THE WEARING OF THE BLUES
by Vivian Campbell
guitar for the practicing musician
With 14 albums out,
including his latest, Fresh Evidence, Rory Gallagher is a blues legend in
Europe. In an age when the custom pedal board is standard equipment on any rock
stage, Rory's raw, gutsy, seemingly acoustic approach to the electric guitar has
inspired may a player to start learning their way around the instrument. Among
them is fellow Irishman Vivian Campbell. On a break from his newest project,
with ex-Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm, Vivian was glad to sit down for an
interview with one of his early heroes.
VIVIAN: You started me wanting to play guitar, so, where did you pick it up, and who were you listening to?
RORY: As an absolute youngster, I liked the guitar-cowboy pictures: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry. But then I heard Elvis Presley, Lonnie Donnegan and Chuck Berry, almost all at the same time on the radio, and was I keen to get an acoustic. The songs Lonnie Donnegan was singing were Woodie Guthrie songs and Leadbelly songs, so it was like a back door into blues stuff. At the same time, I liked what Eddie Cochran played on the guitar. I didn't even have a record player then. I would just listen to Radio Luxembourg, AFN, and BBC jazz programs, because in those days they wouldn't play a blues record on a pop program. But, you can imagine in Ireland at that time, just any American guitar freaked me out, regardless of who it was. There was no guitar player in Cork, where I come from. I had seen a friend of my father's who was a guitar player, and he left the guitar in the house one night, and I just sat there looking at it. I was afraid to touch it. I was just fascinated by it. I started playing electric when I was around 12.
VIVIAN: How did you learn?
RORY: Just out of books for chords. At first you worked out what chord symbols were, and the boxes. Its as simple as that. No one showed me anything. One or two other fellows in Cork started playing guitar. They might discover a chord and then show it to you, but no one was good enough to give you a lesson. There was one guitar teacher, but he was a classical player, and he wouldn't teach any other kind of guitar.
VIVIAN: That's snooty!
RORY: Oh, very snooty, yeah. So that's how I started The first electric I had was called a “Solid 7.” A Rosetti Solid 7; Italian made, I think, and a little four-watt Sunn amplifier called a “Little Giant,” which I wish I had now, ‘cause it used to distort like mad, It would be the equivalent now to sort of a good Pignose.
VIVIAN: At what point did you get into playing slide guitar? Was that later on?
RORY: Later on. I started when I was in a dance band for a while, and I started messing around with Hawaiian guitar. The first slide player I saw was Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones Other than hearing what it was on the radio, I never saw anybody until later on. I remember Alexis Korner played slide, and I saw Jeff Beck play a bit of slide. He doesn't do that much anymore. I suppose Brian Jones really opened the door there. The dance band allowed me to do a slide instrumental. A blues thing.
VIVIAN: How did you learn the slide tunings? You told me about the DADGAD tuning. Is that a standard slide tuning?
RORY: Well, I doubt it. No, the first tuning was a peculiar form of A tuning, which I worked up myself and I used on the first Taste album. I used the D tuning for a song we did, ‘Leaving Blues,” which s a Leadbelly song that Davey Graham had done. So we used his arrangement. I was playing slide, but not in a proper open tuning. Later on I discovered G tuning, as related to A tuning, and D as in E, which remain the standard, Elmore James-type slide, or open G, which I use most of the time, The strange thing is that I cant remember what that original A tuning was. I’d like to go back and try to find it. It must have been close enough to the G tuning, but I think these are the good accidents that you'd love to find out again. At the time, you don't sit down and say, “Well, I'm gonna write this out.” You didn't have Walkman's or anything like that. So, sometimes, when you're kind of undernourished, you make do. You get things done just as well, you know?
VIVIAN: I remember you played mostly slide on your Telecaster, and last night, at the show, you played all the slide on your Strat.
RORY: Yeah. I used to have the Tele strung completely with medium strings. And even in the early days I used to use the rhythm pickup, mainly, for slide, cause the Tele lead pickup used to feed-back. Eventually I got that rectified. But then I got the Telecaster as a string-bending guitar as well and developed a style of playing slide on regular, standard tuning, so I only play open tuning now when I play that red Gretsch guitar at the end. That's n open G and I use a capo, although we do a song called “Ghost Blues” and I de-tune the Strat to G, even though the strings are a bit slack. But it's quite okay for that song. Oddly enough, 60% of the time I play slide in ordinary tuning. It gives you the option of slipping it into your back pocket and going back to normal guitar.
VIVIAN: And most of the time on your pinky?
RORY: Most of the time. I do have it on my ring finger, and still do. For certain blues tunes, you're playing a very traditional kind of blues, and you need your small finger for slapping the first two strings for a riff. Then I put the capo on or the bottleneck on my ring finger. Either glass or steel, but I have a brass one as well for different attacks to the songs
VIVIAN: Last night you
seemed to be using the bottleneck, the glass only, on the acoustic
RORY: That's right.
