Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and Vivian Campbell

Live and Still Dangerous!
Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and Vivian Campbell

Thin Lizzy has cemented its place in history as one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Recognizable by its harmonized twin-guitar leads and a hard-edged sound, Lizzy inspired generations of musicians in the U.K. and around the world. The classic and most identifiable lineup paired guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, though several other guitar greats such as Gary Moore and John Sykes have performed alongside Gorham, who has been a constant since he joined in 1974.

The band’s current lineup includes Gorham, along with core members drummer Brian Downey and keyboardist Darren Wharton, along with longtime touring bassist Marco Mendoza. It infuses new blood with guitarist Vivian Campbell and frontman/guitarist Ricky Warwick.

The band’s current lineup includes Gorham, along with core members drummer Brian Downey and keyboardist Darren Wharton, along with longtime touring bassist Marco Mendoza. It infuses new blood with guitarist Vivian Campbell and frontman/guitarist Ricky Warwick.

As lifelong Lizzy fans, Campbell and Warwick are a perfect fit. Each grew up playing the music, and the new lineup has won over many skeptics – even some diehard fans who have before refused to accept Thin Lizzy without frontman/bassist/founding member Phil Lynott, who passed away in 1986. In that sense, Warwick has the toughest job. But his tonality, phrasing, and interpretations of the music are reminiscent and respectful of Lynott’s work, and he has proven himself worthy.
Vintage Guitar recently spoke with Gorham and Campbell in New York City, before the group’s second U.S. show. They discussed the origins of this lineup and learned how Def Leppard front man Joe Elliot played an essential role in bringing Warwick and Campbell aboard, as well as in production of the new deluxe editions of Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox, and Live and Dangerous. Gorham and Campbell were keen on talking shop to detail their stage gear and explain why this adaptation of Lizzy works so well.

Thin Lizzy was scheduled to tour in 2009, following the release of Still Dangerous.

Vivian Campbell and Scott Gorham, playing New York City in April.

Why did those plans change?
Scott Gorham: That was a heartbreaker. Tommy Aldridge broke his collarbone and he assured everyone that he would be okay in four weeks. We had some big shows booked, including two stadium shows with AC/DC and another with Metallica. Two weeks later Tommy said he was having a hard time and wouldn’t be able to play. What were we going to do? I thought we’d better start looking for another drummer. Then John Sykes just wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want to know about it. The promoters freaked. They had already advertised us, but I had to cancel because the whole thing fell apart. So at that point, I had some big decisions to make. Do I carry on with this or just walk away from Thin Lizzy altogether and do a 21 Guns thing? What am I going to do?I got a call from Brian Downey, the original drummer. I hadn’t talked to Brian in two years and he asked what I was going to do with Lizzy. I asked if he wanted to come back and play drums and he said, “Hell, yeah! Let’s keep it going!”

So that lit the fuse for me. I called up Marco Mendoza, who’s the best bass player out there, and he was in. I called up Darren Wharton, the original keyboard player, and he jumped onboard. The biggest problems for me were obviously [deciding] who’s going to be on the right-hand side playing guitar and who’s going to be sitting in the hot box taking all the heat.On both occasions, Joe Elliot came to the rescue. First, he called me up about Ricky Warwick. He asked if I remembered coming out to play on Ricky’s solo album. He’s got the perfect voice for this – it’s the right timbre, the right character, he’s Irish, and he’s a big Lizzy fan. I called Ricky and he just jumped on it. He didn’t mind the heat from fans that were not open to a replacement for Phil Lynott. But I let him know I did not want a Phil clone. We’d kind of gone through that and I wanted him in the band because of what he can bring to Thin Lizzy. I wanted his character up there because he’s going to be driving this thing. My next challenge was to find a guitar player to fit. Joe called again and said Def Leppard would be off the road for more than a year, so Vivian Campbell had asked him to give me a call. I’ve known Vivian for 30-some years and knew he’d be great. He gave me Vivian’s number, we chatted for a couple of minutes, and now for the first time in years, the Irish outnumber me again!

Vivian Campbell: I wanted to be in Thin Lizzy 30 years ago. My first band, Sweet Savage, toured with them on the Renegade tour in the U.K. and a few other shows, like the first Slane Castle Festival. Snowy White played with them at the time, and he’s a great player, but was wrong for Thin Lizzy. I could tell it wasn’t going to last, and every other Lizzy fan could tell, as well. He just didn’t look comfortable. I predicted that within six months they were going to be looking for a new guitar player, and I thought I’d be perfect. But that was 30 years ago.

Gorham: We should have gotten him in the band 30 years ago! Why didn’t you speak up at the time?

Campbell: I actually did mention it to Chris Tsangarides. I think John Sykes was staying with Chris at the time and he was more in with band. I kind of knew what was going to happen. If I were a betting man, I would have gone to a bookie and said, “Here’s 20 quid. John Sykes is the next guitar player in Thin Lizzy.” I grew up on Lizzy. It’s so much a part of how I play guitar. What Scott, Brian Robertson, Gary Moore, and, to a lesser extent Eric Bell, did all adds to my playing, along with Rory Gallagher. It’s natural for me to play this stuff, and it’s a thrill. It’s really got me excited about playing guitar. Being in Leppard is very challenging because it’s a very vocal-oriented band, so the challenge is in performing and being part of that unit. But guitar-wise, it’s pretty simple. With Thin Lizzy, every song has something interesting to play. I’m either riffing, soloing, or doing a bit of both, and it’s good.

