An interview with the late Thin Lizzy guitarist, from the Hot Press archives
From Skid Row to ‘Parisienne Walkways’ and beyond, guitarist Gary Moore can look back on a checkered career in the rock world which now sees him established as a major figure in his own right. But was Moore’s bad reputation deserved? How come he was always leaving bands? And how true were all those stories about drink, drugs and fights? When the guitar has stopped talking, Paul O’Mahony finds out what the man has to say for himself.
The Black Sheep? The problem child? The misunderstood genius? Whatever way you view Gary Moore (and most of you don’t judging by record sales in Ireland), one thing is for certain: he’s got lost along the way in the annals of Irish rock history. While U2, The Rats, Gallagher, Morrison, Horslips and Thin Lizzy (to name but a few) were all hailed as exemplary musical ambassadors Gary Moore remained a relatively unsung hero despite his technical brilliance. He has been in some heavy duty musical company and has been recognised worldwide as being ‘up there’ with Beck and other legendary guitar talents. Hailed as a child prodigy in the days of Skid Row, Gary Moore – by his own admission – couldn’t handle the pressure. He drifted in and out of bands quicker than Demis Rousoss could eat two dozen chickens! Drugs, drink, fights. His face tells a story. Rock ’n roll? Yes – and out of control. Musically he certainly stayed off the beaten path, his many maneuvers including the self-indulgent ‘progressiveness’ of Colosseum, three spells with Thin Lizzy, an association with Greg Lake, various session jobs and a concept album of Peter And The Wolf. And that’s just a selection, the boy’s been around.
Recently, he came back into town to show us how he’s been sorting himself out – personally and musically. Talking in the Gresham Hotel he seems relaxed and confident. Sure he’s tough. He’s also brash and arrogant. At times he amazed me and at times I could see his logic, which is driven by an almost obsessively business-like approach to people and life. If it weren’t for the content of his songs, I’d say here was a man for whom humanity and feeling had no place. Even watching him on stage, manipulating his guitar and dragging every last ounce from each note, I felt strangely uncomfortable. I had to come and see the show and felt I was intruding on something special and private. The way Gary Moore handles a guitar is not merely sensual, it’s downright obscene!
The interview. I strived to cover areas he had never talked about before. The guitar had done enough talking, this time it was going to be straight from the man’s mouth…
You’ve probably sold more records as a solo artist than as a member of any other band. How do you account for this?
“I think that before, with other bands, I was flittin’ about too much in different musical directions. And I think now I’ve got my own style together. I feel people trust me a bit more now because they don’t think ‘well, he’s going to be joining this band this week and off doin’ something else the next week’. They’ve seen that I’ve stabilised my direction.
“It’s been like a gradual building-up because it’s taken us two-and-a-half years to get where we are now. I’ve toured the world twice and people have been able to come and see me with a relatively stable line-up each time and they know what I’m about now. I’m not going to be playing jazz next week, and so on”.
It’s been said you’re difficult to work with… as notorious as Blackmore even!?
“A lot of that is just crap because I can still talk to anyone I’ve ever worked with. I’m still friends with all of them. People might say I’m ‘difficult’ because I’m a bit of perfectionist when it comes down to it. I think that I set such high standards for myself that sometimes I expect other people to live up to these standards, and it’s not fair because they’re not setting the same goals for themselves. When people aren’t doing their job or when I feel they’re not working as hard as they should be, then I get pissed off and start yellin’ at them. Yet I don’t think I’m a particularly hard person to work with. I mean I don’t throw tantrums unnecessarily and I don’t smash the hotel up if the TV’s not workin’ or somethin’ like that. That’s more Ritchie Blackmore-kind of syndrome y’know! That’s just so ego – it’s nothin’ to do with me.
“The difficulties people have with me are purely musical things, never personality things. It’s down to the fact that maybe some people aren’t doin’ their job – and I don’t like people lyin’ to me. If anybody lies to me I get really annoyed, and there can be a bit of a row then. But, y’know that’s just the way it goes. I like to get things right!”
How do you remember the Skid Row years with Brush Shiels, Phil Lynott, and Noel Bridgeman?
