Learn to Play: Rory Gallagher Riffs with Jeff Massey

Rory Gallagher may not be a household name to the general public, but ask any guitar player and fan of '70s-era blues rock, and they'll tell you: Rory was among the best of the best. Considered a legend not only in his homeland of Ireland, Gallagher has had an undeniable influence around the world, achieving a cult-like status among his peers and fans.

Rory’s style ranged from traditional acoustic folk and blues to full-throttled, amped-up rock. His effortless feel and vast chops allowed him to switch styles smoothly and made him a top-notch live performer. Gallagher primarily played a '61 Fender Stratocaster through a variety of different amplifiers, occasionally switching to a '66 Fender Telecaster for slide and a Dobro acoustic resonator when performing traditional blues.

For this lesson, I dug up some of Gallagher’s rather unorthodox licks to really showcase how unique of a lead player he was.

Rory had an original approach to playing lead over standard blues and boogie rhythms, exploring modal playing and stepping out of the blues box to create an ear-catching original style. Take note of the use of major scale notes blended with the minor blues scale and how smoothly Gallagher incorporated them together, effortlessly improvising over the chord changes with the perfect mix of flash and feel.

Another aspect of Rory’s lead sound is his aggressive picking style, which incorporates subtle pick harmonics to create extra harmonic possibilities within a run. Rory was pulling just as much sound from the pick as he was with his left hand note selection.

I hope you enjoy this look at Gallagher’s unique style, and be sure to check out Gallagher’s albums—including his early recordings with the band Taste and his solo work. Rory's abilities as a talented singer and songwriter are showcased best, in my opinion, on my favorite of his albums, Irish Tour '74.


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