Rory Gallagher (2 March 1948 – 14 June 1995)
Rory Gallagher born William Rory Gallagher was an Irish blues-rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland, and raised in Cork, Gallagher recorded solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after forming the band Taste during the late 1960s. A talented guitarist known for his charismatic performances and dedication to his craft, Gallagher’s albums have sold in excess of 30 million copies worldwide. Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London, England aged 47.
Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal; his father, Daniel, was employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board, who were constructing a hydro-electric power plant on the Erne River above the town. The family moved, first to Derry City, where his younger brother Dónal was born in 1949, and then to Cork, where the two brothers were raised, and where Rory attended the North Monastery School. Their father had played the accordion and sang with the Tir Chonaill Ceile Band whilst in Donegal; their mother Monica was a singer and acted with the Abbey Players in Ballyshannon. The Theatre in Ballyshannon where Monica once acted is now called the Rory Gallagher Theatre. Both sons were musically inclined and encouraged by their parents: at age nine, Gallagher received his first guitar from them. He built on his burgeoning ability on ukelele in teaching himself to play the guitar and perform at minor functions. After winning a talent contest when he was twelve, Gallagher began performing in his adolescence with both his acoustic guitar, and an electric guitar he bought with his prize money. However, it was his purchase three years later of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster for £100 that became his primary instrument most associated with him for the span of his lifetime. Gallagher was initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio; Donegan frequently covered blues and folk performers from the United States. Subsequently, Gallagher began experimenting with folk, blues, and rock music. Unable to find or afford record albums, Gallagher stayed up late to hear Radio Luxembourg and AFN where the radio brought him his only exposure to the actual songwriters and musicians whose music moved him most. Influences he discovered, and cited as he progressed, included Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, and Leadbelly. Initially, Gallagher struck out after just an acoustic sound. Singing and later using a brace for his harmonica, Gallagher began to learn to play slide guitar. Throughout the next few years of his musical development, Gallagher began learning to play on the alto saxophone, bass, mandolin, banjo, and the coral sitar with varying degrees of proficiency. He found it difficult to track down the names of the authors of the blues songs that he heard; usually through the likes of skiffle musicians like Lonnie Donegan. He relied entirely on radio programs and television. Occasionally, the jazz programs from the BBC would play some blues numbers, and he slowly found some song books for guitar, where he found the names of the actual composers of blues pieces. While still in school, playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, he discovered his greatest influence in Muddy Waters. By his mid-teens, he began experimenting heavily with different blues styles.
Gallagher began playing after school with Irish showbands, while still a young teenager. In 1963, he joined one named Fontana,; a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. The band toured Ireland and the United Kingdom, giving him the opportunity to acquire songbooks for the guitar, where he found the names of the actual composers of blues songs, in addition to earning the money for the payments that were due on his Stratocaster guitar. Gallagher began to influence the band’s repertoire, beginning its transition from popular music, skirting along some of Chuck Berry‘s songs and by 1965, he had successfully molded Fontana into “The Impact”, with a change in their lineup into an R&B group that played gigs in Ireland and Spain until disbanding in London. Gallagher left with the bassist and drummer to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany. In 1966, Gallagher returned to Ireland and, experimenting with other musicians back home in Cork, decided to form his own band.
After the break-up of Taste, Gallagher toured under his own name, hiring former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on Gallagher’s self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher. It was the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy; the other band member was drummer Wilgar Campbell. The 1970s were Gallagher’s most prolific period. He produced ten albums in that decade, including two live albums, Live in Europe and Irish Tour ’74. November 1971 saw the release of his album, Deuce. In the same year he was voted Melody Maker’s International Top Musician of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. However, despite a number of his albums from this period reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher did not attain major star status.
The line-up which included Rod de’Ath on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards, performed together between 1973 and 1978. However, he eventually dropped down to just bass, guitar and drums, and his act became a power trio. Other releases from that period include Against the Grain, Calling Card, Photo-Finish and Top Priority. Gerry McAvoy has stated that the Gallagher band performed several TV and radio shows across Europe, including Beat-Club in Bremen, Germany and the Old Grey Whistle Test. He recorded two Peel Sessions, both in February 1973 and containing the same tracks, but only the first was broadcast. Along with Little Feat and Roger McGuinn, Gallagher performed the first Rockpalast live concert at the Grugahalle, Essen, Germany in 1977.
Gallagher collaborated with Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters on their respective London Sessions in the mid 1970s. He played on Lonnie Donegan’s final album. He was David Coverdale’s second choice (after Jeff Beck) to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple. Gallagher chose to perform in his own band.
In the 1980s he continued recording, producing Jinx, Defender, and Fresh Evidence. After Fresh Evidence, he embarked on a tour of the United States. In addition he played with Box of Frogs which was a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds, who released their first album in 1984. Former Yardbirds guitarists Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page also guested on their first and second albums, respectively. Becoming obsessive over details and plagued by self-doubt, Gallagher nevertheless retained a loyal fanbase. During this period he stated “I agonize too much”.