VIVIAN: Do you ever use the steel on the acoustic? Or is it too harsh.
RORY: It's a bit harsh, actually If I was playing the dobro, the National, I would use a metal, either the copper or the steel. The glass one's a bit light, although in a quiet studio situation, the glass is okay on the National. It's quite soft and Hawaiian, but I like to keep the option open. Some slide players just stick with one particular slide and that's that. I actually vary it to the circumstance of the song.
VIVIAN: Being Irish, do you think there's an Irish blues sound that might encompass you and Gary Moore? Would you think there's any of that jig music coming across?
RORY: I think so, in solos. Gary has the speed of an Irish mandolin player. And I think Gary and myself play quite aggressively, but we're very different players in lots of other respects. He works from a very formal scale point of view and he's got great speed and technique. I think with the plectrum approach, the picking approach, even when I'm playing a fairly straight blues kind of number, or a rock number, that jig thing will creep in. Or, you might use an oblique kind of suspended chord, or a modal chord that would be very Celtic, and then blues music and Irish music has a lot of singing, a lot of wailing. There's a lot of bending of notes in the singing, and when the girls are playing the uileann pipes, that's not that far from bending notes on a slide or something. And the fact that they're both folk music's. There's a lot of stories in the songs, and there's a lot of melancholy, a lot of minor key things, so there is a parallel. But I wouldn't want to say that we've all suffered as much as each other, and all of that trivia. Some people will say, “Well, why don't you just become a complete, bona fide American and just play in the tradition?
VIVIAN: Chicago blues?
RORY: Yeah, but I can do
that, and I do that all night, but I think, in the end, nobody's gonna thank you
if you don't develop your own style. Playing for two hours onstage there's some
numbers where we play very close to traditional, Chicago style of blues, or the
country blues. It's very hard not to try to put your own little thing on it,
VIVIAN: One thing I've noticed as a guitar player are the habits that I've had to try and accommodate that I learned from you and from Gary, particularly from you. You do a lot of the split harmonics, the squealing, where you play at different points below or over the pickups, or below the lower part of the neck. Gary does that a lot, too, As a guitar player I developed playing very, very heavy with my right hand. I guess that's pretty much a blues thing. Blues players have a lot more attack. Stevie Ray Vaughan had an incredible attack.
RORY: Well, what Stevie also had with his attack on the right hand would be instantaneous with his left-hand vibrato. It was very, very sturdy, as was another great, Mike Bloomfield, who had that as well. And certainly early Eric Clapton had that attack. One noticeable thing about Stevie was the first note was extremely powerful and intense. I sometimes like to sneak into a solo and then go for the intense note a little bit in, and not try and vibrate every note. That's important—it’s more like a jazz player's approach. I know you don't like that kind of vibrato. I think you can overdo the string vibrato. There's plenty of room for playing straight notes and then coming in with the funny note, or, obviously, if it calls for it, the first one has to be the big note.
VIVIAN: When you say that, it almost sounds like “Voodoo Chile,” where the solo ends with a pretty ripping note.
RORY: It has to be. That
one, and a few others, just call out for it to be that way. If you've got that
note down, the rest just follows. That's the beauty of the instrument. You can
approach it lots of different ways. I also like to do triplets with the
plectrum, which is corny, I know, but it's a mandolin technique. If you move
your left hand around the guitar at the same time, you get what is a jazz
technique, but it doesn't sound like jazz. It gives you a bit of freedom
VIVIAN: How do you change, as a guitarist, from record to record?
RORY: I think it's depending on the songs, obviously, and depending on how happy you are with your amplifiers and the band and the studio and all these other factors. In the last couple of years, I've got a bit of a dimension on myself, on my playing. I can also see the strengths I had 20-odd years ago, and I can see the strengths I have now, and what I have to learn and what I have to improve. Sometimes, if you're touring like mad and flying all the time, you assume you're a fairly good player, but it's nice to get to the point where no matter how mad the show looks you can actually have composure inside your brain to enjoy playing, as well as just to do a show.
VIVIAN: Do you get nervous?
RORY: I do, yeah.
VIVIAN: What do you get nervous about, singing or playing, or both?
RORY: I've always gotten nervous about everything. The monitors, the band, myself, the heat, the length of the show, what to play, what not to play. I've tried to train myself, to give myself pep talks and say, ‘What is this, you've been playing 20-odd years. You know enough tricks now to get through it. You know how to play. You know they're good players. You know you've played this gig before.’ All those factors just go out the window when I'm in the dressing room. I just get wired up, and it's probably a good thing, because when you hit the stage it sort of ignites. I wouldn't mind being a little bit cooler and calmer, but I'm still as nervous as I was when I was 18.
