Gary Moore (1952-2011): An Appreciation

Gary Moore who tragically died last Sunday at the age of 58, while on holiday in Spain was a huge part of my mid-to-late teenage year – between ’85 and ’89 to me Gary was the man. Whether it was playing repeatedly his 1985 hit “Out in the Fields” on Phibsboro ice rink jukebox, spending my Christmas money in the Virgin Megastore buying the ‘Run For Cover’ and “Rockin’ Every Night: Live in Japan” LPs, suffering hours of bad pop videos just so I could see the video of “Over The Hills…..” on some crappy music show on RTE 2 and just generally playing the shite out of his 1987 Celtic/hard rock masterpiece, “Wild Frontiers”. Gary was truly the man! I loved his guitar playing – Gary could shred like no other – he was fast if not faster then ever other axeman out there but his guitar playing was not just a bunch of notes played really fast but a living, breathing extension of himself as he bleed emotion through the strings. Not only could he play, he could write great songs and he was proudly Irish and wore it as a badge of honor.

Skid RowGary was born in East Belfast and was exposed early to the guitar by his music promoter father. As a young teen Gary witnessed Peter Green playing with Fleetwood Mac in Belfast and Green’s brand of British blues changed Moore’s life. By 16 Gary had move to Dublin and joined the legendary Skid Row (not the “18 and Life” crap artists) – two major label albums were recorded and US and European tours were undertaken with support to the likes of The Allman Brothers Band and Frank Zappa. After Skid Row fell apart, Gary recorded his 1st solo album, “Grinding Stone”, but a short time later he got a call from his old Skid Row mate Phil Lynott to join Thin Lizzy following the departure of Eric Bell. Gary joined Lizzy as they revamped their sound to hard rock. A single was cut, but Gary was gone from the band within 4 months, right in the middle of the recording of “Nightlife” – Gary’s guitars do made it onto the standout album track, the ballad “Still in Love With You” (Brian Robertson refused re-record the guitars on “Still in Love with you”, Gray’s solo in Robbo’s opinion was just too good). Rumor has it, the departure had to do with Gary’s doing some serious partying.

Thin Lizzy by 1976 were twin guitar, bonafide rock godz and Gary was now quietly pushing the bounds of musical experiment with the progressive rock of Colosseum II and Greg Lake.

In 1977, came a second call from Philo, Lizzy guitarist Brian Robinson had his hand cut in a fight days before a major US tour with Queen. Gary flow out to the rescue. Gary was offered the position full time but declined due to Colosseum II commitments.

1979 came and Robbo was permanently out of Lizzy and Gary accepted a full time gig – the masterpiece Celtic rocker, “Black Rose” was recorded – Lizzy’s most successfully studio album. Gary also released his second solo album, “Back on the Streets”, containing Gary’s first top 10 single, which Phil Lynott co-wrote and provided vocals, “Parisienne Walkways”. “Parisienne Walkways” is a beautiful soulful guitar ballad that with a single note inspired an army of teenagers to start playing the electric guitar and simultaneously caused an army of guitar players to give up playing. Gary then joined Phil in a 3rd project – The Greedies – a punk band featuring both members of Thin Lizzy and The Sex Pistols.

Things were not well though between Gary and the rest of the Lizzy bhoys – and Gary quit suddenly during a US tour. Again, over excessive partying – this time Gary was clean and the Lizzy boys were seriously indulging.

The early 80’s saw Gary building up his solo career, putting together a strong band, working on his singing voice and song writing skills. Gary toured hard and built up a large hard rock/metal fan base in the UK, Europe and Japan. 1985 saw the release of Gary’s first great solo LP, “Run for Cover”. “Run for Cover” saw the burying of the axe between Phil and Gary, Phil joined Gary on two tracks, the Lynott penned “Military Man” and the top 5 UK hit, “Out in the Fields”. After 17 years and a few false starts Gary had now finally arrived. The album was also symbolic as it represented the hand off of the Thin Lizzy legacy from Phil to Gary.

By 1986 Phil was dead. On 1987’s, “Wild Frontiers”, Gary played tribute to his friend and mentor in the only way he knew and produced a masterpiece of Celtic rock. “Wild Frontiers” fielded multiple hit singles and Gary was now a major rock player in Europe.

1989 heralded the release of Gary’s next album, “After The War”, this was an album that seemed to me to have lost the magic of the previous two releases and was somewhat direction less – there was great Celtic metal, “Blood of Emerald’s”, classic metal, “Led Clones” and the American sounding title track. I think there may have been pressure by the label to break America etc. Nevertheless the album was still successful.

The next year Gray do something that at that point of time could have be seen to have been very foolhardy. After 10 years of building up a very successful solo career rock – Gary reinvented himself. He went back to his early teenage inspiration of Peter Green and American blues and released an album of original and blues standards and just for authentic’s sake he was joined by some of the great black American blues artists like BB King, Albert King and Albert Collins. “Still Got The Blues” became Garys biggest release to date and unlike the forced predecessor, “Still Got The Blues” did crack the American market going gold. Ironically, looking back 20 years later what seemed foolhardy or even career suicide was actually a genius move as within a couple of years Kurt Cobain had slew the beast of hard rock and hair metal as we knew it and while most of Gary’s 80’s comrades were relegated to the oldies circut or reality TV, Gary had a very healthy though lower key career playing the blues as a highly respected guitar player without having to worry about still fitting into his leather trousers.

Me, I parted company with Gary after “Still Got The Blues” and followed Mr. Cobain for a while and then switch my focus to The Pogues and their bastard children – though ultimately without “Wild Frontiers” I would not be doing the whole Shite’n’Onions thing.

Gary Moore, rest in piece. You left a great body of work, most of it timeless and were instrumental in the foundation of Irish rock. Slán agus beannacht.