F rom 1975 when I was 13 and playing along to Deuce, to my time in The Smiths, and through to my solo work, Rory Gallagher has exerted a huge influence on me. He taught me chord changes and tunings, and how to conduct myself on and off the stage. I owe him.
Under The Influence: Johnny Marr on Rory Gallagher
In the first of a new series, the guitarist with The Smiths, Modest Mouse and The Cribs tells us how Rory Gallagher started it all for him.
CREST OF A WAVE - From Deuce (Atlantic, 1971)
He invents Celtic blues
This was the first song of his I started to play along to and, to do it right, I realised the guitar had to be tuned differently, and that was an eye-opener. Deuce, the album this is taken from, is very indie sounding, and despite it being a power trio, it’s not particularly powerful sonically, but it is passionate and the slide solo at the end of Crest Of A Wave is maverick, it’s his own kind of blues, Celtic blues, and it’s not necessarily blue skies, there is an interesting darkness, a dusk-like or 5am quality to Deuce. He liked to record just before or just after a show to try and capture that raw, live energy, and I picked up on that, I’ve gone straight into recording my second album off my first album [2013’s _The Messenger_] tour for the same reason.
WHO'S THAT COMING? - From Irish Tour ’74, (Polydor, 1974)
The guitar player as band leader
Irish Tour ’74 is such a good record, it’s the sound of a real live record, there’s nothing processed here. It’s a great example of the electric guitar player as band leader. All the band members are glued around him, the music isn’t being driven by the drums. His band are really really good, his bassist, Gerry McAvoy, is perfect. This is the sound of a band playing together every night, it’s powerful without being really loud and really distorted. He was a fan of The Byrds and Love and you can hear a couple of poppy hooks in there. He wasn’t musically blinkered. He saw merit in everything. It was liberating.
TATTOO'D LADY - From Tattoo (Polydor, 1973)
A chord change I never tire of
The first time I heard this, the chord change rang out, it was the chord change I was always looking to hear, the same chord change I used in [The Smiths’ debut single] Hand In Glove. It’s really evocative, and for someone who is supposed to be a hard rocker, there is a beauty and sincerity in it. It’s one of those happy/sad things. The lyrics are about a guy running away to join the fairground, and it’s sung by someone who lived his life like that. The poetic nature of what he is singing about is the thing that made him not be able to live a normal life when he got older, he couldn’t deal with not being the guy who went from town to town anymore. This song was a blueprint for where I was in my life at the time.
WALK ON HOT COALS - From Irish Tour ’74 (Polydor, 1974)
A new kind of guitar soloing
He was an Irish Catholic and there’s a gothic, spooky vibe in his music. His solos are like little concertos and you never know which way they are going to go. He’s not totally improvising, but on this version, it shows no one else played like him, he was totally unique. His solos are not as composed as George Harrison’s or my own, they are not guitar breaks, but they are not regular blues rock solos either. They are very daring, but not as out there or as cosmic or as indulgent as Hendrix’s. They are just the right side of dexterity, of flash, of showing off. You always want your favourite guitar player to go out on a limb, to do things that are impressive, and this was him just seeing what he can do with the guitar.
SINNER BOY - From Rory Gallagher (Atlantic, 1971)
Redefining the power trio
He was single-minded, he wasn’t afraid to split Taste, his 60s power trio even though the press criticised and hounded him for it. At the time he was being compared to the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, but there was much more to him than the power trio. He had an indie sensibility, you can hear it on this song, it’s a template for the White Stripes and it’s the foundation of Rory’s solo career. Sonically, it’s so maverick, it’s not muscular, the guitars aren’t distorted, his singing, it sounds like he’s not quite making it, there is a pining in it.
CRADLE ROCK - From Irish Tour ’74 (Polydor, 1974)
The perfect guitar riff
It has a killer guitar riff and it explains perfectly why when Jimi Hendrix was asked, ‘How does it feel to be the best guitar player in the world?’ he said, ‘Go ask Rory Gallagher.’ It’s direct, stripped down, it’s not awash with effects, it’s about his fingers and what they do and it’s one of those ‘look what I’ve just come up with’ moments. You can hear just how great his band are live here and before the band kick in, he does this off-mic scream, and it just sounds so great.
I TAKE WHAT I WANT - From Against The Grain (Chrysalis, 1975)
The cover version as his own song
In between glam and punk, there was only one person who was anti-mansion, anti-roadies, anti 30 guitars on stage, and that was Rory Gallagher. In 1975 at the height of progressive exploration and extended soloing, he was saying three to four minutes was plenty for a song, even with a solo. The tempo is up, he keeps it rockin’, but he’s also got a soul aesthetic and his Sam And Dave cover sounds like something you’d have heard in a club in 1966. It was very different to what everyone else was doing, he was also one of the few musicians who could be a rock star on the cover of the Melody Maker, but could totally hold his own with the pub rockers.