VIVIAN: When you improvise from night to night do you play different solos in the same songs, or do you pretty much work around a structure?
RORY: I’d say about 75% improvised. There'd be 10% that are worth re-doing every night, ‘cause they're pretty or they work well. There's always that 5% of things that you have to include every night because they're nice, but they might not always be in the same part of the solo. It depends on how hot you are as a player that night. It's not that you dodge anything, but you're not gonna foul up something. There are certain nights that we all have, where you know that, ‘God, these hands will do anything tonight!’ You know, and you take yourself right to the edge, the limit. And then other nights where, subconsciously, you know that you're playing okay and think, ‘Make a good job of this, be tidy.’ But then, even on a bad night, you might play badly for a number or two, but then make up for it in some other. I don't have any formal technique. I've developed quasi-kinds of techniques. I still can play very primitive and brutal, which is just as important to me as being super-clever on the guitar.
VIVIAN: How do you prepare for a gig? Do you warm up, do you practice?
RORY: I play the guitar in the hotels and at home all the time. I did go through a phase where I didn't practice enough, and oddly enough, when I'm recording, I actually practice less, which is bad, because you're concentrating on the material. But the last year or so I've got back to that teenage thing of playing after breakfast. I'll play the guitar. I'll play it in the afternoon and the evening and I always have the cassette kind of handy, not just for writing songs.
VIVIAN: So, it still excites you?
RORY: Oh it does, and it's Linus with his security blanket. Like, on this tour, all the equipment, including my ‘hotel guitar,’ had to go and I was stuck in Tokyo or somewhere without the guitar for the day.
VIVIAN: Oh, that's dreadful. I've been in the same predicament myself.
RORY: And it's like your twin brother is missing.
VIVIAN: Especially in a town like Tokyo.
RORY: I've made a point of playing more, because you turn the television on and it's a distraction. You go to the bar; it's another distraction. And you walk so much. I've turned the guitar into therapy. So you just play without concentrating on it too much. I wish I had some formal training that I could go through certain routines and scales, but my personality doesn't go hand in hand with that. I think in my own hodgepodge way I can get there.
VIVIAN: Do you play with your pinky much?
RORY: Yeah, an awful lot.
VIVIAN: But you do actually fingerpick with your right hand?
RORY: I use my nails, too, for certain chords. You get a nice little kind of ‘jang’ But on my left hand, I made a point, early on, of using my small finger, ‘cause I remember one time talking with Peter Green and he never used his small finger. He said he knew it was a lazy habit. And even Eric Clapton doesn't use his small finger much.
VIVIAN: Well, most guitar players don't. Gary Moore seldom will use it ‘cause he wants the speed for hammer-ons. Michael Schenker’s another one who hardly plays with his little finger. Most modern guitarists will use it maybe for the occasional chord, but when it comes to their lead work, they mostly rely on their third finger to carry all the weight. What do you think of today's guitar players? What do you think is happening to guitar playing, and where do you see it going in the future? Can people play any faster? Is there any point in it? Does it do anything for you personally or musically?
RORY: Well, speed is impressive. There was a time when I thought, who was the fastest? I mean, Beck seemed to me as fast as you wanted to be. Clapton never made a point of playing fast. Django Reinhardt is probably the best, fastest guitar player in the world, even to this day. Then look at what Eddie Van Halen has done. I do sense it's getting further and further away from where a lead guitar player is also a rhythm player, has knowledge of chops and riffs, and also the speed and the technical knowledge. It's almost getting into the violin-type theories, like Paganini. I mean, it's impressive to listen to, and it's a credit to that young generation.
VIVIAN: Do you think a lot of them are missing the point?
RORY: I think so.
Obviously, there's a point in what they're doing, and someone like Steve Morse
plays very fast, which is very impressive. You could say Albert Lee plays fast
country guitar. There's different kinds of speed. I would hate to be a
super-duper speed merchant guitar player and still not enjoy John Lee Hooker's
weird chords, and slowness, and Keith Richards’ kind of primitive playing. It's
like a lot of these hammering tricks and harmonic tricks, and the whammy bars
been used. It all had to be done. I’d love to have a lot of those qualities, but
I wouldn't take them to give away whatever I have in other things. Personally, I
would love all these rock players to be blues fans. But I don't
think you have to.
VIVIAN: You mentioned Eddie Van Halen a while ago. To me, he was a very, very influential guitar player, and it was from the period of the first Van Halen record on that a lot of guitar players really started to develop monstrous chops, as far as speed and technique go. But I personally consider Eddie Van Halen to be a great blues player. I don't consider him to be one of the faster guitar players. I think he's slow in comparison to Yngwie Malmsteen or Vinnie Moore, but his phrasing and his vibrato make him a beautiful player. He's very, very musical.