Rory Gallagher (guitar, vocals)
1970–1972: Gerry McAvoy (bass guitar), Wilgar Campbell (drums)
1972–1976: Gerry McAvoy (bass), Lou Martin (piano, keyboards), Rod de’Ath (drums)
1976–1981: Gerry McAvoy (bass), Ted McKenna (drums)
1981–1991: Gerry McAvoy (bass), Brendan O’Neil (drums) + frequent guest: Mark Feltham (harmonica)
1992–1994: David Levy (bass), Jim Levaton (keyboards), John Cooke (keyboards), Richard Newman (drums) + frequent guest: Mark Feltham (harmonica)
According to sources close to Rory, including his brother Donal, Rory had a great fear of flying. He also had a great deal of trust in doctors and medicine. Combinations of prescription medication and alcohol use resulted in severe liver damage. Despite this he continued touring. By the time of his final performance on 10 January 1995 in the Netherlands, he was visibly sick. His cause of death was complications from a liver transplant, that became necessary and was nearly successful. It is suggested that a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection possibly developed. His health quickly worsened and he died in London on 14 June 1995. He was unmarried and had no children.
Gallagher was buried in St Oliver’s Cemetery, on the Clash Road just outside Ballincollig near Cork City, Ireland. His headstone is a replica of an award he received in 1972 for International Guitarist of the Year.
In 2003, Wheels Within Wheels, a collection of acoustic tracks, was released posthumously by Gallagher’s brother Donal Gallagher. Collaborators on this album included Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, The Dubliners and Lonnie Donegan.
Many modern day musicians, including The Edge from U2, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Davy Knowles, Janick Gers of Iron Maiden, Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa, cite Gallagher as an inspiration in their formative musical years.
Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, relates: “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.” In 2010, Gallagher was ranked #42 on Gibson.com’s List of their Top 50 Guitarists of All Time.
- Jimi Hendrix was cited in a 1969 interview shortly after Woodstock: Interviewer: “So Jimi, what’s it like to be the best guitarist in the world?” Jimi: “I dunno, ask Rory Gallagher.”
- On 25 October 1997 a tribute sculpture to Gallagher was unveiled in the newly renamed Rory Gallagher Place (formerly St. Paul’s St. Square) in his hometown of Cork. The sculptor was a childhood friend of Gallagher, Geraldine Creedon. The two grew up together in the McCurtain Street area of the city. The band who played at the unveiling of the statue was the Dave McHugh band, who formed Ireland’s first tribute to Gallagher, ‘Aftertaste’ in 1995.
- There is a Rory Gallagher Corner at Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, Dublin, where a life-size bronze statue in the shape of his Stratocaster has been installed. Some of those who attended the unveiling include The Edge of U2 and the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
- In 2004 the Rory Gallagher Music Library was opened in Cork.
- In 2006 a plaque was unveiled at the Ulster Hall in Belfast.
- A street in Ris-Orangis, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, was renamed Rue Rory Gallagher.
- New York City-based Celtic rock band Black 47 paid tribute to Rory Gallagher on their 1996 major-label release, “Green Suede Shoes.” The track titled “Rory” features vocalist/guitarist Larry Kirwan delivering a passionate and heart-felt tribute to Rory Gallagher’s talent and unrealized stardom. The song lauds his musical prowess and potential greatness (“Hey Rory, you’re off to London / Playing with a band called Taste … / On your night you could even leave Hendrix in the dust”), the awe that a young Kirwan felt towards Gallagher (“Hero came back to Dublin / … long hair flyin’ / Blue denims dripping with sweat / Bolts of lightenin’ in your fingers / Pride of bein’ the best”) and expressing dismay at the loss of such a talent.
- Flynn Amps manufacture a Rory Gallagher signature Hawk pedal cloned from Gallagher’s 1970s pedal.
- On 2 June 2010, a life-sized bronze statue of Gallagher was unveiled in the town centre of Ballyshannon.
- Rory Gallagher – 1971 (BPI: 100,000)
- Deuce – 1971 (BPI: 100,000)
- Blueprint – 1973 (BPI: 100,000)
- Tattoo – 1973 (BPI: 100,000)
- Against the Grain – 1975 (BPI: 100,000) Rolling Stone review
- Calling Card – 1976 (BPI: 60,000) Rolling Stone review
- Photo-Finish – 1978 (BPI: 60,000)
- Top Priority – 1979 (BPI: 60,000)
- Jinx – 1982 (BPI: 60,000)
- Defender – 1987 (BPI: 60,000)
- Fresh Evidence – 1990 (BPI: 60,000)
- Wheels Within Wheels – 2003
- Notes From San Francisco-2011