As one half of Thin Lizzy's legendary "twin guitar" classic lineup in the mid- to late '70s, Scottish guitarist Brian "Robbo" Robertson started to make an impact on classic-rock history while still a teenager. That's him shredding on the legendary break in Lizzy's most popular (and, alas, also most overplayed) song, "The Boys are Back in Town."
After leaving Lizzy, Robertson formed the band Wild Horses, was briefly a member of Motorhead, and has played sporadically since then. In 2008, he began work on what would become his first solo record, handling vocals as well as guitar on the new release Diamonds and Dirt.
In an interview that set a new Rocks Off record for exclamation points, we spoke with Robertson via phone from Sweden about the new record, Texas groupies, and why he turned down a chance to join the current (though obviously Phil Lynott-less) lineup of Lizzy.
Rocks Off: Before we talk about Diamonds and Dirt, I'd like to get your thoughts on the recent passing of [guitarist] Gary Moore. You replaced him in Lizzy, and then he replaced you.
Brian Robertson: Well, we were pretty close mates, you know and...it was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I was in England at the time, and when I got the call, a report came on the telly. It's difficult to talk about, really...but the thing that pissed me off is that in typical British tabloid fashion, they were saying [falsely] that he died from being drunk and taking drugs.
But that wasn't Gary; he was never into heavy drugs and all that crap. He was into his guitar. They had to retract everything the next day.
RO: I was surprised to find out that this is actually your first solo record. Did it really come about because you handed your manager [Soren Lindberg] a bag of old demo cassettes to listen to?
BR: Yeah! I had wanted to do a solo record back in the '70s after I left Lizzy, but kind of lost interest. Soren and I had driven a Ford Transit van from Stockholm through Denmark, Germany, France, and Belgium to go to my place in England to get all my recording equipment to go back to Stockholm.
As we were filling the van up, I gave him this big bag of cassettes, and I hadn't marked any of them. He had to drive back on his own and I told him to listen to them. So he stopped about halfway and called me and said "There's some great shit on here! We should do something with it!" And later when he started playing them, I started remembering what I wrote! (laughs)
RO: Since I'm here in Texas, I have to ask what was behind the song "Texas Wind."
BR: Well, it's about people in Texas farting! (dead silence as Rocks Off tries to ponder if this could possibly be true). No, I'm just jokin' with you! (laughs) It's the Scottish sense of humor! It's about... well, most of the songs are about women!
It's kind of me going back to when I spent a lot of time in Texas on tours. But Texas women tend to be looking at your bank balance a lot, don't they? I guess all women do. But those women will hit you so hard so quickly, and then they're gone. And you have no idea what hit you!
But I've always loved Texas, since the ration of men to women in the clubs in [Thin Lizzy touring days] was about seven to one. We also loved to go to blues clubs. Texas was a good time for us!
RO: You cover a number of Phil Lynott's songs on the new record. How did you decide which ones to tackle?
BR: Well one, "It's Only Money," was recorded on the first album I did with the band, but it was done quickly and we didn't have time to do it justice. It was much better live, and I've done it over the years with the other bands I've had, and that song has never left me. I never thought it was finished and I wanted to bring it up to date. Other songs..."The Boys Are Back in Town"? I mean, get lost (laughs)!
RO: You have a home in Essex, England, but you spend a lot of your time in Sweden. Why?
BR: The Swedish people are so into their music. It's the one country I've been to where the intensity for music - from youngsters to old people - is very high. And in the educational system, they promote music very much. And in England and Wales and probably Scotland, the music classes have been decimated.
You walk down the street in Stockholm there's kids running around with guitars on their backs and some of the best music academies around. The musicianship level is sky-high. But my business is also based here, along with the studio.
RO: Five of Thin Lizzy's albums were just remastered and re-released with bonus tracks, and you're on two of them which were the most popular (Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox). And there was a new live album out a couple of years ago. Why do you think the music has lasted?
BR: I don't really know. But I'll give you an example. Soren and I went down a few years back to see The Darkness, who are big Lizzy fans. We'd gone down to give Dan [Hawkins, guitarist] some vintage Lizzy T-shirts because he collected them and wore them onstage.
And we stood by the mixing desk, and what they were playing on the sound system before they went onstage was all Lizzy music! And there were little kids who were knew all the words and were wearing Lizzy shirts!
RO: So Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham is on the road now with a version of Lizzy that also includes original/classic lineup drummer Brian Downey. As the other surviving member of the classic lineup, were you asked to participate?
BR: I was asked...and I did discuss it, but the way it was put to Soren and I is that they wanted to put the classic lineup back together with [Scott and I and Brian]. And I said we'd talk about it. The next call was to say that Darren [Wharton, later member] was going to be on keyboards. And we never had keyboards in our lineup, and that meant we were going to be playing [later-era] songs from Renegade and Thunder and Lightning. And I didn't want to do that.
Nothing against Darren, I love him and he's really cool and a great player and I've played with him. But it's not classic Lizzy. So it just didn't happen.
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RO: Finally, do you have live dates planned to support the record?
BR: A few, but I don't want to go out without the [exact] band that recorded this record, and since they are all working musicians, scheduling it is hard. We are doing a few festival dates over here, though. And you're playing to 30,000 at one gig rather than two months of doing 2,000-seaters. You can nail them all at one gig!