SCOTT GORHAM cemented his legacy in rock’n’roll history many years ago. Together with the late and legendary Phil Lynott, Scott took the band Thin Lizzy to heights achieved by a select few. Not content to sit on his well-deserved laurels, Scott has been creating and placing his indelible stamp on yet more wonderful music with the group Black Star Riders to be enjoyed for generations to come.
The following interview was conducted just before the COVID pandemic began. Scott was enjoying the release of Black Star Riders’ newest album, Another State Of Grace. Scott recently announced that he will be leaving the band to concentrate on a reconstituted Thin Lizzy. Black Star Riders sans Scott plan on releasing a new album early in 2023. But for now, we jump back to the vastly more innocent and carefree days of late 2019 for an engaging conversation with the guitar icon named Scott Gorham.
RED HOT ROCK MAGAZINE: How are you doing, sir?
SCOTT GORHAM: Hey, Ritchie. How are you doing, buddy?
RHRM: Very good, thank you. You know, it’s funny. Spending all the time that you did in Ireland with Phil and being in England now, you still sound very California.
SG: That’s because I am. I’m extremely California. You know something, ha ha ha, there’s no way I would lose my accent. When I first moved over here, a buddy of mine who was from Georgia came over. Within a month, he was talking with such a British accent. I just couldn’t believe it. It sounded so phony. And I said, you know, that’s never going to happen to me.
RHRM: Ha ha.
SG:Forget about it, huh.
RHRM: Right off the bat, I have to mention that the new Black Star Riders album, Another State Of Grace, is a great-sounding record chockful of cool tunes and is loaded with that patented Scott Gorham tasty guitar. It’s great stuff.
SG: Thank you, man. Thank you so much, Ritchie.
RHRM: I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. You know, I’m from New York. Ha ha.
SG: That’s true. That’s true. You guys say it like you see it. Ha ha ha. Cool, man.
RHRM: It’s solid, classic-sounding hard rock blended with modern rock and a punk rock energy. And it’s nice that even though it looks back and has the feel of the stuff you have done all through the years, it has the freshness of the music from today. This album is going to keep longtime Scott Gorham fans happy. Although the music sounds fresh, when Scott Gorham touches a guitar, it cannot help but sound like Scott Gorham. So the ghost of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy will always hover comfortably over the proceedings.
SG: Ha ha. Easy, man. You might give me a big head here. But thank you so much. I like how you describe the sound. Classic with a little bit of punk and new sounds. It was a great description. I thought it was very cool.
RHRM: And vocalist Ricky Warwick, on top of being a Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy fan, also is from Northern Ireland and has that background of growing up during tough times in his home country. So his approach sounds very natural and organic.
SG: You know, it’s one thing that really attracted me to Ricky Warwick. I worked on his first solo album. Joe Elliot from Def Leppard called me up because he was producing Ricky at his house. He called me up and said, “Listen, I got a guy over here. He’s got this track and the first thing I thought of was your guitar. Would you come over and lay some guitar down on this thing?” And I said, “Yeah. Sure.” I flew over to Dublin, met Ricky for the first time. And when I started to listen to what Ricky, how he sang, checking out the lyrics, I thought, “Man, this guy really reminds me of somebody. Who’s he….” And of course it was Phil, you know, being a great storyteller and that great timbre in his voice and all that. I was only supposed to play on one track and I ended up playing on five. I was just having too much fun. And that’s why Ricky ended up doing the whole Thin Lizzy thing with me. Because he was a big fan, he knew a lot of the songs anyway and he’s a really committed kind of guy. I love working with him.
RHRM: The title track of the record, “Another State Of Grace”, tackles the subject of the Troubles in Northern Ireland lyrically but also harnesses the musical elements that a good portion of the work you have done is known for – the Celtic vibe and, of course, the dual guitar harmonies. Nice stuff!
SG: Ricky grew up, he was born and raised, in Northern Ireland during the time of the Troubles. He saw all of that death and destruction. I think that he had a couple of friends that were killed. So, he lived through all of that. I think that what you do, when you grow up in situations like that, it pretty much sticks with you for the rest of your life. And every once in a while, it’s gonna pop out into a song. That’s really what “Another State Of Grace” is all about. “They called it the Troubles ‘cuz it wasn’t quite a war.” ‘Cause they didn’t really want to call it a war. Which I thought was a really cool kind of meaning to the whole thing. But, yeah. On every Black Star Riders album, we always give a nod to Ireland. Especially myself and Ricky, we owe so much to that country. And we like that style of music so much, anyway. We always try to give a nod towards Ireland as a, “Hey, thank you. Thank you so much for helping us out and kind of being the people that made us who we are today.”
RHRM: If there was any justice in the world today, the tune that kicks off the new album, the song “Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down” would be a hit, whatever a hit is these days.
SG: Great. Yeah. I don’t know if that’s been brought out as a single or not. Over here, I know there’s been three different singles. That might be… Oh, yeah. No. No. That was a single. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. That was my riff. That was my riff. What am I talking about? Of course it was a single. Ha ha ha.
RHRM: Ha ha ha.
SG: Sorry, I’m still getting used to the album, you know?
RHRM: It’s that type of tune that has that heavy, crunchy rock feel to it but at the same time is so catchy a song that it gets lodged in your head.