RORY: Well I suppose he was the borderline case, because he claims he was influenced by Eric Clapton's tone, and that he was also influenced by Hendrix, which surprises me. I mean, Hendrix was the guy that brought the vibrato arm back. Hendrix had great speed as well, but Hendrix’s speed was just that he'd go off on an adventure on the neck, and had no technical bearing a lot of the time. It was exciting. So it depends on what you want. With a lot of the speed players, if you've got a good ear as a musician you can predict where they're going, and where they're coming back. It's like a foregone conclusion, in the same way that if you listen to classical music, and you hear the violin section doing something. I really prefer what Hendrix was doing, going down a different avenue every night on the guitar, and seeing where he came out.
VIVIAN: My personal opinion is that a lot of modern music has become very formulated.
RORY: Gary made a conscious attempt, when Van Halen and the new breed came, to catch up with them and be as fast and all that, as well as having all the 010 things. Now he's gone full-circle again, but Gary initially wasn't a blues player, because I saw Gary when he was literally a kid. Well, he was a blues player in the Jeff Beck/Yardbirds type of thing. And he was great at it, too. The first time I saw him play a Telecaster, it was with Taste, and his band was called Platform 3, at Betty Stark’s club in Belfast, a dance club. We did a couple of gigs together. He's very good as a ‘Jeff Beck’ player, but obviously, in the intervening years, he's cut up with Albert King, and he doesn't go very far back into country blues, though, which would be nice if he did.
VIVIAN: You have a lot of country influences. Is that because you played with a show band, or is that because that kind of music naturally appealed to you?
RORY: I like country music. I hope show band didn't do it to me, I like steel guitar, and I like players like James Burton, and ordinary country-pickin’ licks.
VIVIAN: So you'd also pluck as well as fingerpick when you play electric. That's an interesting approach. While on the subject of blues, every now and again it seems to come around, and some people have had phenomenal success. You mentioned John Lee Hooker; Bonnie Raitt is winning Grammies and selling millions of records, and Gary Moore has had the biggest record of his career, playing what is essentially Chicago-style blues. Why do you think that is?
RORY: I never thought it would happen again on this scale, to be honest with you, so I'm delighted. I could see the buildup of interest in roots music. The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan helped a lot, then you had people like George Thorogood, who brought barroom blues back into the picture. I thought they'd ail do well and so on, but I'm surprised because of au the other music's hold, gripping the media, because of videos, because of rap, disco techno-pop and because a lot of the younger journalists had no interest in the blues, or no feeling for it. I knew the music would survive, but I'm pleasantly surprised, in 1990 onto 1991, that John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, and Jeff Healey are happening. But I think this time, in the ‘90s. it's gonna be a deeper interest, and it's not gonna be a blues boom from Britain, which was a great thing in itself. I think it's gonna be a different kind of blues boom. A lot of the young kids into rock got fed up with drum machines and synthesizers. Even ex-punks are looking for something raw and honest. I don't like doing the Professor on the blues, but it deserves to come back, if nothing else. There's nothing else like it.
VIVIAN: The snare drum sounds a mile wide, billions of reverb, and every track just sounds so lush and so produced. Everything is so formulated in this era of the professional songwriter. The whole industry has kind of created this monster. Maybe that's why people genuinely want to feel something that's a lot more honest, or a lot more down to earth.
RORY: Let's say anybody turns the car radio on one night at two in the morning, and they heard Guitar S in or a Howlin’ Wolf track out of nowhere, just breaking through the airwaves out of all this other stuff. I defy them not to be affected by it, because it has a primitive thing. Also, blues lyrics are great. There's a lot of humor in them. There's lots of guitar playing in the blues. I mean, you could get piano players, you get unusual drummers, you get great harp players, plus the blues life and the blues. Robert Cray's the only young black guy who's kind of breaking through, but there are other guys coming through now.
VIVIAN: On that subject, L.A. is a very trendy place and The Los Angeles Times here was touting your appearances in the L.A. area as ‘Must See’ performances, as if you were a debut artist that no one had heard of. They were saying that ‘this guy is an authentic blues guy, much in the mold of Stevie Ray Vaughan.’ It seems kind of ironic to me, because 12 years ago or so I was going to your concerts and I’d never heard of Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's funny how things become in vogue, and now you're actually sitting right here in L.A., in 1991, very, very much in vogue, and its very hip to know who Rory Gallagher is!
