Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Irish Connection …a Tribute to Rory Gallagher (1948-1995)

Living in Ireland as I have been for 37 years now it’s fitting to say a few words about Ireland’s most revered and respected Guitarist----the Late Rory Gallagher.

Most of you who had the privilege of being acquainted with the Gallagher Band will of course know that his trademark instrument was a battered but sweet Fender Stratocaster which I believe is now being reproduced as a special edition by the Fender Company. He used this same 1961 instrument throughout his career and also used the beautiful 1931 National Resophonic along with a ’61 Fender Telecaster and a Gretsch Corvette.

My first exposure to Rory’s completely inimitable style and stage presence was in his very early days with the band Taste. Finding myself alone and rather forlorn in London in the Autumn of 1969, what better to get out of this state than to go in search of some Blues. Sifting through the gig guides in the evening paper I stumbled across the entry for the RoundHouse, a very well known Rock Music venue in the Northern suburbs of the city.

Hearing of Rory’s rise to fame with Taste during my year in Dublin and thought it would be cool to see the band live .I wasn’t disappointed…in fact to this day the first glimpse of Rory as he arrived on stage about two feet off the ground from somewhere on the right wings is an image I shall never forget! What an entrance …it was spectacular and gave us all an idea of what was to come. 21years old and a more accomplished showman and stage presence you could not have witnessed at that time.

Some five years later his Irish Tour 1974 came naturally to Dublin at the Savoy and his new Band continued the evolutionary process that had begun in his early teens. Still the same ‘Strat and his trademark Lumberjack shirt and more energy released in a two hour set than a 20 kiloton Nuclear missile.

He remained true to his Blues roots throughout his career assimilating many styles of the old Bluesmen into his phenomenal technique. I particularly admired his slide guitar work which always found a place in his Album tracks and in live performances. For those of you who have not yet become familiar with his body of work I strongly recommend that you give a close look at the newly released Double Album entitled…”Big Guns…The Very Best of Rory Gallagher” There are twenty four tracks on this release covering his whole career and include the essential:-

1. What’s Going On ( Taste…1970)
2. Bullfrog Blues (Live at Brighton Dome 1974)
3. Messin’ With the Kid (live at Brighton Dome 1974)
4. Born on the Wrong Side of Time (Taste 1969)
5. I’ll Admit You’re Gone (1976)

Probably my favourite track, which highlights his song writing ability and his skill at producing a meaningful ballad is the haunting “I’ll admit you’re Gone”. However it is difficult to find a song that is not completely unique such was his talent.
Rory has gone to the Great Gig in the Sky but his music and effervescence will be there for future generations of Guitarists to learn from and marvel at. One of the most sincere and skilful Guitarists of his Generation. An extraordinary Irishman!

Rory Gallagher…….. Born 1948---------Died 1995

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Monday, January 16, 2006

First a Trickle then a Flood.The Birth of the Blues in Britain
By Robin Piggott

Chris Barber’s Jazz Band with the beautiful Otillie Patterson on vocals brought the sound of New Orleans to British traditional Jazz buffs in the late fifties and early sixties. This was just the beginning of a wave of new sounds that culminated in what came to be known as the British Blues Boom! On Banjo was the great Lonnie Donegan who became the Godfather of Skiffle a year or two later. All of the early musical melting pots were springboards for the next generation of musicians and within a couple of years the Music scene was to change forever.

My first exposure to the blues was on Barber’s wonderful L.P. New Orleans Joys. I forget all the titles now but the haunting sounds stirred up strange sensations and led me a few years later to a life long passion for the Blues as I am sure it did with many young kids at the time.

The year 1962 saw the birth of several Blues gigs in London Clubs, notably the Famous Marquee which made its home in Wardour Street, Soho. The great Alexis Korner was to prove to be a nursery slope for what was to come. Cyril Davies on Harp, Dick Heckstall- Smith on the most wailing of saxophones, Mick Jagger (yes that one!) on vocals to name but a few. I guess that first Album recorded live at the Marquee…Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, started the trickle which very rapidly gathered momentum and soon the Blues was the talking point of all young music heads.

