An Interview with Irish Johnny Gallagher, one of the finest guitarist in Europe and explosive live entertainer

"The blues is an expression of good and bad in very living man, woman and dog, its with us everyday, all year round, we carry the blues everywhere we go."

Johnny Gallagher: Kiss me, I'm Bluesman

Widely acknowledged as one of the finest guitar players in Ireland & the UK, Johnny Gallagher is first and foremost an explosive live entertainer. He has scorched his way through shows all over Europe and is held in awe by musicians and fans alike in his native Ireland. His live shows with the powerful Boxtie Band feature a trawl through his own original material interspersed with stunning personal versions of songs from the likes, Lynyrd Skynrd, Hendrix, Peter Green among others.

Though privately quiet and unassuming, Johnny oozes charisma and excitement on stage with that indefinable and much sought after "larger than life" presence. He can change from full on aggressive rock to quieter moments of more tender, introspective music, and in the course of a set he shows his wizardry on both electric and acoustic guitars. To top it all, Johnny possesses truly unique and expressive voices which show cases his songs with the dynamics to swoop from a scream to a whisper. 

The Boxtie Band are: James Gallagher (Bass), Pauric Gallagher (Piano / Organ), and Michael Christie (Drums & Percussion). James and Pauric Gallagher are of course the twin brothers of Johnny Gallagher and have been in the band from day one. They are essentially the backbone of the Boxtie Band as they instinctively understand Johnny's music and always know exactly what and where to play in complementing Johnny's lead playing. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

I have learned how to utilise my emotions by putting them into music which is very cool, I have also learned, there is more to blues than loneliness and sadness, because “Happiness” drives the blues more than anything, Just letting the good times roll, travelling the road, and taking what life throws at me. I feel my life is blues orientated, I think the blues a lot of the time, and I love the way it lets me express myself. To take a person’s story and put it to music is a powerful feeling. Some of my own compositions are about real life day to day situations that I’ve encountered down through the years, and some of them are complete fantasy. May it be writing about my own happiness and troubles, or other peoples everyday journeys, its like keeping a diary, with loads of stories, and for me all this is a gateway to the blues…

How do you describe Johnny Gallagher sound and progress, what characterize Boxtie Band’s music philosophy?

The Johnny Gallagher sound is driven with Guitar, Keys, Bass and Drums, I tend to keep the band and its arrangements based on basic Rock n roll, I enjoy when an audience understands what’s happening, this way I feel it doesn’t go over anyone’s head…and its still covers a broad spectrum regarding the age and genre of our listeners , The bands country music upbringing is very obvious through-out the show, the Rock n roll plays a major role in the energy of most of my songs, but the strange thing is, the blues just seems to come into the sound naturally…

The blues seems to take over the show, but I’m rolling with it. And I love it.

From who have you learned most secrets about the blues….

Well it was my father, he’s a singer and guitar man, with very much his own style and charisma, I grew up listening to him singing and performing country rock & blues with his own band….

And at a very young age, I fell in love with his hero’s, listening to the likes of Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Johnny cash.. etc

And it used to drive me crazy…. Because, I understood what I was hearing, even though I didn’t know what it was… I still was able to understand things…like the tempo‘s, the rhythms and chord changes, they came quite easy to me. I remember the day he explained the source of “THE BLUES” and how to shape a song like Johnny be Good... Telling me about the 8 bar and 12 bar blues, and how it was responsible for many of country, blues and rock n roll songs, I remember that moment very well, it was first time I ever learned something that actually made sense to me, it was like winning a big prize…. I became the drummer in my father’s band when I was 12.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

“In the last few years” I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, partying and playing with some of the greatest names in showbiz, I will treasure every one of those moments, I love it, who doesn’t, we all like to hang out with the famous people, everybody does, These are great moments and great accomplishments, being excepted into a society you have worked hard for all your live feels pretty good, I will also admit, that some of my best moments have been on stage with my brothers and the band, witnessed only by audience‘s through-out Ireland and Europe in small bars clubs pubs, fantastic times, no phones or fancy camera’s just memories…

Regarding the worst moments of my career, there are some that I could talk about, which were incredibly embarrassing and terrifying, some come to mind very fast, I just might share with you another time… Ha ha.

