Gary Moore

Back to the Rock
Back to the Rock

Irish guitarist Gary Moore first came to prominence in an combo called Skid Row, and played with Thin Lizzy when his friend, Phil Lynott, fronted that aggregation. He was also the “M” in a band called BBM in the mid 1990s – the “Bs” being Jack Bruce (VG, March ’02) and Ginger Baker.

Moore’s solo albums have been players’ favorites, whether centered on rock or blues. Along the way, he used great instruments, including the iconic late-’50s Gibson Les Paul Standard formerly owned by Peter Green. We recently visited with Moore, and found him eager to discuss his history, as well as the new album by his new trio, Scars.

Vintage Guitar: What kind of instruments did you play in the ’60s before Skid Row?
Gary Moore: The first guitar I ever had was a Framus; German-made; that was when I was 10 years old. My father brought it home. A friend of his was selling it, and I bought it for five pounds. It was a big, cello-bodied guitar with two f-holes; it looked huge next to me (chuckles). After that I had a Lucky Squire, made by Rosetti – an Italian company. That was a horrible guitar, as well. Once, when I was playing it in a club, the whole back fell off!

That type of guitar was popular because no one could afford American-made instruments.
Exactly. I couldn’t afford any guitar, not even the Italian ones! Later, I got a Vox Clubman that had a socket like a TV antenna; it was really weird. When I was 14 or 15, I got a Telecaster – my first proper guitar. There were only three coming into Belfast, and I got the last one.

At that time, I was really into Jeff Beck, so I wanted a Telecaster, big-time. I got it on credit, with the condition that I stay with this band I was playing with; we had two horn players, and were doing pub-type stuff, and I wasn’t very happy. As soon as I got the guitar, I left the band (chuckles) and formed a power trio. I joined Skid Row when I was 16, and still had the Telecaster for quite a while. After about six months, I got a [Gibson] SG.

What other bands influenced Skid Row?
Other trios, like Cream and Hendrix. But we also liked King Crimson and other syncopated, technical-type bands. The bass player was one of those guys who liked to show off a lot, so he was trying to make the band impressive by writing lots of difficult riffs; lots of fast, syncopated stuff where we were playing in unison with the drummer. We were also writing some of our own, American West Coast stuff, like the Byrds or “Sky Pilot” by Eric Burdon and the Animals. Phil Lynott was actually in the band, so we had a lead singer before we became a three-piece.

What were you playing during your two associations with Lynott in Thin Lizzy?
The Les Paul Peter Green let me have. I think I was about 20 when Peter let me have that guitar. I met Peter when I was in Skid Row, and we opened for [Fleetwood Mac] at a place called the National Stadium, in Dublin, which is an old boxing place. He was my hero by then, obviously, and he came up to me and told me he liked my playing. So I was very excited – and flattered.

After the show, we sat up half the night playing guitar together. We became friends. He got his manager, Clifford Davis, to bring Skid Row to England.

He left the band not long after that, and I was in the Marquee one night and ran into him. He asked me if I’d like to borrow his guitar. To me, that was the Les Paul to have. I went to his parents’ house the next day to pick it up, and he called me a few days later and asked what I thought. I said, “It’s an amazing guitar!” Then he asked if I’d like to buy it. I told him there was no way I could afford it, and he said “Just sell your guitar, and whatever you get, you can give to me, and it’ll be like swapping guitars, because I want it to have a good home.”

I had the SG at the time, and I sold it for about 160, and he wouldn’t even take that much; he wanted to take just what he paid for it; about 110-120, which wasn’t a lot of money, but it wasn’t about the money. I told him if he ever wanted it back, all he had to do was tell me. So I played that for many years. It’s so special; like no other instrument I’ve ever played. He turned the neck pickup around, which is how he got that funky, out-of-phase sound.

Were you still using that guitar when you began playing progressive rock with Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum II?
Yeah… When I got that guitar, my place didn’t have a lock on the door, so I used to sleep with it under my bed, and I’d even take it to the movies. Even the case was interesting, because Peter told me that Eric Clapton gave it to him after [Clapton’s] Les Paul had been stolen, so I think I’ve got the case from the guitar that was on the Bluesbreakers album, and I’ve got the guitar that was on A Hard Road. Scary (laughs)!

