Gary Moore has got it bad for the blues

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Gary Moore made a 1995 tribute LP for mentor Peter Green, Blues for Greeny. Photo: Sam Scott Hunter.

Mixing a record is serious business, and Gary Moore needed to concentrate, seeing as how he’d never done it before.

A novice in the studio arts at the time, the ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist and a partner were struggling with “Parisienne Walkways,” an elegant, blues-stained beauty from the late ’70s — featuring Phil Lynott’s expressive vocals and a uniquely European flavor — that would become the biggest-selling song of Moore’s solo career.

At a critical point in the process, some unruly guests were being disruptive, and Moore couldn’t put them in a time-out.

“Behind us, sitting on the couch, [was] Black Sabbath, right?” remembers Moore. “So, Ozzy [Osbourne] is sitting there with Bill Ward and Tony Iommi, and Bill Ward is throwing up in a bucket. That was the funny part: We’re mixing this lovely, romantic song, and he’s throwing up in a bucket.”

Ward wasn’t the only one behaving badly. Continuing on, Moore relates, “And then Ozzy gets up and starts running at the wall with his arms down like an airplane, and he ends up smashing his head against the wall. And he had to go to the hospital, ’cause he had like really bad whiplash (laughs). So, there’s all this kind of mayhem going on behind us. Maybe that contributed to the mix.”

Despite his condition, Ward was quite taken with the song.

“Bill Ward was saying (with Moore imitating the Sabbath drummer’s inebriated sincerity), ‘Oh, there’s so much love in that song. It’s great, isn’t it?’ in that real thick Birmingham accent,” laughs Moore.

No such difficulties hampered studio work on Moore’s latest blues-rock salvo, Bad For You Baby, another satisfying collection of smoky ballads and full-throttle hard rock from the Irish guitar master.

A bit more polished than its esteemed predecessors, bluesy outings like 2006’s Old New Ballads Blues and 2004’s Power Of The Blues, Bad For You Baby finds Moore at the height of his powers. With vocals more nuanced than ever before and solos that seem sharper and more defined, Moore, his playing always intense, dynamic and powerful, strides confidently through well-crafted originals and smartly arranged covers.

Moore says there’s a reason why Bad For You Baby (see pg. 57 for a review) is a great leap forward. “I think this album is a lot stronger than the one before it, because the one before wasn’t done on the back of a tour, whereas this one is,” says Moore.

Coming off the road in support of 2007’s Close As You Get, Moore wasn’t in the mood for rest and relaxation, because, as he says, “… your energies are up. You just feel like you’ve got a lot of energy and a lot of inspiration at that point, so I think it really helps the music.”

Always one for surprises, Moore pulls off a doozy with “Down The Line,” merging the blues with Johnny Cash-style locomotive country to concoct a furious, hell-bent rocker that roars along the tracks.

“It’s still a 12-bar, but it does have a very country feel to it,” says Moore. “I’d play some country-style guitar and kind of use it within the blue notes. So, we’re using the blue notes but with a country style of phrasing, which makes it more original, in a sense.”

Taking on the smoldering R&B of Donny Hathaway’s reading of Al Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” might have been Moore’s biggest challenge on the new album.

“You can imagine it was quite scary for me to try and attempt it,” says Moore.

Repeated performances of the song live gave Moore the chutzpah to tackle it.

“What I did was put the track down, and then I went on the road for a couple of weeks and did 10 shows,” says Moore. “So, when I came back, I was very confident with the vocal, because I had already sung on it 10 gigs live.”

Slow-burners like that one, and the soulful ballad “Hold On” from Bad For You Baby, test Moore’s guitar playing in different ways than his hell-bent rockers.

“I think there’s a lot more room for expression on the guitar on the slower ones, you know,” says Moore. “Like, for example, ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,’ there’s a lot of space to that song, and you can really play much longer notes on the guitar, and you can really space it out more and dig into the blues side of it more.”

In contrast, “Umbrella Man” — an English term for a cuckold used and, later, tossed aside by a woman — and the menacing, crawling title track are anchored in the loud, hard-charging, yet melodic, rock that made Thin Lizzy international stars.

Moore served various tours of duty with Thin Lizzy, the first a short-lived stint as a replacement for Eric Bell. Then, he filled the shoes of Brian Robertson in 1977, before reuniting with Thin Lizzy for the “Black Rose” tour of 1978.

Moore, who helped Lynott considerably with the Black Rose album, thought by many to be Thin Lizzy’s finest hour, and Lynott go back further than Thin Lizzy. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1952, Moore was a child of the 1960s British blues movement, which overran his hometown. He remembers at age 13 hearing John Mayall Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton.

“I went to this guy’s house on a Sunday afternoon, and he says, ‘I’ve got the John Mayall album,’ and, of course, everybody was talking about it. There was a real buzz about it at the time. He just put it on this little, tiny record player, and I heard ‘All Your Love,’ and it just changed my life in about two seconds.”

