We could argue all day long about the best multi-guitar band ever, but let’s face it, one band is at the top of the list whenever the phrase “dual guitar attack” is invoked: Thin Lizzy. Not to take anything away from Allman/Betts (The Allman Brothers), Downing/Tipton (Judas Priest), Murray/Smith (Iron Maiden), or Rossington/Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)— and the list goes on and on—but Thin Lizzy is synonymous with the concept. Several guitarists helped deliver the band’s one-two punch of searing and soaring lead lines with perfect harmony over the years, but none more than Scott Gorham. It was Gorham who helped fully develop and institutionalize the band’s gritty-but-melodic Les Paul x 2 sound along with Brian Robertson.
That sound was hook-friendly yet bold. It immediately inspired contemporaries and continues to entrance players today. Good luck getting “The Boys Are Back in Town” out of your head within days of hearing it again. And the tone… oh, that tone—with its razor sharp bite but warm, mid-heavy fullness, right in the sweet spot of tube breakup—you can nearly count the individual filament vibrations during the comping riffs in “Jailbreak.” It’s no wonder that everyone from Kirk Hammett to the Edge to Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds cites Scott Gorham as a major influence.
Gorham brought his American edge to the band while Robertson drew from British blues. Fused with lead singer/bassist Phil Lynott’s hypnotizing bass lines, everyman lyrics and distinctive vocals, the Dublin band had a groove and a sonic identity like none other. Gorham still tours with the band, sharing guitar duties with vocalist John Sykes. The band is also releasing a new live recording from 1977 that surfaced recently. It captures the band in Philadelphia, testing out songs from the Bad Reputation album, which had just been recorded.
We caught up with Gorham to talk about the NOS live release, how he got that famous tone back then and today (with different equipment) and his recollection of a guitar nightmare during his Thin Lizzy audition.
How did a guy originally from California, with a father in Iowa, land a gig with Thin Lizzy in the seventies?
Scott rocking one of his custom Charlie Chandler Strats in Balingen, Germany during a 2003 festival gig. Photo by Frank White Photography
I guess it was my love for English rock. When I was a kid growing up, that’s all I listened to. At that time, I didn’t really go for the American side of rock. I was always intrigued with the British sound and the British musicians. The thing that got me was just how much talent was coming from this tiny island. It created its own sound and just swept the world. It didn’t just stop with a few bands; I mean they just kept coming and coming … absolutely god-like bands were coming out of this tiny place.
I always had this dream of going over to England and seeing what it was like and experiencing its legacy. My brother-in-law, Bob Siebenberg, actually made the move first. He took the plunge to London and eventually landed himself a job with the group Supertramp as their drummer, who at this point hadn’t done a whole lot. I worked up enough money for a plane ticket and went over, only to find out Roger Hodgson, who was their guitarist/keyboard player, was going to play both. And that was kind of the end of that.
That was kind of a good thing; it gave me a kick in the ass. Here I was sitting in a foreign country, no money, didn’t know anybody, and it kind of forced me out of my little shell. It got me to go into different clubs or pubs, meeting different musicians—take this guy from this band and steal this guy and start my own band. And that’s what I did.
That band secured little pub gigs all around the London area. I would let a lot of musicians come on up and have a jam with us. One of the guys that used to come up all the time was an Irish guy named Ruan O’Lochlainn. One day he said, “I got this thing for you. There’s this Irish band called Thin Lizzy.” And I thought Jesus, Thin Lizzy? What a fucked up name. These guys are never going make it with a name like that. He says “Yeah, they’re looking for another guitar player. Do you want me to put your name forward?” I said “Yeah, what the hell.” I had 30 more days to go on my visa.
Was there an audition?
They had gone through like 25 different guitar players looking for the right guy. I guess they were recording the session, which I didn’t know. After the rehearsal, they went back and listened to the tape, and said, “Yeah man, that’s the guy.” Phil [Lynott] himself called me up that night and asked if I’d join the band.
Which UK bands and guitarists you were drawn to?
At that point, Ritchie Blackmore had a completely unique sound. The notes he was choosing … he had a really great, unique vibrato. It was the same with Paul Kossoff and Free. When you listen to his vibrato and tone, it’s like, Whoa. They’re just coming up with some killer stuff. Although Hendrix was American, he was deemed a British band. Here was this guy who was doing things with a guitar that nobody thought you could do. He used a lot of different pedals while a lot of the other guys just plugged straight into the amp and went. Steve Winwood with Traffic—and the list kind of goes on and on, but obviously I can’t forget the Beatles or Stones.
Let’s talk gear. How do you get your sound?
I don’t like to over-effect, but I do use some effects. What I’ve got now is an Engl E650 Ritchie Blackmore signature amp head that I run with two or four Marshall cabs. I also have a customized 100-watt Marshall JCM900SL-X amp that is used as an occasional backup, or a slave for my stereo mix. My pedalboard pretty much consists of T-Rex pedals, a Dunlop Crybaby wah, a Boss DD-3 delay, a TC Electronic Stereo Chorus Flanger, an Ibanez CS9 chorus, and a Robert Keeley two-knob compressor.