Gorham: I asked Vivian once, “Which gig was harder – Def Leppard or Thin Lizzy?” His told me it’s much harder to sing the Def Leppard stuff, but it’s much harder to play the guitar parts in Thin Lizzy.

Vivian, how does your rig compare to what you use with Def Leppard?
Campbell: It’s completely different. With Leppard, I’ve got to be on a wireless because we’re all over the stage. It’s great to have that mobility, but I don’t like what a wireless does to my tone. So that was the first thing to take out of the equation. I bought a bunch of gear specifically for this tour because in Leppard I use a Bradshaw rack. The sound is very processed, and it was wrong for this band. I wanted old-school, so I got a Mojave Scorpion amp. I’m using a Crybaby wah, a Fulltone tube tape delay and a Way Huge Angry Troll boost pedal for certain solos. That’s all I want in my signal path.

Vivian Campbell Pedalboard
Campbell’s stage rig includes a Mojave Scorpion amp, Crybaby wah, Fulltone tube tape delay and a Way Huge Angry Troll boost.

For Leppard, things have to be very specific. I have to use digital delays because everything needs to be to the millisecond. It’s stereo delays ping-ponging. If a digital delay is not in time with the tempo of the song, it sounds horrible and really throws you off. But the tape delay is like a smooth background kind of thing. It’s so unobtrusive you don’t even notice it. I use the same Les Pauls I play with Leppard. My main one is a bastard that started life as a Custom before it was run over by something at an airport. So it’s a ’78 Custom neck and the body is a Les Paul Standard body with binding on the front. That’s been my main guitar since I bought it in a pawn shop in Nashville in ’92 or ’93. I have a few other cheap and cheerful Les Pauls, and a new Yamaha SG1802 with Lindy Fralin hum-cancelling P-90s. I got it right before the tour and had Yamaha re-fret the guitar and install the Fralins, which sound great. It’s a very tuneful guitar – the kind of thing that would get lost in a Def Leppard mix because there, it’s not really about tone. I was using a Les Paul ’56 reissue with Fralin P-90s, but the Yamaha intonates better, so I swapped them. The neck and the fretboard on the Yamaha remind me of a Les Paul Custom. The only issue I’ve ever had with Yamahas is the way they hang, but the new one doesn’t flap forward quite as much as the older ones. I don’t know what they’ve done to balance it, but it still sits a little to the left. So when you’re used to playing a Les Paul, your 12th fret is now about an inch further to your left, which is a little uncomfortable.

Scott, describe your stage gear.
Gorham: I’ve got a new Les Paul Axcess Standard Gibson made for me. They chambered it; I’ve never had a strong back, so a regular Les Paul was always like wearing a wet bag of cement around my shoulder for two hours. They built it with a ’60s neck because I like the thinner profile. They switched the pickups to 500Ts, and it’s got a mid-boost.

Gorham’s live rig includes two Engl amps – a Ritchie Blackmore Signature E650 and Powerball E645 – fronted by an Ernie Ball wah, Retro-Sonic chorus, Dytone overdrive, and Boss TU-

I’ve been using Engl amps – Ritchie Blackmore Signature E650 and Powerball E645 heads. The rest of my rig is very simple. I’ve got an Ernie Ball wah, Retro-Sonic chorus, Dytone overdrive, and Boss TU-3 tuner. That’s it. I used to have a [rack] full of flashing lights and wires from hell. But once that rig goes down, good luck finding the problem! Now it’s easy, and it doesn’t mess with my sound either. With the old rig, everything got compressed and kind of lost. As soon as I switched, the sound became much bigger.

Gorham’s live rig includes two Engl amps – a Ritchie Blackmore Signature E650 and Powerball E645 – fronted by an Ernie Ball wah, Retro-Sonic chorus, Dytone overdrive, and Boss TU-

Are you tuning to standard pitch?
Gorham: We’re tuned a half-step down for the vocals.

Do you compensate with heavier strings?

Campbell: I do use heavy strings – Dunlop .013-.052. When you detune them they feel like .011s. Leppard detunes, as well. But I have a bar band in L.A., and we play at concert pitch, so I’m used to that. Now they feel like light strings. I would go heavier, but I don’t like a real thick string for the low end. I don’t mind the first three strings being a bit thicker. It does give more tone.

Gorham: For strings, I’m a pussy. I use Ernie Ball .009-.042. I’m an advocate of “Why make it hard?” I like to make it as easy as possible!

What type of picks do you prefer?
Gorham: I use Dunlop .88 millimeter gray nylon with the matte finish.
Campbell: I use .51 mm stainless-steel.

Vivian, which incarnation of Thin Lizzy was your favorite?
Campbell: The classic one with Brian Robertson. But I was a huge Gary Moore fan, so I was excited when Black Rose came out and Gary was back in the band. I really did enjoy that combination, too.

