Rewriting Rory #14 - Remembering Rory
Rory is constantly in our thoughts every day, but 14th June marks that heavy day of the year when we think about him just that little bit more. No matter how many times the date comes around, it never gets any easier, but through the support of fellow fans, it can somewhat help ease the pain. For us – as we’re sure is the case for many – music is also a huge source of comfort in times of sadness. Rory himself said in a 1991 interview with Jas Obrecht that music is “good for your mental health,” has the “power to heal” and can “cool down the savage breast.”
With this in mind, we wanted to put together a little guide to some of the many tribute songs that have been written about Rory over the years. The list is not exhaustive; instead, it includes our own personal favourites and a short summary of their context. The songs indicate the immense impact that Rory has had on so many people’s lives and – when listened to as a collective – perhaps encapsulate our feelings for Rory better than anything our own words could ever say.
So, let’s start the playlist, crank up the volume and raise a glass in memory of the beautiful human being that was Rory Gallagher.
We first interviewed long-time Rory fan Marianne Murphy for our November 2022 article on Rory’s final USA tour in 1991. Marianne was fortunate to see (and meet) Rory live on three occasions: 1976, 1985, and 1991. She shared in her Q&A this statement about Rory and his influence on a crowd (and herself):
Rory’s music brings people together in a mutual admiration for his talent of which he so generously gave us. His concerts were not in huge stadiums where the performers look like ants. His concerts were more intimate with the audience […] Rory was hugely inspiring for me. I used to play lots of slide blues acoustically. I started listening to the old masters like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Son House, [and] Charley Patton.
Following her final meeting with Rory, she was inspired to pen a song about him: “Hero From The Emerald Isle”. The song featured on her independently released CD Tribute, as well as included on the Rory tribute tape They Don’t Make Them Like You, compiled by Rick Oppegaard shortly after Rory’s passing.
'Silence of the Blues'
This blues number was written by Cork guitarist John B. Murphy on the day of Rory’s funeral in June 1995. He recorded it as a single with his band Blueguru on the tenth anniversary of Rory’s death, adding Fiona Kennedy on vocals. Kennedy gives a powerful performance as she asks in disbelief, “Could somebody please tell me that the bluesman, he ain’t dead?” before describing her trip to the church to see Rory “coming home” and then the graveyard to say her “last farewell.” The song ends with a lovely Rory-inspired guitar solo by Murphy.
|Fiona Kennedy on stage|
'Rory is Gone'
(recorded for Graffiti Tongue, 1996)
This moving ballad sung by legendary Irish folk singer Christy Moore was written by Nigel Rolfe and appeared on Moore’s 1996 album Graffiti Tongue. Rolfe penned the song because he felt that Rory deserved a “suitable heartfelt obituary,” especially as he felt so “forgotten” and “unrepresented” by the end. According to Moore, when Rory passed away, the entire nation seemed to mourn him; even those unfamiliar with his music had a “soft spot” for him because of his gentle and kind nature. In his song, Moore is able to capture that sorrowful mood of the nation in the emotional delivery as he reflects on Rory now playing the blues in heaven “above the clouds with all the angels singing there.”
(recorded for Redtop, 1996)
British guitarist Jed Thomas honoured Rory on his album Redtop (1996). Jed is known for his Delta blues guitar style, and his tribute to Rory fittingly follows this structure. The song features both the National and electric guitar, with the lyrics referencing either Rory tunes (“through your music you gave your soul, you gave everything, walked on hot coals”), or events in his life (“you play with Albert Collins, you play with Albert King. Jerry Lee gave you hard time, and Muddy gave you a dream”).