“Remember what? (Laughs)”
Do you think it was an underrated band at the time?
“Not particularly. I think in Ireland it was, but everyone was underrated in Ireland – and probably still are. The way it is here – or when I was here – was that people weren’t encouraged to do anything original. It was always like ‘yeah, you can play if you do cover versions of Top 40 material’. But there was never any incentive to anything yourself.”
But the band were completely different to anything else on the scene at that stage.
“That’s right, we were. When I joined the band we were doin’ all kinds of weird stuff. It was one of the things that attracted me to them. Phil was just singin’ then and getting’ weird sounds with echo machines. We were doing a lot of American-style stuff, which I quite liked. “
Did you make any money out of it?
“No, not really. I dunno who did – maybe The Brush did (Laughs)”
Then came Lizzy…
“Yeah. I went from Skid Row to my own band for a while. Then I joined Lizzy for the first time in ’74.”.
Replacing Eric Bell, wasn’t it?
“I was only standin’ in for him. What happened was that he walked off stage – very difficult was Eric (laughs). It was good for me, and they were easy for me to work with. I stayed for six months and then got very frustrated with the music. It wasn’t interesting enough to play – so I got out”.
Next stop Colosseum 11– an experimental band if ever there was one!
“I think that was kind of a reaction against Lizzy in a way. The Coliseum 11 thing was so different. Lizzy was a riot every night on stage: get up there, get drunk, and play. In Coliseum everyone was very straight and together, and professional.”
Do you think that phase produced some of you best guitar-work?
“I don’t know, really. Some of the most demanding playing I’ve ever done has to do with that band, but I don’t think I came across as a musician as well as I do now. My sound wasn’t too together, I’m more distinctive now.”.
Despite being a slick, respected musical outfit, Coliseum 11 never achieved mass sales figures. Why?
“We were ridin’ around in a mini-bus for three years, stayin’ in cheap hotels because we wanted to play the music we enjoyed playin’, and we didn’t really care about selling records or anythin’. We were very lucky to do it because you couldn’t walk into a record company and get a deal playing music like that, y’know. We were lucky that we were the only people doing that, and the company took a chance on us for three-and-a-half years”.
And then back to Lizzy again!
“What happened then was in ’77 I was asked to do the Queen tour of the U.S. with Lizzy because Brian Robertson had cut his hand. Again, they asked me to stay but I’d just finished the Wardance L.P wit Coliseum and I wanted to see the whole out. I didn’t wanna walk out on the band. Contrary to the popular belief that I walk out on bands, I do have a bit of loyalty. So I went back to Coliseum for another year. I rejoined Lizzy for the final time in ’78 and left in ’79.”
So, of all of those bands, which was the most satisfying to you?
“They were all good in different ways. Skid Row was a laugh but I don’t have really fond memories of it, because at the time I was very mixed up about what I was doing and…”
You were treated as the ‘little-boy’ genius as well.
“Yeah, that’s what I hated. It was too much for me to handle at the time, and the guys in the band were a lot older than me. Nobody ever said ‘well, you’re playing really good’ – they’d just leave me to it and let me work my arse off. Consequently, I just became faster and faster trying to probably impress them, more than anything and ended up being a lot faster than I intended to be. It was stupid really”.
Are you friends with Lynott and Brush?
“I haven’t seen Brush for a good while”
He’s a bit of an RTÉ celebrity now!
“So I’ve heard! He’d have to end up as somethin’ like that, he’s always into so many different things. He’s such a character! He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
Do you think he’s still capable of leading an internationally successful band?
“If he wanted to he could probably do anything. He’s just one of those people. I was a bit disappointed in the fact that he came back to Ireland before he’d really given it a shot with the rest of the world because I think he could’ve done so much better. I think it was a bit of a cop out to just give up and come back here, whereas I stayed ‘out there’ and Phil stayed ‘out there’. You’ve got to look at it that way really because we all started at the same time. I’m sure Brush has done very well financially, but I hate to see talent go to waste. I felt that it would be nice to other people in the rest of the world to have been more aware of his talent. He’s a very talented songwriter.”
