By: Janne Stark
(Parts have been published in Swedish in FUZZ Magazine www.fuzz.se)
Thin Lizzy… well, it used to be. When they return with their own material, the band had the good taste of changing the name to Black Star Riders. Smart move, I’d say. Sure, the album sounds like a new Thin Lizzy album, but a really good one at that! Black Star Riders is proving to be a force to be reckoned with on their own!
At a hotel in Stockholm, I met up with Scott Gorham, actually the only remaining Thin Lizzy member of the band since Brian Downey and Darren Wharton decided to leave their notice when the band abandoned the Lizzy banner. I'm told they will still play the odd gig under the original Lizzy name.
Janne: I first have to say I’m an old Thin Lizzy fan myself, and one of my own bands did a cover of Warrior, which we re-arranged quite a bit, which I hope you excuse.
Scott: I’ve heard so many bands do covers of Thin Lizzy. What they do is they cover it note for note and even guitar tone for guitar tone, and I keep thinking, why are you doing that? If you’re gonna do it, take the time, the brain power and the money and make it your own song. It’s what we did with the Bob Seeger song Rosalie. His was almost like an acoustic song when Phil brought it to the table and he said we ought to cover this. When he played it to us we were like – what the fuck are you talking about? No, we step up the tempo. Then once we went through it, it was like: OK, I understand!
Janne: If we go back to your own beginning as a musucian. What inspired you start playing?
Scott: My first guitar hero ever was Dick Dale, king of the surf guitars. Because he was Californian, because he did surf, and that’s what we all did. He had a tone that nobody had ever heard before and he had this fire and just spit these things out. The double picking action he had was really unique to him and the reverb added to it. He’s still playing today. I went out and saw him about five years ago in this little club in the valley in California and he was kick-ass. His speakers are the big Fender Bassman’s with two 15” speakers in there. He uses two of those and I think he even uses a Bassman amp with the big old Fender Reverb unit. Pretty cool. He was my first guitar hero.
Janne: Did you learn to play on your own, or did you take lessons?
Scott: I didn’t (take lessons). I did it the slow way. I sat there and tried to work things out. Hit and miss. I used to think that guys who went to school and took lessons and all that were cheaters. You’re a schooled player. I’ve got no time for you. But, when I started the band 21 Guns, both the drummer and the bass player were music graduates from Florida. We were working on a song one day and I wanted Michael the drummer to play a certain beat, but I didn’t know how to count it out in the right way, and I have no musical speak at all. I try to mime things to them, but he’s not getting it. It’s taking like 20 minutes to try to get my point across and Leif, the bass player says: "Oh, I think I know what he means. He wants the bass on the one and bla bla. Oh, you mean like this" and I went: "yeah!" So, what I’d been trying to spell out for 20 minutes they did in 15 seconds. Shit, I should’ve gone to school and have someone teach me this stuff! (laughs)
Janne: From what I understand you started playing bass?
Scott: Yes, I did. That was my first love. It was because it was the only instrument left in the first band, a group called The Jesters in Junior High school. Then I played with Ilford Subway, and was still playing bass. I was around 15-16 years old. I didn’t actually move over to the guitar and call myself a guitar player until probably I was about 19. I wanted more spotlight (haha) and I just wanted to get more musical about it. I bought an acoustic guitar and just started practising handpicking notes and all that. I’d get in different small bands and try to look at the other guitar player what he’s doing, and try to cop a little of that. It was a bit of a slow process for me. When I got to England I’d only been playing guitar for like three years. Everybody thinks I’d played for ten years before that, but I’d only seriously been doing it for three years.
Janne: Did you record any album in the US, or was it just the single with Ilford Subway?
Scott: Thin Lizzy was the first band I actually did an album with. Nightlife. Both Roberson and myself, it was our first album so we were exceedingly green when we walked in. We had really no idea what we were doing and how the recording process worked. Even to the point where if you heard something was wrong and didn’t know how to argue it. That was mine and Brian’s first stab at making an album, which was a total fucking failure. Not completely our fault, though. I’ll put some of the blame on the producer Ron Nevison. It was almost like he took this job as a side-thing when he needed a couple of weeks to fill because he had Eric Clapton in three weeks time. So, we ended up learning nothing from the guy. He didn’t really care about us and I ended up not caring about him at all. Admittedly he is a good producer, and it’s the shame of the whole thing. It’s like when Def Leppard sat down with Mutt Lange and learned a shitload of stuff. He was actively teaching them how to do this and that, why I’m doing this, if you want that sound this is what you gotta do. We got nothing like that from Mr Nevison. It was a bit of a drag as your first album.
