By Mick Wall
Unlike the intimidating guitar-matador I’d first met in Thin Lizzy over 30 years before, the Gary Moore of recent times was an easier-going, if still edgy fellow. You didn’t mess with him but at least you could have a laugh and a joke.
As fellow Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham recalls, “You know how me and Phil [Lynott] used to beat the sh*t out of ourselves with all the drugs and drink and women. Gary was totally on the other side. No drinks, no drugs... He was all about the guitar, all about the music.”
So how was it that he died so young? Only 58, when he passed away in his sleep of a suspected heart attack, this was Gary Moore, “the sensible one,” as Lizzy drummer Brian Downey puts it now.
Robert William Gary Moore was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in April 1952. He picked up his first guitar, a battered old acoustic, when he was just eight, and though left-handed, taught himself to play right-handed. He formed his first band, the Beat Boys, who specialised in Beatles songs, aged 11. By the time he first met Brian Downey in 1967, however, he was already playing electric blues.
“John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were a massive influence on me personally, particularly the Beano album with Clapton,” he told me. “I also saw the Bluesbreakers play live as a teenager when they came to Belfast, at Club Rado, which was in the toughest part of town. I saw Mayall there with Peter Green, who, again, became a massive influence on me, and again, later, with Mick Taylor on guitar.”
Moore’s big break came when he joined Downey and his pal Phil Lynott in a Dublin-based outfit called Skid Row. Three years older, Phil took Gary under his wing. Sharing one room, “Phil was like our mum. I was only 17 and he’d be like, ‘Right, yer fookin’ breakfast’s ready and you ain’t going anywhere till you eat it!’”
When Lynott later formed Thin Lizzy with Downey, it was to Gary he turned when original guitarist Eric Bell left — the first of three different stints Moore would enjoy with them.
Gorham recalls their first rehearsal. “When he strapped on the guitar and started playing, it was, ‘Holy sh*t, man! This guy’s gonna dust me!’”
Moore’s relationship with Thin Lizzy disintegrated, however, after he walked out of a US tour in 1979. “There’s no doubt about it, we were f**king pissed off,” recalls Gorham. “Phil was so angry he could hardly even talk about it at the time.”
Moore, though, had had a gutful of Lynott’s and Gorham’s decline into drug addiction. He told how Phil had gone from being “the first guy in the studio and the last guy out, a workaholic,” to starting each day on “Black Rose” — Gary’s last Lizzy album — “with a joint in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.”
Ironically, both Moore and Lynott would enjoy one of their biggest hits with the post-Lizzy single, “Parisienne Walkways.” Three years later Lizzy had collapsed, leaving Lynott a bereft and lonely figure. Moore now took on the role of saviour, bringing Phil in to record “Out In The Fields,” a UK Top 10 smash, as a duo.
When Lynott died in January 1986, “I felt terrible but you could see it coming,” Gary said. “In a weird way it kind of spurred me on to finally do my own thing.”
When, in 1990, Moore swapped his rock glad-rags for a sharp suit, and recorded the most successful album of his career, “Still Got The Blues,” it seemed like vindication.
“It’s such a relief not to have dress like the guy in Def Leppard anymore,” he told me. “At my age I was beginning to feel like a prick. Now I’m truly being myself, playing the music that’s always been dearest to me.”
Downey, who played on “Still Got The Blues,” recalls how “He was just superb to play with and he was well together. He didn’t smoke, he had a few drinks, but he was into health foods.”
For rock fans, though, Moore’s most memorable appearance in recent years had come in Dublin, at a commemorative show in 2006 marking the 20th anniversary of Lynott’s death.
Says Gorham, “The last time I saw Gary we were up there playing guitar, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, smiling away and having a good laugh. So it was all good.”
At least while it lasted.