Playing at the Marquee shortly after, in 1963 was the man destined to become the Godfather of British Blues… John Mayall…. John’s famous band, The BluesBreakers went onto fame and fortune as many musicians joined and left in quite a procession over the next couple of years. John celebrated his 70th Birthday a couple of years ago and is playing as well as ever. This gives lie to the notion that life is over at forty and its all downhill from there on. The list of John’s protégées is a who’s who of the music business; a good proportion of whom are still playing today. John McVie, co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce of Cream, Eric “Slowhand” Clapton, Peter Green, Aynsley Dunbar, Mick Taylor and many more.

The band that I believe was the turning point at this time was undoubtedly The Yardbirds, whose incredible energy and enthusiasm were absolutely unparalleled on stage. My first exposure to this Juggernaut was on a Monday morning at school one time when some friends told me about this amazing band that they had seen at the Marquee who had a Guitarist that was simply unbelievable. The Year was 1963, the man in question (well he was only 18 years old!) was Eric Clapton.

The Legend was already underway at this stage and I believe Eric was responsible for the huge interest brewing in the Blues in Britain as the Yardbirds became household names on the R n’ B circuit. Many Guitars were sold at this time as young bloods attempted to emulate Clapton, some with success and many without. Probably one reason for the upsurge in Guitar bands as opposed to wishy washy pop sounds of the time was the discovery of the almost forgotten Gibson Les Paul which produced the sound closest to the Chicago Blues of a decade earlier. Eric’s use of this instrument took the Blues to a new height and no-one could escape the flood that was on the way. With the Yardbirds there was a mix of Gibson and Fender guitars in use. Eric initially played a Fender Telecaster with Rhythm Guitarist Chris Dreja using the Gibson 335, but the favourite in years to come particularly in ’65 and ’66 was the Les Paul.

In 1963 one of the first Bluesmen to arrive on this side of the Atlantic for a Tour was the legendary Harp player Sonny Boy Williamson who recorded a wonderful live album with the Yardbirds that was not released for several years. The restrained backing that the band provided to Sonny Boy showed them to be tight and controlled but Keith Relf the Lead singer and Harpist was a little put out at having to take a back seat to the Master during the gig. Many more Blues legends toured Britain and Europe in the following years which not only revitalised their own flagging careers but gave the budding white Blues players a chance to learn from the Maestros. These include Howling Wolf and the legendary Son House who had been a contemporary of Robert Johnson in the nineteen thirties. The author was privileged to see Son House play in London in 1970 shortly before he died. He was very frail but he certainly could make that National Steel Guitar sing sweetly!

The Album that preceded the Flood was of course the 1966 rendition by John Mayall entitled simply “John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton” recorded on the Decca label .This album marked the first vocal airing by Slowhand and he chose Robert Johnson’s “Rambling on my Mind” as his debut. The interrelating of Mayall’s gutsy Barrelhouse Piano together with Eric’s Les Paul and his tentative vocals, wrote a piece of Blues History that day in the studio. That Album sums up for me not only the musicianship involved and the passion of the music but the very essence of the British interpretation of the Blues. I have listened to this song so many times now since the first momentous day that it came through the speakers and every time it’s hard to keep the emotions steady.

The Robert Johnson Legacy forms an integral and vital part of the Birth of the Blues in Britain and is responsible for the undoubted vitality of today’s thriving Blues scene on both sides of the Atlantic. There are no Blues Bands past or present who do not owe a debt to Robert Leroy and his magic. His genius and virtuosity with the bottleneck will live forever!


This article was first published at Ezine Articles Com in September 2005.

