INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND JARNO HUOVILA
PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
After putting out three records as a trio, THIN LIZZY reinvented itself, to great success, as a four-piece featuring now the twin guitar leads of the American Scott Gorham and Scottish Brian Robertson. From that point on, Scott Gorham and drummer Brian Downey stuck with mastermind Phil Lynott until the band’s dissolution in 1983. Together they recorded nine classic studio albums (Nightlife in 1974, FIGHTING in 1975, JAILBREAK and JOHNNY THE FOX in 1976, BAD REPUTATION in 1977, BLACK ROSE in 1979, CHINATOWN in 1980, RENEGADE in 1981 and THUNDER AND LIGHTNING in 1983) and two live ones (LIVE AND DANGEROUS in 1978 and LIVE LIFE in 1983). Over the years, in addition to Robertson, Scott played alongside Gary Moore, Snowy White, and finally John Sykes. Today, in tribute to their fallen comrade Phil Lynott, Gorham and Sykes continue to keep the THIN LIZZY name alive, touring all over the world with legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge and bassist Francesco DiCosmo now completing the lineup. In between playing with THIN LIZZY, Scott has, among other things, played with his own band, 21 GUNS. Read on for Scott’s take on the different stages of his career!
Here we are in the year 2008, and THIN LIZZY is once again on tour. Is there a specific theme to this tour, like a celebration or something?
Yeah, that we’re still alive! We do this when we can get all of us together, and we’re all scattered all over the world, all the guys in the band. So, we find windows of opportunity to be able actually to come out. It’s why sometimes, you know, we haven’t been able to get to [places] as much as we’ve wanted to.
After this current tour is finished, what’s next for THIN LIZZY? More touring or a live record, perhaps?
In September, we crank it up again in Germany and then work up to Russia, Croatia, and Poland. Then we take a few weeks off, and then we’ve got four [gigs] in the UK, then after that they’d want us to get off to America. So it keeps going, you know.
Alright, let’s talk about the so-called “post-Lynott” period of THIN LIZZY a bit. Can you tell us something about the Self Aid concert in 1986?
Wow, nobody’s asked me that in a while. That was before… see, at that point, I really thought, “That’s it, I’m done with THIN LIZZY! I’m not going to play THIN LIZZY songs anymore.” I’d played those songs enough. The organizers for the charity called me up and asked me if I would get up and do it, and at the same time, it would be kind of a little tribute to Phil, and when he said that, I thought, “Well, okay, that sounds great.” The problem was that it was my first sober gig in… I can’t even remember when probably ever. So I walked down in front of 35,000 people with no drink, no drugs, or nothing, and I really kind of froze on the spot; man, I was scared to death. It was a feeling I’d never felt before. Usually, you walk right on the stage and know what you’re doing, not a problem. Now it’s like I’m freaked out, but we got to it, and it was really cool to play the songs. Bob Geldof got up and sang a song; I think Gary [Moore] sang a song…
And you also had Bob Daisley on bass, didn’t you?
Bob Daisley, absolutely right, yeah, I forgot about that. He’s a great bass player, isn’t he? So, it was great, we got the end of it, and we ended it all with “Whiskey in A Jar,” and you got the whole stadium behind you singing it, so it was kind of emotional. There were a lot of people with tears in their eyes and all that, so, even though I was kind of freaked in the beginning, in the end, I was glad that we did do it.
So this reunion of sorts, at the time, was always going to be just a one-off thing then?
Yeah, it wasn’t really even a band at that point. Brian Downey was up there, and as you said, Bob Daisley was on bass; I guess Gary got up and played Darren Wharton… it wasn’t really a band. It was more of a tribute kind of thing.
After that, nothing was heard of THIN LIZZY until 1991 when the “Dedication” single (also featured on the Best of -album) was released. Can you tell us something about that?
Well, the record company called me and said they’d found a demo that Phil had done and [asked] would I object to it being on the next sort of greatest hits album. I asked to hear it, and when I heard it… this was before people started to put cool stuff on the [released] albums before the demos went on and all that. So I heard it, and it just didn’t sound very good to me at all, so I said, “I like the song, but how about if I get in there and replace all the guitars and have Brian Downey redo the drums, we’ll keep Phil’s bass, keep his vocals.” because the vocals and the bass were great. So, I had to go in there and learn the song and wipe all the other things. We had three days to do it, and we only were in the studio for two days. There were a couple more things I wanted to do to the song, but the record company, had release dates at this time, and that time and they yanked it, and they mixed it and put it out. I was a little pissed off with that because, to me, it wasn’t finished. But I listen back to it now, and it’s actually pretty cool.
When was that song originally written, do you know?
Well, Phil died in 1986, so probably maybe like in 1986 is when it was written.
After THIN LIZZY had disbanded in any case?