RORY: Well, I'm persona-non-grata sometimes. The same happens, more so in England, which is very trend con-scious. I’d say, around the new wave thing there, artists like myself were hammered. The fans will stick with you and all that but it's ironic in 1991, given the last couple years I had away from America and with flying problems as well, I thought I’d never get back to the states. It's great to be back now, but there were certain tours where I was happy to go back to Europe at the time. You know, playing guest to some of these huge, mega-acts who wouldn't be too kind to you with very basic things like monitors for the stage, and things like that. Even though we did have good peaks of success here ourselves. Sometimes I get depressed about staying away from the states for so long, and not having records out here and stuff like that. But now the gap has been so long, I feel like 20% newcomer here, which s good for me, because I haven't been in people's hair for the last seven years, so now they can either like me or not like me.
VIVIAN: What's changed since then?
RORY: I still play rock,
but I think that the blues arm is a lot stronger the last couple of years in
what we do. Even my own compositions. That's been a bog plus. Since Defender, I
think I've, if I may say so, improved as a songwriter. There are a lot of new
themes and ideas and I've been able to match the music with the lyrics with more
artistry in song writing. I've written good songs before, but some would bee by
accident or some would be a lot of hard work. I'm not saying I have any formulas
now or anything, but I have certain chords, certain lyric things, certain hidden
subconsiousness in songs. But with everyone, regardless of what age you are,
certain months of the year, or certain years, all of a sudden you get a very
illuminated look at what you can do, what's happening and you have a
level-headed attitude about success, commercially or otherwise. Even at the
moment, my priority is just to exist to play and if I can have an audience,
great, but I'm not going to behead myself for the music business. So that's
what makes these gigs great; they've all been on our terms.
VIVIAN: How do you write songs? Do you write melodies first, lyrics first, music first, all together?
RORY: I have to use percentages. About 60% would be riffs, nice rhythm patterns or phrases. The rest would be inspired by a definite thing. It would be a hitting my head all day kind of line, an unusual phrase, or a little story that suggests a phrase. Then I build up the thing or something that happened to me and I just readjust it to make it about somebody else. I get inspired by al. of it: the topics in my songs are everything from cinema type tunes, like “Kid Gloves,” where it's a boxer in trouble, to a song like “A Million Miles Away,” which would be a more personal sort of introspective idea. Then you get songs like “Philby.,” which is about a mental parallel with the British spy who went to Russia. “Shadow Play” is semi-extraterrestrial, semi-what am I doing in this place? What is show business?’ That's more of a rock song really. “Bad Pennies” s a very traditional thing. “Off the Handle” is a classic blues-type tense thing. “Big Guns” is about a gangster. I'm inspired a lot by crime fiction. “King of Zydeco” is about a road movie. Some guy gets totally fed up with the big city, and wants to hit this musical juke-joint and see somebody like Clifton Chenier playing, away from the commercial pressures. You break any song down and it sounds like a cliché.
VIVIAN: On the subject of record production there's only one guy I can ever remember who's produced one of your records. That's Roger Glover, who produced Calling Card. Aside from that you've produced everything yourself?
RORY: Yeah, I co-produced a few with Alan O’Duffy, if you know him at all. He worked with the band Horselips, oddly enough, Paul McCartney and the Kinks. He's an Irish guy. To be honest, it's not that I want my name ‘Produced by, written by.’ I was considering Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, fairly obvious people like that, I once asked Glynn Johns and he was already working on an album. He would have been glad to do it. The first thing I find hard is to fit into somebody else's working pattern, or if they show up with their briefcase and they lay down the law. I think I have a few ideas, but I'm not against the help another pair of hands and ears, providing it clicked.
VIVIAN: With Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds, I can see their rockabilly sensibilities work-ing well with your kind of music.
RORY: They'd be casual people. I admire other people. There was one idea of using Jimmy Page as a producer once, oddly enough.
RORY: Knowing his ears for sound and production, it would be great, because I imagine he's the kind of a guy that you could say, “Okay, we're finished playing, you mix it.” I've never had that trust in anyone to leave the mixes to them. Any time I've tried it, I've come back a bit unhappy with what they've done. In the next couple of albums, if I come across some producer who just clicks, it would be great. There'd be a lot less pressure on me, plus it would help the record.
VIVIAN: Don't you find it hard when you're producing, because you write all the material, you sing, and you play lead guitar. That's an awful lot of hats to wear. Do you ever find that you lose perspective on any one of those things, by doing them all?
RORY: Well, when I was co-producing with Allen O'Duffy, I don't think I lost too much perspective. I produced the last two myself. I'm sure it could have been better with the help of somebody else, but I don't know how much better. It's very hard for me to say. I'm sure if I had another producer you might have more echo on the records, or for sure more editing, or all kinds of adventurous things.
VIVIAN: I was thinking more specifically in terms of performances. When do you feel you know yourself well enough?