"I feel my life is blues orientated, I think the blues a lot of the time, and I love the way it lets me express myself."

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

The last ten years have been the most interesting years in my life, Because I know what I’m doing, and I know how I’m doing it, I have gained the wisdom and learned how to reflect of my past. In my youth my brothers and I were playful, constantly looking for the wild side, playing music all over Europe, venues, clubs and bars, playing with no musical plan, every night was a jam session…although every night was fantastic, we played real of the cuff stuff, with no solid song formations, just loads of reluctant composition’s and jamming…. but we were having fun, Things have changed a little now…. Still spontaneous... But ! at the same time organised….

Are there any memories from Keb Mo, Seasick Steve, John Paul Jones, and Albert Lee, which you’d like to share with us?

Keb Mo was unreal…. What a great show he had, and a beautiful sound, we spoke about where we came from, we traded some stories about our ancestors, and about the Black Africans and the white Irish who suffered the same faith in many parts of the world, music relate’s us through rejection, war, sadness, pain, melody, peace and happiness….

Seasick Steve loved my beard. Great beard man… he actually said it 3 times … We talked for a little bit, we ate a steak together, he just kept looking at his food smiling and saying…“man its good , its good“, he’s a cool guy and an unreal music man.

John Paul Jones was great, I just got to meet him for a few minutes, we didn’t speak about music, although he told me a lovely story about Rory Gallagher, which was wonderful.

Albert Lee is one of my all time favorite guitar men, I knew who Albert Lee was before I could cycle a bike, all the albums in our house from the Everly bro’s Eric Clapton. The intro to Lay down Sally and of course Country boy, Which is one of my all time favorite guitar songs, He’s been a part of my musical existence since the start. On June 28, 2012... I opened for him in Lillie France, we hit it of great, we drank and played, told stories, “but my one big fantastic moment was” when he dedicated “Country boy” for me… it was his last song that evening… that actually was an amazing feeling…I was somewhat overcome, We’ve met since…. And said with open arms… hey Johnny…

                                    Pauric, Seasick Steve, John Paul Jones, and Johnny 

Which memory from Lemmy and Warren Hayes makes you smile?

Well I suppose I can tell you that I received a personal gift from each of them, we’ll start with Lemmy

I introduced myself to Lemmy backstage, I managed to get into his room when his bodyguards went for something to eat, I simply knocked his door and he let me in no problem. I was in his private suite drinking Jack & cola, we spoke for ages, we drank and ate together we hung around for a while; we traded stories, and enjoyed what I had to say, he listened and asked questions as much as I did. We went to his sound check, it was the loudest thing I have ever heard, I was standing with Pauric James and Michael, latterly at the back of the auditorium, the bass drum came like a hammer on the chest, we started to laugh, and we couldn’t even hear ourselves laughing, Lemmy’s bass was massive, when all the band started together, we had to run out laughing, it was so loud. While sitting with Lemmy in his dressing room later, I asked him for his autograph, I wanted it for the wall of my pub, he asked me if there was a pool table, which there was… so hey wrote “ Some win Some lose” on a an A4, he signed it and we had our photo’s taken…. Cool.

Warren Hayes and Gov-T-Mule…. Have to be one of the best bands I have ever seen and heard, It was the Bataclan Paris, we were setting up our stuff, and getting some sounds going, Warren came on stage, he came over and looked my rig, which consisted of a mesa boogie mk3, a reverb, delay, a compressor pedal. He started smiling asked about the old mk3, He played on my Les Paul, and asked to have a go on my Telecaster… “playing beautiful licks, he said I love this tone, this really is nice“. I could have stood there all night. But the doors were opening in the hall, so we had to clear stage. And in less then an hour, we had to warm up the Gov-T-mule crowd, So I want to put a new set of strings on before the show which starts at 8.30pm…. I had loads of time, but at 8.00 or manager came running in, saying we had to start immediately, Because of local noise levels or some shit…. Here’s me sitting with 3 strings on my guitar…. So you can imagine the scene in the band-room….

