23 March 2019 (released)
05 April 2019
When Rory Gallagher died unexpectedly after a short illness on June 14, 1995, the music world was robbed of a true guitar legend and one of the few genuinely nice guys in the business. The Donegal-born, Cork-raised, guitar-man remains in many minds one of the best guitar players ever to have graced a stage. Twenty-four years after his untimely death, his popularity remains as high as ever, with a whole new generation of fans discovering his music all over the world.
Donal Gallagher, Rory’s brother and long-time manager rarely gives interviews; and as Rory toured all over the world relentlessly, I asked him what his experience of Rory’s coming to play in Victoria, BC, Canada was like.
“Oh, lovely Victoria. I fondly remember taking the 10 minutes plus flight over to the island from Vancouver so that Rory could perform. Rory played in Vancouver with his band Taste in 1969. He also played in Victoria twice, once in 1973 and again in July of 1974.”
During the July 1974 tour a few of the local Victoria musicians who were at that concert at the Memorial Arena had this to say about Rory. Phil N. Rossner a long-time fan remembers the concert well and said “Rory hit the stage like a tornado. Never had I seen a performer that exuded so much energy. He is one of only two performers that gave me shivers of excitement up and down my spine (the other was BB King).” Thomas Anderson and Mike Griffiths were also there and were fortunate to meet Rory backstage before the concert. As Thomas recalls, “Mike and I knew where his dressing room was, and we knocked on the door and it was answered by Rory himself! He greeted us warmly and he could see that we were fans and I was holding an album to get signed which he did. Rory was scrutinizing the album cover intently as he hadn’t seen the Canadian edition, which was much plainer than the British edition. They both asked Rory who his musical influences were, and Rory said that he liked Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Mike thought to himself that Rory looked a bit like Eddie. Thomas recalls that they eventually got around to talking about Rory’s beloved 61 Stratocaster. Rory turned around and walked over to the guitar which was in its case and came back and put it in my arms! I couldn’t believe it! What a thrill! Rory was so down to earth and unassuming, and it was the experience of a life-time getting to meet him and hold his Strat.” Robert Lifton another fan of Rory’s told me of his experience at the Memorial Arena concert, “I can add he poured out every ounce of energy he had - a blistering guitar tone with inventive lines and relentless push - very charismatic personally and totally authentic. Great choice of material and good song writing. Such a great player and still one my favorites who used alternate tunings well. I was also struck by the stack of Fender Twin Reverbs he had on stage - those suckers have massive output. Just a great show and I left with a glow. I still have a chunk of his albums.”
Donal what is currently happening with the Rory Gallagher estate and Museum in Cork, where Rory was raised?
“Well I have been looking at a few building spaces in Cork and we’re looking at funding for the city to do that - but it’s more of an Arts Center rather than a Museum that we want to display Rory’s work. I’m looking at having a primary space for Rory’s work principally through Europe and then beyond for the younger artists and the Europeans who are quite keen on that happening. There’s a museum in Marseille called The Museum of Mediterranean Civilization. They look at Rory as an iconic European and have selected a few people for that and Rory was one of them. There’s also the Rory Gallagher Jazz Café in Montreux which has been part of a creative process as well. So, I want it to be a living space where young musicians can do affordable recordings and rehearsals. The difficulty with the material of touring exhibitions and displaying Rory’s guitars is the insurance coverage but I certainly will be focusing on the Arts Center for his work this year. So, there is a passion for Rory’s work to be displayed in Cork as well as in the north in Belfast where the Titanic exhibition was, and they would love to have a museum for Rory there as well. What I can tell you is that Rory’s 61 Stratocaster will be on display at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Clevelend in the second part of this year so I’m looking forward to that. There’s a lot of pokers in the fire which is exciting. My son Daniel Gallagher who lives in New York and has been working on projects for Rory, is currently working on a new album of Rory which will be released later in the year. I’m leaving that up to Daniel to work with and pass the torch along, so to speak. My son is a musician as well and is working on a new album himself. So, I’m leaving that up to the younger generation. There will be some unreleased songs on the album in this compilation that Daniel is working on. He’s the guitarist and I’m certainly not. Rory desperately wanted me to learn how to play the guitar and be a rhythm guitar player for him.”
