Joe Bonamassa talks Rory Gallagher
with Pete Sargeant
Joe Bonamassa Rory Gallagher
The best and most enduring artists start off as and remain fans. The next inspiration will never be far away if you stay connected with the creations of others and what you produce will have more relevance to your followers. This is why major figures such as Ronnie Wood and Bonnie Raitt are popular with other performers and will always be so. Now sometimes a favourite’s muses may not be the obvious ones…..
It’s early evening and I have managed to secure a crystal-clear line to Los Angeles, where hall-filler and industrious recorder Joe Bonamassa is preparing for a major tour in his own name, not long after a series of successful dates here there and everywhere with Black Country Communion, with messrs D Sherinian, Bonham Jnr and one of the nicest guys your scribe has ever met – Glenn Hughes. Whoever you think may have inspired Joe, it’s Rory Gallagher that finds great favour with him….
Joe, thanks for talking to us, we are both making time to discuss the late great Rory Gallagher.. I am looking at a pile of six remastered edition cd’s being brought out by Capo/Sony to enable those interested to enjoy or enjoy again these fine recordings…may I ask you, when did you first hear Rory Gallagher ?
Erm..I first heard Rory Gallagher via my father and around the same time I was also given a cd by a friend of the Irish Tour ‘74
And Dad and I often used to play records on a Sunday, at the house on a weekend. So when I heard the Irish Tour stuff I really started getting into it. For me the live material was really heavy and exciting and blues..like the killer stuff, for me…anyway that’s when I first heard it and I was maybe 11 or 12 years old
That was at home in what place?
In New York where I grew up
Fine, now you obviously had a fair number of blues musicians around in New York but Rory had something special. If you had to put in a few words what struck you, the essence of his style, what would you say ?
Here’s the thing, Pete – I grew up in what was probably the ‘Birmingham’ of New York,very working class..everyone pretty much blue-collar..OK there were a few doctors say who did well, but we’re talking about a working man’s town..and everyone would walk around, y’know,,people my father’s age, with these flannel shirts on, they’d play music on the weekends to relax or to make a few extra dollars..and so listening to Rory Gallagher, it would remind me of the people in and around my home town…working class, hard-working
..both in the factory and on stage..and it just..relate to my surroundings. And when I finally got to go to Cork, to play a few years ago, well it really kinda spoke to me..eerily similar
It’s almost the polar opposite of ’showbiz’, what Rory was doing
Yeah !! everything was face-value with Rory Gallagher. It was take me as I am, please - I’m not going to change myself for anybody or anything
I was at most of the London gigs by Taste for a while
You were ?
So I saw him close up many times and spoke to him and what struck me about his style at that time, when we were surrounded by great guitar players in London..the Alvin Lees and the Jimmy Pages..he could integrate rhythm and lead really really well and accompany himself really well and he just wasn’t a gimme a solo, show-off kind of player
Yeah ! And he was also very honest..it seemed to me he’d give a hundred percent of whatever he had, any given moment. He had this ability to make each note mean something..even if he was tired or sick or whatever.. it was still powerful and meaningful and there was also that X-factor there. ( Laughs) I don’t know what this is, but I certainly dig it
Hmm..he admired ZZ Top a lot. He found a lot in their style that he could relate to.BillyGibbons has that same touch..not playing too many notes
Now I heard that you’d been able to play some of Rory’s guitars ?
(Enthused ) I got to play The One…and if I had to pick one to play, I would pick the one that I should play..yeah, the ‘61 Strat and y’know it’s really cool..a seriously cool guitar
He loved it to bits
Too right, he played it into the ground..he wore the contours..recontoured the shape with his arm..
He always right from the Taste days sweated a tremendous amount on stage, which is why he wore those thick flannel shirts..just practical, not fashion or anything…and why all the varnish was gone from the Strat body..
Yeah you could tell he was so into it, it’s a fantastic Stratocaster
In your own axe collection, do you have anything approaching that ?
I have a bunch of vintage guitars, including a couple of first-year Stratocasters…I have two 54s, one 54 and one 55…Teles from 53 and 54..Les Pauls.and I play them on stage as well
Rory would switch top the butterscotch / cream Telecaster for slide features..open D or E..it used to be referred to as ‘The Other Guitar, like Winifred Atwell’s Other Piano’ ( she was a black lady pianist on many variety shows and the second piano was a honky tonk tack piano one for boogies)..when did you play the Rory Strat?
This was at a live gig ..Donal had it brought it down when I did two shows at the Hammersmith Apollo last time..so good of him to do that…his son brought the guitar down and Donal could make the second show so he came along then. I got to play it both nights.
I mean, what a honour..
I know what you mean, Arthur Louis let me play the white Strat that Jimi gave him..the vibes come out of the thing !
