You may think you've traveled a long way to get to a show, but it's unlikely you gone the distance that Stephen O'Brien has. In 2003 the Dublin, Ireland-based musician flew to Austin, primarily to catch a gig by King's X and, as an added bonus, maybe soak up the city. He must have like it because he later decided to leave the Emerald Isle and relocate permanently, gigging in a variety of musical projects and cover bands.
But the singer/bassist has gone back somewhat to his roots as the Phil Lynott stand in for Think Lizzy, a Thin Lizzy tribute band. In addition to O'Brien, the band also includes Buffalo Speedway (guitar), Brownbag Johnson (guitar) and new drummer Ron Jeffcote.
The music of the real-life Ireland-based Lizzy has seen something of a resurgence in recent years, which has seen much of their catalogue reissued in deluxe editions, a reformation of the band by guitarist Scott Gorham (they opened for Judas Priest in Houston this summer), and the recent discovery of 150 tapes that Lynott recorded featuring unheard complete original songs, jams, and covers (Lynott died in 1986 at age 36 due to complications from heavy drug use).
Rocks Off spoke with O'Brien by phone (no clue if he wore his afro/shades/white shirt/leather pants Lynott stage costume while talking) about his journey, forming the group, and what he was very happy to see at the band's second and most recent gig in Houston...all while correctly pronouncing the real band's name in the Irish brogue as "Tin Lizzy."
Rocks Off: What kind of exposure to Thin Lizzy's music did you have growing up?
O'Brien: When you're in Dublin and you're a musician, you have to [hear] it. Live and Dangerous is kind of the Bible: "Dancing in the Moonlight," "Jailbreak," all those songs. I got the albums Jailbreak and Black Rose first at a cheap record store, and it was the best stuff ever. But we live with Thin Lizzy there. Even more than U2, and they'll tell you they used to play Lizzy songs. I'd love to hear those tapes.
RO: What made you decided to start Think Lizzy, especially when 90% of casual rock fans here only know "The Boys Are Back in Town," and, maybe, "Whisky in the Jar." What made you think you could sustain the audience for a whole set?
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SO: Buffalo and I were in a U2 tribute band in Austin, and on the way back from [a gig], we were tossing around ideas for something else. And both of us said Thin Lizzy! But then I thought "Oh hell! That means I've got to be the front man!" And all the songs I'd have to learn...and there are a lot of words to those songs! But it's a great challenge. But it's great music, whether you know Thin Lizzy or not. And if you look up the real band after you see our show, that's great.
RO: And coming out looking like Phil with the wig and the outfit?
SO: I believe if you do a tribute band, you do the look in addition to the music, or at least attempt it. In the ZZ Top tribute band, I wore the beard and the shades and the ten gallon hat and the shiny jackets. In the U2 tribute band, I dressed up like Adam Clayton. And I have basses from the eras. But yeah, some people will understand why there's a white guy with an afro! (laughs). And there's a fun factor to that.
RO: You've only played two gigs in Houston so far. Any difference in the audiences here than in Austin?
SO: Well, at the gig last week, we were happy to see women at our gig, and dancing at our gig. And we were really happy to see dancing women at our gig! (laughs). We also sold a lot of T-shirts. It's gonna take a few gigs to get warmed up, but in a bigger town like Houston or Dallas, people know their rock. And they come out and understand what we're doing. We might be a bit of fresh air, with the bit of Irish.
RO: How often are you adding new songs?
SO: We have a new drummer from Houston, and I'm adding songs slowly, like one per gig. But he's really good, and the goal is to get down all the songs on the Live and Dangerous record. And we'll do some [more obscure] things like "Warrior" and "Massacre." We want to get up to speed on a 90-minute set.
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RO: Anything from [Lynott's post-Lizzy group] Grand Slam?
SO: (laughs) Ha! Oh yeah! Let's go really obscure!
Think Lizzy plays Feb. 11, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. as part of the 5th Annual Rory Miggins Memorial Irish Stew Cook-Off and Music Festival at Lucky's Pub, 801. St. Emanuel. Event 12-6 p.m., $10 cover, children 12 and under free.
For more information, visit ThinkLizzy.com