Rory obviously came from a musical background with your mother being a singer and your father a very successful musician as well in the north of Ireland. Can you share a bit more about music in Rory’s youth?
“Yes, my father was a very successful accordionist and won champions in Derry where we were born. He also had a dance orchestra with an Irish/Scottish theme. My mother was from the other end of the country in Cork and she had quite an operatic voice. There was always singing in the home growing up and stage people coming through the house. Rory being the older child locked in on that, and at that point in time we were living in Derry in the early 50s. That port had been given over to the Navy after the second war and was the Naval base for the Americans. So, they had built their own radio station for the Americans which used to dominate the radio airwaves, if you like. Rory picked up on this and was listening to this very different type of music. I remember him listening to things like The Voice of America, which was a jazz hour. He would have been about 7 years old at this time and he managed to surf the radio, but couldn’t always listen to it at home, so he would often go over to the neighbors to listen to these radio shows. There were a lot of blues shows as well which Rory was drawn to and imagine being introduced to the Blues at such a young age. Being the younger kid, it scared me because of the clarity of the voices and the commonality with the devil so to speak from these early Blues musicians. The American jazz musicians would have these big baritone voices and Rory was hugely influenced by them and he went back to that in his music in the 60s. I thought at one-point Rory would switch from guitar to the saxophone. He was influenced by Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. The BBC used to do a program once a week called the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Hour and he’s still alive and performing today. It’s crazy as a small child listening to this guy and watching him today play the trombone at nearly 90. Chris’ band include Lonnie Donegan and then Lonnie kind of became the guitar man of Britain. The skiffle music he did with Chris Barber which brought in other musicians and other blues players from America. There were still a lot of people travelling around after the war including Rambling Jack Elliott and people like that. There was Derroll Adams who was country music and folk. This of course broadened Rory’s music, and of course he became obsessed with Lonnie Donegan. He was also bringing Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie material and he was introducing that to the European audience. So, Rory had sort of picked up on the American blues musicians which included his hero Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. Rory loved the blues and he was trying to express himself at such a young age and my parents didn’t quite know what do, as the guitar wasn’t a common instrument in Ireland at that time. I remember my father Daniel Gallagher was trying to make something out of elastic bands, and a round cheese box and he wondered if Rory wanted a banjo; but then my father had a friend who had a guitar and he brought it to the house and Rory’s eyes were like saucers and that was it for him. For Christmas my parents bought him a little plastic guitar which was more like a little ukulele. Rory taught himself how to play by this time and my mother was making a conscious effort to move us from the north of Ireland down to Cork where she came from. We had been over to England and back and things were very unsettled with post war things; it was a very difficult time. My mother was very clairvoyant for lack of a better word. She basically could foresee what was going to happen and she felt it was time to leave Derry. She promised Rory if he settled in to school in Cork and was a good boy, she said he would get a real wooden guitar. We had been to some schools up and down the island but then settled in at the Monastery in Cork. Everything at the first school we did was in Gaelic and they didn’t do Gaelic in the north of Ireland. So again, we settled in the Monastery which was Catholic. We settled in at my grandmother’s house in Cork - she had what was a small lodging, but it was principally a public bar. It was a spacious location right in the heart of the city. This was my mother’s maternal side and Rory was extremely close with his grandmother.”
What happened next for Rory musically?
