Rory Gallagher

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Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher 1982.jpg
Gallagher, at the Manchester Apollo in 1982
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Rory Gallagher
Also known asLiam Rory Gallagher
Born(1948-03-02)2 March 1948
Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland
Origin Cork, Ireland
Died14 June 1995(1995-06-14) (aged 47)
London, United Kingdom
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, bandleader, producer
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, bass, mandolin, saxophone, harmonica, banjo, dulcimer, dobro
Years active1963–1995
Labels Polydor, Chrysalis, Buddah, Castle
Associated acts Taste

William Rory Gallagher ( /ˈrɔːriˈɡæləhər/ GAL-ə-hər; 2 March 1948 – 14 June 1995) [1] [2] was an Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, [3] 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. [4] [5]

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds, fifths or sevenths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Ballyshannon Town in Ulster, Ireland

Ballyshannon is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. It is located at the southern end of the county where the N3 from Dublin ends and the N15 crosses the River Erne. Incorporated in 1613, it is the oldest town in Ireland.


Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London at the age of 47. [6]

Early life

Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal in 1948. [7] 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. [8] The family moved to Derry City, where his younger brother Dónal was born in 1949. [7] [9]

Cathaleens Fall hydroelectric power station

Cathaleen's Fall hydroelectric power station is a hydroelectric plant located on the River Erne at Ballyshannon in County Donegal, Ireland. It is owned and operated by the ESB Group. The plant is also known as Ballyshannon.

River Erne river in Ireland and the UK

The River Erne in the northwest of the island of Ireland, is the second-longest river in Ulster flowing through Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It rises on the east shoulder of Slieve Glah mountain three miles south of Cavan in County Cavan, Republic of Ireland, and flows 80 miles (129 km) through Lough Gowna, Lough Oughter and Upper and Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to the sea at Ballyshannon, County Donegal back in the Republic. For 30 miles from Crossdoney in County Cavan to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, it is difficult to distinguish the river as it winds its way through interconnected loughs or parts of loughs nestling among the drumlin hills of Cavan and south Fermanagh. The river is 120 kilometres long and is used for fly fishing for trout and salmon, with a number of fisheries along both the river itself and its tributaries. The town of Enniskillen is mostly situated on an island in the river, between Upper and Lower Lough Erne. It is linked to the River Shannon by the Shannon–Erne Waterway. The total catchment area of the River Erne is 4,372 km2. The long-term average flow rate of the River Erne is 101.7 cubic metres per second (m3/s)

Derry city in Northern Ireland

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire meaning "oak grove". In 1613, the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I and gained the "London" prefix to reflect the funding of its construction by the London guilds. While the city is more usually known colloquially as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name.

His mother, Monica, and the two boys later moved to Cork, where the brothers were raised. Rory attended North Monastery School. [9] Daniel Gallagher had played the accordion and sang with the Tír Chonaill Céilí Band while in Donegal; [8] 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. [10]

Cork (city) City in Munster, Ireland

Cork is a city in south-west Ireland, in the province of Munster. As of the 2016 census, the city had a population of 125,657, but following a boundary extension in 2019, the population increased to c. 210,000.

Accordion Bellows-driven free-reed aerophone musical instruments

Accordions are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type, colloquially referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. The concertina and bandoneón are related; the harmonium and American reed organ are in the same family.

Both sons were musically inclined and encouraged to pursue music by their parents. [9] 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. [11]

Ukulele member of the guitar family

The ukulele or ukelele is a member of the guitar family of instruments. It generally employs four nylon or gut strings or four courses of strings. Some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings.

Fender Stratocaster electric guitar

The Fender Stratocaster is a model of electric guitar designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continuously manufactured the Stratocaster from 1954 to the present. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top "horn" shape for balance. Along with the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes. "Stratocaster" and "Strat" are trademark terms belonging to Fender. Guitars that duplicate the Stratocaster by other manufacturers are usually called S-Type or ST-type guitars.

