Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy

Photo by John-son

Given the number of guitarists who claimed membership in Thin Lizzy, it’s easy to be confused about who played what if you’re not an aficionado. And in all fairness, Eric Bell, Snowy White, Gary Moore, and John Sykes all did their part to uphold Phil Lynott’s grand vision.

But as great as memorable as those players were, it was the duo of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham who changed the game, made history, and influenced droves of doppelgangers through their innovative twin guitar attack. Gorman specifically stuck around through the constant lineup shuffling, providing versatility and stability.

Still, Gorham is modest to a fault when reflecting on his legacy. “Obviously, I’m really proud of it,” he tells ClassicRockHistory.com. “I’ve had journalists go, ‘Scott, you’re the guys that invented the harmony guitars.’ Well, no, that’s so not true. The country and west guys had been doing it forever, right?”

He explains, “Back in the Forties, for God’s sake, they were like quadrupling tracks with harmony guitars. When you go back and listen, you’ll hear that, so, no, we did not invent the twin harmony guitars at all. I put a stop to that straight away.”

Gorham’s argument is well played, but still, there’s no denying the across-the-board influence of albums like Nightlife (1974), Jailbreak (1976), and Bad Reputation (1977) on hard rock and heavy metal in the Eighties, Nineties, and into today. To this, Gorham acquiesces, explaining, “What we did is we took the sweetness, if you will, out of the whole harmony thing, and we really tried to toughen it up.”

He continues, “Like, with the country guys, they’re all kind of in the major chords, right? We took it over to the minor chords, which, a lot of times, with twin guitars, they don’t want to do that; they want to sweeten the sound with fifths and thirds.”

“I love the Everly Brothers,” he says. “I love all their harmony work, but in the Irish songs, there’s a lot of minor chords that you’re playing, so you’ve got to learn how to get those sweet harmonies from those sections and toughen them up. I think that was the difference, and a lot of people heard that we were able to do that.”

Guitar innovation aside, Gorham has new projects on the way. Surprisingly, it’s not new music but a series of drawings that have apparently been tucked away under the veteran guitarist’s bed since the Seventies. These drawings, titled “Curiosity,” “Pain,” and “The Fanatic,” serve as abstract representations of Gorham’s mindset during his wild ride with Thin Lizzy.

“It kind of relaxed me a little bit, if you will,” he says. “I didn’t have to answer any questions; I didn’t have to tune up these pictures or turn down a knob; it was just me sitting by myself with a pad of paper, coming up with things that I really loved doing.”

As for why he kept these drawings a secret, he says, “Well, I probably shouldn’t have kept it a secret; it sounds kind of a little dumb now, you know? But for the longest time, it’s kind of been my baby, if you will. I just didn’t want to give them up, I guess.”

As he moves ahead, Gorham is uniquely positioned to set his guitar down for the first time and expose a different part of his artistic side to the world. That’s scary but perhaps not much more harrowing than standing beside Phil Lynott all those years ago.

Still, it’s untrodden ground: “It scares me to death that people who have seen these… I don’t expect them to speak to everybody. But we have a website [scottgorhamworld.com] where everyone can go. There are two different print sizes to choose from, and we’ll send them to you. I guess that’s the main goal; I don’t think I’m gonna get rich off it, but it’s nice to have them out there.”

During a break in the action, Scott Gorham dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to share the stories behind six iconic Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders tracks.

“She Knows” – Thin Lizzy – Night Life (1974)

Wow, so that was the first song Phil Lynott and myself wrote together. It was at the rehearsals for the Nightlife album, and I think we were on a break or something. I still had my guitar on, and I had this riff, and Phil Lynott said, “Is that yours?” I said, “Yeah…” and he said, “Is there any more to that?” I said, “Well, yeah…” I played the next bit, and he looked at me and said, “Hey, man, do you mind if I write some lyrics to that?”

I went, “Are you fu*king kidding me? Hell, yes!” And you know, I thought Phil did a great vocal job on that; it’s one of those thoughts that I really wanted to get in the studio right then and put some extra instrumentation in there, you know, more percussion, and that kind of thing. Sometimes, I just wanted to get into the studio with a song in mind, rein in the whole thing, and say, “It’s got the possibility of being a really cool song.”

“Cowboy Song”
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1976)

You had Phil, and it was right before the first tour we did in America, and Phil was just so absolutely enamored with America as a kid. He watched all the cowboy movies and all that; he just loved that, right? So, when we finally got to Texas, he saw these big cactus trees, and I think that’s what set him up. Because, man, oh, my God, in Texas, there’s some big cactus trees. [Laughs].

There were the mountains in the back and the cows over here, and Phil was like, “Oh, my God, I’m actually in America.” That’s when he started to write “Cowboy Song.” I think it was Robby [guitarist Brian Robertson] who came up with the breakdown, and then it was up to me to put the harmonies on and all that.

