Eric Clapton once said Rory Gallagher was “the man who got me back into the blues.”
It was emblematic of the respect Gallagher earned among his peers — he was among the first choices to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones, and no less of a rock icon than Queen’s Brian May credited Gallagher with molding his own guitar style.
“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,” May said following Gallagher’s death in 1995. “So I owe Rory Gallagher my sound.”
Gallagher was George Thorogood ten years earlier – but with a meaner slide guitar and a deeper grounding in traditional blues.
He was the driving force behind the emergence of the Irish rock movement, long before Thin Lizzy, the Boomtown Rats and U2 burst on the scene, and as a contemporary with legendary singer Van Morrison.
He was also part of a breed of 1970s blues guitarists who merged traditional blues with hard rock, a class of musicians that also included Pat Travers and Frank Marino. And Gallagher made it work, both by covering ramped up versions of classic blues tunes and with his own blues-based original material.
He burst on the scene with Taste, a band he founded in 1967. Alongside Morrison’s band, Them, Taste began to draw attention to the Emerald Isle. In 1970, Taste split and Gallagher went solo, quickly drawing attention through his playing and his high-energy live performaces.
In all, Gallagher would record 14 solo albums, three of them live.
The Stones invited him to Holland in 1974 for a recording session following the departure of guitarist Mick Taylor, who was instead ultimately replaced by former Faces guitar player Ron Wood.
Gallager, for his part, would remain a solo artist, gaining increasing acclaim from fans and growing respect and admiration from musical colleagues.
But if he had a vice, it was the bottle. After years of heavy drinking, Gallagher began to suffer from ill health by the early 1990s. In January, 1995, while on tour in The Netherlands, Gallagher fell ill and had to be hospitalized.
In April of that year, he had a successful liver transplant. But post-surgery complications ultimately took his life on June 14.
While he never achieved the mainstream success he coveted, Gallagher’s death shook the rock world, and struck deep among his contemporaries.
“Rory’s death really upset me,” Jimmy Page recalled. “I heard about it just before we went on stage, and it put a damper on the evening. I can’t say I knew him that well, but I remember meeting him in our offices once, and we spent an hour talking. He was such a nice guy and a great player.”
Several posthumous releases kept Gallagher’s music and legacy alive, including a complete box set released last year.
Do yourself a favor: Give him a listen.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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