“Rory continued to practice the guitar and then basically after this time Rory wanted to go electric. He of course wanted to get an amplifier and wanted to constantly upgrade with his instruments. The amplifiers became very loud and it became too much for our household. We had customers in the bar, so this wasn’t conducive for Rory to practice anymore at home. Rory also by this point had a love of the stage and he wanted to get out and perform so he started performing in social concerts and little church halls, and so forth. By now Rory’s material had changed and he wanted to play Rock and Roll. He couldn’t play that in terms of the clergy so that was certainly symbolic; and talk about fundamentalism of that time in the church. He then answered an advertisement in the local paper for a showband and that was semi-professional and they were looking for someone who could play a riff. To be able to perform in the bars at that time you had to be 18, so at the age of 15 Rory lied and said he was 17 and would be going on 18 soon and of course they offered him the job right away. He was only 15 and made himself look older. Rory went into rehearsals with these guys, and they were playing very much in the ballrooms and he would play for 5 to 7 hours an evening; at that time, they were an 8- or 9-piece band. When the band members would go off for their tea breaks, it gave Rory and opportunity to go off and play Buddy Holly and rock and roll. They would also play country and ballroom music which was an excellent way to wet your feet.”
Donal at this point I suppose your mother was on her own raising two young boys, yet she was very supportive in what he wanted to do?
“Yes, she did, I suppose because she knew that my dad had that musical gene he was known as a wizard of the accordion. He had quite a good reputation and had joined the Irish Military and he had entertained the troops. People adored my father in Cork city because he was so gifted. My mother was recognizing that Rory had that same gift. It’s not about the instrument you play but you know people have a talent and my mother didn’t deny that and thought okay he’s going to become a musician. He wanted to be a professional musician and of course back at that day everyone was saying what is your day job going to be. Rory continued to play with the showbands, but I didn’t have much involvement because I was that much younger, and Rory didn’t want to blow his cover with his age. We would get visiting bands, for instance, I remember the Everly Brothers coming to town and the only way by this point Rory and I got to go onstage together was because we would perform the Everly Brothers and we would harmonize. At that time the Everly brothers were Rock and Roll but no one found them offensive. It was all kind of innocent, “Wake up Little Suzie”, but it was rock and roll. I was allowed into the ballroom for that occasion and I got to meet the Everly brothers and that was an unbelievable experience. At this point Rory got to control what music was coming into our home. Later, I remember the Animals coming to town and Rory was supporting them when they had their first hit. Eric Burdon would perform, and The Spencer Davis group would come over and I remember Rory meeting Stevie Winwood and he was only 17 then as was Rory. These bands weren’t as big as they are now and had just had their first hit singles. The Who played in Cork and I recently found in one of Rory’s diaries that he met Pete Townshend and Pete allowed him to play his Telecaster. By this point Rory got a sense of traveling abroad and really breaking out of Ireland. In fact, there’s a movie called the The Commitments and basically when Roddy Doyle wrote that, Rory was the model of the kid who wanted to change music in Ireland. So that was the parallel there, in fact in his book the last remark is “Let’s Go Back to Gallagher’s.” They were doing the screenplay and wanted to get Rory to play the lead part of the older gentleman because he had come full circle. They were pleading with Rory to do a screentest, but he was saying, no, no, and when Rory read the book there were so many swear words in it which he felt it was was just a sad commentary. Rory did eventually meet with Alan Parker, the Director and he wouldn’t allow me into the room to meet with him. When he came out, I asked him how it went, and Rory said he should stick to the trombone. I was shocked really and annoyed with him and at this point I knew he needed to change his life desperately.”
Donal you have worked with your late brother since you were both teenagers and went on to become his road manager for Taste and continued to work with him through the solo years. Taste was formed in the late 1960s and there is a lot of footage of the band. Is there any more footage of those days that the fans haven’t seen yet?
“Yes, there is a lot of footage and most of the documentation is out there. There may be some footage somewhere, and I have done as much research and digging as I could there. There was some live footage of ‘On the Boards’ which was filmed at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. That was filmed for television and was transmitted almost right away. It was done by an independent guy from BBC and he took the tapes away. I was told about 15 years ago that those tapes existed somewhere in Belfast and that the guy had died, so I then I reached out to his wife. I also reached out to Gloria Hunniford, who had her own talk show and was quite well known. Gloria’s daughter Caron Keating adored Rory and Gloria even had Rory on her program. Sadly, Caron Keating died of cancer and she was in the process of tracking down the footage, but that had come to a halt and she didn’t really want to go back to her relatives to get them. Evidently Caron had gotten a hold of them, but she had died, and the BBC had no record, but you never know as things can resurface. In fact, I recently was contacted by a man who had a photograph of my grandmother in about 1953. His dad had an ice cream parlor opposite to my grandmother’s in Derry and he had parked his car in front of the road of my grandmother’s so he could go across the road and take a photograph of it. So that was completely out of the blue and so things do surface.”
