Brian Robertson

Groupology

  • Thin Lizzy
  • Wild Horses
  • Motorhead
  • The Clan
  • Zilch

Jurassic

Watch Brian Robertson in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: The nickname "Robbo," and having a cigarette in his picking hand. Landing the Lizzy gig at age seventeen. The trademark twin-guitar harmony sound Robertson and Scott Gorham forged together made Thin Lizzy one of the greatest and most inspirational "guitar bands" of all time.

Infamous for: Drinking (two bottles of scotch a day), fighting, and recurring injuries. He was fired from Thin Lizzy at least twice — once after having a tendon severed in his hand by a broken bottle during a bar fight on the eve of a big US tour. Robbo was a powder keg personality — and Phil Lynott was the lit match. He said years later: "I was a firey little bastard and always challenging (Phil)." Brian didn't last long with Lemmy either.

Influences

Obvious: Not much info available on the subject. When I listen to Thin Lizzy, it's pretty clear to me that both Robbo and Scott Gorham digested a lot of Jimmy Page's Pentatonic-based rock licks. Brian is quite definitely a blues-based rocker and I'd venture to guess there's some Clapton and Allman brothers in there too. In the early 80s, Brian claimed Billiy Gibbons and ZZ Top were his favorites at the time.

Not-so-obvious: Robbo had eight years of classical piano training, so he is a schooled musician, but it doesn't come across in his guitar playing. He also was a working drummer prior to joining Thin Lizzy — which may explain some of Robbo's personality quirks!

Strengths

Songwriting/arrangement. Lynott gets most of the credit for Lizzy's songs — and rightly so. But Brian and Scott's guitar parts created a huge part of Lizzy's sound and magic.

Swagger and attitude. By age seventeen, Robbo was a cocksure guitar gunslinger full of bravado. This came across in his playing and stage presence.

Emotion. Brian gets a wide variety of emotion into his solos. From kicking-ass on Emerald or Sha-La-La to sad and beautiful on Still In Love With You (Live and Dangerous), Brian's solos always mirrored the mood of the song.

Melody. Brian is a very melodic player. This is quite obvious to any Lizzy fan, but Brian also brought a lot of melody to Motorhead during his brief stint with the band.

Teamwork with Scott Gorham. Whether they were playing complementary rhythm parts, harmonies, or trading off lead breaks as on Emerald, the Robertson - Gorham team laid much of the groundwork that would later inspire other twin lead guitar bands like Iron Maiden.

Weaknesses

Brian's lifestyle and volatile personality cost him on several occasions. His drinking was legendary and often led to incident, and injury. As talented as he was, Brian ultimately proved to be an unreliable bandmate, and one who wore out his welcome in bands. After leaving Motorhead, Brian dropped out of site for many years. He recently resurfaced playing with a band called Lotus — though he's not officially a member of that band. Brian is part of a band called Zilch with former members of Smashing Pumpkins and White Zombie. But for a guy who came to prominence in the early 70s, there's not a much of his music around to enjoy apart from a few classic albums with Thin Lizzy. His other albums with Wild Horses, the Clan, and even Lotus, are not easy to find.

Tone

Brian Robertson's tone was one of the classic Les Paul - Marshall sounds of the 70s. A crunchy rhythm tone and a warm, but clean (by later standards) lead tone. Robbo's Lizzy tone falls squarely between Gary Moore's Lizzy-era Les Paul tone and Gorham's Les Paul tone. Brian's tone is cleaner and has less bite and sustain than Moore's tone, but has more bite than Gorham's smoother tone. It's also slightly thicker than Jimmy Page's Les Paul - Marshall lead tone.

With Thin Lizzy, Robbo used the classic Dinosaur Rock Guitar formula of a Les Paul with PAF pickups into a early 70s (non-master volume) Marshall 100 watt amps with EL-34s. No distortion or overdrive pedals. Just a Cry Baby Wah. He was most frequently photographed playing a 73 Black Les Paul Custom (shown top), though he has several other Les Pauls including a few vintage models.

When Brian joined Motorhead as the band's sole guitarist, he no longer had to sonically mesh with Scott Gorham. Brian took the opportunity to experiment heavily with effects. He still stuck to his Pauls and Marshalls, but he augmented them with a Boss Analog Chorus Delay, an MXR Pitch Transposer, Yamaha analog delays, and MXR 32 band Graphic EQ. A spin of Motorhead's Another Perfect Day reveals a very wet sound, drenched in delay. It was still a good tone, just different from what he had in Lizzy.

Guitar Style

Despite his classical background on piano, on guitar, Brian is the epitome of a from-the-hip, 70s-style blues rock player. His contemporaries were guys like Pat Travers, Joe Perry, Humble Pie-era Peter Frampton, Ronnie Montrose, and (obviously) Scott Gorham. With Brian, you don't get much more than bar chords in his rhythms. His lead work is almost entirely Pentatonic-based. For a guy so reckless and volatile, Robbo's playing was not really wild or over-the-top. It was firey and tasty, but never extreme.

Brian had good chops by the standards of the mid 70s, but unlike Gary Moore or Michael Schenker (who were around at the same time), Robbo doesn't have that disciplined, pure alternate picking style, and thus never approached the level of chops associated with 80s metal or shred. There's a good deal of legato present. Brian's style features a lot of those repetitive, Page-like Pentatonic licks and a good deal of ascending and descending 3-point layovers. Much the same can be said of Gorham's style as well, and for any guitarist influenced by Thin Lizzy, much of this stuff can be referred to simply as "Lizzy licks." There's a lot of common ground in Brian and Scott's styles. In general, Robertson's style was more aggressive. Gorham's was smoother. The same can be said of their respective guitar tones.

Robbo is also one of the last, great, wah guys, and many of his most memorable solos are wah solos. Listen to Johnny, Warriors, Johnny the Fox, and Don't Believe a Word to hear some of the most effective use of wah ever recorded. Brian uses wah in the traditional sense ala Hendrix and Clapton.

Vibrato

Fast and medium width. Kind of ragged.

Brian Robertson in Action

Recommended Listening

Thin Lizzy

Motorhead

Profile By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.