Janne: I personally think the mix is quite flat and thin on that album.
Scott: You know, we had rehearsed for like three weeks solid, and it had a pretty raw edge to it. The guitar were a lot more distorted, it felt a lot more free. The Nightlife album ended up sounding really clean, really tense, because the atmosphere in the studio wasn’t great. So I call it the great cocktail album. In the American bar we have the muzak, people sipping their Manhattans. I just find it a disappointing as a first album. You wanna come out being bad, kicking ass. We definitely didn’t kick ANY ass on that album at all.
Janne: Fighting was great though!
Scott: Right, that was Phil’s production. It had some good songs on it, it really did. I think on that one, Phil bit off a little more than he could chew with writing the majority of the songs, playing bass, singing and producing the album at the same time. On the next album we knew that he wouldn't produce it, thank God.
Janne: My personal favourite is probably Jailbreak, which is where I really got into the band
Scott: That was the crucial album for us. Everybody told us all the time during this period – if you don’t make it on this album you’re done! If you don’t get a hit single on this album, you’re done! The band is finished, kaput. So, talk about no pressure (haha). You better come up with a good song or you’re done! That’s when we hired in John Alcock. There’s no arguing there, it was a really successful album. It sold a shitload of copies. The Boys Are Back In Town broke it for us worldwide. Jailbreak was released as a single from it and that was also a hit, Emerald came from that album. It was a really successful album, thankfully. That we were actually able to pull it out of the fire, was nothing short of miraculous. After having two spectacular fails sales wise. We needed the Jailbreak album really, really bad.
Janne: What’s the story behind The Boys Are Back In Town?
Scott: It was initially called GI Joe and Phil’s lyrics kinda followed that war theme. But thankfully he went to another theme. But it almost didn’t make it on the album. That was the scary one. It’s like with Black Star Riders, we’re all asked the opinion on what the single should be and I said – don’t ask me, I was one of the guys who didn’t pick The Boys Are Back In Town as a single. The Boys Are back In Town was one of the songs that was fucked with a lot along the way, and almost disregarded as a song. The lyrics were great on it, but it didn’t have the guitar lines in there at the demo stage, so there didn’t seem to anything that was lifting it up out of the pack at all. It wasn’t until Brian and I put the harmony guitar lines on it and did the descending thing in the end, that made people sit up and go – wow, that a nice little signature these guys have going on there.
Janne: The guitar harmonies have always been your trademark.
Scott: I’ve even been accused of inventing guitar harmonies. You have to go – no, no, no, the guitar harmonies were around even before I was born. Les Paul was doing it in the forties, The Allman Brothers did it, The Eagles, and there was a ton of guys doing it way before we were. The only difference was we put it in the rock genre and over minor chords. That was the difference with us that gave us that different sound, the different edge on it all. But to say we invented it all, I laugh at it every time someone says it.
Janne: You’ve just release your own biography. Tell us about it.
Scott: Yes, what do you think of the book? That (picture on the cover) is the Sydney opera house, and that’s the aftermath. Now, when we did this the mayor of Sydney though it would be a nice little concert, maybe 2000, 5000 at top, will show up. When 60,000 people showed up, they were in horror. This is their Eiffel Tower, their Taj Mahal we’re playing in front of and there’s just tens of thousands of people there. When they saw the aftermath he said nobody’s ever gonna do a show here again. We put a stop to it. Which is a shame, because I remember being on that stage, you had the Sydney harbour in front, the steel bridge on the left hand, there were helicopters flying. It was a great scene from that stage, and it’s a shame no other bands were actually able to experience that. It’s kind of a Red Rock situation.
Janne: You’ve played with a lot of different guitarists in the band. Robbo, Midge, Gary, Snowy, John etc. What have you picked up from them, or they picked up from you?
Scott: It’s both. You’re a fool if you don’t learn from the peers. If you’re gonna spend a lot of time with anybody else, pick up on what they do. Have a look at their hands, see what they’re doing with their pick-hand. How do they stroke on the strings, what is their fingering like, what is the position that they put their hands in to get from there to there? Show me that line, how did you come up with that? It’s not stealing or cheating, it’s just learning another thing. We all need somebody to learn from. I remember Gary and I were sitting at the Kobo Hall in Detroit and this new band, Van Halen, came on. We really didn’t know anything about them. I think we may have heard something on the radio, but they were that brand new. I’m sitting there beside Gary and Eddie walks out and starts tapping the fretboard and I look at Gary, and he goes – What the fuck is that guy doing? How’s he doing that? He sat there watching about three songs of that and went straight back to the hotel, got his guitar out and was teaching himself how to tap. Somebody knew how to do something he didn’t know how to do, so goddamn he was gonna learn.