I manage to get stringed up and make it to the stage with an “out of tune guitar” and had to start tuning it to 2000 rockers, Anyways I get it together and the show begins, the band performed great considering my guitar strings slipping, we done our 40 mins, Warren was standing on the wings while we came of the stage, he paid me a great complement by saying he loved the gig, He asked me if I wanted my guitars done… to which I didn’t know what he meant… but he called over his guitar-tech and said “do Johnny’s guitars” so the tech runs away and comes back with my Tele, Les Paul, and my Ovation, and puts them up in the rack… through the course of the gig he works on frets, trust rods, and restrings all 3 guitars, I sat in the wings to witness a mind blowing set..

Later in the evening we all ate and drank, we all had a fantastic time, both our bus’s pulled out that night the Mule heading for Barcelona, and we headed for St Tropez..

And would you like to tell your best memory about ZZ Top?

ZZ Top, what a band, a 3 piece unit of solid rock, they were awesome. The sound was amazing, myself, Pauric, Bernie Marsden, and Jim Kirkpatrick were sitting in the wings for the show, I have been a fan since 1984... And I’ve owned the ZZ Top key ring since, it’s the key ring to our road bus, to which I proudly had with me, We were nicely perched beside the guitar tech, to where we could also see the evenings setlist, Billy changes his guitar every few songs, I knew he had a change for “Gimme all your loving” as he came over beside us, I held the key ring up to his face and he said “GO Billy GO” he give me a big smile, Later in the evening we met back stage, he complemented my beard, and said “let me get a photo taken with this man” he asked me where I got the keyring, I told him the story, then he took of his glass ‘s and said… Now you got yourself a pair of cheap sunglasses. They didn’t hang around, the big bus pulled out later that night headed for Zurich.

                                                         Gallagher Brothers with Billy Gibbons

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Steve Lukether, Joe Satriani, Bernie Marsden and Eric Sardinas?

A very vivid memory of Steve Lukether is when he picked up my guitar and started laughing his ass of, he played some serious stuff … started to laugh and said, how the fuk can your play this thing, Man… this guitar is all over the place… holy shit … how the fuk do you play this thing, this really needs a doctor.

Joe Satriani then piked it up and said oh man…. You really play this, we all started laughing, and he then gives me one of his guitars and asked what I think of it …. It was really lovely…. We all played and had great times Joe and Steve are amazing players….and great fun. Joe went into great detail showing me everything about his guitars.

Bernie Marsden has become a great friend in the last 3 years…. Meeting him on the road regular… he has to be one of the funniest music men I know, his stories are amazing but its all down to the way he tells them, he’s really is a great guy and a great guitar man and to top it of he’s a great singer….In France last year, He invited me on stage for a few songs, he started the riff for “fool for your loving” I was taken away completely through the song….  He then offered me to take the first solo … Holy shit what a moment, a few thousand people looking and listening , he smiled to my finish raised he right hand and said to the audience, ladies and gentlemen… Johnny Gallagher… Thanks Bernie.

Myself and Eric Sandinas shared a few shows in France this year, what a player…. He truly is a slide master… his tone is fantastic… we had a basic dressing room jam one night, just a little 12bar, it was great, we laughed at the condition of our guitars, as they are quite similar, because of age mainly and their war wounds, we had a bottle of Jack Daniels, we drank the whole dam bottle before the shows would start.…. “Yes“

          Steve Lukether, Joe Satriani, Bernie Marsden, and Johnny Gallagher

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I’ve had some great jam’s, but to this day I can’t think of one that stand’s out for been the best.