Some fans consider Black Rose the best Thin Lizzy album. Do you agree?
Campbell: Musically, I think it was the best. Gary was such a great guitar player, and obviously, the band was well-seasoned by then. But I think their creative zenith was Jailbreak, which was the best album, song-wise. Phil was in full stride and Live and Dangerous obviously captured it, which was quite a feat because most bands don’t do good live albums. But that was, and I learned to play guitar by listening to Live and Dangerous.

Did you gravitate toward playing the Robertson parts?
Campbell: I do like my wah!
Gorham: There are a couple of parts we switched over. One of them is the harmony in “Massacre,” which I never played. Even after all the shows we’ve played now, I still have to think about it!

Obviously, there are certain songs fans expect to hear Lizzy play. How did you choose the rest of the set?
Gorham: First, we wrote down everything we had to play – all the hits and the standards from the Live and Dangerous set. We wrote all the real obvious ones down that we could not leave out. Then it was e-mail hell between the six of us! Everybody wrote down 10 favorite songs they wanted to do, and whichever got the most hits would stay… and we came up with too many songs – more than two hours of material. Then we had the torturous act of taking out a half-hour, and that was probably the toughest part. We kept those songs on a “maybe” list. We were on a pretty long tour and there were some places where they didn’t want two hours. You had to do an hour-and-a-half to an hour-and-45-minute set. I think we worked the set out to an hour and 40 minutes and we have songs we interchange.

Were there any songs that hadn’t been performed in a long time?
Gorham: “Wild One,” I think, we only played that on one tour way back when.
Campbell: 1975 stadium tour, in Dublin.
Gorham: There you go! So that’s the tour we played it on and we haven’t played it since.
Campbell: And “Killer On The Loose.”
Gorham: That was on Chinatown, and only got played on that tour because there was a huge controversy surrounding it. One night, as we were supposedly playing that song, some poor girl was being raped in an alley. The newspapers and radio got a hold of this and reported how insensitive we were to keep playing it. So we just took the song out of the set and never played it until now, because it’s a really great song to play live. There are a few others.
Campbell: We had “Opium Trail” on the initial list. We got halfway through the song, when Brian stopped and said that it was too complicated because it’s got all the riffs – which is why it’s so fun to play. Marco and I were a little disappointed. Ricky really wanted to do “Chinatown,” and we have tried it a couple of times, but we didn’t all do our homework. So it got the heave ho. We had to cut “Warriors.” We had certain songs that kind of follow others, like “Massacre” follows “Dancing in the Moonlight” on the Live and Dangerous album. I started playing the riff after the last note of “Dancing in the Moonlight” and then we had to do it. It’s kind of expected, like “Cowboy Song” going into “The Boys Are Back In Town.” You want to hear it, so we do those certain segues.

Describe how the new deluxe edition CDs came together.
Gorham: Universal wanted to re-release Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox, and Live and Dangerous. The idea was to have a double-CD package with the remastered album and a second CD with live versions or rehearsals of songs, and I really wanted to include remixed versions. For four years, Joe [Elliot] and I had been fantasizing, as musicians, about how great it would be to go back into the studio and record these songs as we were then, but with all the advantages of the gear we have now. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just go in and remix all this and hear how much better the album would sound? So, when Universal called, I asked about cherry picking two or three songs from each album and totally remixing them. They said they’d love to hear it. So I called Joe and told him we’d gotten the green light. He went into overdrive and called the record company for the tape and digital formats – he really took control of it. We went to his studio and tore all these tracks apart. Each time we’d come up to a part that I always thought was really weak, I would put what I would call “strengthening guitars” to make that bit come out thicker and stronger. We were finding alternate vocals on these things and guitar bits that got buried or were never used. So we brought some of that out. We used Def Leppard’s engineer, Ronan McHugh, to remix the whole thing. Everybody who’s heard the tracks is saying they sound amazing.

What is the possibility of recording a new studio album with this lineup?
Gorham: It’s not out of the realm of possibility because of what we’ve got going. There are hardcore Phil Lynott fans who can’t accept the band without Phil. But we’ve seen that drop off drastically because of this lineup and tour. They see how we’ve handled this and hear how we’re playing. As I see it, the band and the audience simultaneously jumped that emotional hurdle of doing a Thin Lizzy album without Phil. Many bands have continued on after losing a great frontman and achieved huge success with a new member. For example, AC/DC has done very well with Brian Johnson, and he is quite different from Bon Scott.
Gorham: Like, no resemblance! And AC/DC has remained successful in a huge way. Many other bands do, too. There seems to be something particular about this lineup that works. I think it’s because we haven’t deviated too wildly from the original formula, and that’s what people want to hear from Thin Lizzy. I’m extremely pleased with the way things have turned out. The boys are back!

(Ed. Note: Shortly before press time, it was announced that Vivian Campbell will return to Def Leppard for the group’s summer tour. He will be replaced by guitarist Richard Fortus for the upcoming legs of Thin Lizzy’s tour.)

This article originally appeared in VG July 2011 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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