Interview with Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy ruled the UK charts in the late ’70s. Over four decades later, the Irish rockers continue to bring their indomitable performances to venues and festivals throughout the world.

The band, now comprised of singer Ricky Warwick (of The Almighty), lead axe-slinger Scott Gorham, guitarist Vivian Campbell (of Def Leppard), bassist Marco Mendoza, keyboardist Darren Wharton, and drummer Brian Downey, is currently on tour in the US.

Rock Edition had the chance to sit down and chat with Ricky and Scott about the band’s activities, 25 years after the death of beloved Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott.

It’s nice to see Thin Lizzy back in the US.

Scott Gorham: Yeah, I think the last time we did an American tour was five years ago. It doesn’t seem like it was five years ago; I don’t know why that is. I think it’s probably because we’ve been doing so much work in Europe and other countries that you kind of lose track of time after a while until somebody says, “You know, it’s been five years.” We’re back now.

The tour is only ten dates long. Why such a short run?

Scott: Well, there’s a timing reason for that. We’ve got a couple of shows with Def Leppard and Alice Cooper in Ireland. Then we’ve got several really big European festivals to do. Hopefully by that time we’ll have set up a West Coast tour in the US. We wanted to come over, because it’s been five years, but we didn’t have enough time to actually do the whole thing. We’ll bang over to Europe and South America and hopefully we’ll be able to follow it up on the West Coast.

Ricky, you’re the newest member of Thin Lizzy. When you were looking over the Lizzy catalog, did you say, “Oh, I’ve got all this down already”?

Ricky Warwick: [laughs] I was a huge Thin Lizzy fan. I knew a lot of the stuff. Did I know the second verse of “Do Anything You Want To” by heart? No, but I knew bits of it. I’m not coming into it blind. There was a lot of stuff that I had to learn. It’s a great catalog of songs. Scott threw about 26 or 27 songs at me.

Scott: Sorry about that. [laughs]

Ricky: It was getting up every morning and listening to Thin Lizzy and it was karaoke with Phil [Lynott]. I’d put the albums on and sing along with all of them — just walking around the house doing stuff. Lyrics were stuck up on the stairs and kitchen fridge. Then of course I’d set aside time where I’d sit down and really concentrate and learn them. The last thing that I want to do is have any cheat sheets or audio cues or anything like that because I just think that’s lame and disrespectful. I just completely submerged myself in Lizzy for four or five months. It was great fun. It’s not a bad gig when you get up in the morning and all you have to do is sing along with Thin Lizzy for the rest of the day.

Scott: And some of it you put on yourself, too. We had a certain amount of songs we were going to do anyway and you were going, “Why don’t we try this song? And how about this one? And that one?” It’s because he knows the catalog so well that we’ve come up with so many songs that we’ve either never played live on stage before or that we haven’t done in years. I think we actually ended up with a two-hour set. We had to cut that back quite a bit.

Ricky: We keep adding songs as we go along. Scott will say, “What about this?” Or Brian [Downey] will suggest something and then we’ll add that one to the mix. We’re going through the catalog as we move along and do more shows.

Scott: Which is a good thing because then you’re not playing the same set every night. You can start substituting songs.

And you have a lot of songs to choose from!

Scott: [laughs] Yeah.

There are so many people that would love to be in Ricky’s place right now as lead singer of Thin Lizzy. Scott, what makes Ricky fit that position so well?

Scott: Well, you say there’s so many people that would want to fill Phil’s shoes, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of people that can fill those shoes — at least that’s where I’m coming from. Ricky made his first solo album — [turns to Ricky] what, 20 years ago?

Ricky: No dude, only eight years ago. [laughs]

Scott: Ah, eight years, not twenty. It was Joe Elliott from Def Leppard that called me up and said, “I’ve got a guy in my studio that your guitar style is going to fit perfect with.” I said, “Really? Well, who is it?” He said, “It’s Ricky Warwick.” I said, “Jesus, man, I know Ricky!” I got on a plane, went straight over and listened to Ricky’s voice up close and personal and I thought, “Wow, this guy…” The timbre in his voice is the same as Phil’s and he’s got the whole Irish thing going for him and same mentality and same sort of character and all that. These are things you need to look for in order to step into those kind of shoes. It can’t be somebody who can just hit the right notes and memorize a song. For me, to be in this thing, there’s kind of a menu of things you have to fulfill; there’s a lot of boxes you have to tick. Ricky, for me, he ticked all those boxes. I feel good about it because after going through the UK and European tour, with the whole thing being sold out, I think I was proven right that the audience out there thinks exactly the way that I was thinking. I think I made the right choice. [laughs]

He’s got that character factor. You need that bigger than life thing going for you. There’s no point in being in the spotlight and being the focal point of the band if you’re this cowering little dandelion. You have to be able to take charge up there. With this kind of band and with these kinds of songs you really need to be able to do that. He does that.