You’ve apparently had an appreciation for vintage guitars throughout your career, because on the cover of The Wild Frontier, you’re holding a natural-finish Gibson ES-5.
That’s right; that guitar’s actually for sale in London. I got that guitar from Greg Lake when I played with him. It’s a very nice one. He has quite a selection of old acoustics.

Is it fair to say that overall, your career in the ’80s was primarily hard-rock-oriented, while the ’90s were primarily blues-oriented?
Yeah, absolutely. I left Lizzy in 1980, and had a band called G-Force, then got into my solo thing. I found that when I was in my dressing room, warming up for a gig, I would be playing blues, so I felt I was getting a bit of a message from that. Around ’89, I started playing blues again.

What did you play on Still Got The Blues, your best-selling album?
That was another Les Paul that I’d gotten a couple of years previously in London, a ’59 Les Paul Standard. When I bought it, I put it away because I was still doing hard rock at the time, and it wasn’t the right guitar for that. But when it came time to do Still Got The Blues, I took it to the studio to test the room. The first day, we did “Still Got The Blues” in one take, straight through; it was really a dramatic day; I’ll never forget it.

On a live video from the same period, you played a rare Roger Fritz-made Roy Buchanan guitar.

It was light blue; George Harrison turned me on to them. I used it more live than in the studio, on tunes like “Too Tired,” and when Albert Collins and I played some stuff together. They were good guitars; they had EMG pickups. I haven’t played it for quite a while, but I like it. I like the vibe; the sound and the looks are kinda ’50s… a Cadillac sort of vibe.

In his interview with this magazine, Jack Bruce concurred that BBM wasn’t to be interpreted as two-thirds of a Cream reunion, since you were a viable player in your own right.
Well, the thing that was difficult for that band was the perception that Jack and Ginger were trying to get Cream back together, and they couldn’t get Eric, so they got me. And that wasn’t the case. I was making a solo album, Jack and I were writing songs, and I’d just done a gig with him in Germany. The drummer we were going to have on the album was Gary Husband, and he couldn’t make it. So Jack suggested we have Ginger come in.

From the moment we played together, it was obvious that I couldn’t call it a Gary Moore album; it would have to be a band. I had a great time working with them, and the gigs were especially exciting.

I was surprised when Jack suggested Ginger, as you could imagine. They’ve always had problems, but they’re like an old married couple, ya’ know (laughs)?

Bruce noted that you were writing songs in the manner in which Cream might have sounded in the ’90s.
I was writing for Jack’s voice, which is something I discovered over the years that I could do pretty good – if I have someone in mind, I can write for them, and I think Jack really liked a lot of the songs I came up with; I was familiar with his vocal range and the kind of melodies he liked, as well as the “eccentric” aspect of his music. I went out of my way to coordinate Jack’s voice with the stuff I was comin’ up with, and it was great; Jack really opened me up again – he got me out of playing just 12-bar songs again, and I became a more rounded musician, and I have to thank him for that.

It would’ve been a bit strange if we hadn’t sounded a bit like Cream; we were two-thirds of the band, and one was the main singer and songwriter!

They were my favorite band at one time; I went to see them twice in Ireland; I remember that so well.

A year after the BBM album, you did Blues for Greeny.
It was my way of thanking Peter for everything he did for me in the early days, and of course, thanking him for the wonderful music.

It was a nice record to make, because it was done so quickly. I think it took five days to record. We were like a bunch of kids; we’d go in and record our favorite songs straightaway. I remember when we did “Need Your Love So Bad,” I felt like Peter was there with me, right at the end of it, where we took up the echo and the reverb. It was like the guitar just sailed off into the sunset; a really nice moment.

We did a gig in London, which was filmed and put out as a video. Peter was there, and was sitting offstage; it was really spooky – he’s sitting there watching me play his music, on his guitar. It was a bit nerve-racking (laughs). It was the only gig we did, but we played most of the album.