RORY: I'm fairly convinced that you can usually tell. The outside producer would have to get the band up if you're repeating a performance. That's where the advantage is, but as a rule, we either have it in the first two or three takes, or we don't and we leave it and move on to another song.
VIVIAN: You don't sing live when you make records, do you? I mean, for keeps?
RORY: I did on the earlier albums, which was ridiculous, That's where a producer would have said to me. “Look, give yourself a chance, just concentrate on rhythm guitar, and then lead.” That was this blues ethic. I assumed all blues records were recorded like that. Even when we were doing rock songs I was using a kind of a blues mentality, or a reggae mentality. It all had to be as nature intended. Subsequently, we ended up with a couple of tracks where we left on feedback. But then I started getting a different attitude to overdubbing vocals, and getting more time for phrasing, and singing better, and so on. We're talking about a long time ago. I thought the performance of singing would have that spirit of the moment. even if you weren't singing as well as you would if you were overdubbing. I was trying to do the live lead guitar as well. Even if it was mistakes and all.
VIVIAN: Earlier you were saying about how you sometimes feel in your hotel room, you get those performances, and you put them on cassette. Then you want to put them on your record, so obviously feel and performance is a lot more important to you than it is, seemingly, to most people who make records these days. Seriously, it distresses me when I talk to young musicians, and they talk about finding a producer to do their record, and their primary focus is the sounds. They talk about drum sounds and guitar sounds. They think of producers in the role of engineers, or getting a good sound for a record, but obviously your approach is much more on getting the heart and soul of the performance.
RORY: Its, yeah. If I look back on some of the albums, if there was a weak point, we certainly could have gotten better sounds, concentrated more on sounds. But we didn't know. We could have spent more days on guitar sounds, drum sounds, bass sounds, to go with the performances, But by nature, as whatever kind of unit we were, we would try to get the first take or second take, and patch it up later, We'd already be playing by the time the guy was plugging the mikes in. That was our fault. We were a bit impulsive. Whereas, all this business of, “Hey, Mel, we're gonna take three weeks to get the snare drum sound,” seemed grandiose to me. I'm hoping to beat the system by just getting things on cassette, or on DAT. Or getting the drummer to play in mono with me and the rhythm guitar in a hotel. I know it sounds a bit daft, but I think that might do it just so that the feel is never lost. I can refer back to cassettes of my own, and I don't call it self-indulgence. I think if the muse is there that night, whether the guitar's in tune or not, or whether you're plugged through a transistor amp, or whether you're plugged into the gadget or whatever, you can never get that again. You can try and you do get it sometimes, I know in a few months, when I get back, I'm gonna spend some time working at that.
VIVIAN: Are you going to do anything radical? Is the next Rory Gallagher record going to have big snare drum sounds? Are you going to do anything particularly different from what you've done in the past, with regards to recording or sounds, or do you feel you'll pretty much just concentrate on performance?
RORY: I've got three projects on hand. I can either do a live album during this tour, which would be an exciting, well recorded thing. There's an acoustic album that I'm always talking about, or let's go back into the studio and try to get a new album. I've been aiming at all three.
VIVIAN: I think you should do the live album. You're a great live performer, and you've got an exceptional band at the moment. That harp player is outrageous, so you gotta capture that guy live. The stuff you were playing with him last night where you were trading off licks, and then you'd do a harmony to him, was pretty hot. I’d like to hear some of that live.
RORY: It would be nice, actually, ‘cause we haven't had a live one for a long time, and if anything else, people know, when we do a live album, it's not just fulfilling the contract ‘cause we've no new songs. Most of our live albums have been unrecorded songs. But, going back to the studio thing, I'll try to leave enough time next time to look at the big drum sounds, and all these other things, as well as performance, but some of our records haven't been as shoddy as the way I've been speaking of them. Some have been worked on, songwise, a lot. We've always probably been a bit conservative in terms of what the sonic possibilities were. You see, I can be impressed by a big-sounding metal record, or a big rock record, and then I can also be astounded by a guy with an acoustic, or an African record. I'm absolutely caught between that. I feel lots of possibilities, and I feel I've gotta spend some time in the studio on my own, rather than going in with a project on hand. The problem is you get these Porta-studios and you stay at home. What you should do is save up your money and book some studio time with nothing on the agenda. Just go in and relax and lay down sounds, and call the band in if necessary, but instead of this business of, ‘Oh, it's January the first, we're starting the album now.’ With all this talk, why I haven't got my own studio by now is the key question. I should have done it years ago.
VIVIAN: But you don't have an effects rack. Why would you want a studio?
RORY: Simply because, if you're up late at night, you could have the desk on and get it on tape. Something happens to you when you go into recording studios quite often. A lot of song writing ideas hit you, because the equipment's set up, the tapes are hot, the lights are on, you're in the mood, and it's like you're in a factory.
