Cradle Rock (1973)
Take one cup Hendrix, 1/2 cup Alvin Lee from Ten Years After, stir in a few spoonfuls of Jimmy Page, season with a lot of Muddy Waters and there you have Rory Gallagher, Ireland’s greatest guitar god.
His landmark song “Cradle Rock” is different than almost any Rock-N-Roll song that’s ever been laid down. It combines Gallagher’s bottleneck Blues style, foundational in this case with lightning-fast, left-handed movements up and down the fretboard, with an added knack for snatching melody lines from the vapors and humors in the air. It’s stupefying, but all this happens while he’s in the thick of playing rhythm riffs that hurtle his songs forward like skates on fresh ice, seemingly without effort.
“Cradle Rock” studio version, 1973
Bass-man Gerry McAvoy, keyboardist Lou Martin and wild-man drummer Rod de’Ath rounded out the mid-’70s line-up that put this road-hog of a song out into the world. There is a 1973 studio track on Gallagher’s album Tattoo. Its guts show up, however, in numerous live versions, the best of which can be found on his Irish Tour ’74, which took him to civil war-torn Belfast to much adulation by the Ulster Irish in that divided country. (Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ulster Province in the north and raised in Eire (southern Ireland) and is considered to be one of City Cork’s most favorite sons. (A memorial statue to him in Ballyshannon is shown below.)
All the renditions pay honor to the Blues, but also to Jazz, especially what eventually would become known as Acid Jazz. The song in all its costumes also contains straight-up Boogie, woven into which is the influence of Cream and certainly the master of them all, Jimi Hendrix. It moves at breakneck speed and then spins out to a complete stop.
The lyrics are inventive, defiant, and touched-up with a little sadness, perhaps because they boast so much of swinging-dick braggadocio. There is a strong underlying pathos.
If I was a cradle, then you’d let me rock
If I was a pony, then you’d let me trot
If I was the atom, you’d split me into three
But when I want to see you baby
How come you lock your door on me!
You’ll miss out if you… leave me out of your…
Day and night. I been trying to make you see that
Hear what I got to say
It’s all about me and you!
If I was a blind-man, then you’d make me see
If I was a deaf-man, you’d give me ears to hear
If I was a lame-man, you’d give me legs to walk
But if you were true to me baby
Then listen when I talk
Sometimes there is a button-up line:
Would you, would you, let me rock, let me rock? Yeah
The repeating form of the lyrics takes from back-country Blues, songs that often begin and dwell on big If’s. Sometimes someone will write “If I was a train…” At other times they might say “If I could stay…” Blues-master Albert Collins wrote a song called “If You Love Me (Like You Say).” The trope pops up everywhere in the old music, but it is a Blues convention that crept into all genres of American songwriting. Bobby Darin used it in proper English in “If I Were A Carpenter.” The Beatles nabbed it for “If I Fell.” Dylan wrote “If You See Her, Say Hello.” “If” is the biggest little world in the language.
To appreciate Gallagher’s achievements, the listener has to slip back in time and think of the greatest guitar era. Rory seems to have operated in the background of the larger Rock scene, mainly because he didn’t catch fire in North America the way he did in Europe. Yet, he has sold over 30 million albums.
One could call him an iconoclast, in both his artistic and personal sensibilities. In yet another of those cruel, commercial ironies, he is ranked by almost all publications somewhere in the middle of the pack of the 100 greatest guitar players of all time.
He is definitely a top-10 performer on the axe, his famed boyhood Stratocaster that he played throughout his life. (See the first Mangoid below for glowing opinions from a chorus of pretty good guitarists on just what Rory Gallagher has meant to Rock music.)
Rory Gallagher’s “Cradle Rock” represents one of the many high points in Irish music. Ireland’s long history of excellence in literature, drama and its enduring Folk music (which, once transported to America, became a major strand in the DNA of Rock-N-Roll), can claim another giant in Rory Gallagher.
- When asked, “How does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world?” Jimi Hendrix replied, “I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher.” Gallagher was 22 at the time of Jimi’s death in 1970.
- “Rory’s death really upset me. I heard about it just before we went on stage, and it put a damper on the evening. I can’t say I knew him that well, but I remember meeting him in our offices once, and we spent an hour talking. He was such a nice guy and a great player.” –Jimmy Page
- “Rory’s death is a tragic loss of a great musician and a very good friend.” –Van Morrison
- “The man who got me back into the blues.’” –Eric Clapton
- “A beautiful man and an amazing guitar player. He was a very sensitive man and a great musician.” –The Edge (U2)