With Thin Lizzy’s songs having been featured in video games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, are you seeing any younger fans?

Scott: We see 50/50 now. Half of the audience are way too young [to have been around] when we were actually out there originally. I’m not particularly sure if it has to do with the games. It seems to have been handed down to them from their brothers, older sisters, uncles or whatever. “Hey man, don’t listen to that crap, listen to this.” That’s not my wording, that’s theirs. That’s how they’ve gotten into, not only our music, but other bands’ music also. I don’t think the games did us any harm. [laughs]

They surely did not. The Guitar Hero series has been discontinued.

Scott: Yeah, it has, which I think is kind of strange. It had such an amazing run.

Maybe they ran out of songs.

Scott: [laughs] That’ll never happen.

Why is there such a big difference between the response you get here in the States and in Ireland?

Scott: On a scale of one to ten in popularity, we’re like a nine all through the UK and Europe, whereas over here it’s maybe a five. I think a lot of it is probably our own fault. We didn’t follow the trends that the American listening public wanted. We don’t have banks of vocal harmonies or tons of reverb on all the tracks — big productions. We weren’t that kind of band. The American ear was trained to want to hear that. We never gave them that. Us cancelling tours left, right and center through sheer bad luck from people cutting hands, or getting hepatitis, people quitting the band halfway through tours and all of that didn’t help either. We didn’t do ourselves any favors with the American public at all. So there’s a couple of reasons why we’re probably less popular over here than we are in the rest of the world. Does that make any sense? [laughs]

Ricky: Yeah, absolutely!

Scott: I’ve been asked that question a lot. After having a few years to think it out, that’s the only thing I can think of. Unless we’re just crap.

What’s different about touring nowadays versus touring in the ’70s?

Scott: Expense.

Ricky: [laughs]

Scott: It’s way more expensive now. I mean that in a really serious way. In the ’70s, you could literally say, “I’m bored, let’s go out and tour.” Financially, you could go out there and it was no problem because everything was easy for a band to afford. In the ensuing years, everybody on the peripheral edge of a band figured out that they can charge [the audience] anything they want to, and that’s exactly what they did. That has made it really tough for smaller bands to actually get out there and be able to tour the world like they used to. The financial thing has really changed in a big way.

Ricky: Also, the record company support. Before, you could go to your record company and say, “Hey, we want to go on tour to support such and such.” They’d throw some money at you and help you get on that tour. I think that’s in decline, big time. I feel for kids that are in bands starting out now, I really do. It’s always been tough, but it’s even tougher now.

Scott: We had it a lot easier; I’ll admit that right off the bat. It was much easier to be in a band and climb the ladder back in the ’70s and ’80s than it is now.

Ricky: I agree with that.

Did you guys rehearse a lot before hitting the road?

Scott: I’m a big believer in rehearsing. I’m not a believer in leaving everything to chance. Because we’re scattered all over the world, we go through email hell just to work out what set list we’re going to be doing. Everyone will pick their favorite 25 songs and then we agree on what we’re going to play and everyone sheds it at home so [they] know to the nth degree what [their parts are] and what everyone else is going to be doing. Then, we all meet up and tighten up for two weeks, eight hours a day. The shed time was three or four months. Everybody sits by themselves and makes sure they know their bit.

What new songs are you playing on tour?

Ricky: Old new songs. New old songs!

Right, new old songs. [laughs]

Scott: Because Ricky’s in the band, and Vivian Campbell, who’s such a huge Thin Lizzy fan, it’s made it so that we can go real deep into the catalog now. Before, in the last few years, it was all the ‘Live and Dangerous’ album, which I love to death and I love playing. But, for me, it’s a hell of a lot of fun now because now I get to play these newer songs [laughs]. There’s a song called “Wild One” that I think we might have played for a little while back in the ’70s, but that was about it. We’re playing “Whiskey in the Jar” again, and “Killer on the Loose,” which we haven’t been able to play for decades. I think we’ve got about five or six songs that are new and we can interchange from night to night.

As you mentioned, Vivian from Def Leppard is in the band now. How did that come about?

