Conversation with Rory Gallagher, June 19, 1991
The article in the "Christian Science Monitor", July 29, 1991, was partly based on this taped interview, which Shiv Cariappa has kindly allowed us to reproduce on the Rory Gallagher Home Page.
I first talked to Rory just before he got on stage at the Paradise Club near Boston on March 29,1991. He agreed to an interview from London because conditions were unsuitable to carry on a conversation at the club.
As promised, he called me on June 19, 1991, from London. My article, following my talks with
Rory, appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on July 29, 1991. I must confess that I
approached the interview more from the perspective of a longtime fan than a journalist. I have done some minor editing to clean up some pauses and interjection
Conversation with Rory Gallagher, June 19, 1991
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Transcribed from tape on November 5, 1995 by Shiv Cariappa.PART ONE
Shiv Cariappa: I understand from Steve [Steve Karas formerly of I.R.S. Records] that you have a new line-up or that you are busy auditioning people.
Rory Gallagher: Yes, I am trying out some new people. I am still on good terms with the other guys, but they have formed a band. The harmonica player used to be with a group called Nine Below Zero. They still want to make themselves available for me for odd gigs, but it is really not that practical. We have one possible show in New York coming up, but I don't think I will have a new band ready for that. So, I might do it with the old line-up. It is all a bit up in the air at the moment for the next day or so.
SC. So Gerry McAvoy is still with you then?
RG. Not really. I mean, he would do some dates with me if he were free, but at the rate I'm going to be working I think I will probably just get a new line-up. I am sorry to see him go, you know.
SC. Yeah, but after 20 years, I guess it was time to move on.
RG. Things move on, you know. They started doing these casual dates last year with Nine Below Zero, and they got to like it, and then they weren't particularly sure about my plans. Well, it happens to all musicians, they like a change of scene and so on.
SC. Perhaps this will be a new direction - a fresh direction for you.
RG. Yeah, well, I mean obviously new musicians give you new morale and so on, but it is going to be quite difficult. I have such a repertoire of songs that I have to work hard at rehearsals, but if I am lucky with the right musicians it will give me a new bite, but I am the first to admit that I am sorry to see them going, but you know, it was very amicable. I knew about it before we went on the last American tour. But like I said, if I am really stuck and they were free, they would fill in, but you can't really operate like that, you know.
SC. Rory, I want to ask you about two areas. One has to do with this whole business of commercialization and releasing singles. And the other regarding guitar heroes, rock musicians, and the myths that go along with making them larger than life. What seems fairly endemic to the music industry is the self indulgence of many of your contemporaries. I mean you are relatively young ...
SC. I mean, so you have got several decades of music hopefully.
RG. Hopefully, yeah.
SC. How have you managed to stay clear of that self-indulgence, you know, over the years?
RG. Umm. In the sixties I found a few of my favourite groups surprised me - they started as blues bands. It was not that I was narrow-minded but I was surprised to see Paul Butterfield's [blues] band making a single, and then I saw Fleetwood Mac making one. At least Butterfield's songs were sort of blues songs. Fleetwood Mac who I admired and I liked Peter Green, they came out with Albatross.
SC. I remember that.
RG. It was a very nice tune. It was a start with them softening up [releasing singles] - you know what I mean.
RG. And groups like Free made singles. I mean, it is ridiculous, even Bob Dylan makes good singles. But for some reason a certain attitude crept into me then and I decided [not to release singles], but now about bringinga possible single out for radio play, I might do that. But I would never squander my whole credibility, whatever that is, just for one silly song. I mean, at this point if I had a very good song that I believed in, I wouldn't mind. But I find that a lot of good rock musicians come out with very trivial songs [as hits], and I think that's what ruins it. Whereas if you come out with a really strong contender then I think it is OK.
SC. How have you managed to shield yourself from all the excesses, self indulgences, and just the number of things that go along with being a musician on the road? Is that a fair question?