Things do re-surface Donal. So that was quite sad that Caron Keating died and I’m wondering if she ever got to meet Rory as she adored him?
“She did get to meet Rory and in fact she became a celebrity in her own right having her own radio show before she died in the UK.”
After having success with the power trio Taste Rory released two studio albums and the Legendary Live at The Isle of Wight album in 1970. Rory went on to a spectacularly successful solo career. He released 11 studio albums and 5 live albums between 1971 and 1990. The consummate live artist and self-confessed road animal he toured relentlessly playing literally thousands of dates around the world including 25 full US tours and his fans adored him. Can you tell me more about this time?
“1992 actually. He didn’t like the travelling so much, but he enjoyed learning different cultures and he was so static and so informed politically to each country he went to. I remember trying to get a plane from Japan to Australia, and I ended up getting a plane to North Korea and Rory was like we’re in North Korea and people don’t even allow newspapers. When he was in Canada or the United States, he could tell you who the local candidate was; who was the local governor and what was going on politically. He just read constantly. Rory was absolutely very intelligent and well informed, a very well-read person. He was constantly reading and could pack it all in with performing and rehearsing all at the same time.”
Donal it’s no wonder Rory didn’t have time for a girlfriend?
“Well, I mean it wasn’t girlfriends in a sense, it was that his vocation was the guitar. He could see that his lifestyle wasn’t necessarily compatible with having a relationship. He never felt like he couldn’t go off and get married, it wasn’t like he felt it was one or the other and he would be cheating on his wife. It was just simply that it wasn’t his focus. He was a very sincere, genuine person and he would have been fine if he had taken the time out from the guitar to retire and get married. So effectively, because he had focused so much on the instrument and there was nothing getting in the way of that. Throughout his young, formative teen years, he never got to go to parties where boy meets girl’s situation, because he was a professional musician. He was touring, perfecting his craft and his art. So that was Rory’s ambition. He wanted to become the best musician he could possibly be, and he did. The celebrity and stardom factor for Rory, he just didn’t want to know about that.”
Tell me a bit more about Rory playing in Victoria and Vancouver, BC.
“I do remember coming to Victoria. I think it was 2 or 3 times, but I would have to check. We played in Vancouver of August 9, 69 because it was my birthday and I have the ticket from that concert still. That was the Blind Faith tour at the Pacific Coliseum. Additional dates in Vancouver were April 22, 1973 at the PNE Agrodome the Deep Purple/Fleetwood Mac tour; February 9, 1974, at the PNE Gardens; November 1, 1975, at the PNE Gardens; and December 19, 1979, at the Commodore Ballroom. We of course knew Eric Clapton very well from Cream and along with JJ Cale and the Delaney & Bonnie Friends Band. There was also Dave Mason and the number of musicians that Rory met on that 69 tour was extraordinary and he developed great friendships with guys like that. I believe we came to Victoria in 73 as well but will check and you spoke of Status Quo and that’s where Rory developed the denim and checked shirt period of his career. Victoria was very colonial. It was a very placid place with very friendly people and was a bit what we had in Ireland or missed in Ireland. Not a very different lifestyle but a different pace which was nice when you are on tour. And we thought to ourselves boy we could stop here for a while.”
Rory played with Muddy Waters and I wondered if you could talk about that for a bit?
