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Rory Gallagher - A Tribute to The King of Blues Rock

Updated on March 22, 2014

When Jimi Hendrix was approached by a journalist just after the Woodstock festival in 1969, his question was simple, he asked the great rockstar "So Jimi, what's it like to be the best guitarist in the world?" to which Jimi replied "I don't know, ask Rory Gallagher."

Rory Gallagher was the quintessential guitarist. His talent was close to genius, a godlike gift that he mastered throughout his life. His 61' Fender Stratocaster was his weapon of choice, a battered auburn burnt machine that obeyed every note under Rory's command, lighting up smokey bars and venues each night around the world, with Rory dancing his fingers up and down the fretboard, composing self written melodies, songs and jams that rocked audiences for many years, they would be transfixed, Sucked in by the pure depth of the mans creativity and talent. His music travelled to the outer depths of the universe and back with a mere wail from his guitar, he lived and breathed every note he played, his face consistantly etched in pure emotion. He is the greatest rock star to ever come out of Ireland, and in some circles, probably one of the greatest rock stars who ever lived.

He was born William Rory Gallagher, on the 2nd of March 1948 in the small town of Ballyshannon in Co Donegal. His family then moved to Cork where he and his brother Donal were raised. Rory was born to be a musician, and at the age of 9 took a keen interest in music, learning the ukelele and then transferring his honed skills to his first acoustic guitar. At the age of 12 he bought his first electric guitar and broadened his musical horizons, without a record player growing up in the 50's and early 60's, he tuned into distant radio stations from England and Germany, discovering the sounds of Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. The Blues stirred up a passion in his soul, and encouraged him to pick up and play the harmonica, mandolin and banjo, to learn new styles, to be gutsier and rockier, to learn the slide guitar, to tranfuse blues with rock.

Rory Gallagher's famous 1961 Fenter Stratocaster
Rory Gallagher's famous 1961 Fenter Stratocaster

In his early teens he met the first love of his life, a 1961 Fender Stratocaster that was on sale in Crowley's music shop in Cork City, he bought the guitar for £100 in payments he earned touring in showbands around Ireland and the U.K during his teens, and used the same guitar until the day he died. He put his guitar first, even so far as lying on top of it to avoid it being trampled on when a riot broke out after one of his gigs. The Fender was even stolen from the back of a tour bus one night after a concert in Dublin, but it was recovered in a wet ditch a week later after it was claimed 'hot property' on a crime news bulletin and returned to him. It was destiny that this battered wailing guitar would be with Rory until the very end, and still loved and cherised to this day by his brother Donal.

Rory Gallagher in Taste
Rory Gallagher in Taste

In 1966 he formed the band 'The Taste' later to be known as 'Taste', and it was during this period that a young Rory Gallagher made an impact on the rock scene. Comprising of Richard McCracken on Bass and John Wilson on Drums, their Rock Blues sound was refreshing during the era of beat rock. During their brief time together the band released 2 albums, 'Taste' and 'On the Boards', their song 'What's Going On?' rang around festivals throughout Europe and on tour in North America, and they rocked the crowd at the massive Isle of Wight Rock festival in 1969.