This song was recorded by American Celtic rock band Black 47 in 1996 and debuted at a special tribute concert to Rory in New York, which was captured on the 1997 documentary Songs and Stories: New York Remembers Rory Gallagher. Singer Larry Kirwan – a native of County Wexford – saw Rory as a “conquering hero” who opened up the way for all the Irish musicians who followed. In ‘Rory’, he recalls the excitement of Rory coming back to Ireland to play, conjuring up an evocative image of the concert: “long hair flying, blue denims dripping with sweat, volts of lightning in his fingers.” The song takes a poignant turn when Kirwan reflects on Rory’s struggles later in life, thanks him for everything and wishes him goodbye.
|Larry Kirwan on stage|
'The Ballad of Rory Gallagher'
‘The Ballad of Rory Gallagher’ also features in the Songs and Stories documentary and was written and sung by another native of County Wexford – Pierce Turner. Turner takes to the stage with just his acoustic guitar to perform this touching tribute. The clip is interspersed with stories about Rory by Dónal, guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house. In the documentary, Turner states that he admires Rory for being so talented yet having no “need” or “desire” for “world domination.”
|Pierce Turner on stage|
(recorded for A Smile To My Soul, 1997)
Two years following Rory’s passing, Dutch guitarist Julian Sas paid tribute to his “greatest hero” in music by penning “Stone Desert” on his second album A Smile To My Soul. Julian utilises the National guitar to epitomise the gritty imagery of the Deep South, similar to the sounds and blues tropes Rory demonstrated throughout his career.
Over the years, ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell crossed paths with Rory many times. Towards the end of his life, Bell was a true friend, one day finding Rory confused in the middle of London and taking him for a drink to calm down before helping him back to the Conrad Hotel where he lived. In 1998, Bell released the album Irish Boy, the title track penned in memory of Rory. A tear-jerking ballad, Bell sings of Rory’s loneliness, unhappiness and inability to settle down, always wandering. The high point of the song comes in the closing 1.5 minutes when the pace suddenly increases – reminiscent of the end of ‘I Fall Apart’ – and Bell seems to momentarily channel Rory with his solo.
‘To Rory’, ‘Gwerz Rory’
(The Earth’s Lament, 1979; La Mémoire Des Volets Blancs, 2001)
For our article in July 2022, we spoke briefly about the friendship between Breton musician Dan Ar Braz and Rory. Dan very kindly participated in a Q&A for the article, and offered some poignant memories about the friend he dearly misses: “[I learnt from Rory] to be yourself and give it to the people. [His] passion for guitar I guess saved his life – and mine too – so we were kind of survivors.” Dan first honoured Rory in a song on his 1979 album The Earth’s Lament. Simply titled “To Rory”, the up-tempo mood combines electrifying rock fills to then slowed* Celtic-inspired intervals. On the other hand, 2001’s “Gwerz Rory” encapsulates a sombre and reflective atmosphere.
(from The Peace Within, 2004)
This is a gorgeous instrumental of a similar vein to Dan Ar Braz’s ‘Gwerz Rory’. Rory knew both Barry McCabe and Davy Spillane fairly well, McCabe having played support on Rory’s 1992 European tour and Rory having guested on Spillane’s 1988 album Out of the Air. According to McCabe, the song was inspired by looking out over the Atlantic and thinking of all the Irish people who had to leave their country in order to work and find success, including Rory. The blend of McCabe’s guitar and Spillane’s uillean pipes poignantly evokes the feelings of homesickness and nostalgia.
Thank You Very Much' (from At the End of the Day, 2004)
‘Thank You Very Much’ was written by Dublin brothers David and Barry Somers and released in 2004 on their album of Irish folk At the End of the Day. For the brothers, Live in Europe was “lifechanging” and they went on to see Rory many times in concerts, including at Punchestown Racecourse in 1982. They were struck by the fact that Rory would always thank the crowd after every song, so they decided to call their song “thank you very much indeed” in reference to this. David Somers wrote the song in his car late one evening after finishing a stressful shift at work. For Somers, his car was a “blues-assisted decompression chamber.”
|Rory before a crowd at Macroom Mountain Dew Festival, 1977|
'An Acoustic Tribute to Rory Gallagher'
This is a full album of Rory acoustic covers, courtesy of Chris Newman, a British acoustic guitarist and partner of Irish harper Máire Ní Chathasaigh. Shortly before he died, Rory had expressed a wish to work with Ní Chathasaigh and had requested that her version of ‘Carolan’s Farewell to Music’ be played at his funeral.
