Rory Gallagher-Pinched Harmonics

Rory Gallagher

“The man who got me back into the Blues.” Eric Clapton

Rory Gallagher was an Irish blues-rock guitarist born in Ballyshannon on March 12, 1948. Well known for his sliding and pinch harmonics techniques, old country folk influences and blues-rock riffs that almost bordered heavy metal, both Gallagher and his trademark 1961 Sunburst Stratocaster have been the inspiration to many admirers, musicians and iconic performers alike.

Selling over 30 million records and being one of the first Irish musicians to gain worldwide recognition, Rory Gallagher’s full sound features warm, guitar-driven, vocal oriented blues tones; the versatility and dynamism of rock guitar, and the timeless influences of artists such as Eddie ‘Son’ House.

Gallagher did his final performance on January 10th of 1995. Falling prey to liver cirrhosis after years of alcohol abuse and use of anxiety medications, he received a liver transplant that eventually caused him a chest infection that cost his life on June 15th of 1995.

Gallagher’s Life & Music Career

Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Ireland and moved to Cork with his family in the early 50’s. At the age of 9 Rory began learning the guitar, teaching himself through, practically, the entire process. By teenage hood, Gallagher had become a guitarist for several different show bands that played the tunes of the moment, later forming TASTE in 1966 with Eric Kitterihgham and Norman Damery.

The newborn band performed several small audience gigs and released their first single A/B tape with songs “Blister on the Moon” and “Born on the Wrong Side of Time.”

A new line-up was summoned in 1967-featuring drummer John Wilson and bassist Richard McCracken- in orders to lock-in a contract with Polydor Records. Under this new arrangement, TASTE released their self-titled album ‘TASTE’ and their follow-up ‘On the Boards’, producing also two live recordings ‘Live at Montreaux’ and ‘Live at Isle of Wright’. The band encompassed Gallagher’s musicianship beyond his guitar skills, featuring samples of his jazzy saxo sound in the song “On the Boards”, and his old country harmonica blues in “I’m not Surprised.” TASTE’s last performance was at the Isle of Wright Festival, before breaking up in 1970.

Despite the short lived history of TASTE, Rory Gallagher began production of his new solo album, recruiting bassist Gerry McAvoy (who joined him on stage for 22 years) and drummer Wilgar Campbell to form Rory Gallagher & His Band.

In his solo works Gallagher proved a harder sound than that of TASTE, with fewer Jazz tones and a fuller blues-rock, almost heavy metal sound; releasing a total of 16 albums, 10 of them recorded just in the 1970’s, during the most fruitful time of his career.

Gallagher was highly admired in the music world, being invited to join bands such as The Rolling Stones in 1973, and Canned Heat. His musical collaborations included performances with Cream, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert King and Lonnie Donegan, amongst others. Gallagher was also deemed David Coverdale’s second best pick (besides Jeff Beck) to replace Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple.

Techniques: Slide & Pinch Harmonics

Rory Gallagher’s talent was aided by an extensive knowledge of tuning styles, open tuning in particular – which significantly facilitates the slide/bottleneck technique so prominent in blues music.

The slide technique is achieved by sounding a note, then sliding your fretting finger across the string in order to modify its vibrational length and alter its pitch. This allows for a continuous and dynamic transition between notes, which complements the blues sound extremely well. The name bottleneck was given in reference to the bottles that were originally used to perform this technique, as pioneer Eddie ‘Son’ House first developed it.

There are extensive Rory Gallagher songs that feature this technique; “Bullfrog Blues” is a great example of his achievement.

Another technique that is prominent in Gallagher’s style is the use of pinch harmonics to produce his trademark squeal, presenting in his sound an instinctive deliberation of when to pronounce them in his solos, and how to fill with them amongst low pitched chords.

Pinch harmonics, lead by Roy Buchanan sometime around the late 50’s, is achieved by slightly catching the string with the thumb or index on the picking hand after its sounded, stopping the fundamental from coming through, and projecting a harmonics instead. Through this technique, high pitched, squealing tones can be achieved throughout the whole length of the string (unlike in natural harmonics), thus minimizing hand motions along the fretboard.

Gallagher’s use of pinch harmonics became even more pronounced in the 70’s, perhaps due to an evolution in his sound – then fuller and harder than that issued earlier in TASTE – in which pinch harmonics’ subtlety was minimized and the sound was aided with the use of new technologies in amplifier distortion, such as in “Walk on Hot Coals” released in 1973.

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