Rory Gallagher was an Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer, born in Ballyshannon, Ireland on March 2nd, 1948.
Rory Gallagher developed a great interest in American music at a very young age, through radio stations which broadcasted blues and jazz acts. Amongst them, Radio Luxembourg and AFN, the latter having been brought up by the American Army that had set up a naval base in the port of Derry. Gallagher discovered some of his most significant influences through these radio programs: Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Bronzy and Lead Belly. In 1956, Rory, his brother Dónal and their mother Monica moved to Cork. By the age of 9, Rory received his very first acoustic guitar and taught himself how to play. He mostly performed in Parish Centres and Schools Halls around Cork. Three years later, Rory won a talent contest and spent the money prize on his very first electric guitar.
In 1963, Rory purchased his 1961 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster for £100 – reportedly the first Strat ever brought to Ireland. The guitar would later remain his first and most-used guitar until his death in 1995. The same year, Rory joined The Fontana Showband and toured around Ireland, playing the popular hits of the time. In 1965, the band changed their name to The Impact Showband and toured around Ireland, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany. In 1966, Rory left The Impact and formed his band: Taste.
Taste was composed of Rory and two Cork musicians, Eric Kitteringham (bass) and Norman Damery (drums). They were later replaced by John Wilson (drums) and Richard McCracken (bass) in 1968. The band quickly established a base in the UK’s flourishing blues scene, performing regularly at both Belfast’s Maritime and the famous Marquee Club in London. For four years, Taste enjoyed a growing success touring across the UK, USA and Canada as support band for Cream and Blind Faith. The band released two successful studio albums: Taste and On the Boards. They also released two live albums, including Live at The Isle of Wight, recorded during their outstanding performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. However, the band split up in 1970 due to management disputes.
At that time, Rory Gallagher was already recognised as one of the finest guitarists in the world and was voted Melody Maker’s International Top Guitarist of the Year in 1971, ahead of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Throughout the years of his musical development, Gallagher also learned to play the harmonica, alto saxophone, bass, mandolin, banjo, and the coral sitar.
In the aftermath of Taste split, Rory started recording and touring under his name and went on to even greater international fame. His band then consisted of Gerry McAvoy (the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship) and Wilgar Campbell (drums). The 1970s were Rory’s most prolific period with the releases of eight studio albums and two live albums in that decade: Rory Gallagher (1970), Deuce (1971), Live in Europe (1972), Blueprint (1973), Tattoo (1973), Irish Tour ’74 (1974), Against the Grain (1975), Calling Card (1976), Photo-Finish (1978) and Top Priority (1979). Gallagher and his band toured extensively around the world, including Belfast where he played regularly throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a time when many other musicians and bands chose to stay away.
From 1973 to 1976, Rory’s band line-up changed, with Rod de’ Ath replacing Wilgar Campbell on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards. The band eventually dropped down to a trio again in 1978. In addition to his solo albums, Rory also collaborated with Jerry Lee Lewis and Muddy Waters on their respective London Session in the mid-1970s.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, Gallagher produced three studio albums and a live album: Stage Struck (1980), Jinx (1982), Defender (1987) and Fresh Evidence (1990). During that period, Gallagher developed a phobia of flying. To overcome this phobia, Gallagher received a prescription for a powerful sedative from his doctors. This medication, combined with his alcohol use, resulted in severe liver damage. On his final performance on January 10th 1995 in the Netherlands, Rory collapsed on stage. The tour was shortly cancelled after the incident. In March 1995, Gallagher was admitted to King’s College Hospital in London and diagnosed with liver failure. After thirteen weeks in intensive care following a successful transplant operation, his health suddenly worsened when he contracted a staphylococcal (MRSA) infection, and died on June 14th 1995, at the age of 47.
Rory Gallagher is by far my favourite musician – and Spotify can prove it (I’ve spent 152 hours listening to Rory Gallagher last year. 152 HOURS.)
Rory Gallagher never attained major star status, despite his great success throughout his entire career. To this day, 30 million album copies were sold around the world. He earned the respect and admiration of other prestigious musicians, including Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones (who tried to hire him in the 1970s). He also had a significant influence on guitar players such as Brian May, Slash and Johnny Marr. Rory Gallagher was a self-taught virtuoso who, unlike many of his musical peers, shunned the traps of fame and stardom. He is undoubtedly one of the most criminally underrated guitar players and blues/rock artists of all time.
Rory Gallagher is particularly commemorated in Ireland. A bronze statue in Ballyshannon, a sculpture in Cork and a local theatre named after him, a mounted guitar in Dublin, a plaque in Belfast and an annual festival in Ireland. There’s a Rue Rory Gallagher in Paris, tribute concerts held each year in his honour around the world, and his famously battered paint stripped Sunburst Stratocaster has been marketed by Fender in a tribute model.
Let’s celebrate Rory Gallagher’s music on what would have been his 71st birthday today. If you like blues and rock’n’roll, go check him out! Trust me; you won’t be disappointed.