(from Fearless, 2005)
More fast-paced and ‘feel-good’ than a lot of other Rory tributes, this song by American rock guitarist Larry Miller is stunning. Through its sounds and lyrics, Miller really evokes the atmosphere of a live Rory concert, especially in the chorus with the crowd chants of “RORY! RORY!” Miller muses on the times that he saw Rory live with “sweat in his eyes and hair down his back, tearing up the stage with his battered Strat.” He speaks for everyone when he concludes that “rockstars come and they go, but there will only be one I know.”
'A Song for Rory Gallagher'
A personal favourite of mine (Lauren), this song by Cork artist John Spillane is simply brilliant with its interweaving of Irish and English lyrics, the Celtic sounds, the changes in tempo and heartrending calls of “Rory, can you hear me?” The lyrics were penned by Cork poet Louis de Paor and were inspired by ‘Bratacha Dubha’ on Wheels Within Wheels. According to de Paor, the song was inspired by the fact that Rory “never realised how much he and his music meant to everyone” and that he was “gone before anyone had the chance to tell him.” Our follower Ann O’Kelly offered a wonderful description of the song: “His is just the most beautiful song about Rory that I will ever hear. The Irish language lyrics underscore the Irishness that was behind Rory's music that was channelled through his Strat from the other side. John Spillane truly acknowledges Rory's other worldliness. ‘Since you walked out the door on the far side of here, with our hearts held safe in your hands.’ Such beautiful words and imagery. Pure magic.”
(recorded for Rorymania, 2007)
German guitarist Richie Arndt is known for the blend of country, blues, and Americana in his music. In 2007, Richie and the Bluenatics (his band since 2002), released the album Rorymania, which features covers of Rory classics, as well as the tribute song titled “Rory”. Along with the Bluenatics, renowned blues guitarists Alex Conti, Henrik Freischlader, and Gregor Hilden play on the record in honour of Rory. During an interview with Blues magazine in 2022, Richie shared his thoughts on the album and the Irish guitarist:
I’m a big fan of Rory Gallagher, his guitar playing, but certainly also how he was onstage: checked shirt, worn-out guitar, no boasting but playing, banging, often longer than the program. Pure and honest music and presentation. The CD [Rorymania] contains songs that Rory has played, a kind of tribute. Unfortunately I never saw him live.
Bernie Marsden Plays Rory
Throughout his career, former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden has always spoken fondly of Rory. In a 2020 interview with Hot Press, he stated that, although Rory’s music hit him “with real power,” it was Rory’s character that impressed him more than anything else. Marsden never lost the sense of “magic” that he felt around Rory and has gone on to pay tribute to him, both at the 1996 memorial show (where he played Rory’s Strat) and Ballyshannon. He has also performed with Richard Newman and David Levy. This fantastic album sees Marsden offering up his own versions of his favourite Rory songs.
'I Remember Rory'
(recorded for The Mind Parasites, 2010)
Jean-Pierre Froidebise is a Belgian guitarist and is well known for playing in the group Such A Noise. Jean-Pierre saw Rory in concert in his hometown of Liège in 1972 and 1977. In 2010, he expressed his gratitude to his “real guitar-hero” by writing “I Remember Rory” for his album The Mind Parasites. Jean-Pierre’s lyrics are autobiographical, describing the moment he realised he would “follow [in] the tracks” of Rory, a sentiment that continues to the present, “He’s in my heart and I can feel that, his shadow is still on my way.”
'No Platform Shoes' (2010)
This is an understated but fun little foot-tapping number by avant-garde pop group The Complimentary Copies, along with Northern Irish artist Drew Cannavan. In the lyrics, they reflect on Rory’s uniqueness, his love of the blues, his attitude to music and, hence, no need to wear platform shoes! They do a great job of encapsulating everything about Rory that makes us all love him so much.
|Rory with no platform shoes in sight!|
Polydor promotional image
(recorded for A Lifetime to Kill, 2011)
Bat Kinane is widely known for being the guitarist in Glyder, a hard-rock band from Ballyknockan in Co. Wicklow, Ireland. In 2011, Bat had the chance to release a solo record, which included a tribute song to Rory. Bat explains:
I wrote it from the perspective of a young lad going to see Rory Gallagher in 1974 in Ireland. I was only one years old so I’m just imagining how it would have been […] I kept the solo off the demo and imported it into the track because it was done in one take the way Rory would have done it. There are a few notes that aren’t perfect but I wasn’t striving for perfection just trying to create a mood and feel […] Rory was a unique talent and that’s why he went to the tope and on his own terms, which was very special. I feel with this solo album [A Lifetime to Kill] I’ve made it for the love of music and not money and that’s the way Rory was too.
