William Rory Gallagher (/ˈrɔːri ˈɡæləhər/ GAL-ə-hər; 2 March 1948 – 14 June 1995) was an Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and brought up in Cork, Gallagher recorded solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after forming the band Taste during the late 1960s. His albums have sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London at the age of 47.
Gallagher, at the Manchester Apollo in 1982
|Birth name||William Rory Gallagher|
|Also known as||Liam Rory Gallagher|
2 March 1948|
Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland
14 June 1995 (aged 47)|
London, United Kingdom
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, bandleader, producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, mandolin, saxophone, sitar, harmonica, banjo, dulcimer, dobro|
|Labels||Polydor, Chrysalis, Buddah, Castle|
Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal in 1948. His father Daniel was employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board, who were constructing Cathaleen's Fall hydroelectric power station on the Erne River above the town. The family moved to Derry City, where his younger brother Dónal was born in 1949.
His mother, Monica, and the two boys later moved to Cork, where the brothers were raised. Rory attended North Monastery School. Daniel Gallagher had played the accordion and sang with the Tír Chonaill Céilí Band while 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 to pursue music by their parents. At age nine, Gallagher received his first guitar from them. He built on his burgeoning ability on ukulele in teaching himself to play the guitar and perform at minor functions. After winning a cash prize in a talent contest when he was twelve, he bought his first guitar. Gallagher began performing in his adolescence with both his acoustic guitar, and an electric guitar. However, it was a 1961 Fender Stratocaster, which he purchased three years later for £100, that became his primary instrument and was most associated with him during his career.
Gallagher was initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio. Donegan frequently covered blues and folk performers from the United States. He relied entirely on radio programs and television. Occasionally, 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. He 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 Lead Belly. Initially, Gallagher struck out after just an acoustic sound. Singing and later using a brace for his harmonica, Gallagher taught himself to play slide guitar. Further, throughout the next few years of his musical development, Gallagher began learning to play alto saxophone, bass, mandolin, banjo, and the coral sitar with varying degrees of proficiency. 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, 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 mainstream pop music, skirting along some of Chuck Berry's songs and by 1965, he had successfully moulded Fontana into "The Impact", with a change in their line-up into an R&B group that played gigs in Ireland and Spain until disbanding in London. Gallagher left with the bassist Oliver Tobin 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.
Having completed a musical apprenticeship in the showbands, and influenced by the increasing popularity of beat groups during the early 1960s, Gallagher formed "The Taste", which was later renamed simply, "Taste", a blues rock and R&B power trio, in 1966. Initially, the band was composed of Gallagher and two Cork musicians, Eric Kitteringham (died 2013) and Norman Damery. However, by 1968, they were replaced with two musicians from Belfast, featuring Gallagher on guitar and vocals, drummer John Wilson, and bassist Richard McCracken.
Performing extensively in the UK, the group played regularly at the Marquee Club, supporting both Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert, and the blues supergroup Blind Faith on a tour of North America. Managed by Eddie Kennedy, the trio released the albums Taste and On The Boards, and two live recordings, Live Taste and Live at the Isle of Wight.
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 the album Deuce.
In the same year he was voted Melody Maker's International Top Guitarist 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.
Gallagher played and recorded what he said was "in me all the time, and not just something I turn on ...". Though he sold over thirty million albums worldwide, it was his marathon live performances that won him greatest acclaim. He is documented in Irish Tour '74, a film directed by Tony Palmer.
During the heightened periods of political unrest in Northern Ireland, as other artists were warned not to tour, Gallagher was resolute about touring Ireland at least once a year during his career, winning him the dedication of thousands of fans, and in the process, becoming a role model for other aspiring young Irish musicians.
Gallagher admitted in several interviews that at first there were not any international Irish acts until Van Morrison, Gallagher, and later, Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy grew popular during the 1970s. The line-up which included Rod de'Ath on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards, performed together between 1973-76. 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 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—a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds. Becoming obsessive over details and plagued by self-doubt, Gallagher nevertheless retained a loyal fanbase. During this period he stated "I agonize too much".