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.[ citation needed ]

Skiffle is a music genre with jazz, blues, folk and American folk influences, usually using a combination of manufactured and homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a term in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, it became extremely popular again in the UK in the 1950s, where it was associated with artists such as Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers Skiffle Group, Ken Colyer and Chas McDevitt. Skiffle played a major part in beginning the careers of later eminent jazz, pop, blues, folk and rock musicians such as The Beatles and Rory Gallagher. It has been seen as a critical stepping stone to the second British folk revival, blues boom and British Invasion of the US popular music scene.

Lonnie Donegan Scottish-born skiffle musician

Anthony James Donegan, known as Lonnie Donegan, was a British skiffle singer, songwriter and musician, referred to as the "King of Skiffle", who influenced 1960s British pop and rock musicians. Born in Scotland and raised in England, he was Britain's most successful and influential recording artist before The Beatles.

Cover version later version of a song already established with a different earlier performer

In popular music, a cover version, cover song, revival, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording by someone other than the original artist or composer of a previously recorded, commercially released song.

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. [12]

Rory Gallagher playing blues mandolin. He is reported to have played it on four songs: Going To My Hometown, Brute Force and Ignorance, I'm Not Surprised, and Leaving Town Blues. Rory Gallagher & mandolin.jpg
Rory Gallagher playing blues mandolin. He is reported to have played it on four songs: Going To My Hometown, Brute Force and Ignorance, I'm Not Surprised, and Leaving Town Blues.

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. [11] 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. [14] By his mid-teens, he began experimenting heavily with different blues styles. [15]

Gallagher began playing after school with Irish showbands, while still a young teenager. In 1963, [16] he joined one named Fontana, a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. [17] 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. [14] Gallagher left with the bassist Oliver Tobin and drummer to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany. [16] In 1966, Gallagher returned to Ireland and, experimenting with other musicians back home in Cork, decided to form his own band. [7] [18]


Gallagher on acoustic guitar, March 1978, Breda, Netherlands Rory Gallagher acoustic.jpg
Gallagher on acoustic guitar, March 1978, Breda, Netherlands

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. [19] 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. [19]

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 . [19]

The latter appeared long after the band's break-up shortly after their appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. [20]

Solo career

After the break-up of Taste, Gallagher toured under his own name, hiring former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on Gallagher's self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher . [21]

It was the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy; the other band member was drummer Wilgar Campbell. [19] 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 . [21]

In the same year he was voted Melody Maker's International Top Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. [22] However, despite a number of his albums from this period reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher did not attain major star status. [19]

Gallagher playing in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1987 Rory-Gallagher.jpg
Gallagher playing in Utrecht, Netherlands, in 1987

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. [20] 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. [ citation needed ]

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 1973-1976. 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 . [21]

In January 1975, when the Rolling Stones gathered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to continue working towards their album Black and Blue they auditioned new guitarists, to replace Mick Taylor, as they recorded. Gallagher went over for a jam with the band "just to see what was going on," but did not join the group, happy with his solo career.[ citation needed ]

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 . [23] He recorded two "Peel Sessions" (both February 1973 and containing the same tracks), but only the first was broadcast. [24] Along with Little Feat and Roger McGuinn, Gallagher performed the first Rockpalast live concert at the Grugahalle, Essen, Germany in 1977. [25]

Gallagher collaborated with Jerry Lee Lewis [26] and Muddy Waters [27] on their respective London Sessions in the mid-1970s. He played on Lonnie Donegan's final album. [21] 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. [ citation needed ]

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". [19]

Notes From San Francisco , an album of unreleased studio tracks and a San Francisco 1979 concert, was released in May 2011. [28]

Band line-up

In addition to Gallagher himself (on guitar and vocals), over the years Gallagher's band included:

Guitars and equipment


Gallagher's Stratocaster on display in Dublin in 2007 Rory Gallagher's Stratocaster on display in Dublin in 2007.jpg
Gallagher's Stratocaster on display in Dublin in 2007
A life-size bronze sculpture in the shape of Gallagher's Stratocaster at Rory Gallagher Corner in Dublin's Temple Bar. Rory Gallagher Corner, Temple Bar, Dublin.jpg
A life-size bronze sculpture in the shape of Gallagher's Stratocaster at Rory Gallagher Corner in Dublin's Temple Bar.