In 1994 you, John Sykes, Brian Downey, and Darren Wharton reunited THIN LIZZY for a tour. How did that happen?
Well, that was really a lot of John’s doing. Once again, I just got it into my head that I wasn’t going to play THIN LIZZY songs again. Phil had died, you know, what’s the point, the main guy’s not there. So in my mind, it was never going to happen again, then John [Sykes] called me up and said he’d just been to Japan with his band, BLUE MURDER. He said, “You know, we put in three THIN LIZZY songs, and after we got done with it, the fucking roof came off!” and said, “Seesh, really? People still remember it?” and John says “Fucking right they do!” And that’s when he said, “You know, maybe we could try reforming the band.” and I said, “No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen, forget it.” He kept calling back; finally, at about the fourth phone call, I said I’d call Brian Downey, and if he wanted to do it, then we’d do it, knowing for sure that Brian wasn’t going to want to do it. So I felt pretty safe, I called Brian Downey, and he went, “Sure, yeah, when do we leave?” So I agreed to do it, and that was supposed to be it, we were going to do seven shows in Japan and “Thank you very much, good playing with you, that was a lot of fun, got to go.”. We did the shows, and they went great, we had a lot of fun playing them, and then we started to get a lot of letters and things sent from people and the fan clubs and all that, kind of complaining like “Why the fuck did you guys go all the way to Japan, when it was us that actually supported you all those years?” and you thought about that and thought “That is right, these are the people that hung with us for all those years, and we’re not gonna play for them.”. So next year we went out and thought we’d do ten shows over here [in the UK], at the end of that, the emails by that point now started to come in and the letters, “Come on over here and do this.”, so that’s what we kept doing. It was kind of like these little baby steps. This isn’t really for real. We’re just doing it, it not really for real, and then finally, I guess around 1998, we’d done this so many times now we thought we might as well try and do this seriously, actually put the whole set together, really rehearse hard just to see what we can sound like, how good can this get? That’s when we started to get serious about it, about 1998/1999, to the point of how we do it now.
Classic Lizzy: Scott, Brian Robertson, Phil Lynott, and Brian Downey
That was after Brian Downey was no longer involved then. Didn’t he opt-out after an initial couple of tours?
Yeah, he stuck to his guns on that one. It was kind of a definite thing, Phil wasn’t there, and he didn’t feel quite right about it at the time. That’s fair enough.
How did you guys decide on Tommy Aldridge for the drum seat then?
I had met him before. I’d seen Tommy with Pat Traver’s Band, and to be quite honest, he was the only thing I really looked at, and I love Pat Travers. It was that kind of magnetic thing; I kept saying, “Who the fuck is that drummer? Jesus Christ!” And John, who knew Tommy, said, “If Brian’s not going to be here, we’ve got to get somebody that’s just fucking killer, and I know I guy who used to play with me in BLUE MURDER, he’s name is Tommy Aldridge.” and said “Shit, I know who that guy is!” and that’s how Tommy came in. He’s pretty much been with us from that point, he took a little bit of a break, he went out with WHITESNAKE for a while, but he got tired of that and came straight back.
In the year 2000, you guys put out a live album under the name THIN LIZZY called ONE NIGHT ONLY. How did you like that album yourself?
Yeah, that was a radio program. It was one of those things where the tour manager would call you up three months beforehand and tell you there’s a German radio station that wants to record a few songs, and you’d agree to talk about it some more, and he’d take that as a yes. So we roll up to the gig, and microphones are bristling all over the place, and we’re thinking somebody trying to bootleg us, you know, what the fuck, there are microphones everywhere. And that’s when he reminded us about the radio station that’ve put a lot of money in coming down, traveling, setting everything up, so we ended up doing it under the stipulation that we got the tapes to make sure that it didn’t get bootlegged. Then we listened back to it and figured that for what it was and the little time that we were actually able to rehearse, it wasn’t too bad. lt wasn’t a bad representation for that period of time. Now we all wish we would have kind of waited and done it at a different time. It is what it is at that point, I think that only the fourth show we had done with Tommy [Aldridge], we’d had two-day rehearsals, so at that point on stage, you’re still kind of looking at each other trying to get signals and all that, you can hear it in there, things don’t end right and all that. It’s kind of funny listening back to it now; there are bits that are kind of untogether.
After that, there wasn’t much happening for a while. Why was that?
We never said we were going to give it up, and everybody just walked away for a while to make sure that at some point we’d want to come back to it and to make sure everything’s feeling fresh, and then we came back at it with a vengeance.
Beyond that point, you never hired a keyboard player again to replace Darren Wharton, did you?