In addition to Gallagher himself (on guitar and vocals), over the years Gallagher's band included:
Gallagher played a worn sunburst 1961 Stratocaster (Serial Number 64351) for some years. It was reputedly the first in Ireland, and was ordered from Fender by Jim Connolly, a member of The Irish Showband. In 1961, Connolly ordered a cherry red Stratocaster through Crowley's music shop of Cork's McCurtain Street. When Fender shipped a sunburst Stratocaster instead, it was put up on sale in 1963 as a second-hand instrument, which Gallagher bought in August 1963 for just under £100. Speaking about Gallagher's purchase, his brother Dónal recalled: "His dream ambition was to have a guitar like Buddy Holly... This Stratocaster was in the store as a used instrument, it was 100 pounds... in today's money you couldn't even compare you might as well say it was a million pounds... my mother was saying we'll be in debt for the rest of our lives and Rory said well actually with a guitar like this I can play both parts, rhythm and lead, we won't need a rhythm player so I can earn more money and pay it off so the Stratocaster became his partner for life if you like."
The guitar was extensively modified by Gallagher. The tuning pegs and the nut were replaced, the latter interchanged a number of times. The pickguard was also changed during Gallagher's time with Taste. Only the middle pick-up is original. The final modification was the wiring: Gallagher disconnected the bottom tone pot and rewired it so he had just a master tone control along with the master volume control. He installed a 5-way selector switch in place of the vintage 3-way one.
In late October 2011, Rory's brother Dónal brought the guitar out of retirement to allow Joe Bonamassa to perform with it on his two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. Bonamassa opened both night's performances with his rendition of "Cradle Rock" using Gallagher's Stratocaster.
Gallagher used a number of models of amplifiers during his career, generally preferring smaller 'combo' amplifiers to more powerful 'stacks' popular with rock and hard rock guitarists. To make up for the relative lack of power on stage, he would link several different combo amps together.
When Gallagher was with Taste, he used a single Vox AC30 with a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster plugged into the 'normal' input. Gallagher also used an Ibanez Tube Screamer, and several Boss effects, including a flanger.
In the 1970s, Gallagher began to use Fender amplifiers with a Hawk booster. Later in the 1970s, when Gallagher was moving towards a hard rock sound, he experimented with Ampeg VT40 and VT22 amplifiers, and also used Marshall combos.
Gallagher was an early adopter of Boss ME-5 all-in-one floor based effects units, and used such a unit for his live work up until his death in the mid-1990s. He also used Stramp 2100a amplifiers, which can be seen in his appearances on the German Beat Club program. Another company that built amplifiers for Gallagher was PCL Vintage Amp.
In the later years of his life, Gallagher developed a phobia of flying. To overcome this, he received a prescription for a powerful sedative. This medication, combined with his 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 ill and the tour had to be cancelled. Gallagher was admitted to King's College Hospital in London in March 1995, and it was only then that the extent of his ill health became apparent: his liver was failing and the doctors determined that, in spite of his young age, a liver transplant was the only possible course of action. After thirteen weeks in intensive care, while waiting to be transferred to a convalescent home, his health suddenly worsened when he contracted a staphylococcal (MRSA) infection, and he died on 14 June 1995, at the age of 47. He was unmarried and had no children.
Gallagher's body was buried in St Oliver's Cemetery, on the Clash Road just outside Ballincollig near Cork City, Ireland. The grave's headstone is in the image 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. Collaborators on this album included Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, The Dubliners, Spanish flamenco guitarist Juan Martin 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, James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Gary Moore, 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 No. 42 on Gibson.com's List of their Top 50 Guitarists of All Time. Gallagher was also listed on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, ranked at 57th place.
In April 2014, at the time of the auction of Gallagher's Patrick Eggle 'JS Berlin Legend' guitar, the BBC noted: "Eric Clapton credited him with ‘getting me back into the blues’. The Rolling Stones wanted him to replace Mick Taylor and when Jimi Hendrix was asked how it felt to be the world's greatest guitarist, he is reported to have said: ‘I don't know, go ask Rory Gallagher’" (but this may be a variant of an urban legend ).
Best Medium Festival: Rory Gallagher Tribute Festival