VIVIAN: Is the Strat a ‘63?
VIVIAN: You've changed the frets on them, right?
RORY: Yeah, I've got jumbo frets and a 5-way switch.
VIVIAN: I noticed last night that you play most of the time on position two. You don't play on the back pickup, right?
RORY: Oh, I do, I do. I use the rhythm pickup for certain things as well. If I find the acoustics of the room are too harsh with the Strat, I don't use the lead pickup quite as much. I've got a master tone control on the Strat. There's only one tone control working on that guitar. So that on the lead pickup, I can back-off the treble.
VIVIAN: Is that knob #2?
RORY: Number 2, yeah, ‘cause the middle one is super glued in so it doesn't do anything. I did that ‘cause I always liked the idea, on the Telecaster, that you could adjust the tone on the lead pickup. That's the only modification.
VIVIAN: What's position four? Is that the single, the back and the middle?
RORY: I use that a lot, obviously. I don't use the middle pickup that much, but I do for slide. It's quite okay for slide. I rarely use the second position, but it has been known to happen.
VIVIAN: That's both neck and middle?
RORY: Yes, and I use the neck one a bit.
VIVIAN: I know it's a tremolo guitar. Did you ever use the bar on it?
RORY: On the short one I used to use it now and then. If you had to play an instrumental, there are advantages to playing “Walk. Don't Run,” by the Ventures with that. I just lopped it off, eventually.
VIVIAN: So, did your bridge rest right on the wood?
VIVIAN: So you don't lean on it? It doesn't pull up?
RORY: In the Taste days I hadn't lopped it off. In fact, quite often the pitch would go up. I’d notice I’d be pressing and eventually somebody told me to put a block of wood in the back, and that would be that. The machine heads have been changed. I have got five Sperzels and one Gotah on it. I know the sixth one broke at one date, and I just stuck another one on and I left that on, just as a gypsy thing. The pickups have been rewound.
VIVIAN: You get a tremendous tone for a single-coil Strat. Are you using any kind of distortion device between the guitar and the amp?
RORY: I've got a Boss Graphic EQ.
VIVIAN: Is that a little 6 band?
RORY: Yeah, one of the real old green ones. And I've got a DOD analog. They're back on the amps, and that's set at the minimum setting, just for a little bit of slap-back. I've got a Dyna-comp, which is on all the time, to drive the songs from the leads. It's not for effect. It's a form of compression and I have it at a setting where the compression's really low on it. I usually use a Tube Screamer, which broke down on me. Last night I was using a Boss overdrive. I use them for some solos, not all solos. I was against using them for years. If I was doing a solo, I had to look at the monitor guy to turn it up and all this. So I keep close to the natural sound. I have a brown Boss octave thing.
VIVIAN: I heard that last night. You sounded like Prince! He uses that a lot.
RORY: I've got a Boss flanger, as opposed to a chorus, which I use sparingly, I use that only in “Shadow Play” and “Moon Child,” and one other song. That's my talk on technology. I have a Vox wah-wah which I did use for one or two gigs, but purely to click it on for slide solos. I used it in the studio, for some solos as well. I don't use it on-stage, because even as it is, I try to keep it simple, within reason.
VIVIAN: I'll show you my rack some day. I'm a slave to technology.
RORY: Well, even Eric Clapton is now. For years, Eric was the paragon of direct into the amp. Now he's using different amps. He's using Soldanos. He's got all these other racks as well. He's got some echo and chorus.
VIVIAN: He's been heavily chorused. I personally don't like that. His last couple of records he's had way too much chorus on his tone. It's really watered it down, taken the edge off it. So, what about amps? What did you start using, and what have been your mainstays through the years?
RORY: I used the Vox AC-30 for years and years, and I used to use a Rangemaster treble booster on it, which was great. I still have one at home. Very primitive, but I used to use the normal input in the Vox, which was not known as the brilliance input. It wouldn't be bright enough; therefore I used the Rangemaster. Then I went to a Fender Twin, a Tweed Twin, and I had a Deluxe which I bought for the studio. Then I had a Fender Bassman linked with the Twin for a long time. I used to use these boosters made by DiMarzio. They were treble boosters with kind of a graphic on them. Then I moved to Ampeg VT-22 linked with VT-44. Then I moved to Marshall 50 watt combo, and then I had two combos. Presently, in England. I was using a 50 watt Marshall with an AC-30 amp, and then an optional 4x12 Marshall which I use for big halls. This American tour, I'm using a Fender Twin Tweed, ‘55 model, with the Marshall 50 watt linked together, and a third one just for extra volume if needed.
VIVIAN: If they're linked together, which one do you mike? Or do you mike both?