Our philosophy is that [since] the whole thing started as a four-piece, two guitars, bass and drums, that’s it. This is a four-piece rock band, and that’s the way we decided to keep it; we’re a fucking rock band, period. So, we tried it, we had a rehearsal without the keyboards, and we found out that it really lifted the guitars a lot more without the keyboards. The keyboards started to flatten everything out. So although Darren is a magnificent player, it’s a guitar band. It’s what we are, so that’s the way we kept it.
Scott and John Sykes with Thin Lizzy in Finland 2008
CAREER OUTSIDE THIN LIZZY
Have you got any memories of working with Mr. Calhoun & Co. in THE WESTERN FRONT?
Moon Calhoun married a girl called June, so they became Moon and June Calhoun. Moon was a great singer, really great, and that was a short-lived thing. I was still kind of recovering from the drugs and all that, and it was a way to get me back on the guitar and in the studio to kind of make the recovery process a little quicker. They were all like friends of mine, they knew what was going on with me, so it was easy to be in the studio with them. So that’s basically what that was all about?
You also played DREAM RUNNER and INNER VISION on the second and third PHENOMENA albums, didn’t you?
The first one is where I met the bass player from 21 GUNS, Leif [Johansen], he was engineering and playing bass on that, he was a very cool guy. Once again, I was still kind of recovering, and I didn’t know if I really wanted to get back in the whole rock thing again; there were a lot of temptations out there. But I hooked up with Leif, and he was an easy-going guy, easy to hang out with. We started to write songs, and that became an easy process. So the next step was really “Let’s start a band. Let’s start writing together.” it just kind of snowballed from there. The PHENOMENA thing, I don’t even pay attention to that; it was just kind of one of those things, somebody had asked me to go in and do a session, and I didn’t take any of that seriously at all.
As you said, the next thing for you at that point was 21 GUNS. Keith Murrell, Tommy La Verdi, Hans Olav Solli, you had some great singers in that band as well, wouldn’t you say?
Fucking singers, man! [laughs] Keith Murrell was just for the demos, Leif and I just needed somebody to get the melodic things over in the songs so we could listen back to it to see if we were going in the right direction. Keith was never actually a singer in the band. Tommy “fucking” La Verdi… Tommy was great, he was a really good singer, amazing sense of humor, and he had a really good voice. He was just, he was really shy in front of an audience, and he felt uncomfortable up there to the point of where we’d have to write up things for him to say to the audience because he couldn’t talk to the audience. His voice would freeze up to the point where we were only able to play thirty minutes a night; you can’t go on like that. I love Tommy to death, but we had to part ways because it just wasn’t working. And then we got Solli, and… it didn’t kill me. I got halfway through it, and I thought, “I’m not into this anymore.” and that album [“Nothing’s Real”] just became… I call it the great demo album; nothing ever got finished on it. At best, things were like half-finished, but for some reason, Leif wanted to put it out, so he got into his studio, mixed it up, and we put it out.
There’s actually kind of an interesting connection here, Solli sings on Adrian Smith’s first PSYCHO MOTEL album [“State of Mind”] while you appear on the second [WELCOME TO THE WORLD].
That’s where I heard of him; he was working with him first, and also Adrian was working with my drummer, Michael Sturgis. So we had this kind of incestuous thing going.
When the first 21 GUNS album came out in 1992, it was quite different stuff than what you’d done up to that point, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was way different from the THIN LIZZY stuff and all that. My manager would walk into the record companies and play the demo, and they’d go, “I love it, but it doesn’t sound anything like THIN LIZZY!” and he’d say, “Yeah, that’s the point.” I did eleven years with THIN LIZZY; I needed to try something else. So finally, the people at RCA did get what we were doing. They fell in love with it, so we got signed up with RCA.
By the time the second album came out, around 1997, times weren’t that great for that kind of music, were they?
That’s the album that was the great demo album; for me, it never got finished because, just like you say, the whole sound changed and everything. We saw that [grunge] and thought it wasn’t going to work, so basically, we just lost interest in the second album. Leif wanted to put it out, so he went in his studio and put like a quick mix on it and threw it out.
Then there’s also the DEMO-LITION album that was released in 2002, isn’t there?
That’s just like the first stage demos that we were doing.
Is there a chance you might do something again with 21 GUNS, or are you done with it?
No, we’re working on stuff right now. We’ve got a new singer called Pete Shoulder; he’s 23 years old, a northern guy with a fucking kick-ass voice on him. We’ve got probably twelve songs written now. Right now, they’re in the demo stages, and we’re just finding a window of opportunity for the three of us to get back in the studio and do the proper thing.
Are you planning to do some shows once the album’s out?
Yeah, that’s the whole idea, to give 21 GUNS the full treatment. We never actually gave the band a chance.
That’s cool. Thank you for the interview, Scott!
Special thanks to SPEED PROMOTIONS for the photo pass and for setting this interview up !!
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