Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders

by Greg Prato

If the music on the debut release by the Black Star Riders (All Hell Breaks Loose) sounds familiar, there is a good reason - the majority of the group has been touring as Thin Lizzy for the past few years. Featuring longtime Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham, the band certainly has an unmistakable musical familiarity about them - including Gorham's trademark dual guitar harmony lines (along with Damon Johnson), as well as story-telling lyrics akin to the late/great Phil Lynott supplied by singer Ricky Warwick.

Rounding out the band is bassist Marco Mendoza and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, and as heard throughout the aforementioned Kevin Shirley-produced debut (especially the album's lead-off single, "Bound for Glory"), fans of vintage metal and classic rock sounds should be very pleased.

Gorham took the time out to discuss why he chose to forgo the Thin Lizzy name in favor of Black Star Riders, which guitarists helped inspire Lizzy's six-string harmony lines, and told the stories behind the classic Lizzy tunes he helped co-write.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's start by talking about Black Star Riders and also the new album All Hell Breaks Loose.

Scott Gorham: Well, it's totally different recording a BSR album to any Thin Lizzy album that I've ever done. One of the main differences was in the time that we didn't take to do it. This was literally twelve songs in twelve days.

Songfacts: Wow.

Gorham: No kidding. And that's because that's how Kevin Shirley likes to work. He doesn't like to sit there and put the microscope on this note or that note or this passage or this guitar tone. So it was kind of a pressurized situation. It was really a fun thing to do it that way. I'm not sure that any of us are going to do it that way again, but he did catch a lot of what we were all about on stage, especially for the last year and a half. He got some good stuff.

Songfacts: Something I was impressed with, especially with the first single, "Bound For Glory," was how successfully the band was able to recreate the vintage Thin Lizzy vibe.

Gorham: Yeah. I think a lot of that was because we had just come off of basically three years of heavy Thin Lizzy touring. So obviously that's going to rub off somewhere along the lines onto the next thing you're going to do. So I don't think it was on purpose that it panned out that way. It's just there were a lot of subliminal things that were going on and it just kind of turned out that way.

After Phil Lynott's death in 1986, Thin Lizzy lay dormant for a full decade... before former Lizzy bandmates John Sykes and Scott Gorham resuscitated the band. Many members came and went subsequently, including such renowned hired guns as Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy, Whitesnake), Vivian Campbell (Dio, Def Leppard), and Richard Fortus (Guns N' Roses, Psychedelic Furs), as well as such Lynott-era Lizzy members as Brian Downey and Darren Wharton. However, the post-Lynott Lizzy never issued a studio album, just a lone concert set: 2000's One Night Only.
Songfacts: What made you decide to drop the Thin Lizzy name and go with Black Star Riders?

Gorham: Well, I think it was more guilt than anything else. We started to write the album just a little over a year ago, and after about three months of us thinking, "Okay, the next album is going to be the next Thin Lizzy album," I started to feel uncomfortable about the whole thing - about writing and recording an album under the name Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott not being there. It just didn't sit right with me after a while.

I went to Brian Downey, the drummer, explained the situation, how I was feeling. He said he was feeling the same way. We went to both Ricky and Damon and they were feeling it. So independently, without anybody wanting to say anything, we were all thinking the same thing, feeling the same thing.

So now that we've come to the conclusion that this, in fact, will not be the next Thin Lizzy album, what do we do with these songs? Because we really loved this start that we had on writing this new material. That's when one of the management said, "Well, the only thing you guys can really do, what we have to do at this point, is find a date on the calendar, X that off, that will be the last Thin Lizzy show, and that will be the beginning of the new band." And that's what we did.

We had our last tour with Kiss in Australia, we saw the last date was in Brisbane, and that was it, that was the date.

Songfacts: And how did that tour go with Kiss and also Mötley Crüe?

Gorham: Actually, that was incredible. I'd never seen Kiss or Mötley Crüe play live at all, and it was a really up close and personal chance for me to check these guys out. It's a real glam band fest kind of thing with these boys. But, you know, especially the way Kiss handled it; it's a pretty phenomenal thing. I really understood why they've endured this many years and have such a legion of fans out there: because they come out and they're the real deal, they're real showmen. It's a lot of fun to watch.

Songfacts: Let's talk a little bit about songwriting. As far as songwriting with Phil, how did it change over time, especially as the years progressed and Phil got heavier into drugs?

Gorham: You mean the actual mechanics of writing the songs or are you talking about the subject matter?

Songfacts: I'd be curious to hear about both.

Gorham: Well, in the beginning it was really majorly Phil. Because the first album that we did [1974's Nightlife] was Brian Robertson and myself's first album. So we weren't really hip to the fact of how you make an album, how you write good songs for an album. Yes, we had written songs before, but when you brought them to Phil you could see, "Well, you know, that part is okay and that's all right, but this needs to be changed and that needs..." and I didn't even know that kind of thing even went on. "I'll put a little bit in there in your song."