RG. Well, it is a fair question, but it's hard to answer. I've been generally lucky. A lot of musicians I knew, like Paul Kosoff, passed away - and [ones] I didn't know, like Hendrix and Brian Jones. All those deaths warned me off as a teenage musician. Well, I was nearly 20-21. I am not saying that I am a goody-goody, but when youcome from Ireland, you are brought up on a strict kind of line, you know.
SC. I understand.
RG. You know, I never moralize or advocate you should live this life or that, but when you are touring a lot, and you know, you can take any road you like, but I mean you won't last if you burn yourself out with drugs or alcohol. Some musicians seem indestructible, but even they have to pay a price for it, you know. I suppose everyone has to live their own life.
SC. I've done a tremendous amount of reading about you, and I absolutely love your music.
RG. That's good.
SC. I first heard Deuce way back in '72 or '73 when I was growing up in India, and my brother brought it from the States.
RG. Oh yes.
SC. And two songs, which struck me right away - one was I'm Not Awake Yet, and ...
RG. Oh yes.
SC. I love that song, and the other one was Crest of a Wave. You remember those?
RG. I do indeed, I've been playing them the last couple of days, because the two remaining LP's that have to come out on CD are Photofinish, and Deuce, and a couple of tracks have to be re- mixed, edited, and that kind of thing, because they want them to be slightly modified for the CD. So I am listening to what could be done to help. I wouldn't change some of the tracks, but it so happens that I'm Not Awake Yet, is one of my own favourites. It is an unusual theme, because it was the nearest thing to an Irish-Celtic guitar part with a 12-string and so on. The actual idea was, well not like astral traveling, but quite often where you can control that point where you wake up and where you are still in semi-control dream state. That was the idea. Crest of a Wave, it was - vaguely - a story, I can't remember now. Well, the idea is in the song title itself, that you don't walk on people when you are flying high.
SC. I talked to you, if you remember, briefly before you got on stage at the Paradise Club and ...
RG. Yes, I remember that, yeah.
SC. And you said you played guitar when your were about nine, and started hearing these old blues, root-blues tunes over the radio when you were a teenager over the BBC ... In my case growing up in India, the only thingswe heard were songs on radio were by Jim Reaves, Ricky Nelson - the Shadows were popular - but what attracted you to those songs like the Robert Johnson kind of music?
RG. To begin with, for some reason I liked the acoustic guitar and the guy called Lonnie Donnegan who was the first guy to really influence me, and it turned out that he was doing songs by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, which were folk and blues songs. I like the themes of the songs. Obviously, I was a fan of Buddy Holly at the same time and Eddie Cochran. But initially for the first couple of years I was more interested in American folk songs and the acoustic guitar and the image of the American traveling musician - the drifter, you know. I was keen on rock and roll but I thought it was not the same. Then bit by bit when I heard Muddy Waters on radio and Jimmy Reed and obviously hearing contemporaries like the Rolling Stones and John Mayall. I mean, I listened to everything at that time that had that kind of appeal. The ultimate guy - in the long run, the connection between folk, blues and rock and roll is Bob Dylan, because he seems to be able to straddle across from Big Joe Williams right through. Not to mention he took all the country blues elements, the Woody Guthrie influence and then added on his own surreal lyrics and attitudes and so on.
SC. Just to quote you from before, you said there was something rhythmic and raw about the music - that is accurate, isn't it?
RG. Yes, I always liked the raw acoustic [sound]. I don't like records that are overproduced. I mean, I like Muddy Waters' because they were so rough and echoey, but the right kind of echoes, you know what I mean. Even to this day I don't like some of the mixes that people do. They take the rough edges of some very good pieces of music. A lot of the new equipment is designed to do that in fact, whereas some of the older recording equipment and echo machines - their deficiencies helped make the sound of that time. So when I go to the studio, I always look around for the older bits of equipment and compressors and things like that, you know. Solid state is another sound. Like, most rock or blues guitar players would tell you that they don't like using solid state amps. They don't have the full warmth of a tube or a valve.