At what point did you decide “OK I’m going out on my own now”?
It wasn’t really like that. I was working with Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake, Palmer) for two years during ’81 and ’82 and we did two albums. At the time I was with him I was writing these songs like ‘Don’t Take Me For a Loser’ and some other stuff that came out later on the Corridors Of Power album. I did some demos after the U.S. tour with Greg to see what would happen, and I got a deal with Atlantic. I really wanted to get out on my own at that stage and I wanted these songs recorded – they weren’t suitable for Greg. I didn’t want to throw them away so I set up a deal with Virgin and went in and did Corridors Of Power. We didn’t even set out to form a band but the album took off so we went on tour.”
So how do you feel about the album in retrospect?
“I enjoyed it, but obviously when you make an album there’s always things you wish you’d done differently. The trouble is, when you write so many different styles of songs like I do, it’s very hard for one producer to treat them as they should be treated. So that album, by and large was treated with more of a rock feel, but when it came to the ballads they weren’t given the right treatment. What we want to do next time is use different producers for different songs.”
And the follow up album Victims Of The Future?
“Victims… was more of a heavy metal album not such a melodic album. Yet it’s become a lot more successful for me, and sold a lot more than Corridors... Funny, isn’t it?”
So to your biggest selling LP, We Want Moore…
“Well, it is in England, and will be in Europe, but it won’t be out in America – so worldwide it won’t sell as many. The thing is we didn’t want to bring out another live album in Japan because we’ve had so much stuff out there (five albums in two years!) which has kind of flooded the market.”
The guitar work on the track ‘Shapes Of Things’ is unusual…
“Yeah, maybe it’s just the way the solo one was done. It was done in three sections instead of all in one go, and I really thought about it. That’s probably some of my favorite stuff on the album. I also like the solos on ‘Corridors’ and ‘Empty Rooms’.”
What about the showpiece axe work on ‘End Of The World’? It’s the really self-indulgent piece for the fans!
“It is really. If I didn’t do that, they’d sort of think there was something wrong! It’s expected of me now. I don’t go crazy on stage with long guitar solos, as opposed to someone like Van Halen who does twenty minute guitar solos! I think that whole approach to music is so dated. I went to see Whitesnake and I think the band were on-stage together for about four songs – the rest was just solos! Really boring! We don’t even have a drum solo anymore.”
You still release tremendous energy on-stage.
“Oh yeah, I’m very fit you know (laughs). I’m only 30, whereas Blackmore is about 10-years older than me, as is Beck. Mind you, they’re not doing what I do!”
Have you heard the new Deep Purple Album?
“I have, yeah. I like the slow track (‘Wasted Sunset’). The rest of it sucks. I haven’t heard Ritchie do anything for a long time, to be honest. He was never one of my favorite players. Shock! Horror!”
What was Dio’s Vivian Campbell?
“It was very flattering to be imitated, but maybe not that closely, y’know. The only guitarist out of the new players that I like is Jake E Lee – he’s gonna be real good. The other guys are just clones of me or Van Halen… I’ll tell you of the three of them – Sykes, Campbell, and Jack E Lee – Campbell is definitely number three. I think John Sykes is a better player, but he’s too like me as well. He’s just embarrassing – you just hear all you own solos being played.
“They say imitation is the highest form of flattery but I was talking to Jeff Beck about this once and he was sayin’ ,‘Yeah, it’s up your wife’s arse – very flattering, but you don’t need it’.”
Do all you guitarists actually talk about each other? Y’know “Jeez, did you hear so and so’s solo on that?”
“Of course, yeah. It’s very competitive and very bitchy. People – especially other guitarists – would love to go away from one of my gigs and say, ‘Gary Moore was shite last night’ because it makes them feel more secure. Unfortunately, they can’t really do that because I do try to keep a pretty consistent standard up, and I try to be in a fit state to go on stage.”
You have a bit of a wild reputation…
“No, I don’t!”
“I do not! In what way? What have I done this time?”
Drink, drugs and fights!
