ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, SEPT. 21, 2010
By Steve Newton
When superstar humanitarian Sir Bob Geldof was the music editor of the Georgia Straight back in the ’70s he had no qualms about assigning himself to shoot his hero, Rory Gallagher, when he came to town. The result is this beauty photo of the Irish guitar legend ripping it up on the seriously worn-out Strat he used to spread his blues-rock gospel far and wide, right up until his death in 1995 from liver-transplant complications.
Gallagher was only 47 when he passed away, but before he headed on up to trade licks with SRV he made a huge impression on musicians like Geldof, the Edge, Slash, and Bill Wyman, all of whom contribute their thoughts to the new documentary Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher.
“Rory always struck me as a priest with long hair,” recalls Geldof, referring to Gallagher’s quiet demeanor (off stage, at least). “He could have been in a seminary, except his chalice was his guitar and his prayers were the blues.”
Director and former Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, who was lucky enough to have interviewed Gallagher, comments on the integrity of the artist who, by all accounts, never once wrote a song with a hit in mind.
“He didn’t want to do singles, you know,” says Crowe. “Rory Gallagher did not want to be defined by a passing, trendy sound that would have possibly branded his career in one way or another.”
Geldof reminisces about seeing Gallagher perform at the Isle of Wight festival, where he was selling drugs (Geldof, not Gallagher), and goes on to say how he thought Gallagher’s group was “brilliant” and that it was the first time he felt really proud of an Irish band.
Wyman talks about how, when Mick Taylor left the Stones with no notice whatsoever, Gallagher sat in with the band for a couple of gigs, but was never seriously considered as member material.
“We had a good time with him,” recalls Wyman, “but I think me and Keith felt that he wasn’t the kind of character that would fit. If he’d have been in the Stones he wouldn’t have been singing, you see, and that was one of his strong points. And he would have just been playin’ solos–or some solos–and to be subservient to two big egos, I don’t think that would have really worked.”
“He could never have put up with the bollocks of Mick or Keith,” injects Geldof, “never in a thousand years would he have put up with it. I mean of course he would have been more than competent, but he was a lead player, he was a frontman, he was a singer, he was a writer. Up against Mick and Keith? He’d have shot himself.”
The Edge–whose group, along with Thin Lizzy, benefited greatly from Gallagher’s Irish-band breakthrough–was heavily influenced by the picker’s musical approach.
“I was drawn to the way he played, his phrasing, and I found it fascinating,” he explains. “I found it also accessible. As much as I would sit in my bedroom for hours trying to figure out what he was doing there was always a kind of… it wasn’t showy, it just had a beautiful elegance to it. It was never too many notes, there was just the right amount to get the message across.”
Long before he was old enough to conjure the spiraling leads of “Sweet Child O Mine”, former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash was absorbing what he could from Gallagher’s intense playing style.
“The cool thing about Rory’s guitar playing is that it had this real hardcore rock ‘n’ roll kinda thing,” he says, “it was cranked up real loud, but it also had a certain kind of a delicate kinda thing to it. I couldn’t compare it to anybody else. So it was really loud and it was very haphazard style-wise… there wasn’t a lot of rules, and there was tons of feedback and tons of volume, but it had a certain sensitivity to it no matter how brash the licks were.”
Geldof salutes the courageously independent spirit that Gallagher exemplified, from the way he handled his career to every single note he played.
“You don’t have to bend,” says the man who hated Mondays, “you don’t have to do what people tell you. You absolutely don’t have to. You do what you want to do, stay true to it. That’s the essence. Be a musician.”
Accompanying Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher is a second disc, the Beat Club Sessions 1971-72, which features live-in-Germany versions of such Gallagher concert staples as “Laundromat”, “I Could’ve Had Religion”, and “Messin’ With the Kid”. Let’s just say you need to get it. And pick up last year’s double CD Crest of a Wave while you’re at it.