Rory Gallagher was a man of contradictions. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, he spoke with a soft Cork accent; the quietest man in the room, he was one of the great champions of the Blues. He lived for the music and, in a way, he died for it.
It’s been fifty years since he released ‘Live in Europe’, arguably Rock’s greatest live album, and it’s been 27 years since he died.
Although a household name, most Irish people never heard his music, as he was rarely played on popular radio lest he burn the ears of God-fearing punters with his blues-based explorations. Yet he is one of Ireland’s best known and most revered musicians and has sold over 30 million albums.
His peers were no less impressed with his raw talent, when asked what it was like to be the world’s greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix replied: “I don’t know – ask Rory Gallagher .”
Meanwhile, Eric Clapton was so enamored with his playing that he asked Rory’s band, Taste, to open for Cream at their legendary final gig at the Royal Albert Hall.
Heady stuff for a guy barely out of his teens who grew up on the banks of the Lee River, far from the bluesy Mississippi Delta.
But little Rory Gallagher, like little Ivan Morrison, cut his musical teeth in a much maligned Irish institution – the showband.
At the age of 15, Rory joined the Fontana Showband of Cork. It was around the same age that Van hooked up with The Monarchs of Belfast.
From personal experience, I know that showband discipline tends to make or break musicians. Due to the presence of brass players, you were expected to become proficient in almost every key; and you played everything danceable in the Top Twenty, be it Pop, Rock, Ska, Country, Trad, Jazz, etc.
Rory came of age in The Fontana (later called The Impact) and learned life playing at US Army bases in Europe and the UK.
Two years later, in Belfast, he formed Taste, an explosive three-man Blues Rock band fronted by Eddie Kennedy who kept them on the road for four years in a run-down transport van, but blew their minds wherever they went. went.
Their last big gig was at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 where, in front of huge crowds, they gave Hendrix, The Who and The Doors a run for their money, then quickly broke up.
Corkman, 22, brought in Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums, and with his brother Donal conducting, Rory Gallagher set out to make his dreams come true.
I was going to see him as soon as I could. Can you imagine what it meant to young Irishmen still trapped in the dregs of Éamon de Valera’s dated dreams?
With Northern Ireland going up in smoke, we didn’t have much to celebrate, but we had Rory, and he was the best Blues Rock guitarist/singer in the universe.
Every year he would come home and do a Christmas tour. These concerts were incredible.
Rory shredded his sweat-stained guitar for hours, and it wasn’t just for himself; he urged us to go beyond ourselves, to dream big, and to make sure you were at least a donkey’s roar away from those dreams.
After emigrating, I saw every one of his gigs in New York, from Bottom Line to Rod Stewart opening arenas and tearing it down.
Rory gave every iota of himself on stage. Rodney just seemed like he was having a bad night after young Corkman burned down his stage.
Getting to the heart of Rory’s disappearance would take more than a column. Suffice to say that the road is a monster, sooner or later it forces you to face your demons, and no one comes out without scars.
You’ll never get to see Ireland’s greatest musician again, but you can still experience him.
Next time you’re feeling a little down, listen to Rory’s “Live in Europe” album. It may be fifty years old, but it will shake the cobwebs from your soul and bring a huge smile to your face, with only the hint of a tear when you consider what could have been.