageous mega-ton blues of “All Around Man” prove that of all the “blue men playing the whites” perhaps Gallagher deserves the crown. This record is a gutsy tour de force of creativity, next-level guitar and incredibly rewarding. “Against the Grain” has just been re-issued (1st October 2012).
Real deal blues rock guitar
Rory Gallagher doesn’t mess about with music photocopies and second hand ideas. Not content to regurgitate standard blues motifs Gallagher’s blues-rock guitar has a fiery personality and character stamped through it like a stick of Brighton Rock, and, Gallagher’s attention to pace and song structure is something else. You can feel the pressure in his hands, feel the acceleration, taste the tension. In the strings.
This isn’t something that comes with an easy to download and master three chord formula, or even a tonne load of practice, or even being an incredible guitarist. It’s the difference between a talent and a gift. Ask Joe Bonamassa, he recently played Rory’s 1961 Stratocaster live in London.
Rory Gallagher versus the rest
Some guitarists seem content to play licks, riffs and hooks in dull sequences of finger memory / set piece variations – of course you can fool some of the people some of the time – plenty of people don’t know any fucking better. If it’s loud and fast they like it. If it lifts a little from the old masters, Clapton, and the modern, like Eric Johnson, most people won’t see through it. If it’s technical. If it’s fast. If it’s showy. If it’s all been done before it’s definitely easy to recognise.
But there’s a vast difference between a print, or a facsimile and an original work of art.
It’s the difference between buying a “road worn” shit-stick of faked up, sound bite, paint by numbers relic anti-cool – see here . OR, buying a guitar and actually playing the fucking paint off it. It depends how lazy you are. And your ears too.
Rory Gallagher’s guitar playing offers so much more than “riffs”, and “licks” – always surprising, there’s a level of subtle sophistication in the language of his guitar playing, always a sting, a twist in the tale. It’s the difference between having something to say and saying it eloquently, or just simply shouting. The difference between red-top newsprint and poetry. It might be harder to discern or understand at first but it doesn’t leave a bad, cheap taste in your mouth. There’s a big difference between being a “guitarist” with a big bag of fat licks and genuinely putting yourself through that guitar.
As well as “Against the Grain”, Defender is a great place to begin your appreciation of Ireland’s hardest hitting guitar-slinger. Defender kicks off with three blinding songs that redefine the blues within the shape and colour of Gallaghers earlier street wise high-rollin’ album, 1982’s the exceptionally brilliant “Jinx” – somewhere at the “sophisticated” edge of garage-rock – gutsy & in your face, Gallagher’s playing runs the full gamut from raucus, thumping gritty blues, through to hard & melodic rock, smooth rolling riffs and country blues – once he launches into the first “solo” on Defender you know you are in exceptional company.
Defender is a spectacular record – it’s almost pointless attempting to elucidate the sheer force of talent, the taste and feel of Gallagher’s guitar playing. Masterpieces such as “Continental Op” showcase Gallagher’s unsurpassable brilliance and even when he’s blowing the dust off classic blues shapes like “Don’t Start Talking to Me” he’s still capable of bringing intangible qualities to the form.
Is it Good, Bad or just Ugly?
If you’re looking for a “beginners guide” to Rory Gallagher then both DEFENDER and AGAINST THE GRAIN are just too damn good. These are both 5 star albums. We’ll be looking at more Rory Gallagher records in the future – ’cause everything else is just “Arch Stanton” – empty, dead and hollow. Defender, especially is nothing short of timeless – a brilliant album that showcases everything the modern blues ought to be – multidimensional and inspirational.
To those who do, thank you for reading!
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