Today is the anniversary of Rory Gallagher's death. He was born 64 years ago in County Donegal, Ireland (though his real home was Cork), and he died 17 years ago today.
I wanted to do something in honor of him. I settled on a list. Why? For two reasons: 1) Blog readers and search engines prefer lists; and, more importantly, 2) Lists are EASY to write.
Anyway, in honor of the man, I present this list of things you can learn from Rory Gallagher.
1) Buy good things and commit to them rather than buying a lot of shit.
Rory's parents took out a loan to buy his signature guitar when he was 15, and he played it ever since. It was a 1961 Fender Stratocaster with sunburst finish, but by the time Rory had become a star, most of the paint had been literally stripped away by his blood, sweat and tears, leaving a unique dark red + wooden look to it.
Guitar players - especially electric guitar players - are always faced with the temptation to buy new guitars. Guitars are relatively inexpensive compared to, say, pianos, and the differences between guitars are very noticeable- different woods feel different, different constructions allow for looser or tighter strings, and different pickups create different tones.
But Rory didn't buy new toys. He committed to his old toy. He swapped out the pickups and installed a new nut and new tuning pegs, but he held on to it. In fact, according to Rory, it got better with age.
Nearly 50 years after the guitar was built, Rory's brother Donal let Joe Bonamassa play it on stage for one night. And it still sounded awesome:
So next time you've got an old possession that still works, and you're thinking about being a good consumer and buying a brand new expensive replacement, maybe it's time to ask yourself this question:
What would Rory have done?
2) Don't neglect where you came from.
They say, "Don't forget where you came from." Nobody really does. But we do neglect where we came from. We definitely do.
For much of Rory's lifetime, Ireland was a third-world country and the north was ravaged by violence. When he became an international touring attraction, he could have never returned to that island- in fact, many of his fellow countrymen didn't. And why would they? Why play Belfast when you could play a hundred cities where you *didn't* run the risk of getting blown up?
But not only did Rory return home to tour Ireland- he toured Northern Ireland, too, at a time when nobody else would. And it was all captured in what was probably his best album, Irish Tour '74.
And it doesn't look like Ireland ever forgot him.
3) When you're great, you don't need a lot of amplification.
In Rory's time, guitar players like Marc Bolan and Mick Ronson (of David Bowie's band) typically played in front of massive Marshall stacks. But Rory didn't see the need. He was used to playing with small amps and he liked them, so he continued to play with small amps.
Ironically, when Brian May of Queen created his own kind of bombast, he actually began by trying to sound like Rory. May was amazed when he saw that Rory achieved such a mesmerizing sound with such a tiny amplifier.
In the '80s, Rory did begin to use larger amps, and with that, he also started to sound a big more generic (even though still sounded cool).
But the point is, if you're that great at something, you do still need some kind of amplification, but you probably won't need as much of it as everybody else does.
4) If your instincts tell you to keep away from drugs, you should probably listen to your instincts.
I started this list thinking that it would consist only of cool music trivia, but it's impossible to ignore the circumstances of Rory's unfortunate death.
Rory died of liver failure, and, because he's both a musician and Irish, most people assume it was the alcohol that killed him. But Rory was actually a light drinker who was very paranoid about putting things into his body.
That fear of messing up his body likely came from the same place as his fear of flying. But that fear of flying was a big problem for a guy who toured America and Asia. So he asked a doctor what was wrong with him. The doctor prescribed him a drug that would help him with his anxiety.
Rory took anti-anxiety meds for over 20 years, while having a beer or two after shows. In the '90s, he started feeling pains in his liver. A doctor prescribed him strong narcotics for the pain in his liver. In 1994, he was in the midst of a European tour when his liver started to fail. He was hospitalized for the rest of the year. After an unsuccessful liver transplant in 1995, he died. He was 47.
Rory didn't need drugs. What he did need we will never know- maybe it was psychotherapy, maybe it was more time off, maybe it was just a little bit more sunshine. But he didn't need drugs.
When Rory died, he left behind hours of great music and we can thank him for that.