For those of us who had never had the chance to see Rory live, we can certainly relate to the narrator of the song and imagine the “tingle down my spine” as “I hear him play.”
'Return of the G-Man' (2013)
Former Mama's Boys guitarist Pat McManus is a regular performer at Ballyshannon and has made no secret of his love for Rory. This lovely tribute – performed live for Blues Moose radio in the Netherlands – captures in a nutshell what makes Rory so well-loved by all. The lyrics play nicely on many of Rory’s song titles, while McManus’ guitar solo – played on the neck of his acoustic guitar – is beautiful.
|Pat McManus on stage|
Jacques Stotzem is an acoustic guitar player from Belgium who draws inspiration from blues, jazz, and folk. Jacques was introduced to Rory’s work from the Live in Europe album, and saw him perform in Liège in 1977. Jacques enjoys transforming songs based on the electric guitar to acoustic, and in the past has even organised Rory Gallagher Unplugged nights. In 2015, Jacques recorded a collection of Rory songs for his To Rory – acoustic tribute to Rory Gallagher album. Jacques stated in an interview:
It’s for me always a challenge and a pleasure to try to find ways on the acoustic guitar to perform Rory’s music. To try to catch the original spirit and perform it on acoustic guitar. What I really love in Rory’s pieces is that his music was combining energy and melody.
(re-released on the compilation Best of Boz Roz, 2016)
The Boz Roz Band pay their respects to Rory on the upbeat, bluesy track “Gypsy Rover”, which follows the narrative of Rory learning on his first guitar in Ireland, to becoming a consummate performer who “rocked us through the night.” The song’s mood captures Rory’s love for the road and travelling, especially with the ‘chugging’ rhythm of harmonica and electric guitar.
‘No Airs or Graces’
(recorded for Like There’s No Tomorrow, 2017)
From reading about Eamonn McCormack, we discovered Rory’s influence to be undeniably clear, with the majority of Eamonn’s interviews mentioning Rory at least three or four times. In our post from April 2022, we documented what would be Rory’s final contribution to recording: playing on “Falsely Accused” from Eamonn’s 1995 album Strangers On The Run (originally released under his stage name Samuel Eddy, and re-released on 2012’s Kindred Spirits). Since Rory’s passing, Eamonn has continued to show his appreciation for his close friend and guitar hero, such as writing the “chilling tribute” “No Airs Or Graces” for his 2017 record Like There’s No Tomorrow. The song opens the acoustic side of the album (the other being electric), and has been classified as “the collection’s absolute highlight,” which could leave “even the toughest with a tear in the corner of their eye.” Eamonn beautifully captures Rory’s gentle and tender manner with the subdued arrangement and delivery.
'King of the Guitar'
The Kings of Cool are a group from Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal, Ireland, and write music that blend country, jazz, and classic guitar pop influences. In 2021, The Kings of Cool decided “to do him proud” and honour the man who was “born in Ballyshannon town” with a single called “King of the Guitar”. The song frequently references Rory’s “Shadow Play”, as heard in the introductory riff and vocals, as well as the lyric prior to the guitar solo, “when it’s late at night in the summer breeze, you can still hear ‘Shadow Play’.”
Hot Press Rory Gallagher LP Revisited
To celebrate what would have been Rory’s 74th birthday, Hot Press announced a new performance series where a different Irish artist or band would cover each track from Rory’s debut album. The versions were released on a nightly basis in March 2022 and included contributions from Mary Stokes, Molly O’Mahony, and Joel Harkin.
“One word, and one word only, can apply it seems to the person who makes life worthwhile by example, who loves his trade and the people who play it and one who tells them so, who makes his peers feel good by his simple presence. Rory Gallagher graced music as he graced humanity. The word is Grace.”
We love you, Rory.
Forever remembered, forever missed.
Thank you for reading!
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