- 01 May 20
30 years ago today, Rory Gallagher released Fresh Evidence – the last album released before his death in 1995. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Jackie Hayden's reflections on Gallagher's life and legacy, originally published in Hot Press in 2001.
There’s only one essential answer to the question, “Can the white men play the blues?” It’s Rory Gallagher – guitarist, singer, songwriter, occasional sax and harmonica player and Ireland’s outstanding gift to the world of the blues.
Rory was born in Ballyshannon in Co Donegal in 1948, but he grew up in Cork and was proudly claimed by that city as one of its own. After a spell on the showband circuit, he first burst on the rock scene in the mid-sixties with the power-trio Taste, whose blistering debut album is still a classic of its kind.
But it was with the formation of the Rory Gallagher Band in 1971 that he really came fully into his own as a dynamic blues guitarist and a raw, uncompromising vocalist, capable of magically transforming his every performance into a ritualistic release of primal energy. Rory concocted a heady cocktail of rock, folk and blues that drew accolades from such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Micheal O Suilleabhain, Roger Glover and Van Morrison. He could wring tears of joy and sadness with his individualistic bottleneck playing and his enthusiastic assimilation of early influences, that ranged from Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lonnie Donegan to Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.
In 1972 he was voted the world’s number one guitarist by British rock bible Melody Maker and over the next decade, ten of the band’s albums charted in the UK, with Live In Europe reaching the top ten and staying in the charts for 15 weeks. On regular visits home, he regularly packed out venues across the country, despite the domination of the showband scene, the absence of an indigenous rock press and virtually no regular radio play from Radio Éireann as was.
While stoically eschewing the superficialities of showbiz and steering well clear of contrived marketing antics, he toured America 30 times, was feted from Galway to Greece and recorded and played live with an impressive list of mentors and cohortsd, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Albert King. He also found time to make notable contributions to albums by Irish artists of the calibre of Davy Spillane, The Fureys and The Dubliners.
With an approach that was characteristically unpretentious, his devotion to the blues always retained the purity of the form but without lapsing into over-reverence. In the end, he racked up over 15 albums, including such gems as Deuce (1971), Against The Grain (1975), Calling Card (1976), Defender (1997) and Fresh Evidence (1990). But some will argue, not without justification, that his best work was done on stage, captured magnificently on the Live In Europe album (1972) and Irish Tour ’74.
Clad in his trademark check shirt and denims, he took his battered Stratocaster all over the world, wowing audiences with his sweat-stained live performances and establishing a parallel reputation for gritty studio albums that never delivered less than his total commitment.
Equally at home on acoustic guitar, Gallagher inspired a shed load of guitar-players, including The Edge, Johnny Marr, Slash and Joe Bonamassa and even came close to replacing Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones in the mid-’70s.
Following Rory’s untimely death from complications after a liver transplant in 1995, we were left with our memories – and speculation as to what might have been. Rory Gallagher was a quiet, genuinely modest man who still had so much to offer when he played his final lick. Our only consolation may be the superb management of his extraordinary legacy by his brother Donal.