SG: Yeah. I know what you mean. There’s a lot of heavy-sounding guitars, but there’s that sort of commercial kind of base to it. And there’s a melodic sense that.… which is the kind of music that I love playing, you know, and I know Ricky likes writing the lyrics for those kind of songs. And you can’t be, really, a singles-orientated band, but everybody needs a couple of little commercial jobs on there to, sort of, make sure you get some sort of radio play. We got a lot of radio play off of that one.
RHRM: On that tune, you have Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks fame blowing some sax. How did that come about? Do you guys go way back? Is he an old friend?
SG: Personally, I haven’t known Michael for very long. I’ve only known Michael for about, maybe, four years. We were doing a Thin Lizzy festival here in London somewhere and I got introduced to Michael. We were playing “Dancing In The Moonlight”. It’s got saxophone on it. He came straight out and said, “Hey, man. I’d love to get up there and play sax with you, live.” And I looked at him. “You actually play sax?” And he went, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No problem. Just give me the tape and I’ll learn the sax lines.” And I went, “Ahhhhh, welllll, OK.” Sure enough, he went out there, he rehearsed… His band had already done their set. So he went straight back to his dressing room, pulled a saxophone out and for the next two hours learned “Dancing In The Moonlight”. By the time we got up there, he had it learned. So, great. I didn’t even know that he could play sax, for G-d’s sakes.
RHRM: A larger than life character, as well.
SG: And a real sweetheart of a guy. I really like him.
RHRM: BSR’s fanbase seems to be a little more rabid overseas than in the States so far, a little slice of history repeating itself. Thin Lizzy was such a gigantic band over in Europe and beyond. But apart from one or two songs, the band never really broke on a large scale in the States. I never understood why. Lizzy’s albums were filled with classic songs. And the band was a massive influence on other groups.
SG: Go figure, huh? Ha ha. I tell everybody, in America, we were great on all of the coastlines, all the way around America. If you could see the water, if you could see the oceans, we were golden. We got sellout crowds. But as soon as we started making ourselves east or west, that was it. We were fucked. We were fucked at that point. So, then we had to jump on somebody else’s tour. And I never minded doing that ‘cause, you know, you were playing arenas across the United States. But isn’t that strange, though? If you’re on the coast anywhere in America, we were packing the places out. But that’s a very small population of America, the coastline. To make it in America, you’ve got to be huge in the Midwest and the Northeast and all of that.
RHRM: It’s very, very strange. Even a band such as Deep Purple that did have a substantial following over here, they never broke as big in the States as much as a group like Led Zeppelin. And Nazareth? There are just certain bands that for one reason or another just didn’t really crack it over here, fantastic bands with loads of great songs and albums.
SG: That’s a question I keep getting asked all of the time. “You were so massive everywhere else. Why didn’t you break America? What happened?” And the only answer that I can really come up with, and I don’t even know if it’s the right answer, but the only thing I can think of is that, in our time and space, back then when we were doing it, we were up against Queen and Journey and a lot of these bands that had the big production with the huge background vocals, you know, harmony lines and all of that. And we didn’t have that, you know. We were, kind of, more of the rocky, punky type of band. At least that’s comparatively speaking, if you know what I mean. I think America, growing up, was the whole country and western thing where I hear the vocal harmonies and all of those kind of things. I don’t know. Does that sound plausible to you? Or maybe we were just shit and nobody liked us. Ha ha ha.
RHRM: Ha ha! But I have to tell you. Thin Lizzy, the catalog, the albums, the songs… When I listen to this stuff, I just can’t get over how much great stuff there is. So it just doesn’t make sense to me.
SG: Thank you. Welllll, probably another reason, too, is we never gave the audience the same look from any one album to the next. A lot of bands of that era, it was like a carry-on from the last album. You’re getting, basically, the same sound with different songs. We didn’t do that. For us it was, you write the songs, you put them on the album and that’s your album. We didn’t have any, “Well, it’s got to be like this and it’s got to be like that.” Whatever we wrote and however it came out, that’s how it went on the album. And I kind of thought that that was the reason. Then I said that to certain fans and all of that and they said, “No, no, no. That’s what we actually liked about you because you didn’t repeat yourself all of the time.” So now I’m back to square one as I have no fucking idea at all. Ha ha ha.
RHRM: Ha ha ha! Yeah. Led Zeppelin was huge over here and they never repeated themselves from album to album. So, it’s difficult to understand.
SG: I don’t think there’s really any explanation. A few people in the early days tried to blame it on Phil being black and all of that. People didn’t understand the black frontman thing. I can’t really buy in to that one.
RHRM: Just take a look at how big Jimi Hendrix was.
SG: There you go. Right? Right? That’s why I can’t buy in to it.
RHRM: It’s great that you guys can comfortably tour with mainstream classic rock acts but also serve as an opening act for an artist such as Judas Priest. Black Star Riders bridges rock, hard rock and metal, classic and contemporary so nicely. But I guess that Thin Lizzy was always also that sort of band. Your body of work has always been quite diverse in its dynamics, songwriting and execution, both in the studio and onstage.
SG: I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m blasting my own horn here, but I think that if you are good enough at what you do, you can pretty much play with anybody. You can get in there and make an impression of some sort even if you’re with a heavy metal outfit like Judas Priest. That was a successful tour. I’ve spoken to so many journalists that saw that tour and they loved it. They thought it was fucking great, you know. So, I think if you’re competent enough and you’re good enough at what you do within your realm, you can pretty much compete with anybody.
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