Rory Gallagher’s spirit has been captured in a glorious two disc set entitled, fittingly enough, Big Guns. I know what you’re thinking — “I already bought the reissued albums when they were released a couple of years ago.”
I know I did (at least I bought the ones that the record company didn’t send me for free, let’s put it that way). Like me, you might have been slightly disappointed by the clarity of those searing guitar riffs; the original recording tapes sounded like they were preserved in bong water and mold, doing Gallagher’s memory a disservice.
On Big Guns, this national treasure gets treated with a digital upgrade that brings out the man’s mastery in the mix. Add an extensive biography enclosed within the collection in glossy book form, and you have a milestone collection.
Simply put, just as no Irish literature collection should be without Frank McCourt and James Joyce, no Irish music collection should be without this pair of Big Guns.
The Joyce analogy is not lost on Colm O’Brien, former guitarist for the Prodigals who now haunts the pubs of Boston with fiery Irish tinged rock that borrows from Rory’s bluesy spirit.
“I think Ireland is starting to realize that Rory’s contribution to Irish culture is up there with Joyce and Yates,” he says. “This idea might sound ridiculous and preposterous to some, but when you think that Rory was ranked number one musician in the world by Melody Maker (the main music paper in the 1970s), ahead of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, you have to give the idea serious consideration.
“I would love to see Rory inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was an innovator, he played all over the world and during the 1970s and ‘80s he played to record breaking television audiences all over Europe.”
That’s not to say that Big Guns is a museum piece that one puts on the shelf and admires from afar. The discs explode out of the speakers like a hellcat freed of its cage.
It also shows his diversity as a player; Gallagher might be known for his mighty blues riffs, but the song “Big Guns” has a gritty punk snarl that could give the Sex Pistols a lesson in attitude.
The growl on the live “A Million Miles Away” and galloping percussion is pure Hendrix, while “Used to Be” has a clear cut Dire Straits vibe.
While there was much made in Gallagher legacy about his decision to turn down the Rolling Stones when he auditioned, a track like “Born on the Wrong Side of Time” indicates that it was Mick’s loss indeed. In fact, the track sounds more like the Who then the Stones anyway, so maybe Gallagher should have been gunning for Pete Townsend’s job instead!
Born in 1948 in Ballyshannon and raised in Cork, Gallagher’s rock ‘n roll odyssey began at an early age when he saw Elvis Presley on TV and became inspired to get his first guitar. Rory would listen and learn from the likes of Lonnie Donegan, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis, many of whom Rory went on to record with.
While still at school during his early teens, Rory began playing with professional show bands throughout Ireland, whose repertoires included all the popular hits of the day. Not musically satisfied with this, Rory converted his latter showband The Impact into a six-piece R’n’B outfit and headed for Hamburg in the mid-1960s. On arrival, this line-up was soon trimmed down to his first trio.
He went onto form Taste, Ireland’s answer to Cream, and even was asked to audition for the Rolling Stones. Like all great artists taken before his time, Gallagher’s death a decade ago raises the “what could have been” question.
Gallagher is far from forgotten; his legacy still lives onstage with the music of Irish American rock acts in bars and clubs on this side of the Atlantic.
“Clapton might have been sweeter, Beck more technical, the king (Hendrix) was dead and would never be surpassed, but pound for quivering pound, Rory was the best and he was ours,” says Larry Kirwan, lead singer of Black 47.
“Back then Irish people didn’t have much to be proud of, so when the man did his annual Christmas gig at the stadium in Dublin, we would pack the joint to the rafters.”
“Big Guns is a great introduction to anyone who has not heard Rory before, and even Rory fans will enjoy some of the remixes, but I would encourage folks to get the entire Gallagher collection as each CD will take you on an incredible journey,” says Seamus Kelleher, lead guitarist of Blackthorn, the biggest Irish band working in Philadelphia.
Though he is loathe to admit it, Kelleher is also the chief keeper of the Gallagher flame here in the States, organizing Songs and Stories, a Rory Gallagher tribute show that brought out dozens of musicians at the Bottom Line a couple of years ago.
“I have been a fan of Rory since I was a kid, but putting the show together forced me to dig deep to try and understand Rory and his music,” says Kelleher.
Kelleher, a native of Salthill, has fond memories of Gallagher’s Galway visits. “Rory played near my house and after the show I was walking home,” he recalls.
“Rory was putting his beat-up strat in his car. I said hello and we talked for about 10 minutes. I was a young kid and I wanted to find out everything about my hero. He told me about his influences and how he practiced. I have always tried to treat young players the way Rory treated me.”
From The Irish Voice