Scott: That was Joe Elliott, the singer from Def Leppard. And he was the one who suggested Ricky here. I got a call a week later after the Ricky phone call and he said, “I know you’re going to need somebody over on the right hand side there. Have you thought of anybody?” I said, “Well, it’s only been ten days since we’ve put this thing together. I don’t really have anybody in mind yet.” He goes, “Well, Vivian Campbell has asked me to give you a call to see if you would consider him to be on the right hand side.” I loved the wording too, the “consider.” I’ve known Vivian for years and the caliber of player he is and what a great guy he is. I said, “Jesus, man, give me his telephone number.” I got his phone number, asked what he was thinking and he said, “Man, let’s do it.” He’s having a great time because he’s getting to play a ton of guitar. That’s how Viv got in.

Scott, what kind of gear are you bringing on tour? Do you have some Les Pauls ready to go?

Scott: Yeah, Gibson has very kindly built me a new Les Paul Axcess. It’s got a Floyd Rose arm on there, a mid boost and a couple other custom things going on in there. I’m not actually playing [Fender] Stratocasters any longer. I’m a full-blown Les Paul guy all the way now. Pedal-wise, I’ve got a wah-wah pedal, a retro chorus, a Dytone boost thing to kick in every once in a while and that’s about it. I’ve stopped with the refrigerator full of blinking lights and flashing buttons. I found that it started to compress the sound too much. I like the simplicity of what we got going now.

Ricky, choice of microphone?

Ricky: [laughs] Actually, I play guitar on quite a few songs as well. I have an Avalon acoustic that I use on “Whiskey in a Jar” and “Wild One.” The guitars are actually made in my hometown, right outside of Belfast. They’re really cool acoustic guitars. I play electric on a few songs as well and I have a white Les Paul from 1988 that I use.

Sweet. Les Pauls all around!

Ricky: Microphones — I don’t know. I just use one that works. And I don’t use any guitar pedals. I just plug my guitar straight into my amp, a Marshall JCM800.

Let’s put the rumors to rest. Are there any new songs in the works for Thin Lizzy?

Scott: It’s been almost a taboo subject for a long time. One camp says, “No Phil, no album.” Another camp says, “We want to hear new material.” I’ll give you an example of something that happened recently. We were in Germany and there was a lady journalist that asked the same question. I told her, “Well, we’re thinking about it. The band and the fans have both seemed to jump the emotional hurdle together. It’s more likely now that we’ll actually start writing material and possibly doing an album.” I asked her, “What do you think?” She said, “Absolutely not. I think that’s the worst idea.” I said to her, “Wow, you’re the first one who’s actually said that.” There wasn’t animosity there, she was just stating her point. I told her to come on back after the show, because she wanted me to sign a few things for her. So we did the show and she was one of the first people back after the show. She said, “Well, okay you can do the album, but only if you do it with that guy [points to Ricky].” Her attitude had totally changed when she saw and heard exactly how we’re doing this thing and what it sounded like now. I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of the naysayers that were out there. Of course, there’s always going to be people that are going to say “No.” But, there seem to be many more people now that want to hear new material than ones who don’t. We’re falling over to that edge now.

Cool. On a sadder note, I was thinking back to the first time I saw Gary Moore’s DVD One Night in Dublin: A Tribute to Phil Lynott. That DVD introduced me to Gary’s impressive guitar playing and singing. Can you tell us a little about what it was like to perform with the late great Gary Moore during Lizzy’s ‘Black Rose’ era?

Scott: Gary was probably the first guy to be a bonafide replacement for Brian Robertson, who was my original partner in Thin Lizzy. I immediately thought, “Wow, how weird is this going to be?” I was so used to playing with Brian Robertson, and we had developed this dual guitar harmony style together. All of a sudden there was this new guy coming in. As soon as I started to play with Gary, I realized he was a great player and had something going for him. So right in the beginning it was probably a little daunting because he was that good, but as I played with him more and more, it became a cool thing. He was a good guy and a hell of a guitar player. He’s going to be sorely missed by a lot of people. It’s a good thing he went out and did those DVDs so that guys like yourself could catch on to him. That was actually the last time I saw Gary, too. We were both up there having a good time and playing guitar together. It’s a good memory for me to have about Gary.

Absolutely. So you have your American jaunt and then a few festivals coming up in Europe, as you previously mentioned.

Scott: Yeah, and I know they want us to come over to South America and do Australia and Japan. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to be going on there. I hope they’re going to be okay. Not just because of the festival, but as a nation. It’s terrible. After that, it’s just going to be festival hell for the rest of the year.

Awesome. You haven’t played South America before, right? Have you played Japan?

Scott: I’ve been to Japan so many times. This will be the first time Thin Lizzy will head to South America and hit those shores. It’ll be fun.

Fantastic. Have a great time on tour, guys!

Scott and Ricky: Thanks!

Pick up the new deluxe edition of Thin Lizzy’s 1976 album Jailbreak.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.