Jam’s can sometimes be hard work because they are thin ice; a jam can have the wrong bunch of musicians. Sometimes “someone” can make it all go wrong; the wrong moves can be made very easily, turning the jam into a sham. The magic of the evening also plays a part in how a jam can turn out, I love to jam, and The Boxtie Band jam’s are safe, If someone joins us we will use familiar stuff, we can revamp old tunes and material from along time ago, from old sets, yet we still use a lot of improvisation in the set…. I like it, It can happen at any time…when Pauric, James and Michael hear that I’ve started to play outside the circle… I can hear them straightening up preparing them selves for what’s going to come.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Modern music is totally trend driven, it comes and goes with fashions, and we don’t have to carry it for so long. The blues is different, its much bigger and deeper, its about truth, pain and reality, and no doctor can fix it, the blues is an expression of good and bad in very living man, woman and dog, its with us everyday, all year round, we carry the blues everywhere we go. The blues helps me release my demons, and it sooths my soul, sometimes I can feel 10 foot tall when I’m playing the and singing the blues, and there is also the times where I can feel as small and quiet as a mouse…. My wish for the blues is… For us to stay true to the blues, and for the blues to stay blue.

Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Ireland. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?

The Irish blues scene has never been better, it’s a cool association with all walks of people, but music in Ireland was always like this, well cultured, always welcoming and bringing people together, during the 1950‘s-60’s music in Ireland prospered, the radio was transmitting bands from all over the world, young people tuning into all the great European radio stations, Dixieland-jazz, old blues and country, eventually the Rock n roll of the 60’s.and the 70’s and the new generation like Van Morrison Rory Gallagher Gary Moore, Phil Lynnot, who have been inspiring Ireland and the rest of the world for many years, Bono has written some of the greatest modern blues songs of our time,

Sadly since the passing of our great blues man Rory Gallagher, The Irish blues scene has become a somewhat of a cult trend with the youth of Ireland… they are very proud of who Rory was... Even though many of them weren’t even born in 95, they are still a new generation of blues lovers, interested in what Rory liked and who influenced him, his favorite bands and singers, what he used as a musician, amps, guitars, and pedals. This has created a great new buzz here in Ireland. We have The Rory Gallagher festival here in Ballyshannon for the last 11 years; the festival has snowballed into Ireland’s greatest and biggest blues festival, bringing bands from all over the world. www.goingtomyhometown.com

What characterizes the Irish Blues Rock? What mistake of local blues scene you want to correct?

Well I don’t know how to answer this question entirely, but I will lend to it, Music has always played a major roll in the Irish society and for all classes of the society, Infact, music was the only thing that a lot of people had. For centuries it became a tradition to travel and ceilie in houses, halls and barns with the pipes and the fiddles, and up until the 1980’s this was still very much a traditional thing to do. These nights were the training grounds for many great musicians. American folk and blues was welcomed and soon performed all over the country, the pub sessions became popular, expanding the spectrum of music, giving the Irish people the opportunity to listen perform and enjoy the blues and more, nothing needs correcting. Its all good.

Why did you think that the BLUES in Europe and especially in Ireland continues to generate such a devoted following?

Well Europe is partially responsible for some of the greatest blues ever created, and down through the years we’ve had many iconic European blues man, and I’m proud to say some of them are Irish, Van the man, Rory Gallagher Gary Moore, and “U2” also have to be mentioned, as they also produced some great blues classics in the last 20years, and it names like this who kept the blues alive here in Europe and Ireland making it trendy, so thetes an interest always there, and the blues belongs to everyone, everybody is entitled to have a go.

                ...more pints for Johnny, Pauric and Irish guitarist Arty McGlynn

Do you know why the sound of traditional Irish and Celtic music is connected to the folk blues root culture?

