Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Thin Lizzy - In Defense of Mssrs. Gorham and Downey
About once a month I read a remark on the Web that states - without Lynott there is no Thin Lizzy, and that's that. Well, it's just not that simple. Granted - Phillip Lynott was one of life's true geniuses. Blessed with rock star cool so cool it killed him, a voice that oozed soul as thick as brown ale, and a pen that was perhaps sharper than Van Morrison's, but just short of Bobby D's. I would be the first to say that no being, living or dead, could replace Phil. However, I would also be the last to say that Gorham and Downey have no right to play the material they originally played, or no right to call it Thin Lizzy.
Here's how I see it.
This is about rock and roll ethics - pay attention. Let's look first at the contribution of the aforementioned Gorham and Downey.
Scott Gorham is one of the co-creators of arguably the most recognizable twin lead guitar sound that any band ever developed. This much loved style of lead guitar harmonization and lead/solo trade offs came after the band heard a single track guitar solo being repeated in harmony via a tape delay, created by an engineer in the studio. The timing of the echo created by the tape delay resulted in the repeated notes being in harmony with the original line. Many bands have followed in Lizzy's footsteps with dual lead players, and harmony parts, but none has shown as brightly as the teams that were always one half Scott Gorham. Scott has been in Thin Lizzy since 1974 - he has flown the flag proudly - never short selling the band's legacy, or scrimping on the cost or quality of players hired to fill the roles left open by no choice of his own. Every version of Thin Lizzy that ever played a show played it with the best people available for the jobs.
In June of 2009, John Sykes decided to depart Thin Lizzy for the final time. One thing that the Internet has done for classic rock bands has been to not just keep, but to even greatly escalate their legends. Demand for viable versions of classic bands has seldom been greater on the concert circuit. When Sykes decided he's had enough, Scott Gorham decided to keep the ship afloat, and discovered that it was easier to hire both a singer and another guitar player than try to find one person who could adequately replace the blonde wunderkind.
He chose Ricky Warwick, best known previously as the frontman for Scottish rockers, The Almighty. The singer is a close friend of Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, who recommended the vocalist for the band while he and Gorham were handling the re-mixes and packaging for the re-release of the classic Lizzy records mentioned earlier. If you have not heard, or purchased any of the re-packagings, you should. These classic albums were remixed, remastered - each contains a remastered version of the original disc and a second disc of rare bonus tracks. "Live and Dangerous" is a two disc set and a third disc DVD. They all sound fantastic, and are worth a new consideration.
Replacing the second guitar slot has certainly proven to be tougher. This has to be a stressful part of Gorham's job, to replace someone he must work with very closely three times in a couple of years.
Alas, once again the primary employer returned to production, and Fortus left the fold all too soon.
What about a new Thin Lizzy record?
Now this is a whole other can of worms, and it's where I have some serious concerns. This is a tough call. I do believe that the band has every right to record new music, and to release it under the Thin Lizzy name. However, to release new music under that name is a huge responsibility, and has not been done since Phil died. That being said, it would be very ballsy, as no one currently in the band has released any original music that is even close to the standard set by Lynott. It would come with a tremendous amount of pressure, and a dim view from a great many music fans. Personally, I would love to see them try it. Send Warwick back to Scotland for a couple of months, with nothing but pen, paper, and a busman's wages. Take some of the dough that's been made on these recent tours, and hire a ball busting producer who loves the legacy. Then make the best Thin Lizzy album that can be made. If at the end, it isn't up to snuff? Bury it. Deep.
In the meantime, get out and see the band if you have the chance - it's a bunch of great musicians playing a bunch of the best rock and roll ever written.