But it was in the year 1970 that Rory Gallagher began his career as a rock legend. He toured and recorded tirelessy, touring Ireland at least once a year, gaining a cult and faithful following around the country and gaining respect for touring in the North which was torn apart by murder, bloodshed and violence at the time. He was a poet, his lyrics rang true to anybody that heard him. inspired by ol' blues songs and old detective gumshoe stories, his rock and blues combo formed a life of it's own. Many songs consisted of drifters, people who couldn't fit in, broken love, hope for the future in a dreary present, basically the formula for any blues number, however he wrote from the heart, his lyrics were simple and striking, every person still can relate to them, his words can strike a chord in the soul, and can ring across many cultures and languages. His songs were about being human, and the struggles and joys of being one, mixed in with grinding riffs and spirtually raising solos, where the notes lifted you up and carried you away and wouldn't let you go. He played all kinds of concerts, from massive rock festivals in Europe right down to smokey cellar bars in the middle of Paris, where the audience wore black shades and cigarette smoke mingled in with the music and became part of the electric atmosphere. His playlist is almost endless, he produced hit after hit, album after album, selling almost 30 million albums worldwide. His songs include 'A Million Miles Away', 'Bad Penny', 'Bullfrog Blues', 'Tatoo'd Lady', 'Shadowplay', 'Philby', 'Moonchild'....................the list goes on and on. For anybody out there who is interested in hearing him, go out there, grab his stuff and just listen, there's no introductury course on where to begin listening, it hits you like a juggernaught and has you rocking before you reach the end of the first song. Like any great artist he had great supporting musicians, having different combos of drum and bass players with him throughout his career, most notably the duo of drummer Ted Mckenna and Bass player Gerry McAvoy, who is most famous for his funky bassline on Rory Gallagher's hit classic song 'Bad Penny'. From 1970 through until 1994 he was the hardest working musician in the world, until he developed liver complications from a mixture of a long relationship with alcohol and his over reliance on perscribed medication from a number of different doctors. He underwent a liver transplant in 1995, but developed a Staph infection which proved fatal in the end. He died on the 14th of June 1995 in London, England at the age of 47. Like many of the great rockstars that came before him, he was taken from the world at a young age.

The Rory Gallagher statue in Ballyshannon Co. Donegal
The Rory Gallagher statue in Ballyshannon Co. Donegal

Revered by the likes of Brian May, Slash, and the late Jimi Hendrix, his presence is well known and preserved among many music professionals and critics, to the point he was even considered as a member for the Rolling Stones after the departure of Mick Taylor. Rory even travelled to Amsterdam to meet the group, however as Bill Wyman once said in an interview,

"Rory stayed two or three days there and played some nice stuff. We had a good time with him, but I think Mick and Keith felt that he wasn't the kind of character that would have fit.

"If he'd have been in the Stones, he wouldn't have been singing and that was one of his strong points. He would have just been playing (guitar) solos... and learning to be subservient to two big egos. I don't think it would have worked."

Rory Gallagher was not the most popular name in rock history, overshadowed by commercial blitzing of other artists in the genre. Even so, he was idolised in Europe during his life, most notably in France, where a street is named after him in in the commune of Ris Orangis, in the southern suburbs of Paris, known now as 'Rue Rory Gallagher', and for any rock patrons who ever decide to visit Dublin City, after you check out Phil Lynott's statue on Grafton Street, take a stroll up to Temple Bar and visit the Rory Gallagher corner, where a bronze replica of his Stratocaster can be seen on display.

For the hardcore Rory Gallagher Fans around the world, head to the wee town of Ballyshannon, in Co. Donegal, where you can rock out at the Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival that's held there every year on the first weekend on June. For a small festival it has an electrifying atmosphere and a mixture of festival goers that range from long haired kids, trampling in from the campsite with straggly hair and baggy ripped jeans, to couples and fans who followed him when he toured, to bikers roaring in from all around europe, it is a melting pot of families with kids and young rockers, all enjoying the music. There is a a lifesize statue of Rory Gallagher, playing his Stratocaster, in the middle of the town. It was unveiled by his brother on the 15 year anniversary of his death, on the 2nd of June 2010, in front of a packed festival crowd.

Close to 19 years after his death, Rory Gallagher's popularity is still expanding, for somebody who never enjoyed a roaring commercial success compared to the likes of Bono or Bob Geldof, he is more important now than he ever was thanks to the current economic crisis. There is an air in the country that he is needed more than ever, and his songs resonate now more today than the time when they were written. Kids who weren't even born or were too young to remember him are playing and singing his songs, The sonic rock youth culture of Ireland are swaying in the breeze, a grey mist surrounds them, but Rory Gallagher's music is a shining light. It inspires today's generation. If You walk into a grungy rock club you will hear rock bands starting out covering 'Bad Penny' and 'Philby', his live albums are in every record collection, passed down from generation to generation, and as long as his music is heard, his legend will continue to grow.


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