Rory Gallagher is undoubtedly among the greatest guitarists of all time. Much more than only a virtuoso, Gallagher was an accomplished singer and songwriter, and his dazzling, distinctive rhythm and lead playing were favored and elevated his cleverly written and well-structured compositions. He also played harmonica and saxophone, and his approach often expanded the blues and rock vocabulary by combining them with Irish traditional music and jazz.
Born in Ballyshannon, Ireland on March 2, 1948, Gallagher began playing the guitar at the age of 9, fascinated by the early country blues artists he would hear on the radio. After moving to London, he achieved initial success with the blues rock trio Taste between 1969-1971. After the group’s dissolution, Gallagher initiated his solo career, releasing a string of successful and highly influential albums during the ’70s. His passionate, high-octane live performances during this time were also legendary, and he never shied away from touring his native Ireland even when the country was being ripped apart by conflict.
The ’80s and the rise of synthesizer-based rock music saw a decline in a career that could have been greater, if not for Gallagher’s uncompromising devotion to the purity of his craft to the detriment of fame, money and personal life. His pedestrian, working man’s stage clothing and trademark instrument of choice, a weather-beaten, battered 1961 Fender Stratocaster, defined much of his identity, and his quiet offstage persona only added to this ethos. Unfortunately, the soft-spoken guitar titan fell victim to prescription drugs and alcohol abuse and left us prematurely on June 14, 1995. However, his legacy as one of blues rock heroes remains, cultivated by millions of fans worldwide.
This list is our tribute to Rory Gallagher, and perhaps an introduction to his catalog for those not familiar with him.
10. Against The Grain
Released in 1975, Against The Grain is often overlooked in comparison to the more famous Gallagher albums’ released in the ’70s. However, the record’s sheer intensity and pure musicianship should not be ignored. Here, the approach is more direct and with less experimentation, resulting in songs mostly based on the electric blues rock structure. In this vein, the uptempo highlights are the boisterous, blues-based hard rockers “Let Me In”, “Souped Up Ford” and “I Take What I Want” while the solitary ballad “Ain’t Too Good” showcases Gallagher’s ability to craft heartfelt melodies.
Blueprint is Gallagher’s third album, released in 1973. The album continues to expand his characteristic approach and features some of the most iconic compositions in his career, such as the incisive, highly-dynamic rocker “Walk On Hot Coals” and the exotic, Celtic-inspired number “Daughter Of The Everglades. ” Other highlights include the acoustic track “Banker’s Blues” with its excellent use of the harmonica, the raging blues rocker “Stompin ‘Ground” and the progressive rock number “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.”
Consisting of rare and unreleased material, Blues was released in 2019 and focuses on the genre Gallagher was most known for. While it’s rare for albums of this kind to present any significant addition to an artist’s catalog, the careful and precise selection of tracks by Gallagher’s estate makes Blues’ an essential entry in the Irish six-stringer’s catalog. The recommended 3CD version includes devastating live versions of Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down” and Muddy Waters’ “Garbage Man Blues” as well as unique takes on “Prison Blues” and “I Could’ve Had Religion”. However, Gallagher’s version of the traditional number “What In The World” stands out the most with its gritty, Jimmy Page-like rhythm playing and weeping lead attack.
Gallagher’s second full-length effort, Deuce was released in 1971. The album features Gallagher in inspired form, delivering all his creative energy to create some of the best music in his career, combining his fret-burning with soft textures. “Used To Be” is a mean-sounding, vigorous blues rocker while “I Am Not Awake Yet” is an Irish-inspired folk number filled with some of Gallagher’s finest, most intricate acoustic leads. Other highlights include the country blues cut “Don’t Know Where I’m Going” and the straightforward blues cut “Should’ve Learned My Lesson”, in which the Irish genius channels his inner Albert King. However, the album’s most enduring contribution is the relentless rocker “Crest Of A Wave”, which includes one of Gallagher’s most iconic solos.
6. Live In Europe
Recorded in a number of performances in early 1972 and released later that year, Live in Europe has Gallagher on the verge of reaching the peak of his powers. In this electrifying record, he mercilessly slashes through a selection made mostly of blues material, breathing new life into some of the genre’s most enduring standards. The album kicks off with a devastating, smoking-hot version of Junior Wells’ “Messin ‘With The Kid, which is followed by a raging version of Gallagher’s own “Laundromat”. Then, Gallagher’s slide magic comes into play with his take on “I Could’ve Had Religion” while the version of his very own “Bullfrog Blues” ranks among his all-time best performances, thanks to his inspired, red-hot leads.
