Thin Lizzy: Thin Ice
GW The success of the band was very different in Europe, wasn’t it?
GORHAM Oh yeah. We had a huge fan base in Europe and more than a dozen Top 40 singles, but in the U.S., it was just the one, “The Boys Are Back in Town.” So we were determined to crack America with this particular tour.
The two shows in Philly for King Biscuit were actually the very first shows of a mini two-week warm-up tour. We set up this mini tour so we could “air out” the new songs that we’d just written and recorded for Bad Reputation—to try them out and road-test them in front of an audience and see where they would fit best in the set.
GW So that second Philly show is what we hear on Still Dangerous?
GORHAM That’s right, and what you are hearing is not only us road testing these brand-new songs but the sound of a band resolute in its goal to conquer America, once and for all!
Unfortunately, the “curse” of Thin Lizzy struck again. We got to the end of the two-week warm-up period and Phil was complaining about feeling very ill. In fact, before the very last show of that two-week tour, he lay on the floor and said, “I can’t get back up. I’m too tired.” This was a totally alien thing for any of us to hear from someone like Phil Lynott. He just wasn’t that guy. Phil never complained about stuff like that, so something was definitely seriously wrong.
Our management said that we had to fly to Ohio after the show that night, and once we got there we’d get a doctor in to check on Phil. The doctor came in the next morning, and after he saw Phil he said, “You guys are done. The tour is over with. You”—to Phil—“shouldn’t even be standing. We need to get you back on a plane, back to London and into a hospital, because you have an advanced case of hepatitis C.” So our “All Conquering Tour of America” came to a screeching halt right there!
But we did get the Still Dangerous show out of that tour, and it does show everyone where we were as a band at that moment. And the reason I wanted to get this out there is that you can hear that the band was hitting a really nice peak right at that time.
GW How would you say Still Dangerous compares to Live and Dangerous?
GORHAM Personally, I think Still Dangerous is a better album all around. I like it just because of what it took to get it on tape, plus the presence of the new tunes, so in that respect it’s a more interesting album to me.
GW If anyone ever fit the description “Rock Star,” it was Phil Lynott. What was Phil really like?
GORHAM He was the gunslinger, but he was absolutely the most generous guy at the same time. No matter who was working with us at any given time, Phil always wanted to push all of us as equal partners, which was really great. He was a real star, and he knew it, but he didn’t dwell on it all that much. He wanted everyone around him to take part in this whole thing. He actively pushed you up to the front of the stage. Back in the very beginning, he actually grabbed me one night by the collar, pulled me up to the front and said, “Don’t fookin’ move!” [laughs], because I was cowering in the back, thinking, What the hell is going on? He wanted you to take part in the whole thing. He wanted you to have your own time in the spotlight.
There are not too many guys that are like that. Once they get the spotlight, they kind of want to keep it, and they’ll elbow other people out of the way. But that wasn’t Phil’s way. I loved the guy.
GW One of the greatest things about the Thin Lizzy sound is the amount of swing in the grooves of even your hardest rocking tunes.
GORHAM A lot of that had to do with [drummer] Brian Downey and the way he approached his drum grooves. Brian wasn’t a real “slammer” of the snare drum. There was a lot of “ghosting” [light syncopated accents] in the parts that he played. He had a real “wristy” thing going with his hi-hat, too. You hardly ever got the straight quarter-note tish-tish-tish-tish thing from him. He always had to add little 16th-note accents in there. But all of that created a different feel to the music, which was a more swinging kind of thing, and that made me, as a guitar player, think in another direction.
Then you’ve got Phil’s bass playing, too. He used to joke around and call himself the worst bass player in the business, but he knew that wasn’t true. I’ve played with several Class A bass players and each one was amazed at the things Phil could do, in terms of the notes he picked out, the strength with which he hit the strings and how he kept the groove going, while singing all of the time.
Phil was a big entertainer onstage. You can’t be a Jaco Pastorius kind of bass player while you’re trying to talk to the audience and pull everyone into the music; you’ve got to keep things level in order to bring an arena-sized audience into a “club” kind of feel, which is a real art in itself. And he was able to do that.
So for the guitar players, whether it was Brian Robertson and me or for Gary Moore and me, it was a really unique experience with these two guys holding everything down. Phil and Brian Downey were the engine room, and they enabled the guitar players to float on top. There was a lot of room for us to work all kinds of different things into the music.