Gary Moore (1952-2011)

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I was genuinely shocked to hear of the death of Gary Moore this weekend. In the alternative universe that rock musicians inhabit, you get used to hearing about sudden deaths which are related to the rock lifestyle. In the case of Gary Moore’s old friend and mentor, Phil Lynott, you didn’t need any special powers of perception to see what was coming. Gary Moore never seemed to be one of that breed; no stories of TVs out of hotel windows or wild aftershow partying seem to have affected his reputation.

He was born in Belfast in 1952 and started to play at the age of eight, playing semi-professionally by the age of 16 in Dublin. At this time he began his long-term friendship and professional relationship with Phil Lynott who sang with Moore’s band Skid Row before their first record deal was signed. For most of the 70s, his career was dominated by the Thin Lizzy guitarists’ revolving door. He replaced Eric Bell in the original line-up and twice replaced Brian Robertson in the late 70s as well as making guest appearances (for example, on the original studio version of “Still in Love With You”). The classic Thin Lizzy twin guitar line-up worked best visually with a pretty boy on one side of the stage and a street fighter on the other. Gary Moore and Brian Robertson both fitted this visual description perfectly, but neither was happy with role of sideman with Phil Lynott centre stage. The late 70’s also featured a spell with the fusion outfit Colosseum II which is probably best forgotten (trust me, I saw them play).The solo career started seriously in 1978 with the album “Back on the Streets” which also featured Phil Lynott heavily and gave him his first of 2 Top 10 singles in April 1979 with “Parisienne Walkways”. Throughout the 80s, he continued to experiment with various musical styles but, like many great guitarists, found his true voice as a writer, player and singer when he returned to his roots and the simpler forms of the blues with the album “Still Got the Blues” in 1990. He worked with many of the blues greats including Albert Collins, Albert King and BB King over the next 20 years and despite a few forays into other musical territories, he will probably be most remembered for his outstanding blues performances recorded during this period.

Over a period of 40 years as a musician, Gary Moore worked in a variety of musical styles with a huge range of musical collaborators and leaves behind a body of work that most musicians would sell their souls at the crossroads for. Although he only achieved modest commercial success in comparison with much less gifted guitarists, he was a huge inspiration to a generation of young players because of his technique and his wonderful gift for melody.

My favourite Gary Moore moment, which makes me smile every time I hear it, is the first solo in the studio version of “Parisienne Walkways”. Just over a minute into the song we hear a beautifully controlled slow melodic solo with just a hint of controlled feedback. It’s an eight bar solo (actually eight bars and three beats for any passing musos) but at the end of the sixth bar he remembers that he’s a guitar virtuoso and throws in a downward run with as many notes as he plays in the rest of the song. It’s a musician’s trick, but it displays the melodic invention and technical ability of a great player in the space of eight bars of music; what more could you want?

RIP.