Ear of Newt: My first and last interview with fallen guitar hero Gary Moore
It was exactly one week ago today that the awful news started to get around: Irish guitar legend Gary Moore had been found dead in a Spanish hotel room. A post-mortem the next day revealed that the 58-year-old rocker had passed away in his sleep, due to a suspected heart attack, just hours after checking into a resort to begin a vacation.
Fans of the on-and-off Thin Lizzy member and highly regarded solo artist were shocked and saddened, of course, but over the last seven days I’m sure more than a few have pulled out their vinyl copies of Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose: A Rock Legend—or maybe their CDs of Still Got the Blues—and reveled in the amazing fretwork that was his stock-in-trade.
I for one reminisced fondly about seeing Moore on stage at the Pacific Coliseum with Thin Lizzy in the late ”˜70s, and then again at the same venue as opening act for Rush back in ’84. Then I went searching for the interview I did with him in advance of that show, and found it on a 60-minute Agfa-Gevaert cassette I'd marked "Gary Moore in Reno, May 11, 1984". Those Germans must make high-quality tapes, because Moore’s voice still comes through loud and clear.
Usually I can find things to do on weekends that are slightly more enjoyable than transcribing 27-year-old tapes, but this one’s for the hardcore Moore/Lizzy fans, the ones who know deep down that he deserves as much respect as any Clapton, Beck, or Page. Hopefully they’ll glean something from our conversation, which I now offer in its full and unexpurgated form, from hello to bye bye. (That’s him answering the phone in his hotel room in Reno, where he was touring with Rush, promoting his latest album Victims of the Future (remember the ballad "Empty Rooms"?). Despite what he believed at the time, Moore would actually accompany Rush up to Vancouver five shows later. I remember that concert well, as any major Moore freak would.)
How are you doing? It’s Steve Newton calling from Vancouver.
Hey Steve, how are you?
Pretty good. Whereabouts are you?
We’re in Reno, we just got here from Vegas, we were in Vegas last night. We played all the gambling joints this week [chuckles].
Who are you touring with right now?
Will you be playing Vancouver here with them?
Nah, I guess not because there’s something about where you’ve got to have a Canadian band to do the Canadian dates. Some tax law or something.
Oh yeah? That’s the shits, man; I was looking forward to that.
Yeah, we thought we were gonna be doin’ it, but I guess we can’t do it. But maybe after we finish the dates with them we’ll come up and do some stuff on our own in Canada. We would like to.
You’re originally from Belfast.
That’s right, yeah.
Do you still visit there much?
No, I haven’t been back there for a few years, but I think we might be going to do a show there this year sometime.
Would you ever write a song about the religious strife there?
Uh, not particularly. I mean, you know, it’s somethin’ that I don’t particularly feel that close to anymore because I haven’t lived there for so long. I’m aware of what’s going on, but it’s something that didn’t grow up around me; I’d already moved from Belfast when it all started you know.
I see on the new album you’ve got a story on the Korean airline disaster, "Murder in the Skies". [Newt note: on Sept. 1, 1983, a Korean passenger jet was shot down by Soviet interceptors just west of Sakhalin Island, Soviet Union.]
That’s right. Well that was because it was something that I related to at the time; it was somethng that I felt strongly about when it happened. And you know I mean if I went to Belfast maybe then I’d be moved to write a song about Belfast, but till I went there I wouldn’t really know. [Newt note: Moore would indeed revisit Belfast and write about "the troubles" there; it was a major theme of his 1987 album Wild Frontier, which was dedicated to Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott, who’d died the year before.]
You did some work with Greg Lake [from Emerson, Lake & Palmer] recently.
Yeah, I did a couple of albums with him over the last couple of years. I did two albums and a short tour of the States with him.
What’s he like to work with?
He's pretty...he likes to take his time about making records, and he’s kind of a perfectionist, you know. So he’s quite demanding.
You toured with Def Leppard last year.
Yeah, we toured with Def Leppard for about two months last summer. Krokus was on the bill. [Newt note: Krokus was a Swiss hard-rock/metal band with AC/DC leanings best known for the 1982 track "Long Stick Goes Boom". I’m not kidding.]
What do you think made Def Leppard, after just three albums, such a commercial success, when bands like Thin Lizzy, after closer to 15 years, get passed by?
I just think they made the right record, really, you know. Simple as that, you know, at the right time. I mean there’s a lot of that involved with it. I think they’d been building a pretty steady following for their other records, whereas a lot of other bands haven’t managed to build up such a following. And I think their producer Mutt Lange played a very big part in the whole thing. [Newt note: producer Lange helmed the chartbusting 1983 album in question, Pyromania.]
So Lizzy finally broke up?
Yeah, they broke up last year.
And you played on that farewell concert.
Yeah, Hammersmith, that’s right.
You were in and out of Thin Lizzy.
Yeah, three times.
Why didn’t you stick with them?
Well part of the reason was that, well, the first time I joined them I was asked to join to stand in for [original guitarist] Eric [Bell] because he had sort of left in the middle of the tour and it was a real kind of short-notice thing, and I stayed with them for about six months. And the second time was to stand in for Brian Robertson; so it wasn’t a permanent situation anyway. I mean the second time I joined I did the Queen tour in ’77, and they wanted me to stay and everything after that, and the thing was I was still with Colosseum II at that time, and we just made a record, and I didn’t want to just walk out of the situation. So I went back to Colosseum II for a year to finish promoting the record, and then I went back to Lizzy after that as a full time member.
