- 03 Nov 23
On November 3, 1972, Thin Lizzy released their iconic version of 'Whiskey in the Jar'. To mark the anniversary of the single, we're revisiting the band's original guitarist Eric Bell's reflections on the classic track...
In the early '70s, Thin Lizzy were struggling in the wake of two fine, but commercially unrewarding, albums. A casual bout of studio doodling saw them run through a well-known Irish ballad, more for laughs than for any kind of artistic intent. But the record company loved it, as did the fans, and it soon rose to number six in the UK charts. That breakthrough sent the band spiralling off on a remarkable career – and that made them darlings of the rock scene at home and abroad...
Eric Bell on 'Whiskey in the Jar':
The way it came about was very strange. We were rehearsing upstairs in this pub and we couldn’t get any inspiration. I was actually reading a book I was so bored. Then Phil picked up a Fender Telecaster and started singing all these Irish songs. He was doing, ‘Wild Rover’ and stuff like that, just for a laugh. I’m just thinking, ‘When are we going home?’
Then Phil started on ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ and I picked up my guitar and played along. Our manager, Ted Carroll, who had come in with a new amp for me to try out, asked what was that song we were playing. Phil said we were only messing about, but it was ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. Ted then said, ‘Have you got a single yet?’ and we said, ‘Yeah, ‘Black Boys On The Corner’ So he said, ‘Why not put ‘Whiskey…’ on the B-side?’
Anyway, we recorded it – that was the biggest challenge of my life – I didn’t know how to approach it as it was an Irish ballad. We were used to doing rock and blues, not Irish ballads. Myself and Philip played acoustic guitars on it and after that was finished they all looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do?’
I tried a few things that were really corny, so I took a cassette home and worked on it and came up with the solo. We recorded it and released it as a double A-side, so the DJs got the choice of which side to play. It had been out for about two months and we never heard anything about it. We were saying, ‘We told you it was a load of bollocks’.
Then we did this horrendous tour of Germany, doing wine bars and clubs. We got this telegram to our German hotel. One of our roadies Frank Murray came in and said ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ is No. 22 in the UK charts. We thought, ‘We’ve got to get back to England’, so we cancelled the rest of the tour, went back and ended up on Top of The Pops.