So he taught us how to do this thing called "songwriting." And until we got better and better at it and we could actually bring our own songs in, we brought in songs that were either partly finished or just ideas to put on one of his songs. We might bring in a song that was half finished, or a whole song minus the lyrics. And it was always minus the lyrics, because that was Phil Lynott's domain. We knew that we weren't ever going to touch or top his lyrics. So you just let him get on with it.

And that pretty much remained the same format throughout Thin Lizzy. There were times where he would bring something in, maybe a whole song, and we'd listen to it and say, "You know, Phil, I think maybe you should use that for your solo album." [Laughs] And he was like, "Okay." He was cool with that. Because, in fact, he was trying to gather up as many songs as he could to do his first solo album [1980's Solo in Soho]. So when anybody ever said that, he wasn't bothered. It wasn't like some kind of a burn on his writing manner or anything. He just said, "Yeah, great, okay," and put it in the pile.

From countless recollections from band mates and friends over the years, Phil Lynott certainly enjoyed indulging in the "rock n' roll lifestyle." But as Gorham explains here, it wasn't until the recording sessions for 1979's Black Rose in Paris that things began truly getting out of hand for the Lizzy leader. As Lynott's drug intake increased in the early '80s, the quality of Lizzy's work began to suffer (and judging from such titles as "Got to Give It Up" and "Sugar Blues," he was not opposed to exposing his addiction in song lyrics), resulting in the band calling it quits in 1983. Lynott signed a solo recording contract and in 1985 scored a Euro hit single with Gary Moore, "Out in the Fields," but was unable to pull his life together. He died on January 4, 1986 at the age of 36, from pneumonia and heart failure (brought on by a condition called "sepsis").
Songfacts: Did the subject matter get more introspective or darker with Phil's songwriting as the years went on?

Gorham: It seemed to get that way. We were taking really depressing kinds of drugs, so depressing subject matter was inevitable - it was going to come out into the songs. There are a lot of drug songs, maybe a little bit on the war side, too. Yeah, failed love matches and all that, it got a little bit darker.

Songfacts: Before you talked about Phil writing lyrics. Did you ever contribute lyrics to any Thin Lizzy songs or that was 100% Phil?

Gorham: That was 100% Phil. If he was struggling, like, say for a word to rhyme somewhere, you'd throw a word out and he might use that, but it's like in Black Star Riders, Ricky's such a great lyricist that none of us want to go into that area at all. It was the same with Phil, he was such a master at that side of it, there wasn't any real point of the rest of us trying to hone in on it.

Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite songwriters?

Gorham: Wow. There's a whole bunch of those. God, favorite songwriters. Well, there's Bruce Springsteen, he's always great. You know a guy who Phil really liked that nobody really thinks about as a lyricist was Rod Stewart.

Songfacts: Oh, wow. I never thought of that.

Gorham: He kind of hipped me to Rod Stewart and his lyric writing. I started to listen to him and thought, "This guy actually is a good lyricist!" And I don't think he gets the credit that probably is due to him.

Van Morrison was also one of Phil's favorite guys. In fact, I think if there was a guy that Phil was inspired by, it was Van Morrison. And I love the guy, too. He's an Irish guy, he's a strong storyteller within the song. Those are the cool guys that are able to do that. The guys who sit around and just string a bunch of rhyming words together that don't mean anything, that doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I like to hear a story within the song. Ricky's one of those guys that's able to do that. That's why I love him to death, for being able to do that.

Songfacts: What about as far as some of your favorite guitarists?

Gorham: There's always the old classic guys, the guys I grew up with were Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and Peter Green. It's the typical guys that we all grew up with back then. Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, even. He had some real individual style back then. Different kind of sound. Stevie Ray Vaughan, for God's sakes. I think probably one of the all time best players ever, and what a kick ass singer that guy is.

Songfacts: Although bands like the Allman Brothers were doing guitar harmonies before Thin Lizzy, to the best of your knowledge would you say Thin Lizzy was the first true hard rock/heavy metal band to really do that?

Gorham: Well, we probably were. And that's probably why we get the recognition. A lot of people get confused, and I've corrected this many times. I'll be talking to a journalist and they say, "It's Thin Lizzy and jamming harmony guitars," I go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's stop it right there. That's not even close." Les Paul was doing it with Mary Ford way back in the '40s, for God sakes. Then you've got the Allman Brothers, Wishbone Ash, the Eagles were doing it. It's been going on since the dawn of time, the old harmony guitar thing.

But it's probably because we threw it into the rock arena and were playing it over not just major chords, we were harmonizing guitars over the minor chords also. That wasn't done at the time, so it created a different kind of a sound. I think that's what really stuck.