And you did the Black Rose album.
I really like that one a lot. I like all the Lizzy albums though. They’re one of my favourite bands. Do you know what Scott Gorham’s doing these days?
Somebody told me he’s in L.A. doing something. I’d heard he was working with a couple of guys from Supertramp a few months ago, but I don’t know if it’s true or not.
I remember about seven years ago when you were taking Brian Robertson’s place and you were playing with Styx in Vancouver here. I met Scott and he took me backstage; that was a real big highlight of my life.
I remember those shows, yeah.
I see you’ve got [Deep Purple drummer] Ian Paice in your current band.
Well Ian’s not on this leg of the tour because his wife’s having a baby, so we’re using Bobby Chouinard from Billy Squier’s band.
Victims of the Future debuted on the U.K. charts at number 12.
Oh really? Oh yeah, of course, yeah it did. I forgot. Yeah it went straight in at 12, which was good because the last album only got to 30 then went straight back down again. This one’s done a lot better for us.
So you’re pretty popular over there in Britain then.
Yeah, well this one’s done really well for us in general. I mean outside of the States and Canada—obviously we don’t know what’s gonna happen over here—but it’s been a top 20 album in five countries now.
What do you think makes metal so big over there?
Uh, it’s always been big there, you know. I think what makes it popular everywhere really is the fact that when you go to a metal gig it’s an exciting event for a lot of people. Like a lot of the newer bands, like the more poppy kinda bands, although they make really good records and they produce them really great and everything, they don’t really deliver onstage. And I think that’s where like the heavier bands kinda score. The proof is there in the ticket sales, because it’s the rock bands that can still fill the big stadiums and stuff.
How did you come to record the old Yardbirds hit, "Shapes of Things", on the new album?
I always loved the Yardbirds when I was a kid, you know; I was always into Jeff Beck and everything. So apart from the fact that I liked the song and the guitar aspect of it, the lyrical thing appealed to me as well because it fitted in with the theme of the record, bein’ about warfare and all that kinda thing. It was written 16 years ago, but it’s still relevant today.
Noddy Holder [from Slade] sang on that tune.
Yeah, that’s right, he sang backups on it, because Noddy’s a bit of an expert at that kind of chanting vocal thing because Slade have used that effect a lot. And we kinda knew Noddy through a few mutual acquaintances, so he came in to help out, you know.
What was the last record you listened to?
The last record I listened to? Boy...uh...
Long time ago?
...no, I mean I’m always listening to things, that’s why it’s such a tough question. I mean I have records that I like to take on the road with me, like...you know Hughes/Thrall? That album they did last year, I like that a lot. And I like some black things like Chaka Khan, you know, I like the album she made last year which was just called Chaka Khan. It’s one of my favourite records.
Yeah, that live one, Stompin’ At the Savoy...
Yeah, I haven’t got that yet. I want to get that.
...that’s really good; she’s great. I was talkin’ to this guy I met in a club last night, he plays in a heavy-metal band, and he’s a real fan of yours—and he asked me to ask you what drives you.
What drives me?
[Laughs}. I do. I mean I just, you know, nothing in particular, just my inspiration and my own ambitions drive me. Nothing external.
I was reading an old Guitar Player issue from 1980 with B.B. King on the cover and it says that you bought a guitar from Peter Green.
Yeah, that’s right, after he left Fleetwood Mac and he went through a very strange period—you know, he was getting rid of all his kinda material possessions, there was this kind of thing that he went through. And the guitar that he had always used, you know, was this ’59 Les Paul. He used it with John Mayall and it goes way back. And I’d seen him play it when I was 14, and I thought, "Oh, if I could ever have a guitar like that." And he said, "Do you want to want to borrow that guitar of mine for a few days?" And I said "Oh yeah, please!," ya know. So I went down and I picked it up and then a couple of days later he called me up and he says "You can have it if you want, if you want to buy it and stuff." And he sold it to me for like next to nothing. It wasn’t a financial transaction. It was more like I sold one of my guitars and then I gave him what I got for that. He wanted it to be like swapping guitars almost. [Newt note: Moore eventually sold Green’s famous "Greeny" guitar for a rumoured half-a-million dollars in 2006.]
Do you play it live?
Yeah, sometimes. I mean I always take it everywhere with me. It’s been my kind of main guitar for about the last ten years.
He’s got a new album out, I just got it the other day, called Kolors. It’s great.
Is that right? It’s such a shame that he’s not a lot more prolific, and can get back out and establish himself. Because it was a real loss to guitar playing not to have him around for so long.
Yeah, I know. I was trying to set up an interview with him, but I guess he doesn’t like to talk to the press much.
No, he’s a bit out there.
So where are you playing next?
Uh, we’re playing here tonight in Reno, then we play in Salt Lake, and then we go to Portland and Seattle. And then Rush go on up to Vancouver and we go back to L.A. for five days to do some recording.
Oh yeah--geez, I sure wish you guys were coming up.
Yeah, we thought we were you know. I mean, there you go.
Well some time you gotta make it up to Vancouver.
Oh yeah. I’d like to. I’ve played there with Lizzy and stuff.
Well best of luck on the tour there Gary, and hope to see ya some time in Vancouver.
Take it easy.
You can follow Steve Newton on Twitter at twitter.com/earofnewt.