Hey and at the end of the day, if it wasn’t Rory’s Strat, it’s still a great guitar.I was looking at the pickups thinking – how much music has gone through these ? just how much ?
It was bashed to bits in the Taste days ! Now these rereleases have a lot of great numbers and some extra tracks on them, too….Rory was one of the first players to be a popular guest contributor, in the rock world..with Jerry Lee Lewis, Lonnie Donegan..echoing that jazz players’ thing of guesting, improvising..so there’s moreto Rory than playing to you isn’t there ?
Yeah it’s definitely The Whole Thing..it’s the work ethic, it’s the honesty..he wasn’t trying to be anything else than what he was..it wasn’t like…I never met him, but the stories I hear from people, it wasn’t like he’d be sitting there and then have a totally different persona on the stage
Absolutely not ..
I try to be the same offstage but onstage I just suit and up and try to look smart..you try to be the same person, y’know
Rory wasn’t really ‘ marketable’ was he ? In the showbiz sense…he wouldn’t change his image or look, he wouldn’t do disco remixes, wouldn’t jump on bandwagons
And that’s the great thing about him , how he’ll go down in history..the singing, the playing, the slide work..the slide stuff was never out of tune..all extremely refreshing..just honest music..it resonates with people
It does mean that the music can be heard some years later and still affect the listener…and I tell you, the people HE loved, I did talk at length with him when I could. I did ask him once for his favourite guitar solo but he said he didn’t have one however he admired people who could play interesting fills, backing other singers..making the guitar almost like the Greek chorus, ‘commenting’ as it were, on what was happening in the song. He love Steve Cropper, Joe. And Tony Joe White
Cool ! Rory did ‘The Crow Flies’ didn’t he ?
Yes and Tony Joe was absolutely chuffed that Rory did that song..hey on this first record of the set they’ve added Muddy Waters’ ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘It Takes Time’. Otis Rush of course. Rory told me he wasn’t keen on the swamped-with-reverb guitar tone that some used on Otis Rush covers..he wasn’t an effects man really
Yeah now Rory’s tone was pretty dry..I think I may have heard him use a phaser?.
He said that was cos if Lowell George
Oh wow! nice ..
Let’s just mention the Irish Tour disc, which I know you rate..these were very troubled times over in Ireland…there had been explosions, he went ahead with the show anyway.
There’s something about his phrasing on the Muddy song ‘I Wonder Who’..
I love that track
Help me out here, Joe – what is it about the approach..
Yeah the way he starts it and the way the band kicks in..he almost starts it like a slow Chuck Berry song, then when the drums hit !…it’s almost like a waltz ..he comes in like a lot faster, y’know…you can tell the band have been playing together for some time..so it’s a lot like the Muddy Waters Band..there wasn’t any rivalry or anything..it’s all the way they felt it
Yes -now the first time I saw Muddy Waters he had Otis Spann who he introduced as his cousin, on piano..they were all so relaxed..like they’d come in to fix the plumbing or something !
( At this point Joe and I discuss the smart attire worn by Jnr Wells etc to show they had made it )
Right – and there’s that picture of Muddy in England, smart suit, combing his hair, Johnny Walker bottle..as authentic a bluesman as you’d ever find ,,but suited up. Now Rory wasn’t that guy, he was himself and it worked, y’know…Rory’s band were excellent, I think ..they sounded so good.. I always tell people, Rory was to England, Ireland ,Europe what Stevie Ray Vaughn was to America….but Rory and his band are like icons, to people like me..and he is in the UK, Ireland, Europe and rightfully so..hey and they both played battered Strats!
Yeah, except SRV used telegraph pole wire for strings.. you’re aware that Rory was offered a place in the Stones ?
No I didn’t know that !
They invited Rory out for a couple of days and cos of a cockup on travel he stayed there with Keef for about a week out in France. And he actually plays on ‘Miss You’
( We talk about Rory’s guitars. Donal told me he had about a hundred. Including a Coral sitar. And a twelve string )
Yeah there was a twelve string..
You can hear it on ‘Lonesome Highway’ on the ‘Wheels ..’ album
( I ask Joe whether he has a favourite Rory studio album)
I like ‘Tattoo’ a lot
They’ve added a Link Wray tune to that one ..any single RG favourites ?
Oh yes – Rory’s version of ‘Walking Blues’ 1992-ish, playing with Bela Fleck is something else..
(..at this point we’ve gone way over time so I thank Joe Bonamassa for his thoughts and I agree to send him the interview I did with Donal Gallagher for BM a few years back. He truly is a fan of Rory Gallagher and good on him )
Pete Sargeant www.fairhearing.co.uk
(Piece arranged in conjunction with BLUES MATTERS magazine)