Rory Gallagher: His Life and Times by Marcus Connaughton. The Collins Press, Ireland. Illustrated.
If you are a recent convert to the late Blues rock guitarist, Rory Gallagher then this book will provide a good introduction to his music. Rory was born in Ireland in 1948 and was given his first guitar when he was nine. At the age of 15 he bought a Fender Stratocaster for £100 (about £2000 in today’s money), left school and became a professional musician with the Fontana Showband. He formed the power trio Taste in 1966 and became a solo musician in 1971. He gigged relentlessly throughout his career and died in 1995. He has left a legacy of around a dozen studio albums and several live albums. He was primarily a live performer who had a loyal following in the UK, Ireland and Europe.
Marcus Connaughton’s book is beautifully illustrated with many fine photos of Rory, rock ephemera such as concert tickets, posters and press adverts for Rory’s gigs. The book appears to be a labour of love with detailed track by track commentaries of his albums and interviews with people who worked with him. There is a comprehensive discography which includes an interesting list of albums in which Rory made a guest appearance as guitarist. These range from legendary bluesman Muddy Waters to Irish punks Still Little Fingers, skiffle king Lonnie Donegan and English blues guitarist Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac.
But what of the man himself? We buy rock biographies because we love the music and want to try and get some understanding of the musician. What drives a person to become a great guitarist? How do they keep up the energy to perform night after night on endless tours? Many rock biographies end up being squalid tales of drink, drugs, violence and misogyny which sometimes we can forgive as the price paid for delivering great music. In the case of Rory Gallagher he appears to be something of an enigma.
The book adopts a straight forward chronological approach but left me somewhat frustrated. He never appears to have had any relationships or even any close friends. We don’t know what he did when he was not touring or recording in a studio. He must have made quite a reasonable living as a musician but we know nothing of his interests outside of music. It seems hard to believe that anyone could have led such a single-minded life without wanting any kind of distractions. He died following a liver transplant and there is an inference that alcohol may have hastened his demise at the age of only 47. Yet interviews with colleagues suggest that he avoided the stereotypical rock star lifestyle of excess. Videos on YouTube show a man who really seemed to be enjoying himself playing to an appreciate audience.
Marcus Connaughton is an Irish music industry veteran, radio producer and Rory Gallagher expert. Perhaps Rory did just live for the music and sought nothing more from life other than the appreciation of the crowd. The book may encourage you to seek out his records, especially the Live albums which go some way in capturing the spirit of his music. However we are left wondering just what the guitarist in the plaid shirt and jeans with the well-worn Stratocaster was really like. Perhaps there is another book to be written which will unlock the enigma of this great blues rocker.