Elaine Malone chats to Donal Gallagher about Kickback City, the latest tribute to his brother, Rory.
Rory Gallagher will forever be known as one of the greatest guitarists ever to exist. He died at the age of 47 due to complications from a liver transplant, leaving in his wake a fantastic legacy. During his lifetime he released fourteen albums, was asked by the Rolling Stones to be their new guitarist and was dubbed the greatest living guitarist by Jimi Hendrix. Many tributes have been paid to Rory and his music from numerous festivals to statues, yet the newest venture of homage is that of collaboration of Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin and Rory’s brother, Donal. Kickback City is a double disc box set combining Gallagher’s music with crime-noir, featuring a novella penned by Rankin and graphic art by Timothy Truman. I spoke with Donal about growing up in Cork, Rory and how Kickback City came to be. Donal told me about Rory’s nature as a child. “He was the person I could trust all the time. By any standards he always had a certain level of wisdom and intelligence.” Cork, it seems, was a fertile ground for the blues. Crowley’s Music, which is sadly now defunct, was where Rory bought his trademark Stratocaster – a model originally intended for another local musician, showband member Jim Connolly.
Rory’s musical interest flourished in the time spent between Cork and Derry which had been an American Naval base. “At a very early age – I’m talking six or seven – Rory was hooking into the radio up there, listening to jazz, which frightened me to be honest. In the jazz hour they used to broadcast blues, Chris Barber’s jazz band, their banjo player was a guy named Lonnie Donegan…he was a big influence because he was the guy that introduced Ireland, the U.K., Europe, whatever you want to call it, to Woody Guthrie, Ledbelly… He was really largely responsible for folk and blues. Chris Barber brought Muddy Waters to these shores. They would be key influences, my father himself was a very talented piano-accordion player, so the gene that was in the family went to Rory …His first love on the guitar goes back to the cowboy Roy Rogers from the comics. He was the singing cowboy”
Rory’s legacy has grown into a cult following. Kickback City is a beautifully imagined work that celebrates all aspects of the musician’s life. The advent of the collection came from Gallagher’s fascination with crime novels, which he always took with him on the road. After his death, Donal began reading them and stumbled across one of Rankin’s books that was laden with references to Rory. The collaboration combines rarer tracks with classics to accompany the noir-themed novella. The beauty of the box set is its interpretation of the music to form an eloquent and artistic story, without losing the vibrancy and depth of the music. The artwork is representative of the blues-infused world created by Gallagher’s innovative and powerful turn of phrase and fiery licks. Donal remains very involved in the preservation of Rory’s legacy and he has done it great justice with this release. Rory will be remembered for his immense talent and inventiveness. An urban myth has it that, when asked what it felt like to be the greatest living guitarist, Jimi Hendrix replied, “I dunno man, go ask Rory Gallagher.” Even if it’s not true, it’s quite wonderful.
Kickback City is available on Sony Records