Songfacts: Let's discuss some of the Lizzy songs you co-wrote. Let's start with the song "Warriors."

Gorham: Yeah. Wow, man. I don't think I've ever talked about "Warriors"! Well, that's just a lick and a chord pattern that I had. We were at a rehearsal and I just started playing it. Phil looked up and said, "What's that?" And I said, "Well, it's a riff and a groove I have." He goes, "Okay, man. Let's try to develop that." And he and I, we just sat down and started developing it, put the different licks in there.

We'd developed a solo spot and I said, "I think Brian Robertson will be perfect for this, rather than my guitar." That's how that song came about, with Phil perking up his ears when I started to play the opening line for that particular song, "Warriors." But that's really strange that you would pick that one out. I'm pleased.

Songfacts: That's always been a favorite song of mine because although I like the studio version, I think the version on Live and Dangerous is even stronger.

Gorham: Yeah. It's much better. In fact, I think probably every song on Live and Dangerous is better than the studio versions.

Songfacts: I agree with that. What about the song "Emerald," which is known as one of the all time great Thin Lizzy guitar tracks?

Gorham: Yeah. That was a riff that Phil had. It's got the real sort of Irish-y feel in it. Brian Robertson and I, we came up with the harmony guitars in there. But the main riff came straight out of Phil. It's a song about ancient times in ancient Ireland, talking about the warring clans and all that.

It was the first time that Brian Robertson and I did the bounce off lead guitar thing where he starts, I start, he starts, I start... the back and forth. That's the first time we actually got that one together. It felt so good and it felt so right, so we then started to try that out on a couple of other songs. That was kind of a launching pad for that style of writing between the two guitarists.

Songfacts: Another song that I think is overlooked a bit is the title track from Bad Reputation. What do you remember about that?

Gorham: "Bad Rep" itself. Yeah. Well, I had the riff down. Phil came up and he says, "We need to do an off-time thing with this." He started to work with Brian Downey on that, and that's when they came up with this strange timing that you don't usually associate with Thin Lizzy. I listened to that and went, "Man, that is so fucking cool, it's unbelievable," and I jumped in on it. Then it kind of developed itself from there.

"Bad Reputation" was one of those songs that came together really quickly. As soon as we had that off-timing tag line come in, everything just fell into place, all the harmony guitar work and all that, the lead guitar thing. Phil's idea from it, from the riff itself, he just thought, you know, something along the lines of, "Man, this could give us a really bad reputation. That's it. That's what we're going to call this song." And he started writing this song called "Bad Reputation."

I love that song, actually. I think it's a really cool one to play live.

Songfacts: And what about the song, "Got to Give It Up"? Like we talked about before, Phil's lyrics started to get a bit darker. And I remember with that, Phil may have said in the press that it was about Brian Robertson. But now over the years I'd imagine it's probably more about Phil.

Gorham: Yeah. I think he was writing that about himself. We hadn't really hit the peak of our drug thing at this point. We weren't feeling the down drag, if you know what I mean. But I think Phil also realized the dangers of it; well, we all knew the dangers of the whole drug world. And I think he was being honest. "I've got to give this up. I've got to give this shit up or it's going to kill my ass." Eventually it did, as we all know. So, yeah, you're absolutely right.

Where did you read that it was about Brian Robertson?

Songfacts: It may have been a Thin Lizzy book where they used quotes from an old interview. Or maybe it was just the writer of the book giving his opinion. Because at that point, Black Rose was the first studio album without Brian Robertson. So I guess many people may have just assumed that it was about him.

Gorham: Oh, taking for granted. No, the Black Rose album, that was the beginning of the end for the band right there. For some reason in that city the drug dealers were just beating the door down trying to get into the studio. And unfortunately, we let them in.

Songfacts: That Black Rose album is one of Thin Lizzy's best studio albums, and it's always been puzzling to me why it wasn't a huge hit here in the US, whereas it was a huge hit elsewhere. Didn't it go to #1 or #2 in England?

Gorham: And Ireland, yeah. It got up there. It sold a lot all over Europe. And Australia, Canada and the whole thing. For some reason we always struggled saleswise in America, although we could come over here and every band and his brother wanted us on the bill with them. Because they knew we sold tickets, all the musicians really liked what we did. But the public at large, we just didn't light it up. Not quite sure what happened there, but things like that happen to different bands.

Songfacts: What would you say personally is the most underrated Thin Lizzy song, and also what is your favorite Thin Lizzy song?

