St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow! It’s another holiday most Americans don’t know quite everything (or anything) about but use as a chance to party. Also, it’s an opportunity to pull that green suit out of your closet that hasn’t seen the light of day since last year.
Ireland has a deep and rich history and culture and it’s great that we can in some way celebrate and embrace them. We aren’t only intrigued about their culinary traditions like corned beef and cabbage and of course, the beer, but also their highly spirited, traditional music.
The instruments that may come to your ears are the fiddle, Celtic harp, Irish flute, and perhaps the accordion. These are the main instruments that give the music that iconic Irish flare and tone. Whether you are in the mood for traditional Irish folk music or heavy Celtic-infused punk jams, there is something for every palate.
Sometimes, there are bands that don’t exude 100% of their Irish roots through their music. Instead, they play rock, blues, or other styles with their unique mark on it and happen to be from Ireland. Today, we are going to look at the more bluesy side of Ireland with 4 blues musicians from the Emerald Isle that you should know about.
Gary Moore was born in the town of Belfast, Northern Ireland in April of 1952. He gravitated to the electric guitar from a young age, and by 16 was in his first major performing band. Skid Row, no not the 80’s glam band, was a blues-rock band based out of Dublin in the late 60’s. In 68’, the young shredder, Gary Moore, armed with his Peter Green-inspired chops, joined the band on multiple show dates across Europe and the US. Moore began establishing himself and getting attention as a heavy-hitting guitarist and decided to leave Skid Row in late 1971. In the meantime, Moore released his first album as a solo artist called Grinding Stone making him a formidable force on the blues scene.
In 1974, after the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy let go of their founding guitar player, Eric Bell, a fantastic Irish player in his own right, they asked Moore to join. He was in and out of the band until 1979 when he decided to fully dedicate himself to his solo career. This decision proved to be a wise one, as he released about 20 studio albums, including his 1990 album Still Got The Blues which was certified Gold! This was also the period when Moore really began identifying himself as a full-blown blues-rock player.
His fiery style of playing on blues songs inspired many players who had an affinity for both hard rock and traditional blues music, like our very own Joe Bonamassa. Bonamassa has credited Moore on many occasions as a major influence on his style of playing. In general, Moore is underrated as a player and doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves.
Over his years in the business, Moore collaborated with many great artists and released amazing works of art. Two that stand out in particular was his brief stint with Cream members Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. They released one album and played a great set at Rockaplast. He also recorded a Jimi Hendrix tribute album which was released in 2012, after Moore passed away in 2011.
William Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Ireland on March 2, 1948. From an early age, Rory and his brother were given instruments and encouraged to express themselves, which was often a unique circumstance in those days. Like many musicians growing up in the UK or Europe, Gallagher was fascinated by the music genre, Skiffle. This style was a mashup of blues, jazz, and Americana music played on makeshift instruments. He loved the improvised nature of the style and honored their freedom of creativity.
Once he was in school, he was exposed to many pivotal musicians who shaped his understanding of music and the guitar. No artist had a greater impact on him than the pinnacle of bluesmen, Muddy Waters. Because of Waters and other acoustic-playing musicians, Gallagher started tackling the acoustic side of things and explored other instruments like sax, mandolin, banjo, and others.
Over the next few years, Rory would experience different bands and even serve as an apprentice in various showbands. All of this served him well, but his real passion laid with the blues. Therefore, in the early 60’s, he founded the blues-rock trio, Taste.
The band was poised for greatness and all the elements of an incredible blues band, including Rory Gallagher’s rip-roaring licks and killer rock voice. Unfortunately, Taste only lasted for about 4 years and two studio albums. Amazingly, the surviving members decided to regroup 36 years later with another guitarist and are still active.
Gallagher went on to host a generous solo career for about twenty years until he passed away in 1995 due to liver transplant complications. He is still considered an Irish treasure and one of the best blues-rock guitarists in history.
Joe Bonamassa idolizes Rory Gallagher and lists him as a major influence on his playing. At an event at the famed Royal Albert Hall, he was able to play Rory’s iconic 1961 Stratocaster on the song “Sloe Gin!”
This is probably the most well-known Irish artist on this list, that you didn’t even know was Irish. Van Morrison’s style ranges from rock, all the way to gospel, and everything in between. His talents include piano, singing, harmonica, sax, and drums. To say that Van Morrison is a music icon is grossly understated.
Some of his biggest tunes include “Moondance” which put him on the map, “Brown Eyed Girl,” and many others. He not only inspires communities with his music, but also is an avid activist and has does a lot to sustain Northern Ireland and other areas.
Morrison has received many awards, including two Grammys, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame as well. He is also one of many knighted musicians for his many achievements over his career.
At 72, Van Morrison continues to push his creativity to the next level, experimenting lately with the jazz side of things. He released a couple of albums in 2017 and plans to release You’re Driving Me Crazy in April 2018.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne is the artist on this list who is proving that Ireland is still pumping out high-quality musicians. Like most musicians when they first start, Hozier was struggling to get his music out there and was left to play open mic nights in his home town. Then, one day he sat down at a piano and wrote the song “Take Me To Church” which currently has a modest almost 8 million plays on Spotify alone.
The song talks about his personal frustration with religion and the Catholic Church specifically which is a sensitive but very important topic that garners listener’s attention.. obviously.
This almost make Hozier seem like a pop artist, and his only album Hozier released in 2014 is very open, deep, and somber. But, mixed with emotional lyrics and catchy guitar riffs, Hozier definitely has blues undertones in his music which is especially noticeable when he is left alone with an acoustic guitar. This is an artist who want to pay attention to.