“I don’t get into a lot of fights. That’s going back a bit. I mean that’s when I was with Lizzy and I wouldn’t remember half of what happened! (Laughs) It was like that – just a blur and so stupid. Not the later Lizzy but the first time round I’d do a bottle of wine before going on-stage, another while I was up there, and half a bottle of whiskey when I came off, so I wasn’t really sure of what I was doin’ half the time. I think, though, that I got it all out of my system in the space of two years – drugs and everything. I haven’t taken drugs for a long time now.”
So when did you begin to approach life more seriously?
“Well, Jon Hiseman (Colosseum) actually straightened me out a lot because he showed me what you have to do, and made me appreciate the amount of work you have to put in before you get the results you want to get. You can’t just do it half-hearted, you’ve got to work very hard. I still play all the time – every time there’s a guitar about I’ll pick it up and play it. I still love playing – that’s why I’m still doin’ it. It’s never been the money”.
To coin a cliché, what’s it like being back in Ireland?
“It’s fuckin’ great. I’m sorry we’re not staying for a bit longer, it’s really changed so much. Great atmosphere in Dublin, I’d forgotten how nice it was, actually. Belfast was good too”.
Phil Lynott turned up in Belfast for “Parisienne Walkways”…
“Yeah, he came up and it was great. They leaked it in the press and kinda ruined it. This guy did a review of the show and he said ‘Gary ended up with ‘Parisienne Walkways’ and the only thing missing was Phil Lynott – but he’ll be there tonight!’ And we’d set the whole thing up. So I went out on stage that night and said, ‘I know you read in the papers that a certain person was gonna be here but it’s all bullshit.’ And then Phil walked on and they all when fuckin’ mad. It was like Croke Park.”
Why did Phil take the vocal on that single originally. You’re quite capable of singin’ it yourself.
“I didn’t want to – I still don’t like singin’ much. I don’t consider myself a singer, I consider myself a guitarist who has to sing because he can’t find a singer. That’s the truth of the situation.”
Do you find that many vocalists develop the Amazing Expanding Head Phenomenon, or something?
“That’s one of the problems. The other problem is that they’re so neurotic in the studio I can’t handle it. Like, when a guy goes in to sing, I want him to go in and do it in a reasonable amount of takes – not start analysing every little thing he does. Some of the singers I’ve worked with you wouldn’t believe. As soon as the red light goes on they fold! Weird! Psychological – they talk themselves into getting colds and stuff so they can’t sing. John Sloaman had problems with his voice. Charles Hume – everyone thought he was gay on-stage! It’s always been on-stage or in the studio we’ve had a problem. I’d like to find a bass-player who could sing”.
Did you see that Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) has got together with Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)?
“Yeah! Who’s playin’ guitar?!? (Laughs)
“Well, it’s good copy innit?!!”
Have you any recording plans?
“Well, we’re going to do tracks with each of several producers. The guy that did Ratt, Bo Hill, is gonna do two. Peter Collins is gonna do a couple and I’ll probably do some myself with Tony Platt who did the live album. Tony’s a great rock’n’roll producer. I like working with different kinds of producers”.
Do you get a special buzz from the studio, or do you prefer playing live?
“I’m startin’ to enjoy the studio more. I’m actually forcing myself to go into the studio more and more. I really enjoy all the new technology. A lot of heavy rock bands are so against change and I think it’s stupid to be like that. I’m completely open to the sounds that are there to be used. I mean, if you’ve got a 48-track studio, use it. Don’t say, ‘I’m not going to use more than 16’ and start getting ethical about it, because it’s a science, recording, it’s not something people are going to read a sort of synopsis of after the album is out. It’s something to be enjoyed. People really don’t give a fuck how it was recorded. Look at those Georgio Moroder things – 96-tracks, y’know! It’s just so scientific, I’m all for it. If it gets better results, why not?”
As a last question, if someone told you they were going to melt down all your records with the exception of one – which one would you choose to represent Gary Moore for eternity?
“I’d say the live album because it’s got a good cross section. That way I could keep a bit of everything.”
You’d also sell more records!
“That’s right! It is a double! (laughs)”
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