“Muddy played in Hampstead and Rory and I went to see it and I remember it was like a bar with about 3 or 4 hundred people and we got to meet Muddy afterwards, in fact, Rory got to jam with him, and a guy called Alexis Korner. Alexis Korner had his own program on BBC World Service, and he had recognized Rory’s love of the blues and his style of playing. This was when Rory was still with Taste and he invited Rory into the studios to play with him about 68 and 69. He interviewed him about the blues and then the introduction to Muddy came and we went down to see Muddy play at the end of the Bind Faith tour. This was August of 1969 at a pub called O’Donnel’s. Then Muddy came to record his 1971 London sessions and it completely surprised Rory that he was the one selected to join Muddy. That would have been Muddy asking various people in the blues world and Chris Barber would have cited Rory as would Alexis Korner, so he had the godfather of the blues and Muddy wanted Rory which was beyond Rory’s expectations to have the opportunity. Muddy was here for about a week, and at the first session they did Rory already had a booking in Lester. So, the difficulty was getting Rory to leave the stage and ending at 11pm and the Session was starting after that. We were driving down the highway, and I won’t tell you what speed we were driving at and I was like, Rory you don’t have to do five encores. We got there and Muddy had a glass of champagne waiting and Rory was apologetic, and he felt he was lucky to have the job working with Muddy.”
So Donal, speaking of driving, is it true that Rory never had his license, and did he ride in Muddy’s car?
“No while Muddy was in town, the next day for the next session we were staying in the same hotel and Rory said go and check to see if Muddy’s okay, and the next thing we picked up Muddy and drove him around in our car. It was Rory’s car or the bands car, a Ford Zephyr Executive and Muddy had a leg injury and he was having difficulties. He said this is the first car I’ve been in Europe where I could stretch my legs. Rory didn’t want to sell the car after that. After Rory passed it was at my mother’s house, and she just couldn’t bear looking at the car and so she had it removed, because it was a reminder to her. Jerry Lee Lewis was in that car as well. Muddy loved it and Rory looked after him for the week. This was 1971.”
Donal you talked a bit about Rory’s fear of flying and his anxiety that came later in life and I’ve seen articles written about his downfall and that kind of angers me. Towards the end of Rory’s life, he became quite ill sadly. Was this accurate?
“Rory was holding so many hats, he was producing, recording and he was constantly on tour, being in the studio and plus engineers and business meetings and so forth. You do have to take it all in and he developed a terrible fear of flying. And we all took a drink, in fact we did more than Rory did. Physically it was taking its toll and most of the medicines he was taking are banned now, and of course it’s one pill is one thing, combined with the alcohol. I mean it was late on, the prescribed medication wasn’t a big issue. It was only in 1990 I got Rory into a clinic finally and the doctor was giving him too much medication, so we changed doctors for Rory but then the other doctor was more unscrupulous than the other one. This was very difficult, and he never smoked in his life and as far as I know never had a joint in his life. Rory didn’t understand the toxicology he was mixing in his body and it was like the spider catches the fly. Then the alcohol becomes the thing that gives you the energy so he would drink brandy and that gets you pumped up for a while but sooner or later the pendulum stops swinging.”
That really saddens me because had the doctors not prescribed these medications that Rory might still be here today?
“Indeed, absolutely. It angered me and I confronted Rory and he was so private and wouldn’t allow anybody in his house essentially so that it is not something or someone you couldn’t monitor, and those were the consequences, but there you go.”
One last question Donal. I’m quite excited to hear that an album is going to be coming out. Also, what are your thoughts about doing a movie on Rory, other than documentaries that have already been done?
“There’s been one slated for quite some time, and a movie is all about a script and the writer and a book. We’ve moved over to Universal, and they are very keen to start a budget. That’s ongoing, in fact, the appointment I need to get to here is with Eagle Rock. They’ve been doing all the Rory documentaries up until now. The movie will be happening sometime soon indeed. So, there will be a new Rory album out later this year, along with Rory’s Stratocaster exhibited at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As usual I will be attending the Rory Gallagher Festival, in Ballyshannon, Ireland this June where thousands of fans worldwide will come to celebrate the life and musical legacy of my brother Rory. “