Robin Piggott is a Professional Driving Instructor in Ireland, with a lifelong obsessional passion for the Blues. He treasures his Gibson as much as his Motor and just can't make up his mind which is number one! Please visit his web site and blogs for a mix of Motor and Musings designed to help Beginner Drivers and those visiting Ireland.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The King of the Delta Blues Singers
By Robin Piggott

Probably the most enigmatic Singer and Guitarist of the twentieth Century is now one of the most revered and respected of all Musicians who make up the Genre of the “Blues “. I speak of course about the wonderful Robert Leroy Johnson . Born in 1911 in Hazelhurst Mississippi, in a Deep South plantation, he, in his pitifully short life has become one of the founding Fathers of the Blues.

He recorded only 36 sides over a period of a couple of months between November 1936 and June 1937 in San Antonio Texas .These remarkable recordings still bring tears to the eyes of Blues aficionados the world over and shaped the face of the music of today.
The post-war Blues of Chicago owe a great debt to Robert Johnson and it is sad to think what might have been had he lived! In just a few short years he matured from a young black guitarist into a superstar of his day .The often repeated legend was perpetuated by his contemporaries that he sold his soul to the Devil in return for his amazing guitar techniques.

His story is one of hardship tinged with great success in his own locality of the Delta and women were said to be rendered helpless as he sang his compositions. His death at the hand of a jealous husband at the age of twenty seven robbed the world of one of Americas finest ever Musicians and Blues artists.

Years after his death in 1938, a photograph was unearthed, one of only two in existence. It shows not only his inimitable style of dress but quite remarkable slender fingers which helped him to achieve his unique mastery of the bottleneck guitar technique. He is pictured in a chalk–stripe suit which would have been somewhat overstated for a man in his position at that time .When I first saw that photograph the one thing above all else, that stood out were his beautiful long fingers that enveloped the guitar fingerboard and obviously caressed it as though it was a Woman helpless in his arms!

What about his subject matter… well nothing much has changed in the passing of time; the age old, painful process of unrequited love; of restless yearnings to move on down the line to pastures new; to unfaithful liaisons; and of course much sexual innuendo.

Robert Johnson’s skill as a poet of the time and place is absolutely unsurpassed in my estimation! For sure he borrowed words, phrases, and guitar licks from his peers, but moulded them into something quite unique that not only stands the test of time but has a relevance to today’s Rock music.

There cannot be any Blues Band on this Planet that has not been influenced by Johnson and his music and this is a testament to the greatness of the man! The list of recordings of Johnson’s songs by modern artists is endless and forms the backbone of the resurgence of the Blues in the early sixties in Britain and continues to this day! Most of the long lasting Bands of the R,n,B revolution of 62, 63, and on into the seventies have recorded several of Roberts songs. Notable amongst these would be The Rolling Stones, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Elmore James, and many more. Johnson’s songs transcribed particularly well to the new Electric guitar line-ups of the fifties and on into the sixties. Probably one of the most popular of his songs, which I can’t imagine anyone not having heard in a modern format, is of course Crossroad Blues.

This song was recorded live at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 1968 by the great Eric Clapton and his two buddies, Jack Bruce on bass and stickman, Ginger Baker .This song also featured in Cream’s farewell concert at the Albert Hall in London in 1969. I doubt whether Johnson envisaged this treatment of his song when he wrote it or that his poetry would one day be the cornerstone of the Blues Revival of the Sixties.
It is a poignant end to his story that the great impresario John Hammond, who later went onto sign –up a young Bob Dylan in 1962, was just too late when he searched for Robert to appear in the momentous concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 .Robert Johnson was dead but his spirit and his music will live on for ever in the hearts and minds of the lovers of the music we call THE BLUES.

© Robin Piggott 2004 Key to the Highway Publications.
Robin Piggott is a Professional Driver Instructor based in Ireland with a life long passion for the Blues.This article may be re-published providing all the Author's resource box remains intact along with all the live links.His web site and blogs are listed below:-

This Article was first Published in the Summer of 2005 at the Main Article Directory on the Web......Ezine Articles.Com

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