The other day it was just another little internet tidbit news story, I think I saw it on Yahoo. Ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, dead at the age of 58. Shock was the first emotion to register with me, and then I kind of thought about the irony. "Ex-Thin Lizzy" guitarist is his epitaph, at least for people in the United States, and how fundamentally untrue that statement really is. I'm sure people are now listening to "The Boys Are Back In Town" and wondering, "Gee, what's the big deal?' Well folks, Gary Moore didn't play on "The Boys Are Back etc" and in fact only recorded a handful of studio songs with Thin Lizzy ever. He was in Lizzy for a stint in '73, then again from '78 to '79. So it will be what he was known for here, and in the end the general American population will never know what guitarniks know, what a special and incredibly talented individual we have just lost. Being in Thin Lizzy was hardly the reason his death was newsworthy to me.
It would be impossible to encapsulate the career of Gary Moore in short internet blog. I can only speak of what his music meant to me in my experience. I first heard of Gary Moore almost as soon as I started playing guitar. My main inspiration in starting was the music of Ozzy Osbourne, and although I was a young metalhead, I was still somewhat of a bookworm, and I devoured every book and magazine I could about Ozzy and my real heroes - the guys who played guitar in his solo band, Randy Rhoads, and at that time Jake E. Lee. I was also a big fan of Dio, and his guitarist Vivian Campbell. All of them to a man cited some guy, Gary Moore, as a major influence on their styles. So of course, I had to check this guy out. I went to the mall where I lived and looked for his stuff at the major chain music store - nothing. Couldn't find an album by Gary Moore to save my life. I could read about these great, supposedly cool albums he was putting out, but I could not find a recording of them anywhere in the middle of Wyoming. One of the guitar magazines I bought religiously published the tablature to Gary's cover of Shapes of Things, but all I could do was play the notes and wonder what it was really supposed to sound like. The tab didn't seem very much similar to the original, which I could find a copy of by The Yardbirds. Finally, on our way back from vacation we stopped in Denver (the big city) and there in a dusty record store that had a strong odor of what later in life I would learn was cannabis, I hit paydirt, finding both Corridors of Power and Victims of the Future - on convenient and portable cassette tape nonetheless!
From the beginning, it was very apparent that Gary Moore was not the typical rock star guitarist. First and foremost of course, he was an awesome guitarist. One of the things that jumped out at me, unlike most of the Van Halen-inspired glam bands of the time, Gary Moore played fast without resorting to excessive two-hand tapping. And even when he was smoking up the fretboard with lightning licks, the blues-based core of his style could still come through. The man played with feeling, something I didn't get from the Twisted Sisters and Motley Crues that were big in that day. Another thing that set him apart from the rest, especially for me being still kind of a nerd - he sang about real stuff in the world. Leaders who were incompetent, and threats of war and things that smart people talked about. All the glam bands of the day cared about was partying and chicks and a bunch of other stuff I couldn't relate to at the time. Gary was the intellectual metalhead's guitar player - like this song "Murder In The Skies" about the Korean Air Flight 007 tragedy. All of a sudden, I didn't have to feel stupid liking heavy metal.
Murder in The Skies - Gary Moore
Some time later, I was back in that mall music store looking to spend my allowance on some new cassettes. At last I saw Gary Moore's name on a new release - the store had stocked exactly one copy of it - and I snapped it up. The album was Run For Cover, and although it had a slicker, more mid-80's sound to it, American audiences would still never accept this European guitar sensation. I got my driver's license that year, and my first car. I'm pretty sure I was the only teenager driving around Casper blaring Gary Moore, proudly flying my guitar nerd freak flag high. The album also featured a couple of songs where Gary was joined by his good friend, Phil Lynott, the ex-leader of Thin Lizzy. In just a few months time after that, the news would come down about Phil's death and these recordings with Gary Moore would prove to be his final ones. While the sound was very 80's-esque, Gary's guitar solos and the passion of Phil's vocals will always be a great combination whose time was unfortunately cut short.
Out In The Fields - Gary Moore with Phil Lynott
Although not popular in the states, Gary Moore was rightly hailed as one of the best guitarists of our times, particularly in Europe. It was clear that he was intentionally going for more of a radio friendly sound, but also clear that US audiences were not at that time prepared to hear catchy guitar heavy music with awesome solos.
Over The Hills and Far Away - Gary Moore
I still followed Gary Moore's music, even as I left for California to try and follow my own musical dreams. The late 80's were a time when metal was beginning to run out of gas, and new ideas were few and far between. Every up and coming band it seemed you could say they were sort of like this band or sort of like that band. Originality was becoming scarce. Gary joined up with his old friend Ozzy, to make a commentary on the state of metal in that day, and it was released on Gary's "After the War" album of 1989. Led Clones - featuring a stereotypical Led Zep-esque guitar riff, became the first Gary Moore song I can remember to get airplay on US radio.
Led Clones - Gary Moore
Even though it gained some airplay, After The War still did not produce commercial success in the US. The following year, Gary Moore would release "Still Got The Blues" a return to his bluesy roots that finally would strike him the right chord with American audiences. While I appreciated his new direction, and was happy that he finally had found success, I found it hard to let go of the Gary Moore who I had loved as a guitar geek teenager. The rest of Gary's career would be in this bluesy vein, a laid-back style that was as easy for him as it was palatable for the commercial masses. I did find pleasure in seeing my obscure guitar hero now performing on Letterman and talk shows, but it just wasn't quite the same.
All of us have our heroes, and unlike athletes we think we pretty much know what to expect from musicians. They aren't our heroes because they won a single game, or took home a prized trophy. Musicians give us the gift of their art, and unlike a Super Bowl win their gift lives on forever. Sunday night, I lost one of my heroes. But what he gave me, and what he gave the world, will never die. Rest in Peace, Gary.
Gary Moore - The Loner