5. Top Priority
Propelled by the momentum of a successful U.S tour and released in 1979, Top Priority presents Gallagher still at the top of his game and driven by relentless intent. The album is very rock-oriented, leaving aside the blues, jazz and folk elements, which results in extremely potent and direct songs. The album opens with the abrasive, hard rock riffs of “Follow Me”, which includes one of Gallagher’s most stinging leads and is followed by the incessant, eastern-flavored hard rocker “Philby”, whose deadly riffs, uptempo urgency and espionage-focused lyrics are nothing short of iconic. The mid-tempo, caustic rocker “Keychain” retains some blues flavor, even though it is every bit as stormy while “Bad Penny” features some southern rock-styled textures and inspired vocals. “Public Enemy No.1” finishes things off with an oozing, gritty class.
4. Rory Gallagher
Gallagher’s debut was released in 1971 in the wake of Taste’s demise. The record presents a young Gallagher ready to achieve everything he wanted musically. The result is an iconic affair, packed with identity and Gallagher’s very own stamp on blues rock. The opener “Laundromat” is an energetic blues rocker, featuring perhaps Gallagher’s most iconic riff, in addition to a blistering solo. Then, the intensity is toned down for the mellow, soothing ballad “I Fall Apart” and the acoustic, evocative blues number “Wave Myself Goodbye”. The hard-hitting blues rocker “Sinner Boy” picks up the tempo again before the album culminates in the stellar, classy number “For The Last Time”, a vehicle for one of Gallagher’s finest slow-burning assaults.
3. Calling Card
Released in 1976, Calling Card is perhaps Gallagher’s most sonically diverse album, but not at the expense of power, since its jazz and progressive rock elements are delivered without sacrificing too much of Gallagher’s merciless fretwork and crisp riffage. The record kicks off with the chugging rhythm of “Do You Read Me”, whose lead guitar onslaught is contrasted with soft keyboard textures. Then, there’s “Moonchild”, a rapid-fire, riff-heavy rocker that features a devastating final solo. “Calling Card” is an elegant, blues/jazz fusion number that demonstrates Gallagher’s creative mind and versatility, complete with exquisite, dueling piano and guitar fills. The sheer intensity is brought back for the barnburner “Secret Agent”, another one of Gallagher’s espionage-themed rockers. However, the album’s crown jewel is really the jazzy, progressive rock-styled monster of a groover “Jack-Knife Beat”. The track’s pounding trudge provides the foundation for Gallagher to unleash some of his tastiest licks and hooks, in addition to a superb vocal performance.
Widely regarded as Gallagher’s most successful studio offering, Tattoo was released in 1973 and features Gallagher’s strongest, most inspired selection of songs, with the piano and saxophone perfectly integrated into the sound. The leading rockers “Tattoo ‘d Lady” and “Cradle Rock” almost seamlessly integrate into a single, powerful sonic force while “20:20 Vision” is perhaps his all-time best acoustic output. “They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore” is a jazzy, quasi-swing upbeat number while “Sleep On A Clothes-Line” brings back the sonic blues rock storm. “Who’s That Coming” builds from a subdued acoustic slide picking before evolving into a full-blown blues rock epic while “A Million Miles Away” is arguably Gallagher’s best song. The heartfelt ballad is structured around a smoothly functioning rhythm and piano chords, on which Gallagher picks gorgeous, clipping notes with absolute taste. He also delivers some of his best vocals through the intense, semi-autobiographical lyrics before the song eventually ends with a masterful saxophone outro.
1. Irish Tour ’74
Recorded in early 1974 and released a few months later, Irish Tour ’74 ranks among the finest live rock albums in history. Violence between the IRA and the British Army was on the rise, and Ireland was far from the safest spot for a tour. Nevertheless, Gallagher decided to soldier on and tour his home country, which resulted in his best-ever performances and his most successful release. The record kicks off with a monumental take on Gallagher’s own “Cradle Rock” before the Irish magician unleashes a fulminating storm of flaring slide for his take on “I Wonder Who”. His slow blues version of “Too Much Alcohol” follows a similar path, with Gallagher adding extra intensity to the vocals. Tony Joe White’s “As The Crow Flies” is next, and has Gallagher’s inventive acoustic playing stealing the spotlight before the definitive version of “A Million Miles Away” comes into play. Lastly, the destructive blues rock force of his take on “Just A Little Bit” concludes the album that cemented Gallagher’s status as one of Ireland’s premier music exports.