Janne: Is there any guitarist you really gelled with?
Scott: Brian! I gelled with Brian straight of the bat, even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying with that fucking accent of his. He said: “Gimme an eeeh”. Here’s an egg. “No, gimme an EEEHHHH”, then he points at the E. But we gelled. I could understand his playing, I could understand the theory he was going for, and I liked his sense of humour. As people we really gelled also, which made it a lot easier. There were no big egos. We learned and copied off each other, trying to get that close as partners, a team.
Janne: You and Brian are closer in style, more than than you and Gary were.
Scott: Absolutely. Gary was a different animal altogether. He dragged with him this reputation that he could be kind of a standoffish guy and everything was a competition with Gary. He’d play something and go – check that out! Wasn’t that the coolest fucking thing you’ve ever heard? After a while it was like – Yes, Gary it was very cool. Gary always seemed to be in competitive mode, where Brian was always in team mode, out for the band, while Gary was more out for himself. Which also showed when he quit the band halfway through the American tour. But there’s no denying that the talent behind the silliness.
Janne: Then you did the re-union with John Sykes. How did that come about?
Scott: At that point I wasn’t even thinking of Thin Lizzy at all. In my mind those songs were probably never gonna be played again. When the band broke up, that was it. What a sad thing, what a drag, but, hey that’s life. So be it. John had come back from Japan doing his Blue Murder thing and he said – You know, I put in three Thin Lizzy songs in the set and the place went fucking ballistic. Much more so than for my songs. I found that pretty interesting. I was thinking people were forgetting about the band. He said he got the same reaction on every show, every time. He said: "what do you think about maybe reforming Thin Lizzy?" I said : "No, no, no, Phil’s dead, I can’t see it work, I can’t do it without Phil. Thanks for the thought, but I don’t think so." Click. He calls me up again says we gotta think about it. I hang up. Then something really strange happened to me. I was out with a couple of friends and there was a guy at the bar same age and I got introduced to him. He said this is Scott Gorham, used to play in Thin Lizzy and the guy goes: Who? The Boys Are Back In town? Never heard of them. I said: "do you know the name Phil Lynott?" Never heard of him. That actually bothered me. I didn’t give a shit if they didn’t remember my name, but the ten years of work we put in, and this guy had no idea who the band was, or Phil. That murdered me on the spot. I shrugged it off, but then it happened again and now I’m like: I didn’t think this was gonna bother me at all, I did expect it. But it did piss me off. John called me again, he said, so listen I know I’m bugging you, I know it could work. I said, stop there, what kinda plan do you have. He said, we can get Brian Downey in, I’ve got the bass player, we can get a tour set up in Japan. I said, I’ll call Brian Downey and if he agrees then I’ll do it. I was pretty much certain Brian was gonna say – Fuck off. I went over for dinner with Brian, I popped the question and he said: "Sure, when do we start?" Which really took me back. I said I don’t really know, but great you’re in. We put it all together, went to Japan and did seven shows, sold out which I couldn’t believe. For a Japanese crowd they went fucking crazy. This actually really worked very well. In my mind that was all it was gonna be. We shook hands at the airport, see you later. That’s when the letters started coming in through the fan club. We were the people that supported you, why the hell did you go halfway across the world to do this, you should be doing it for us. Ok, that’s when we started taking baby steps, do five shows in one country the next year, six in another, but never really committed to it. I was a little afraid at this point. Then after maybe four years of doing this and costing us a hell of a lot of money doing it in start-up costs, I said. Why don’t we give it a shot and do a bonafide tour and let’s see if it flies. We all love playing the music and whomever we played in front of seem to really like it. We did and it worked. That’s was around 1999 we started doing that. Then we just carried on. In a big nutshell (haha)
Janne: So, what actually happened with John Sykes?
