In October 2012 Thin Lizzy announced that they would be recording and touring their new material under a fresh name. Scott Gorham tells Martyn Casserly about the birth of Black Star Riders
With next year marking the 40th anniversary of Scott Gorham as a recording artist, you might expect to find him taking things easy; maybe even settling down by the fire, brandy in hand, to tell the grand kids all about his glorious adventures as the lead guitarist with rock royalty Thin Lizzy. Well, it seems the pipe and slippers will have to wait a few years more as Gorham instead embarks on a world tour with his new band Black Star Riders to promote their debut album All Hell Breaks Loose. It’s a brave man who leaves the certainty of a vehicle like Thin Lizzy, but Gorham is aware of the risks, and embraces them because he also sees the potential.
‘A lot of people think we’re crazy for doing it,’ he admits, ‘but there comes a point where I don’t care what kind of musician you are, or what your body of work is – you want to create something new. You want to branch out. You need to go down different paths. A “let’s see what we can do” type attitude, and I think we’d just gotten to that point. I’ve done the Thin Lizzy thing so much now, I still love doing it, but man… I gotta see what we can do on this side over here.’
Lizzy traditionalists shouldn’t feel too alarmed, as the majority of Black Star Riders have actually been the touring band for Thin Lizzy shows over the past couple of years. Even the album itself was initially planned to be another addition to the Lizzy canon, but as the time drew near for recording to begin a few doubts began creeping into Gorham’s mind.
‘We’d been writing collectively and separately for around four months,’ he sighs, ‘but I’d been just feeling really uncomfortable for a while about doing an album called Thin Lizzy when Phil Lynott was not going to be there. My whole career, if you will, had been with Phil under the name Thin Lizzy, and now we were going to do it without him. It just didn’t feel right.’
After sharing his thoughts with Lizzy co-founder and drummer Brian Downey, it seemed that Gorham was not alone. The other members of the current Lizzy lineup also agreed that they didn’t want to record under the current name, but that left them with a considerable problem to solve. ‘We all knew we were uncomfortable,’ says Gorham. ‘So if we weren’t going to do it as Thin Lizzy, what were we gonna do? We had a shitload of songs, we really wanted to record them, we wanted to turn it into an album. The management actually put their foot down and said “If you’re not going to do this as Thin Lizzy, then you need to stop Thin Lizzy and start a new band.”
‘That was kind of a crushing blow for me because it was like “Hey, this is my band, I’ve been doing this my whole life, and now you’re telling me I’ve gotta stop?” I said, I can’t see stopping it altogether, but we’ll stop for the time being. The idea is maybe next year we’ll come out for a special show or some short tours, but always going back to BSR. That’s the mainstay now.’
With the turbulent genesis of Black Star Riders now complete, the band headed into the studio to begin a breakneck recording schedule. ‘We did 12 songs in 12 days,’ reveals Gorham with a laugh. ‘It’s the quickest that any of us in the band has ever done an album. When we found out we only had that amount of time, it was like “Holy shit!” It gets your attention really quickly.
‘But if you have your stuff together, it’s not too daunting. We’ve been on the road with these guys for a year and a half, nearly solidly. So to transfer the touring into the studio… we felt on comfortable ground. The difference is you do a gig and if you have a couple of little mistakes it’s, like, “Hey, we’re playing another tomorrow night, so we’ll get it right then.” Whereas this… you didn’t want to be the one that messed it up.’
Working alongside super-producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Black Country Communion), Black Star Riders emerged with an album that has plenty of the Lizzy flavour. From the Irish folk/rock power ballad Kingdom Of The Lost through the feelgood anthem of Someday Salvation to the crunching Valley Of The Stones, Gorham’s guitars sound as good as ever, with Damon Johnson joining him on the signature twin leads that every Lizzy fan will be expecting.
‘Playing with Damon is a really satisfying partnership,’ says Gorham. ‘There’s no horrible egos. I’ll have written a song and I’ll tell Damon to take the lead, because I know what a good player he is. He’s done the same with me. There’s no shoving each other out of the way looking for the spotlight… there’s always going to be enough spotlight over the whole set. He practically grew up on Thin Lizzy music. He’ll say “Check this out!” and he’ll play a solo that I did 35 years ago and had forgotten about, and he knows it note for note! I have to ask him to show me how he did it.’
Gorham sports the same rig for the upcoming tour as he used in the recording sessions: a couple of Les Paul Axcess guitars, a few pedals, and the once obligatory Marshall backline now replaced with Engls – a move that surprised many, not least Gorham himself.
‘We found ourselves playing with Deep Purple at Wembley Arena. It was sold out, with about 14,000 people all getting ready to come in, and we only had 45 minutes to soundcheck. My guitar tech had fallen ill and they’d brought in this Italian guy. He was setting out my stuff, plugged it in, the amp went pfff… and the red light went out. I was like “Oh, shit.” Okay, no problem, throw up the other amp. Pfff! This guy didn’t know anything about voltages, so he ended up blowing all four of them!
‘On this tour Steve Morse’s guitar tech was the rep for Engl, and for three weeks he’d been trying to get me to try them out. Now I’m sitting there with four blown amps, so I said okay, let’s see what you got. He put up one of the Engls on the 4×12″, dialled it in, and said “Have fun.” I hit a chord, and it sounded amazing! I had 15 minutes before we were supposed to go on, and by this point the Italian guy was telling me he’d fixed my amps, but I thought, I think I’m gonna go with the Engls. It’s probably one of the bravest things I’ve ever done: in front of a sold-out audience on a brand-new rig I’ve never even seen before. But I thought to myself, if this amp can give me that much confidence… where do I sign? I’ve been with them now for about six years, maybe a little more. They’re good people.’
Gorham’s fine achievement of 40 years in the industry is one that sadly wasn’t granted to his close friend and bandmate Phil Lynott, who succumbed to his drug addiction in 1986. However, Gorham feels very much part of his ongoing legacy. ‘I pretty much owe everything to Phil. He was the guy who said I want you as my partner, I want you in this band, there’s something in you I really see… let’s go travel the world together.’
Now, as he sets out on his latest adventure, Gorham carries the same ambitions for the music that spurred on the young, hopeful incarnations of himself and Lynott all those years ago. ‘Knowing you’ve put down something that’s hopefully really cool,’ he states, ‘and that other people are gonna think is really cool… that’s what this whole thing’s about. It’s what it’s always been about… hoping that somebody else out there is gonna be digging it the same way that you dig it. And hopefully they dig it even a little more.’