Sunday, March 25, 2012

The #47 Guitarist of the Rock Era: Rory Gallagher

This Guitarist is yet another who was self-taught; he combined R&B into his own unique style. Not widely known but popular and much-loved by his fans, he checks in at #47:
#47:  Rory Gallagher, The Taste, solo
33 years as an active guitarist

William Rory Gallagher was born March 2, 1948 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland.  He formed the group Taste in the late 1960's but is probably best known for his solo albums.  He was a dedicated musician who loved what he did and it showed in his performances.

Gallagher and his family settled in Cork and Rory went to North Monastery School.  Both his father and mother were musically inclined and encourage him in that area; at age nine, Rory received his first guitar.  Already showing talent on the ukelele, Rory used that knowledge to teach himself to play his new instrument.  He started out performing on the acoustic in his youth, then purchased an electric guitar with prize money won in talent contests.  In 1961, Gallagher bought a 1961 Fender Stratocaster that became his favorite guitar throughout his life.

Rory became a fan of skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio and soon, Gallagher began playing folk, blues and rock.  As he was unable to afford albums, Rory stayed up to listen to Radio Luxembourg, where he could hear the songwriters and musicians who inspired him.  Those included Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly.  Gallagher learned to play side guitar and soon became proficient on the bass, mandolin, banjo coral sitar and alto saxophone.  He began playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran and soon discovered Muddy Waters.

Gallagher began playing with Irish showbands while a young teenager.  Fontana was a sextet which played popular music and toured Ireland and the United Kingdom.  By 1965, Rory had succeeded in molding Fontanta into a more rhythm and blues band.  

When that group disbanded, Gallagher returned to Ireland and decided to form his own group called the Taste in 1966.  In 1968, the group consisted of Gallagher on guitar and vocals, drummer John Wilson and bassist Richard McCracken.  Taste played regularly at the famous Marquee Club in London, and opened for Cream at their farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall and for Blind Faith on a North American tour.  Taste put out a self-titled album and a follow-up, On the Boards but broke up after their appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

Gallagher then toured as a solo performer and released his self-titled debut album.  Bassist Gerry McAvoy backed him up and would continue working with him for 20 years.  Gallagher recorded Deuce in 1971 and was voted as the International Top Musician of the year in Melody Maker magazine, ahead of Eric Clapton.  Gallagher recorded ten albums that decade, many of which made the album chart in the U.K., but his fame did not spread worldwide.

Despite this, Gallagher sold over 30 million albums, a highly impressive total considering his lack of exposure.  But it was his lengthy live performances that won him his most acclaim. The 1974 movie Irish Tour '74 is a documentary of those performances.  Gallagher, Little Feat and Roger McGuinn performed at the first Rockpalast live concert at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany in 1977.  

Rory worked with his idol Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis on their London Sessions albums and played on Lonnie Donegan's final album.  

In the 1980's, Gallagher recorded the albums Jinx, Defender and Fresh Evidence and toured the United States following the release of the latter.  He played with the group Box of Frogs, formed in 1983 by former members of the Yardbirds.  Former Yardbirds guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck also played on the Box of Frogs' first two albums.  

As mentioned, Rory's favorite guitar was his 1961 Stratocaster.  He greatly modified the unit to include five Sperzel turning pegs and one Gotoh.  The pickups were also changed and Gallagher disconnected the bottom tone pot and rewired it so he had just the basic master tone control and the master volume control.  Gallagher also installed a 5-way selector switch instead of the 3-way.  The guitar also had a replacement neck and a "hump" in the scratch plate which moved the neck pickup closer to the neck on the bass side.

Gallagher used several different amplifiers during his career, but preffered smaller "combo" amplifiers rather than the large stacks.  While with Taste, Rory used the Vox AC30 with a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster.  Brian May of Queen has said that he began using the Vox AC30 after talking to Gallagher.  Flynn Amps now makes a Rory Gallagher Signature Haawk Trebel Booster pedal modeled after Gallagher's original unit.

In the early 1970's, Rory began using Fender Bassman and Twin amplifiers along with his Hawk booster.  As he began moving towards a hard rock sound, Gallagher began using Ampeg VT40 and VT22 amps and Marshall combos.  He also used Stramp 2100a and PCL Vintage amps.

Because of heavy prescription medications and alcohol, Gallagher's liver began to fail him.  He gave his last concert January 10, 1995 in the Netherlands.  Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died from complications June 14 of that year in London at the age of 47.

Many guitarists, including Gary Moore, the Edge of U2, Slash of Guns N' Roses, Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest cite Gallagher as one of their inspirations.  

On October 25, 1997 a tribute sculpture to Gallagher was unveiled in the newly renamed Rory Gallagher Place in Cork.  There is a Rory Gallagher Corner at Meeting House Square in Dublin, where a life-size bronze Stratocaster has been installed.  In 2004, the Rory Gallagher Music Library was opened in Cork and in 2006, a plaque was unveiled honoring Gallagher at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  A street in Paris, France was renamed Rue Rory Gallagher in his honor.  On June 2, 2010, a life-sized bronze statue of Gallagher was unveiled in the Ballyshannon town centre and an annual Blues festival is held in his honor.

Rory Gallagher, though not widely known, made a big impact on guitar.  His enthusiasm for playing and performing made him popular among his fans.  Gallagher ranks #47 for the Rock Era*...

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