“Those were some deep demons that were trying to exorcise themselves. He played with such bad intention. Even when he was playing the quiet stuff”: Joe Bonamassa on what made Gary Moore a guitar legend – and how he got him hooked on Les Pauls

Joe Bonamassa and Gary Moore
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images; Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

On 1990’s Still Got The Blues, Northern Irish rocker Gary Moore would reinvent his playing style and influence a new generation of blues guitarists. 

Joe Bonamassa tells us just how much owes to his idol…

What was the impact of Still Got The Blues on you as a young guitarist? 

“Kind of like [Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut album] Texas Flood, it just floored you. Just the song Still Got The Blues… the tone, the playing! I would have been 13 years old. It was one of those things where you go, ‘Wow, is this just unbelievable!’ My dad told me, ‘That’s a Les Paul,’ and I’m like, ‘I need to get one of those.’ But Still Got The Blues made a lot of it and turned the gain up.

“The two trailblazers in the kind of music that I play were Walter Trout and Gary Moore because they were the ones, especially over in Europe, that took a more shreddy approach to the blues, and it works. It influenced a lot of [players]. 

“With Gary, the songs were great. I mean, song after song. Midnight Blues, Too Tired with Albert Collins, and the Albert King song Oh Pretty Woman – definitive versions of those songs. And then Still Got The Blues was just a beautiful song, and it was a big hit in America.”

When playing live, Gary had an incendiary attack to his sound. Is that something you understand?

“Well, first of all, that incendiary thing that he had, I mean, that’s all in his soul. Those were some deep demons that were trying to exorcise themselves. He played with such bad intention. Even when he was playing the quiet stuff. He was a really nice, shy person. I met him several times. 

“But when he put on a guitar it was like this other animal would be created. And I think also part of the sound was the fact that he was left-handed and he played right-handed. I know B.B. King played right-handed; he was left-handed. There’s something about the attack that changes when people do that.” 

I suppose that puts his strongest hand on the fretboard rather than picking. 

“Yeah, and that could explain the middle finger being so fast. ’Cause he would do those runs all the way down the fingerboard with his index and middle finger and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty unhumanlike.’ It was just groundbreaking and it still sounds as fresh as it did 30 years ago.”

What do you think has been the lasting impact of the Still Got The Blues album on the guitar community? 

“I would say it’s a ‘pre/post’ album. There was everything that comes before and then everything that came after. There was nothing like it. And yeah, his rock stuff, the stuff with Thin Lizzy and his solo albums in the ’80s hinted at it. But for him to go, 'I want to make a blues record now,' and to do it so well and really thread the needle between rock and blues in the most perfect way, it created a genre. I mean, Stevie was more blues than rock in my opinion. Gary was more rock than blues, just from an approach standpoint.”

I can’t play Sloe Gin without owing it all to Gary

How much do you think the gear he chose is a crucial part of the equation?

“Well, I’ve seen him play through anything. I’ve seen him play with a DSL 2000 and it sounds like Gary Moore. I’ve seen him play through Twins on video and it sounds like Gary Moore. So the sound was indelibly linked to his hands. 

“But, live, my favourite rig was the SLO 100, two Marshall cabs, and, I want to say, a Quadraverb, some sort of reverb that’s, like, not even in the loop; it sounds like it’s just straight in. On the album you can tell it was the Soldano, for sure. It’s less gain than people think. I mean, I’ve gone down that rabbit hole! ‘He’d dial back the Soldano a little bit, and you’ve got to add reverb as well. You’ve got to have the big plate reverb on there.”

What were your opinions on the collaborations with Albert King and Albert Collins when you first heard them? 

“I thought they were great. It really showed how much those guys respected Gary. Albert King is the only guy I never got to meet that I would have loved to have met. I mean, I got to play with Albert Collins. But what I thought about Albert and Albert is the fact that it really shows you how much they respected Gary and how much them being on that album meant to Gary as well.”

How much do you hear of Gary in your own playing?

“I hear a lot. He was a big, big influence. Especially on the ballads. You can’t play a ballad with ‘adult’ chord changes. I mean, I sold a lot of records with ballads with adult chord changes and I can’t play Sloe Gin without owing it all to Gary. I can’t play any of those slower songs that we do. It’s all Gary Moore’s playbook.” 

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Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.