Scott: We were… Tommy Aldridge was in a bicycle accident and cracked his collarbone and we were just about to go on tour with AC/DC and Metallica. That freaked John out. The management and agencies went, - Listen, it’s 45 minutes of music we’ll get another class A drummer and work it out. No, I can’t do it, he said. What about 30 minutes, it’s all we want? No, I can’t do it. After this back and forth thing I just told the management, let’s just shit can this thing, I’m over it, I’m done. That was the end of it. I figured we’d never do Thin Lizzy anymore as I was burned out with all that crap. I didn’t know if I really wanted to carry it on anymore. But the management were pushing me, the promoters really wanted it, people were e-mailing in and said they wanted to see it. And, I didn’t really wanna quit it, to be honest. It took the pushes from people to reassure me this was the right thing to do. That’s when I started to put the whole new thing together with Ricky. I called up Brian again and he was in, I called up Marco and he was in, Darren wanted in. Joe Elliott called me up and said, - I hear you’re putting it back together again. We’re off the road for a year and Vivian Campbell wants to know if you’d consider him as the other guitar player? I went – Hell yeah! I’ve known Vivian for over 30 years and he’s been a massive Thin Lizzy fan his whole life, I knew he knew all the songs, and he’s a great guy and a great player. So I’ve got the whole band ready to go, but who’s gonna be the fucking guy that’s gonna take the heat now? To sit in the middle, take all the pressure, sing these songs, talk to the audience, be the guy. I couldn’t think of anybody, not a fucking person that could fit this bill that had the right voice and attitude and all that. So about four days later Joe once again got wind of this and he said, "I bet you’re looking for a singer now, aren’t ya?" I said, I am. He said, "do you remember the guy I asked you to come up and help with his solo album?" For fucks sake, Ricky Warwick, abso-fucking-lutely! I got the number from Joe, called up and I think he knew I was gonna ask him. He was like, just ask me the question! I said, would you consider fronting this thing for me and he said abso-fucking-lutely! Then that was it! I thought it would take months to get this together, it took two weeks. I was dumbfounded!
Janne: When did you start considering writing new material?
Scott: Well, we’ve been on the road with this band for three years and after about a year of us being together that’s when the questions started to be asked in earnest. Every interview any of us did that question was of the top three. Either: When are you guys gonna start writing new material or when are you guys gonna bring out a new CD? Every single time! So, when you hear that enough times, you think everybody wants to hear some new material. So, last year, about this time, I sad to everybody. I think it’s time, let’s start writing new material. Ricky’s been writing out lyrics from hell. He must’ve had at least ten full songs ready to go. Damon was the same way. He already had two full songs written everything for and pretty much those songs were finished and ready to go. That gave us the springboard. It wasn’t like, today we start. We were already up and running. Now it was case of writing, I started to throw in riffs and chord-patterns to Ricky. On the tours it was acoustic guitars backstage, in hotel rooms, in the back of the bus. It was just this relentless non-stop energy of writing material for this new album. But after about four months of this I started feeling uncomfortable about recording an album under the name Thin Lizzy and Phil’s not there.
Janne: Yes, there were quite a lot of debates on the internet about using the Lizzy banner.
Scott: Well, yes, and I was debating it. I felt so uncomfortable after a while I felt it wasn’t a good idea. I went to Brian Downey and explained it to him and he said he felt the exact same thing. We talked to Ricky and he said, "God I’m glad you brought that up." We were all thinking this but nobody really wanted to come forward and be the first to say it. Now we’ve made the decision and we’ve got eighteen songs we’ve written and really want to record them and put it out as an album, so what do we do now? The management said, the only way you’re gonna be able to do it is to stop Thin Lizzy and create a whole new band. Which is a wrench, really, for everybody, but especially for me. This has been my whole life Thin Lizzy and now I gotta stop. But I understood the logic of it all. It was a must. We gotta do this so we can do the album. So, that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna stop Thin Lizzy, we’ll put a date in it and now we’re gonna start a new thing. Which turned out to be Black Star Riders. But, the management put farewell tour on this thing and I’m going, do NOT use the word fucking farewell on this, because that means we can never go back to it for special gigs or whatever. So we didn’t chop the head off it and kill it. We just put an end to the really heavy touring that we’ve been under for the last three years. We will come out, we will play special Thin Lizzy shows when and if. We’ll do special runs in different countries. But all the focus is on Black Star Riders right now and in the foreseeable future.
Janne: How did you prepare for the recording of the album?