Ireland has always been rich and still is with its very own traditional music, beautiful melodies filled with humor sadness mystery and adventure, and down through the centuries our Irish music has been borrowed and embroided with European and African influence, which was brought to America on the slave and famine ships, and for many years our Celtic music was shared and associated with sadness poverty, racism, happiness, hope and freedom. The mix is very obvious the in the form of the many rhythm’s associated with both Irish and black American Blues…and also with the old slow laments… crying about loved one’s in distant lands.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?

Well more than anything else, I try to give the people a show, I don’t think I talk too much, I just say what I got say, but I love to talk to the people after the show, compliments come all the time, although I don’t have a favorite one, but its always good to hear, “great band man” or “good show” these one’s mean the most to me, because it covers us all. We all put the same in to it…

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……

Without going into too much detail, “my free time” is the time I write, I love to write, may it be poems, stories, or songs, I also spend a lot of time inventing paintings, which I will paint someday.

Art is very important to me, it makes me very emotional, and it also inspires me, colors are my weakness, ha ha, and blue is one of them……. Well happiness, is something we can’t plan, but we certainly can wish for it and try to maintain it, so along with happiness, my dream is to own and live on a boat with my family, a flooting enterprise, hosting a restaurant, a recording studio, an art gallery… and a home. (One day).

"I write, I love to write, may it be poems, stories, or songs, I also spend a lot of time inventing paintings"

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

I really don’t know about giving advice anymore, as it feels like a lot of the youth seem to know it all, already, It’s alright if you’re a teacher, but I’m not a teacher, I’m still learning myself, I will make suggestions, and I’ll keep it plain and simple, But one thing I do say, Is “respect the craft“… whatever you are into, respect it… enjoy the ride, its going to come, like it or not, so enjoy it. And “be it“.

What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a Blues Rock musician?

Well I feel that my main characteristic is my good looks, ha ha, my guitar and my beret gets a lot of attention too, The blues rock musician is where I am at the present, my music changes from time to time, well for the last 4/5 years I’ve been more blues than anything else, I don’t know have a reason for this, its just happening… something is pulling me in that direction, my guitar playing and my melodies have changed, but I love it .. I like where my show is at the moment because I still have a little bit of country in there and the rock element always excites me. Pauric James and Michael have a lot to do with what happens, they are the bones of the show. They layer a good solid structure for me to play on... And I get to do what I do …. Play have fun, and be the man I was born to be.

What experiences in life make a good Blues Rock player and songwriter?

Well every player needs to keep on top of his game, and needs to stay musically fit, practicing your basic rules, and staying in touch with the tone of your instrument is a good start. When it comes to Writing songs…there is no right way and no wrong way, I can’t contribute much more to this, but I will say one more thing, mind your own business and stay away from other peoples work, try and be as original as you can. But general day to day living is the key, and been able to tell that story. This is the answer.

What is the feel” you miss most nowadays from Rory Gallagher’s music?

Well… I suppose, It’s what we miss from our entire hero’s, there’s no more to come… its finished, but that’s life. We simply have to savor all what we have of them, and that’s what I do with Rory, I love to listen to Rory… but not just in a bar or club, I love to listen to Rory on my favorite stereo at home alone, intensely with a concentration, Simply following his melodies, listening to his free spirit his energy and his emotions. Rory’s slide playing in particular is so rich and happy, I love his tone, and it was incredibly honest.

How you would spend a day with James Joyce? 

If I had a day with James Joyce, we’d be singing playing the guitars, apart from his writing he was a man who loved his music, a great singer of Irish songs and ballads and a great guitar player. Seemingly he also had a fondness for American roots music, Anyways he was an overall great musician and! “one of the greatest writers of our time“, I’m sure we would have something to talk about, asking him to spin of passages from Ulysses or Finnegan’s wake, imagine asking him to of rant some of his poetry, I’m only thinking rapidly here… but I’m sure we would have had a great time, as many of our passions are the same…. A few pints of the black stuff would be had.

What would you ask Arthur Guinness?

All id have to say to Arthur…. Is … “keep them pints coming Arthur boy, keep them coming”

Johnny Gallagher - Official website

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