When you recorded Back to the Blues in 2000, you were favoring a red Gibson thinline in publicity pictures.
That’s a ES-355; I did have a 335, also, but on that album it was mostly the 355 with a little bit of Strat and a little bit of Les Paul. I used a Les Paul DC on “The Prophet.”

An alternate title for Scars might be Back to the Rock?
(laughs) How about Back to Mars? There’s more of that on there than I’ve done for a long time, because the guys I’m playing with were pretty inspirational in that way; they both come from rock bands. The drummer’s from Primal Scream, a cutting-edge English band that’s been influenced by bands from the psychedelic era. They’re important over here.

The bass player is from a band called Skunk Anansie, which was a four-piece band with a girl singer. They broke up a couple of years ago.

The first couple of songs have modern mix, tonally – throbbing bass and a brittle-sounding guitar.
Quite a “dry” sound.

“Wasn’t Born in Chicago” has an effect like a sample-and-hold program on an old synthesizer.
That’s a guitar. I started using a lot more pedals on this record, because the bass player had a huge pedalboard. So any time you hear something weird, it’s the bass or the guitar; we can reproduce all of that vibe. That particular one was a Line 6 filter pedal that had a little “skip” thing built into it.

There are still some blues on the new recording, like “My Baby.”
Yeah, that’s got a bit of a Texas feel to it. I’d never really done that before and I wanted to see if I could pull off that swagger – that slow, “dig-your-heels-in” tempo. I enjoyed doing that one.

On “World of Confusion,” people are going to think Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”
Yeah, absolutely. That was the first song I wrote for this record. Last year I was on the road with the Back to the Blues tour, and when we were in Dublin, I was jamming on that riff with the drummer at the soundcheck. I thought “Yeah, I’d like to do more stuff like this.” I just wanted to be a bit more wild (chuckles), and wanted to get out of the straight blues thing.

Will listeners also think “Ball and Chain” was influenced by “Voodoo Child?”
I don’t know so much about “Voodoo Child,” but definitely by Hendrix! Maybe by stuff like “Hear My Train A Comin'” or “Catfish Blues.” And that was something I’d never done before; I wanted to do a more modal kind of blues.

Again, that was a real enjoyable track to play in the studio. We did that on a Monday morning in one take. The last track on the album, “Who Knows,” was one take, as well.

What guitars did you use on the new album?
A ’62 Fiesta Red Strat, like the old Hank Marvin guitar, which was the one I always wanted when I started to play. I also used my signature Les Paul a bit, and I used an Explorer on “Rectify.” It’s got a nice tone.

In the recent past, you’ve also been on a couple of benefit albums with other artists. There was Soundminds.
That was a thing for Irish mental health. I gave them an unreleased track from the Back to the Blues sessions called “Livin’ with the Blues.” U2 and lots of other people gave ’em tracks.

There are two songs you did with Jack Bruce on a John Lee Hooker tribute album.
Those were done last year. Jack asked me to play on his track, so I said, “Great! Let’s do ’em with the same people.”

Gary Husband played drums, so that was kind of back to square one (chuckles). We did it in an afternoon.

I’ve done a couple of gigs with Jack since BBM; I’d work with him any time. I also played on an instructional Japanese video he did. Gary was on that, too; we played Cream songs in a big studio in London, and it came out real good.

Are you satisfied with the way Scars turned out?
Yeah, but you can never be completely satisfied. The whole thing, including mixing, took about a month, and it might have been nice to have had a bit more time. We had to write four songs in the studio.

But it has a freshness I like very much, because the people involved had not worked together too much, and there’s some nice interplay between musicians. But now that we’ve been out playing live, it’s much better, of course, because all of my songs have grown and evolved, and it’s more exciting. It might have been nice to play live and then go into the studio. I think we might do a live recording on tour.

Remarking how “You can never be completely satisfied” is telling, as one gets the impression it’s been his credo throughout his entire musical career. He looks forward to continued frontiers with his new band and their new album.

Photo: Neil Zlozower.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.