Scott: We didn’t have that much rehearsal time because we were pretty much heavily on the road with Thin Lizzy, but we did carve out time. We had two days rehearsal with Jimmy DeGrasso. We had sent him the demos of all the songs and he was in his shed working on that. So we knew that was gonna be ok. But, now we’re doing an album like none of us has ever done before. A song a day. You gotta get everything done on that track, because tomorrow we’re starting track two regardless. So, you kinda had to double up on everything. When the basic track was being played you played the guitar solo on that basic track while it was going down. I think there was two I actually walked in and overdubbed guitar solo on. Ricky sang all of his lead vocals live, right there at that moment. The only vocals we went back and did were the background vocals. The other overdubs were the Irish instruments in the Irish song. Pretty much that’s how it went down. There was this kind of rumbling in the stomach, is this gonna work? What saved us really, was that constant touring for a year and a half before. We were so used to being under the microscope four times a week. It became kind of a natural thing. But the thing that clichéd it for us was after the first basic track. Kevin Shirley said, why don’t you guys come in and have a listen to this. We all trooped in and he said, check this out and he played it. He had got the exact guitar sound that I wanted, that I was hearing. The same with Damon, Marco and Jimmy. Everybody was happy with it. More than happy, so the confidence went soaring at this time – goddamn we can do this! Trooped back out, did another take and nailed it. So then it was on to the next thing and do the same thing. It was an interesting process of doing an album that way. It caught all the energy of the live show almost. But it’s a lot of pressure doing it that way, because you gotta get everything right that day. There’s no putting the basic track down and go, let me get back to that in a couple of days, what guitar parts I may wanna put on there. That’s over with. It’s whatever you think of that day, that’s what’s going down and it’s gonna be there for the rest of your life.
Janne: What equipment did you use during the recording?
Scott: Starting with the guitar, it’s the Gibson Axess guitar, which was custom built for me. It’s chambered a little more, they’ve shaved the neck down for me and I’ve got the special pain job on it, the red tiger stripes. I really like it. Amp wise it’s Engl amps. It’s interesting with that one. We were playing at the Wembley Arena and my guitar tech got ill so I had to get in a new guy I didn’t really know. This fucking guy…. We had 45 minutes then 12 000 people were gonna come trooping in to the arena. Time was marching on, we gotta get the sound right now. But this guy comes in. He has no idea about voltages or anything and I don’t know where they got this clown from. He plugs in my amps and the tubes just go – boom. Put up number two, same thing. What the fuck! Number three – boom! Is there a problem with the junction box? Number four – boom, and it’s over. I’ve got no amps left. Now I’ve got 30 minutes. What am I gonna do. For three weeks Steve Morse’s guitar tech, who was also the representative for Engl amps, had tried to get me to try the amps. I don’t want to, I’ve been using Marshalls for 30 years. Get your German stuff away from me. Now he’s standing right next to me, giving me the look. I said, all right Michael, that’s your shot, show me what you got. He comes over, gets the Engl, plug it in, dials a few things and goes go! I hit the old power chord and go, Holy shit! I really like that! Do some more, do some lead stuff. I’m loving it. Now my little guitar tech goes, - I’ve fixed a Randall. But I went with the Engl. It’s the first time I’ve ever played with a brand new rigg in front of a sold out audience, which was kinda frightening. I’ve been using them ever since.
Janne: On Blues Ain’t Bad, that’s a Strat. Is that you or Damon?
Scott: Yes, it’s Damon and it is a Strat. It’s the only other guitar either of us uses through the whole album. But it’s a cool sound. He did a great atmospheric sound going there. You have to smoke a joint to it (haha).
Janne: On Bound For Glory sounds like a Univibe?
Scott: Yes, it is, that’s exactly what it is. You know your stuff, man. They’re cool! I’m gonna get one. They’ve got this really cool atmospheric thing going and you can use them with a lot of different things.
Janne: The song actually reminds me of a mix of Guilty Of Love and Southbound.
Scott: Hahaha, I said the same thing when Damon first played it to me. I said, holy shit man, that’s a Thin Lizzy song. What’s going on here.
Janne: Weren’t you afraid of copying yourselves?
Scott: Ah, that one I was very concerned about. Very! It sounded like Damon just wrote another Thin Lizzy song, but to be fair, when we got finished with it, it had such a powerful thing going for it with the chorus, and the way Ricky sang it and the power of the chord patterns we used, I felt ok, so we have a Thin Lizzy-sounding song. I like Thin Lizzy anyway. I can live with that. I ended up really liking it, but it did not go unnoticed.
My 30 minutes are over and I leave the very nice American guitarist to head to his next interview.