As the story goes, when asked how it felt to be the world’s greatest guitarist, Jimi Hendrix replied: “I don’t know; you should ask Rory Gallagher.” However, there is no evidence Hendrix ever said such a thing. It has been reported that he said the same about Phil Keaggy as well as Greek bouzouki player, Manolis Hiotis.
There is no doubt in my mind that Hendrix would have admired the stellar musicianship of all three, as do I. Admittedly, I know very little of Hiotis, but I have been a big fan of the man in plaid – Rory Gallagher – for decades.
Self Taught Guitarist
Rory was a self-taught master musician from Ireland who played rock and blues guitar both raucously and exquisitely. As with so many musical artists of his time and place, his first big influence was British “King of Skiffle”, Lonnie Donegan, who covered many tunes by American blues musicians.
His Favorite Guitar
In 1963 Rory came across a slightly-used, 1961 Fender Stratocaster in a music store. Reported to have been the first Strat in Ireland, it had been ordered by showband guitarist Jim Connolly, but wasn’t the color that he wanted. Rory bought the instrument for one hundred British pounds, an amount that in 1963 Ireland was enough to break the average Irish family. This Strat remained his primary and most-used guitar until Rory’s untimely death in 1995.
One Unique Instrument
Virtually all the paint had been worn off over more than three decades of use, and most of the hardware had been changed. When one of the original clay 12th-fret position markers fell out, Rory replaced it with a brilliant white plastic one. He also replaced the tuning pegs with five Sperzels and one Gotoh, the reason for which I have never discovered.
Pickups were changed and the guitar was rewired so that only the master volume and one tone control remained in the circuit. In 1961, Fender made Stratocasters with only a three-way pickup selector switch, which Rory soon replaced with the newer five-way switch, giving him the much greater tonal choices the newer Strats incorporated.
Today Rory’s famous, and some would say sacred Stratocaster is kept safe and secure by his brother Donal. It was brought out in October of 2011 so that Joe Bonamassa, an ardent Rory Gallagher fan, could play it in two concerts at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. Joe opened each concert playing Rory’s “Cradle Rock”.