Gorham: Wow. Most underrated. Jeez. I have no idea. I've never even thought about that. As far as a favorite song, if you're going out and getting Thin Lizzy up and running again and putting the sets together, I don't think that there's any such thing as a favorite song. I don't think there could be a favorite song. Because I think if there was, I would just be waiting around that whole night on stage for that one song to come up, and then when we get done with the song that would be, "Well, that's it. I'm bored to death now." [Laughing]

So there is no one particular song that could possibly be a favorite for me. Because these songs, they're really guitar vehicles. They were written for the guitar especially. So there's tons of stuff, really fine, great stuff for all guitar players that play this stuff to do on this.

Man, I'm sorry. I know that sounds like a real sittin' on the fence kind of answer.

Songfacts: No problem. I could tell you one song that seems to always get lost in the shuffle, and it's one of my favorites - "Angel from the Coast" off Jailbreak.

Gorham: Wow. That's a cool song. But that never got played live, which is a shame. Brian Robertson had a big hand in that one. That's Brian's riff, that opening riff, and then it comes again in the reopening riff.

Songfacts: "Sugar Blues" I always liked and I also liked "The Pressure Will Blow" - two other songs that seem to get lost.

Gorham: Well, "Sugar Blues" was Snowy White. "The Pressure Will Blow," that was written by me and Phil. You know something, a lot of these things, the reason they got "lost in the mix," if you will, is probably because the production on these things wasn't the greatest. Especially from the Fighting album - Phil tried to produce that himself and it just did not work at all. So a lot of this stuff really did get lost in not-so-great production. You could see that somewhere in there was a cool song. Somewhere in that bad production there's lurking a pretty cool thing in there. I just can't quite make it out right now. [Laughs]

I remember on one of the 21 Guns [a band Scott formed in the '90s] albums I redid a song called "King's Vengeance." First time around it was terrible. But once again it was one of those you could see lurking in the background - there was something cool in there.

Songfacts: Yes, that's also a song that I think is overlooked, and also "Spirit Slips Away" from the same album [Fighting].

Gorham: Right. "Spirit Slips Away." No kidding. But I think "Spirit Slips Away," arrangement-wise it wasn't quite there, wasn't quite ready to be put down. But there are cool things in it. So there's no way I can sit there and trash that song now, because there's cool stuff in that song.

We were a strange band back then. I loved it. We did some strange things.

Songfacts: Why is Thin Lizzy's music as popular today as it was even back when Phil was still alive and Thin Lizzy was touring with Phil?

Gorham: Well, the only thing I can think of is people maybe are a little fed up with the processed sound that's going on right now. We're able to go out and play all this stuff live, and I think there's a big interest to see what this stuff looked like and sounded like live.

It's hard to say, isn't it, why some bands endure and then other bands after they have broken up you don't hear about them after three or four years. We don't seem to be that kind of band. We seem to have been able to endure, and radio stations keep playing us, people keep writing about it, the records still sell. So, hey, I'm not complaining at all.

I was probably thinking in '83 when it broke up that we just might end up being one of those bands that five years later nobody was going to remember who the hell we were. But thankfully that didn't happen.

Songfacts: That's a testament to the quality of Thin Lizzy's music.

Gorham: Well, I would like to think so. I mean, we worked our ass off on every aspect of that band - the writing of the music, trying to record it as best as we could - but then also the heavy, heavy roadwork we did consistently for eleven years. It's all a combination of factors that hopefully embeds itself into peoples' minds as much as possible.

Songfacts: And then just the last question I have is what are the future plans for Black Star Riders? And also from what I hear there's a Thin Lizzy book coming out, right?

Gorham: It's already out. It's a book that myself and Harry Doherty did [Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back in Town]. It's already into its fourth reprint in the UK, it's being released in Germany in a translated version. Hopefully it's going to be released over here at some point. That's down to Omnibus, but I think you can actually order it on Amazon, if people in America want this thing. It got great reviews, there are great pictures in there. There are pictures that I hadn't seen for years that really describe visually what went on back then.

Schedule wise, we start rehearsing May 25th to do our first festival in Germany on June 1st, 2nd, and then we go to the Sweden Rock Festival. And then there are festivals dotted around throughout the summer. But the BSR UK tour starts in earnest in October. That'll take us all the way through the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

Songfacts: And are there any plans to hit the US as well?

Gorham: Yes. We're talking about that now. A friend who's in management is talking to the agencies and seeing what tour we can jump on. Absolutely. Everybody wants us to come out there. So if it happens, I'm on the airplane. I'm ready to go.

May 29, 2013. Get more at
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Comments: 3

  • Bone from The Salton SeaI was really stoned when I read this interview and cant recall it at all
  • Dorothy Gallahar from Dublin, Ireland.Great interview with Scott. Love the album looking forward to seeing you guys in Dublin in December.
  • Caroline Clarkson-drakeThis is a brilliant interview with Scott Gorham and shows the plans for Black Star Riders.
see more comments

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