Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Ireland, March 2, 1948, and grew up in a home devoid of musical influences including the absence of a record player. Nevertheless, he discovered early rock & roll artists like Elvis Presley which piqued his interest in American early blues. He was able to listen to the radio and began to play a cheap guitar when he was 9 years old. He was soon winning local talent shows and purchased a “1961 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster” that he quickly mastered.
Gallagher joined a couple of identically suited “showbands” where he earned his chops playing until he formed his own band, Taste, in 1966. Taste was a blues rock power trio initially based in Cork, Ireland, and then reformed and moved to London. They opened at the Royal Albert Hall for Cream’s farewell show and then for Blind Faith’s short career. The high point for Taste was when they performed at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 on the same stage with Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
Soon afterwards in 1971, he disbanded Taste and formed a band using his name and releasing an eponymous initial album. The Rolling Stones asked him to play guitar in the place of Mick Taylor and Melody Maker named Gallagher as the “International Top Guitarist of the Year” in front of Eric Clapton. He collaborated with Muddy Waters and other important blues and rock artists and influenced everyone from U2’s The Edge to Slash from Guns and Roses. The 1970s was his most prolific period when he released 10 albums and has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. He performed over 2000 concerts during his career which ended when he died in London, England due to complications following a liver transplant on June 14, 1995 at the age of 47.
Here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Rory Gallagher songs.
10. “I’m Not Awake Yet”
“I’m Not Awake Yet” is on Deuce from 1971 and is musically different than most of Rory’s compositions. Rather than being straight ahead rocking out blues, it’s a mellower jazzier Celtic sounding tune. The lyrics vacillate between Rory’s sleep habits and his anticipation for some kind of a union whose description is vague as to whether it’s physical or mystical.
“Moonchild” was released in 1976 on the Calling Card album which was his 8th solo album and the second on Chrysalis Records. Gallagher co-produced the album with Roger Glover, the bass player in Deep Purple and Rainbow. “Moonchild” itself is a fast paced song with intense guitar runs interspersed with Rory’s voice creating a frantic melody.
8. “Daughter of the Everglades”
“Daughter of the Everglades” is from 1973’s Blueprint album whose title was inspired by the German design blueprint from an amp that Rory had made. The song is believed by some to have been inspired by either a book that Rory was reading at the time or a recent tour of the USA that included the South. It highlighted Lou Martin’s keyboards and Rory’s melodic guitar riffs.
7. “Shin Kicker”
“Shin Kicker” is from the Photo Finish album released in 1978 and it’s an all out rock & roll assault played at a frenetic pace. Rory’s guitar roars as Ted McKenn’a drums explode to equally spastic vocals as he sings about his“C.C. Mama, motorcycle queen.”
“Philby” is on 1979’s Top Priority and is about a British Cold War traitor who was the most notorious in the country’s history. His spying for the Soviet’s as a double agent working for MI6’s predecessor resulted in the death of multiple agents. The lyric “I’m lost in transit in a lonesome city, I can’t come in from the cold” was obviously reflective of the film “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” which was based on the John le Carre” novel. Gallagher performed a guitar solo with a borrowed electric sitar that belonged to The Who’s Pete Townsend “to give the song an Eastern Bloc feel.”
5. “Bad Penny”
“Bad Penny” is from Gallagher’s 10th album Top Priority in 1979 and is back to the power trio format demonstrating how powerful it is. Rory’s guitar soars as he effortlessly wails on his axe creating mesmerizingly melodic guitar peals. Gerry McAvoy’s bass improvisation compliments his guitar with Ted McKenna keeping beat on drums. The song itself is about an unavoidable repeating relationship that can’t be escaped.
4. “Bullfrog Blues”
“Bullfrog Blues” is a traditional blues song from Live in Europe in 1972 and was originally written and recorded by Mississippi Delta country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, William Harris back in the late 1920s. Gallagher and the band jam on it and pull out all the stops as everyone takes a solo break and Rory viciously plays slide guitar. The album was his highest charting on the Billboard 200 and reached 101 in 1972 as well as being his first Gold Disc the same year that he was “Melody Maker’s Guitarist/Musician of the year.
3. “Loanshark Blues”
“Loanshark Blues” from 1987’s Defender is exactly that, having Gallagher pleading with the collection man. “Give me til Monday that’s only a day or two, I’ll pay you back with interest the last thing I do.” The lyrics were inspired by one of Rory’s favorite films “On the Waterfront” which won Academy Awards in 1955 and stared Marlon Brando. The song itself moves to a boogie beat interspersed with wailing guitar licks.
2. “What in the World”
“What in the World” comes from The BBC Sessions released in 1999. The songs were all live recordings made by the BBC between 1971-1986. “What In the World” belongs to the public domain as traditional and it was arranged by Gallagher. It was one of nearly two dozen songs that Donal, Rory’s brother and manager during his career picked from live and studio recordings from over a fifteen year period. It has a slow loping rhythm and is over nine minutes longs with solo guitar breaks before during and after each verse.
1. “A Million Miles Away”
“A Million Miles Away” appears on Tattoo in 1973 as well as the Irish Tour’74 album. The band is identical in both cases with Gerry McAvoy on bass guitar, Rod de`Ath on drums and Lou Martin on amazing keyboards. It’s a plain and simple blues number with Rory’s guitar soaring as well as delicately picking out the melody which Martin intensely explores on the keyboards. The title refers to a subject repeatedly used by songwriters which is isolation and loneliness even in a crowded room.