So, yeah, that was one song where, as soon as we recorded it and heard it back, that’s one song that always stayed in the set because each of us really loved playing it. Beyond that, as far as the solo, I can’t give any sort of anecdotes or anything; you’re going back too many years, so give me a little break! [Laughs]

“The Boys Are Back in Town”- Thin Lizzy- Jailbreak (1976)

The classic one was “The Boys Are Back in Town,” it wasn’t even considered a single at all, right? At first, there were no harmony guitars on it or anything; it was just the basic chord pattern and Phil’s vocals on it. And I actually thought the lyrics that he put down were very cool, and I saw we also had spots in there where, musically, something had to be done to be able to lift the song up.

And that’s where Brian Robertson and I kind of jumped in to add those bits, you know? I think it was me who came up with the initial bit, and then Robbo jumped in with the harmony, and it just kind of evolved from there to the point where we got it down, recorded it, and still didn’t think of it as a thing, you know? With the first two albums, we always could pick the single, but there was nothing, you know, no traction on any of them.

So, for this third album, we thought, “Let’s let the record company pick one,” they did and picked the wrong one. [Laughs]. Whatever it was, I can’t remember [Thin Lizzy’s US label Mercury Records initially chose “Running Back” as Jailbreak’s lead single over “The Boys Are Back in Town”]; it was the wrong one. So, we were touring in America, and there were two disc jockeys in Louisville, Kentucky—and again, I wish I could remember their names—who fell in love with that song, “The Boys Are Back in Town.” They kept playing it to the point where radio stations around the area picked up on it.

They started playing it, and once it started being bombed around this circle of radio stations, it just exploded all over America. It came down to these two DJs in Louisville, Kentucky, who just happened to love that song. So, I’m doing a book right now; it’s a biography, and a guy is doing a book on me, and I’m gonna find out the guys’ names and make a big deal out of them when we get to that part of the book!

“Emerald” – Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1976)

With that song, once again, we were in rehearsals, and the parts were basically there, which came from different guys in the band, so it was just a matter of gluing them together and getting them in the right sequence.

As far as the guitars between Robbo and me, a lot of that was sorted out in rehearsal, too. And I gotta be honest, a lot of times, it came down to saying, “Man, you’re playing better than I am, you gotta take the part,” or maybe, “You’re doing a better job here; you actually get what’s going on here with the part.” You gotta be honest with each other, or it’s just going to be crap, you know?

If we let ego get in the way, we woulda been done. So, we got, I don’t know, maybe 80% of it divided up by doing that. And “Emerald” was great because it’s just power riffs, which are a joy to play, especially through my Les Paul. But it’s funny… I was always waiting for the day when I could get enough money for the Les Paul Standard, and I felt like I suffered with the Deluxe. [Laughs]

That was a stumbling block, but by the time we did the fourth album [Nightlife], I was able to get my hands on all the things I wanted and got things dialed in. Another interesting thing was the Irish melodies, which I had to learn when I joined Thin Lizzy. I never knew there was such a thing as Irish rock, but I found out that when I amped these traditional Irish things up and turned the volume up, the Irish lines became power lines.

There was a lot of emotion in the Irish way of doing things, and I learned to love it. And with “Emerald,” at the time, I didn’t think about it standing the test of time. But it’s a great, well-written song, and there’s a lot of powerful stuff going on, and obviously, I’m proud of it. We always loved playing it live and seeing all the smiling faces in the crowd.

“Dancing In the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight)”- Thin Lizzy – Bad Reputation (1977)

Oh, wow, yeah, I absolutely remember that one! That was with Tony Visconti producing, and we were a trio: me, Phil, and [drummer] Brian Downey. I remember Tony Visconti saying, “You know, we need something really catchy in here. Scott, you have to pull out the stops here.” I said, “Yeah, okay…” and I think I took a little tape-recorded into another room of the studio [Toronto Sound and Sounds interchange].

I probably sat there for at least a couple of hours, if not three hours, working on this solo guide. So, it’s not an improvised solo; I worked each of those sections out, and I think it came out pretty good. It’s really memorable, but I’m not like Brian Robertson, who was a great improviser; my whole philosophy on the thing was, “I really want people to remember.”

So, if it was a section that was played one way, I might look at it as something maybe a little simpler, more direct, and more to the point. That was my kind of playing, and that’s how I always looked at it. But way later, I started doing a lot more impromptu.

“Bound For Glory” – Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013)

I think that was a Ricky Warick one. Ricky Warwick is amazing; he’s got any riff or chord sequence that you can come up with. I mean, with anything, Ricky’s got lyrics; it’s unbelievable. I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of songwriters before. They kind of have to hear the song first and then start writing lyrics to get the vibe of it. But Ricky’s got something right off the bat every single time. It’s unbelievable.

So, with “Bound for Glory,” that was his chord structure, and those are his lyrics, obviously. That one drifted together really quickly, you know, like a lot of the Black Star Riders stuff because there’s a lot of really accomplished musicians in that band. The production got the better of us on some things, which is a game, but hands down, I thought we were a really, really good band. It’s just too bad that nobody else could see it.

Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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