Moore grew into a teen guitar prodigy, churning out fiery leads and roiling cauldrons of riffs for Skid Row (not the American heavy metal band of the ’80.) While with Skid Row, which signed a major-label record deal with CBS in 1970, Moore, who had moved to Dublin by this time, grew tight with Lynott, the band’s vocalist.

“Phil was in Skid Row when I joined,” says Moore. “He was the lead singer. He didn’t play bass or nothing. What happened was, he had a problem with his voice, and his vocals became unreliable, according to the bass player, so the bass player fired him from the band. And, of course, Phil went on to become a great singer, but, at the time, it just wasn’t working. I think the bass player wanted us to be a power trio.”

Being in Skid Row allowed Moore to make another meaningful connection. One night in Dublin, the band opened for Fleetwood Mac at “… a place called the National Stadium, which sounds really grand, but it’s not,” says Moore. “It’s just a hall; it’s a boxing venue actually, and they used to leave the boxing ring in the middle of the venue, believe it or not, and that was the stage. It was the early days of playing in the round (laughs).”

Moore didn’t get a chance to see Fleetwood Mac play that night, because Skid Row had another gig 60 miles away they had to get to. But, Fleetwood Mac’s legendary guitarist Peter Green, through a DJ at the hall, asked Moore to meet him at his hotel.

“So, I went and sat up all night with him, just playing guitars and talking, and he was so nice to be around,” says Moore.

Green, who eventually sold Moore his his trademark 1959 Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar, an instrument Moore still uses and cherishes as perhaps his most prized possession, invited Moore to travel with him to Cork to see Fleetwood Mac play the next night. Meeting Green was serendipitous for Moore as Green convinced his manager, Clifford Davis, to sign Skid Row to the Columbia label. The two grew so close that Green confided in Moore that changes were in the offing for Fleetwood Mac.

“I went to his house one day, and he said, ‘I want to talk to you about something,’” says Moore. “And I said, ‘Fine,’ and he took me out to his car, and he said, ‘I’m leaving the band, you know. They’re a bunch of… whatever.’ He didn’t really have anything good to say about them let’s put it that way.”

Moore had his own issues with Skid Row. He split after recording three albums with the band. After a brief solo venture, Moore joined Thin Lizzy.

“They wanted to push me,” says Moore of his Skid Row bandmates. “They were like I was this puppet they would pull out of the box, you know, the guy who played really fast, and I was only 16 when I joined the band. When I joined Thin Lizzy, it was different because they were more melodic, and Phil was more of a songwriter.”

Outside of Thin Lizzy, Moore would develop as a solo artist and branch off into wild, new directions, including a short outing in the ‘70s with the prog rock/fusion outfit Colosseum II. He assisted Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Greg Lake on a pair of Lake solo records in the early ’80s and guested on a Cozy Powell solo album and the Traveling Wilburys’ song “She’s My Baby.”

In the ’80s, Moore reunited with Lynott, recording the “Out In The Fields” single and the 1987 Celtic-inspired Wild Frontier album before Lynott died in January 1986.

Troubled by how metallic his recordings were becoming, Moore made a triumphant return to the blues with 1990’s Still Got The Blues, which featured guest turns by George Harrison, Albert Collins and Albert King.

“Quite a cantankerous guy,” according to Moore, King didn’t quite take to Moore initially, as Moore flubbed a lyric while doing “Oh, Pretty Woman” from King’s Born Under a Bad Sign LP.

“I knew one of the words in the song wasn’t right, but I couldn’t really hear it on the original, so it got to the second vocal, and he jumped up and he said, ‘Stop the tape,’” relates Moore. “He looked at me and said, ‘See that line? It’s not ‘She is the rising sun.’ It’s ‘Sure as the rising sun.’ That’s how sharp he was.”

It was an interesting experience working with King. One day, while looking for a light for his pipe, King dropped something.

“I heard all this clattering on the floor, and I looked down, and there’s bullets everywhere,” says Moore. “And I say, ‘Albert, what the hell is going on, man?’ And he says, ‘Oh, I’ll show you something.’”

Pulling out cards from his pocket, King revealed to Moore that he was a deputy sheriff back home. Laughing about the memory, Moore recalls that by the time they’d finished working together, he and King had grown close… somewhat.

“He was going to the airport and his car arrived, and I said, ‘Thanks for everything Albert,’” says Moore. “And I went to give him a hug, and he said, ‘Now listen (laughs).’ He starts, ‘I want to get on your case about that loud playing.’ He said, ‘You and that Stevie Ray Vaughan, I can’t stand it (laughs).’ He said, ‘You and Stevie Ray are my god sons. Now, you understand that?’ And he gave me such a lecture.”

Surely, King, who died in 1992, is proud of what Moore is doing now.

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