Gallagher played a worn sunburst 1961 Stratocaster (Serial Number 64351) for some years.[ citation needed ] It was reputedly the first in Ireland, [29] 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. [30] 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." [31]

Virtually all of the finish on Gallagher's Stratocaster was stripped away over time, and while he took care to keep the guitar in playable condition, Gallagher never had it restored, stating "the less paint or varnish on a guitar, acoustic or electric, the better. The wood breathes more. But it’s all psychological. I just like the sound of it". [32] Gallagher's brother Dónal has also stated that, owing to his rare blood type, Gallagher's sweat was unusually acidic, acting like paint thinner to prematurely age the instrument. [32]

The guitar was extensively modified by Gallagher. The tuning pegs and the nut were replaced, [33] 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. [33]

In late October 2011, Dónal Gallagher 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. [34]

Other equipment

Gallagher playing a dobro resonator guitar built 1933, during his 1978/79 tour in The National Stadium, Dublin, Ireland Rory Gallagher and resonator guitar.jpg
Gallagher playing a dobro resonator guitar built 1933, during his 1978/79 tour in The National Stadium, Dublin, Ireland

Though known for his Stratocaster, Gallagher also used a number of other guitars, including acoustic examples, during his career. [35] [36] In April 2014 one of the last guitars owned by Gallagher, a custom-built Patrick Eggle 'JS Berlin Legend', was sold at auction in England for £25,000. [37] [38]

Gallagher also 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. [39]

When Gallagher was with Taste, he used a single Vox AC30 with a Dallas Rangemaster treble booster plugged into the 'normal' input.[ citation needed ] Gallagher also used an Ibanez Tube Screamer, [40] and several Boss effects, including a flanger. [41]

In the 1970s, Gallagher began to use Fender amplifiers with a Hawk booster. [39] [40] 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. [41] [40]

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.[ citation needed ] 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. [42]


In the later years of his life, Gallagher developed a phobia of flying. To overcome this, he was prescribed various drugs. By the time of his final performance on 10 January 1995 in the Netherlands, he was visibly ill with severe abdominal pain and the tour had to be cancelled. He was prescribed paracetamol for the pain, a drug that can be extremely harmful to the liver, especially with a heavy drinker such as Gallagher. [43]

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. [44] 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. [21] 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. [45]


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 [46] of Guns N' Roses, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, [47] Davy Knowles, [48] Janick Gers of Iron Maiden, [49] Alex Lifeson of Rush, [50] James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, [51] Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, [52] Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, [53] Gary Moore, [54] Joe Bonamassa, [11] [55] 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." [56] In 2010, Gallagher was ranked No. 42 on's List of their Top 50 Guitarists of All Time. [57] Gallagher was also listed on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, ranked at 57th place. [58]

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’" [37] (but this may be a variant of an urban legend [59] ).


Headstone at St Oliver's Cemetery, Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland Rory-Gallagher-Grab.jpg
Headstone at St Oliver's Cemetery, Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland
A bronze statue of Gallagher in Ballyshannon, County Donegal Rory Gallagher Statue - Ballyshannon.jpg
A bronze statue of Gallagher in Ballyshannon, County Donegal


See also

Related Research Articles

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Irish Tour '74 is the sixth album by Rory Gallagher. It is a live album compiled from performances during Gallagher's Irish Tour in January 1974. The source concerts were recorded at Belfast Ulster Hall, Dublin Carlton Cinema and Cork City Hall using Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio. "Back on My Stompin' Ground " was recorded from a jam session during the tour. Irish Tour '74 has sold in excess of two million copies worldwide. An article in a Belfast daily newspaper stated: "Rory Gallagher never forgot Northern Ireland, he returned throughout the '70s when few other artists of his calibre dared come near the place."

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