It’s Thin Lizzy but not as you know it: the boys are back in town – again!
Legendary Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham on changing the name to Black Star Riders, battling drug addiction and why he believes that Phil Lynott would get the band back together if he was still around
What’s in a name? When the current members of Thin Lizzy got together to record an album, they decided not to record as Thin Lizzy. Instead, they formed a band called Black Star Riders and have released their first album All Hell Breaks Loose. Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham reveals all ...
The Black Star Riders have the same band members as Thin Lizzy. Why did you change the name?
When bands get back together, they usually go and record an album. We’ve been Thin Lizzy for 10 years but we haven’t recorded any new music. It was always the first three questions from any journalist: ‘when are you going to record new music?’
I kept saying that we were working on it, but I felt really uncomfortable about that question anyway. Then it became crunch time. It was pee or get off the pot. I said to the guys that I didn’t feel comfortable recording a new album under the name Thin Lizzy without Phil being there.
I think Brian Downey was relieved because he was feeling the same thing. There was a bit of relief for the other guys in the bad too.
Playing live is one thing, but to record records is a whole other ball game. The next logical thing to do was to end Thin Lizzy things for a while. We’ll pick a date and from that date on we’ll be that new entity. At the end of the Kiss tour in Australia, we said ‘that’s our last gig as Thin Lizzy for a while’.
Was it a relief that you could record the album without people make comparisons with the Phil Lynott-era Thin Lizzy?
I think that was always going to be an element. I didn’t really want to get tied down with that, especially with something I had already done before. It is a terrible word to say that we were constrained. I don’t mean it like that, but it is the only word that I can come up with, but we were free to do things anyway we like.
There are a couple of songs that do sound like Thin Lizzy on the album. I don’t know how intentional all that was, but it is where we come from. It is kind of hard to avoid that.
Was there any issues legally involved in recording under the Thin Lizzy name?
We never even got it that far. I’ve been asked this before. On reflection, probably Phil’s family (his widow Caroline controls the estate) would not have liked it had we recorded under the Thin Lizzy name for whatever the reasons, but I don’t really know.
All I know is that I think we made the right decision. I feel good about it. Thin Lizzy will be back on the road at some point and we include some Thin Lizzy songs in our set. Remember, we’ve only got one album as Black Star Riders. I could tell you what Lizzy songs we’ll be playing on Saturday night, but that will spoil it.
Does playing in Dublin mean something special to you?
It means everything. There are probably three or four spots that your stomach turns a bit because of the nerves – Los Angeles, New York, London and Dublin. Every place else just turns into just another city. Maybe I shouldn’t say that! LA and New York has such a concentration of media. In London and Dublin, it is the fans. That’s where you take particular care and it is a bit more nerve-wracking. Thin Lizzy is known as an Irish band so you can’t let the side down.
Do you think Thin Lizzy retained that Irish identity though a lot of the band members including yourself are from abroad?
Well I think it always had the Irish feel to it, the Irish essence. Phil was a great believer in bringing the good word of Ireland to any interview that he did. There were times where you might be in Idaho or something and the interviewer would make some comment about Ireland and that was it. We didn’t talk about music any longer.
Now Phil is going into the history of Ireland and this and that and I had to rein him back and remind him, ‘dude, you’re here to plug the new album’. When I started in Thin Lizzy, I was 21 years of age. I didn’t know anything about Dublin. Phil knew that. He would take me by the scruff of the neck and give me a history of the city. It was almost too much. You couldn’t take it all in.
On the opposite side, we landed in New York, Phil slapped his hands together and said, ‘so, Scott, tell me about New York’. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘shit, I’ve never been here before in my life’.
What’s your proudest achievement with Thin Lizzy?
God, there’s a whole ton of them. Probably, when we went into do the Bad Reputation album. There was just the three of us writing and arranging. I did most of the guitar work, harmony and lead-wise. We were pretty proud of that one. That album, when it came out, sounded very well.
There are so many things that we have done, the places that we’ve played, the amount of people that we have played to and all that. It’s kind of hard to calculate what is the best of anything. People ask me what my favourite Thin Lizzy song. I don’t have a favourite Thin Lizzy song.
Thin Lizzy broke up in 1983 before Phil Lynott died. Did you think then that an incarnation of the band would be going 30 years later?
No absolutely not. We were too fucked-up at that point. I thought at that point it was pretty much it. Beyond trying to get myself better, I wasn’t thinking about Thin Lizzy. It was kind of curtains at that point.
In saying that, two years down the line in 1985, I had finally cleaned my act up and I went to see him. He was still a mess. He was talking about ‘you and I, we’ve got to start writing songs together again. We got to think about putting the band back together again.’
Do you think if Lynott had lived, he would have put Thin Lizzy back together again?
Absolutely that would have happened. It would have had to have been a case that he got his shit together again and gotten help for his addictions. Some people think what we do in music is an easy thing, but it is an ass-kicker. You’ve got to have your health together or it is not going to last very long.
Why did you manage to clean your act up and he didn’t?
I desperately wanted it. I needed to get out of that way of life. I was not afraid of asking for help. Whereas Phil was the kind of guy that couldn’t ask for help. To ask for help was a sign of weakness, so I thought that became extremely hard for him. Back then, there wasn’t enough rehabilitation facilities that you could trust. I don’t think he had much faith in that.
When you got Thin Lizzy back together again, did you get any stick from fans who thought it was not the same band without Phil Lynott?
Sure I did. Some of it really hurt because all we wanted to do was keep the name going out there. It felt to me that the recognition of the band and the work we put in started to slip. To be quite honest, it was always supposed to be for just seven shows in Japan. That did not work out because people found out that we had done this. And then we got stick for fans for not visiting them.
“Alright, we’ll do eight shows in Europe next year,” we said. The fans take was that we supported you all these years and you go half way across the fucking world to play the music. You just kind of kept growing from that point, more and more people and more and more promoters were interested. Instead of doing a handful of shows which financially was killing us, we decided to tour and see what happens.
Black Star Riders play The Academy on Saturday, December 14th