This month Stuart Ryan steps out of singer-songwriter mode and shows you how to play powerful fingerstyle acoustic guitar like this legendary Irish bluesman.
however, while we commonly associate him with a Vox Ac30 and his famous battered Fender strat (supposedly the first to arrive in Ireland) he was equally adept at acoustic blues. Interestingly there is a definite Celtic influence in his phrasing and you can hear this in both his electric and acoustic work. consequently this month’s lesson is in DADGAD, a tuning rory himself used for several of his acoustic blues outings.
rory Gallagher was born into an Irish family with a strong appreciation of music and his first instrument was the ukulele. Acoustic guitar soon followed and after a brief dalliance with skiffle he discovered the acoustic blues playing of legends big bill broonzy and leadbelly among others. Gallagher started out with blues-rock group Taste in 1966; they went on to perform support slots with cream and blind Faith. After disbanding Taste, rory went solo, which allowed his acoustic playing to come more to the fore.
Gallagher’s deft acoustic picking captured the Delta blues sound of his heroes perfectly, whether he was playing slide on his resonator or fingerpicking on his Martin D-35. However, he often included a twist which was the distinctive Celtic flavour that crept into his fingerpicking style. In this study we’re looking at how rory would play a blues in DADGAD tuning with a strong alternating bassline picking pattern and a moody Celtic influenced melody over the top. listen to tracks like his version of leadbelly’s out on A Western Plain and you’ll hear this approach in action.
As with all great acoustic fingerpickers rory had that rock solid internal groove which meant that he was able to hold down the alternating bassline on the sixth and fourth strings (often referred to as ‘Travis picking’ after the great Merle Travis); over this he would then effortlessly add syncopated and decorated melody lines with phrasing often sharing as much as it did with traditional celtic music as old time blues. If you are new to this style then work on just the bassline at first, preferably to a metronome. It may seem tedious initially but it’s critical that you internalise this alternating bassline so the picking hand thumb is on autopilot when it comes to playing the melody over the top. Interestingly, while many players choose to palm mute the bass notes order to tame them and let the melody notes ring out clearly, rory preferred to keep these two strings ringing open throughout, no doubt contributing to his big fingerpicking sound.
A superb ambassador for music, rory Gallagher’s style showcased a truly individual approach to fingerpicking and is a great lesson whether you are a fan of blues, celtic or just fine fingerstyle guitar in general.
Rory Gallagher with his 1968 Martin D-35