When L.A.-based guitarist Scott Gorham flew to England in the early '70s, he was just hoping to score an audition with the band his brother-in-law had joined, Supertramp. That gig never materialized, and after kicking around waiting for his temporary visa to expire, he ran across singer/bassist Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey of Thin Lizzy.
The pair were looking to replace their former guitarist, Eric Bell, with not one but two axemen for a meatier sound. Gorham and teenage whiz Brian "Robbo" Robertson passed the audition. For the next decade, the band's classic lineup would release albums like Fighting
, Bad Reputation
and Live and Dangerous
- which was heralded by Classic Rock
magazine as the best live rock record of all time.
But aside from their lone U.S. "hit," "The Boys Are Back in Town," Lizzy struggled for greater success amidst personnel shifts, changing musical tastes, and serious drug problems. Lynott broke up the band - with Gorham still in the lineup - in 1983. Three years later, the leader was dead from numerous complications due to hardcore drug abuse. He was 36.
The Thin Lizzy flag flies again with today's release of Still Dangerous: Live at the Tower Theater Philadelphia 1977
(VH1 Classic Records), culled from newly-discovered tapes. Gorham - who plans to bring his current version of the group to the U.S. this year - spoke with Rocks Off about the record, his friend Phil, and those long Texas highways.
Rocks Off: What instigated finding this live show and releasing it?
Scott Gorham: I knew we had a whole pile of tapes sitting in a lock-up in central London, and the subject of them oxidizing [and thus being unplayable] came up. It hit me in the pit of my stomach, thinking of these tapes disintegrating. I called up the guy who handles Phil Lynott's estate and said we gotta bake these tapes. So we loaded them up on a truck and took them down to a studio, and I realized how many live shows we'd actually recorded. This one was a warm-up show we did for an arena tour.
RO: Thin Lizzy has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years. We've seen reissues, DVDs and even T-shirts popping up on the chests of current rockers. Is that gratifying?
SG: It really is, you know. To think that when the band originally broke up, I wasn't sure how long people would remember the band except when they maybe blew the dust off their album covers. But here we are 33 years later, and people are still talking about Thin Lizzy and want to come out and hear the music.
RO: You've taken some heat from purists for touring and calling the group Thin Lizzy, with latter-day member John Sykes [also of Whitesnake] taking the vocals. But at this point, only the most naïve of people would come out and expect to see Phil, right?
SG: (laughs) Yeah, unfortunately he's not going to come bounding out on stage and sing "Emerald," no matter how much that saddens me. It's really about keeping the music alive and letting fans hear it live. I'm paying homage to my best friend, and that's where I'm coming from. I - more than anybody - want Phil on the stage, or to pick up the telephone and call him.
RO: During your interview on the Live and Dangerous DVD, you said that was your favorite Thin Lizzy record. Does Still Dangerous now replace that?
SG: Yes. I'm glad you mentioned that, because when I heard this tape, I thought "Holy crap, this is fucking good." So much that I got [legendary Stones/Zeppelin/Who/Beatles producer] Glyn Johns out of sort of retirement to remix and remaster it.
Ironically, this was the only show of that tour we got to record, because Phil got hepitatis C and we couldn't finish it. This was the tour we thought we were going to crack America with, and we were bound and determined to prove to the country that this band wasn't a one-trick pony with just "The Boys Are Back in Town." But we didn't get there.
RO: You've said in a previous interview that the band was originally going to leave "The Boys Are Back in Town" off the Jailbreak record, except a manager asked that you put it on.
SG: Yeah, fuck him! (laughs). You gotta remember, we had just done two albums that were dismal failures [commercially], so we had no idea what a hit song looked, smelled or tasted like. We did 15 demos then picked ten for the record. That's when Chris O'Donnell came in and wanted to hear the left-off ones. He heard that one and said it had some great hooks, so we did it.
RO: The trademark sound of Lizzy is, of course, the harmonic twin guitars of yourself and Brian. Did you have to practice a lot to make sure you hit the same notes at the same time?
SG: That's a great question! I can see it. "Brian, I'm coming over your house to practice!" (laughs) No matter how close our styles were, we had to work out a lot of quirkiness, down to "How far do you bend the string? What's your vibrato like?" There's all sorts of timing issues! We had to be aware not only what we were doing, but what the other guy was as well.
RO: Phil had his drug problems in a time when there was no such thing as celebrities going to rehab or all these treatment programs. Do you think if it happened today, the outcome might have been different, or was he too self-destructive?
SG: He was in too deep. I was at his house three weeks before he died, and he was pulling out an acoustic guitar and showing me things and he was talking about getting the band back together. I was shocked at his [state]. He was in deep shit, but making all the right noises about getting cleaned up. At that point, I had been a year away from Phil and had gotten my [own drug problems] taken care of.
But during that time, if you went into rehab, it was an embarrassment and not the manly thing to do. And I gotta tell you, Phil's personality, he was such his own man, you had a tough time talking him into anything. It was like "Hey Phil, you gotta get your shit together," and he was like (imitating Phil's voice) "Aw, for fook's sake, forget it!"
But if it happened today, he'd see how many people with the same problem came out okay in the end, and he'd probably do it. But it had gone on so long, the damage had already been done. If the heart attack didn't kill him, there were three other things ready to kill him. His body was like a time bomb.
RO: Any particular memories of playing Houston or Texas?
SG: Well, Texas was a great place for Thin Lizzy and a huge part for Phil. In fact, "Cowboy Song" - that says it all there. That's all about Dallas, which became sort of our second home in the U.S. There used to be a club there called Mother Blues, and that was the place to go.
We'd land, do a show, and go straight to that club to jam for hours. And the owner would give us free drinks, so we had a blast! For Phil, being from Dublin and seeing those western movies and reading the [cowboy] stories, to go down those long Texas roads and the deserts, it was great for him.
RO: So all things said, aren't you glad you didn't end up in Supertramp?
SG: Yeah, I'm glad I didn't too! Of course, those guys went off to sell 50 million records! I've thought about that, but I'm very happy how things turned out.