RORY: You mike them all, but you let the sound man know that the Fender’s more for tone character, rather than volume and the Marshall’s for the direct. It's a schizophrenic setup. I’d rather just use one amp. There was a time when one Vox would do me, or one Fender, but our volumes crept up, like all the bands. A lot of it's insecurity, too, with amplifiers blowing up on you in the past. You're always needing a spare amp nearby.
VIVIAN: Strings are Fender .10 gauge?
RORY: Yeah. I just changed the fourth string to a .44. It's the same on the Telecaster. On the Gretsch that would be something like .12.
VIVIAN: That's heavy, but that's only for slide playing, right?
RORY: Only slide. And acoustic would be medium gauge Martin strings.
VIVIAN: What kind of picks do you use?
RORY: Charcoal Herco grey picks. I guess they're called 75 or something.
VIVIAN: I thought you always used heavier picks to get all those split harmonics.
RORY: Yeah, well I would use a slightly thicker one than that. They've actually gone down in quality. They used to be thicker, or at least there was a thicker version of them, but that's all you can get now, at the moment. I do a lot of the split harmonic stuff, too, and I use harder Tortex picks. This would be too soft for me.
RORY: I must investigate that. Also, there's a trick that Schenker used to do, you probably do yourself, to use that end.
VIVIAN: No, I never tried that.
RORY: It's very scrapey, but you get that “cshshh” every time you hit the note.
VIVIAN: Oh yeah! I remember, as a kid, I used to have this one pick, and it was the only one I could ever find. I realized later it was a Marlin pick. It was a regular heart-shaped pick, but it had a grip on the bottom half. It was really thick. It was hard plastic and blue colored. It was chopped off on the bottom, so it didn't have the bottom v, and it just had like little teeth and stuff, and I used to be able to just wander across the string, go “rrrrddd,” and get all sorts of sounds because it was a really, really hard pick. I remember the night I lost my pick; I was heartbroken. I thought I’d never be able to play again.
RORY: Oh. Yeah. The first time you break a guitar string, it's like aaahg! That happened to me, and I thought, God almighty, is this the end of the world’?’ You panic.
VIVIAN: How many other guitars do you have? You used to use Martin acoustics, which sounded glorious. Do you still have them?
RORY: I do.
VIVIAN: Last night you were using a Takamine?
RORY: It's as close to the Martin as I've heard. I got it on this Japanese trip. I'm impressed with it. When you plug it in, there's no great volume drop when you go to acoustic. You've got to keep the pressure up there. I'm impressed from the volume point of view. It plays well, and it doesn't sound synthetic, like some electro-acoustics sound.
VIVIAN: Do you have any other old Strats lying under your bed at home?
RORY: No. I have a ‘57 with me on the road, which is a three-color sunburst I got in Memphis off a guy named Robert Johnson, of all names. He's an incredi-ble guitar player. I use that in the studio sometimes. It's a round neck. I've got a couple Danelectros and a Supro. I've got this Diatone which is a weird one. I've got that Melodymaker that I was using last night. A white ‘63 Telecaster. The lead pickup was rewound. It was repainted; I stripped it down to its natural wood, and then I tried to get the natural creme finish that I could get, but it turned out kind of white. I used that with Taste as well. It's a very good Tele. I have a black Esquire, with a maple neck, and the extra pickups, so it's like a Tele, I didn't bring that one over. And I have a red Junior that I got off Jeff, you know, the SG Junior. I used that on the record, on “Kid Gloves.” for the rhythm and the intro, for the opening, on the chords on “Walking Wounded.” The oth-er odd man out, on the record, is a Chet Atkins Gretsch, a small bodied one, Les Paul shaped. I used that on “Middle Name” for rhythm, and for the rhythm on “King Zydeco.” I have an anniversary Strat, too, which Fender gave me.
VIVIAN: One of those silver ones?
RORY: Yeah, but mine is more white than silver. I took the skin off the neck ‘cause it was a little bit hard to play. It's down to the wood now, and I put big frets in. It's a bit flashy looking for me, but I use it in the studio. It's very good. The pickups are all flat pole pieces. They're not staggered, so it's a smoother sound. The body either looks bigger or is bigger or deeper than the other Strats. But I've gotten very fond of it, and it's also got a 3-spring tremolo on it. I haven't lopped it off. I use it for a little bit of tremolo. I don't use tremolo much, but on the odd track that I would use it, it's quite effective. I like the feel of bending the string behind the note.
VIVIAN: Has Fender ever gotten in contact with you? Have they tried to talk you into playing their new Jeff Beck model, or this new Eric Clapton model with the Lace-sensor pickups?
RORY: Yes, well, there was a plan for me to go to the factory on this visit. They were going to do a Rory Gallagher signature model.
RORY: So that's in the pipeline.
VIVIAN: I'll buy one of those (laughs)