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You guys had the obvious hits but there was more to it, too. Do you ever wish people dug more of the other stuff?
Going back to the whole “The Boys Are Back in Town” thing and being remembered for that, I can’t complain about that stuff. Like they say, “It’s better to have been loved once than not at all.”
But with this new album coming out now, Still Dangerous: Live at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia 1977—on that tour we were trying to prove that we weren’t just that song or the Jailbreak album. At that point, we didn’t have a lot of US touring under our belts, so that’s how a lot of people knew of us, but that was very limited. That tour was our shot to go out there to prove to all the Americans what Thin Lizzy was all about—”we’re going to go out there and kick your ass.” That was our attitude during that tour. We needed to prove to the Americans who we were as a band. Ironically, this was the only show of that tour we got to record, because we only got two weeks into it before Phil got sick with hepatitis C. However, we did get this one show and I think it captures our mission statement pretty well.
Regarding this live album, when you hear the songs played back, what do you notice now? Do you think the album captures what that tour was all about?
It’s cool to listen back to this show now because you can actually hear what we were doing. We had just finished Bad Reputation in Toronto–I don’t think we had even mixed that album yet–and we were offered an opening gig for this arena tour for two months. The idea was that we would go out and do two weeks of warm-up shows and then hit everyone right between the eyes with a solid, polished set for that following two month tour. The idea was to play these songs so we could see what the audience thought and judge their reaction … we could then toss [a song] out or jiggle it back farther in the set. It was cool for me to able to relive that thought process.
One guitar you’re often linked to is a Sunburst Deluxe. What’s the story behind that guitar?
On the first day I showed up for that initial meeting with the guys Phil introduced me to the rest of the band and told me to pull out my guitar so he could teach me a couple of the songs. I opened up this guitar case and out came this old, black Japanese Les Paul copy with no name on the headstock. I remember looking over at Brian Robertson and Brian Downey and they both rolled their eyes and were probably thinking, Holy crap, who is this guy? It was such a piece of shit. I think at one point during that first meeting the volume knob and a screw even fell off.
After I actually got the gig with Thin Lizzy, I remember going back for the first day of rehearsals and Phil said to me, “If you’re going to be in this band, we have to buy you a decent guitar.” I was all for that so we both went down to a place called Tottenham Court Road in London–it’s where all the guitar shops were at back then–but the problem was we had a real strict budget. Unbeknownst to me, Thin Lizzy at that point was heavily in debt, so to even get a new guitar at all was pretty amazing. Of course, I went straight to the expensive guitars and I could see Phil starting to sweat. He kept trying to draw my attention away from the top dollar guitars and so I finally grabbed this Sunburst Deluxe and plugged it in. It sounded pretty good and it had a great neck on it with a perfect shape to my hand, but most importantly, the price was right. And that’s how I landed that Deluxe you see me with in so much of the old footage. I played that guitar for the first three albums.
What about the other Les Paul?
We were touring in the US and a vintage guitar dealer came down to a show in Boston and flipped open about six boxes and I made a bee-line for this one guitar; he told me it was a ’59, but it was actually a ’57. I picked it up and it felt right. It sounded like a Thin Lizzy guitar. I asked our sound guy, Pete, what he was hearing and he just looked at me and said, “Buy it.” I looked down at the dealer and said, “Well, that just blew any negotiation on my part.” After a while, the wine red finish began to wear off and it appeared to have a Gold Top finish originally, so who knows what that guitar was.
Even in those days you weren’t a one guitar guy, but more recently you’ve been playing Strats. What was behind that switch?
Really, my Strats are Strat in body only. The guts of my Strats are all Gibson, so soundwise they still gel nicely. They are custom-built Charlie Chandler Strats which are a little easier to play, but more importantly, they are a lot lighter than the Les Pauls. With my custom Strats, I have been able to incorporate a Floyd Rose-type tremolo and a Gibson T-500 humbucker in the bridge, which suits my playing and Thin Lizzy songs a lot better. Another addition to those Strats is a Cornell mid-boost preamp.
Gorham working the tremolo arm on his custom Charlie Chandler Strat while performing at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in March, 2004. Photo by Frank White
Oh man [laughs]… you start wielding those babies around for two hours and your back is misaligned, your shoulder is destroyed and your neck is strained. It’s funny now because our other guitarist, John Sykes, still carries a big lump of mahogany wrapped around his neck all night and his shoulder is just killing him. But, he’ll never trade that guitar in for anything. That’s why I went to the Strat as my main guitar. I’ve been talking to Gibson and they’re building me a custom chambered guitar. So, I’ll be playing Pauls again.
During the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Thin Lizzy had, at one time or another, at least three other great guitarists—Brian Robertson, Gary Moore and Snowy White. What was it like for you to synch up with each person?
It doesn’t just happen, you know, making that tight, unified sound. No matter how close our styles were, we had to practice and rehearse out a lot of quirkiness like how far do we each bend the string or what each player’s vibrato is like. There are all sorts of timing issues! You always need to be aware of what the other guy is doing, his style, his tendencies when playing live and you’ve got to be able to let them be the star, too. You know, a band can’t have two lead guitarists in every song and in every solo; someone has to play rhythm.
What are your plans for 2009?
Well, I know we have a couple of Metallica shows this summer–Dublin and Knebworth–and most likely a few other festivals dotted around Europe. I know the management wants us to tour in the US and South America, so we’ve got people working on that. In the meantime, I’ve been finishing up the new album for my other band, 21 Guns, which should be ready for human consumption later this year.
1 ’69 Les Paul Sunburst Deluxe
1 ’59 Les Paul Darkburst (After years of gigs, the finish has worn
off and revealed a Gold finish. Since then, it’s been thought to be
a ’57 Gold Top)
3 ‘60s Les Paul Standards
2 Charlie Chandler custom Strats (both have Seymour Duncan
single coils and a Gibson T-500 humbucker at the bridge, Cornell
mid-boost preamps and Floyd Rose-type tremolos)
|Amps and Cabinets
Engl E650 Ritchie Blackmore signature amp
100 watt Marshall JCM900SL-X
2 Marshall 4x12 cabs
2 Engl 4x12 cabs
Effects and Accessories
Jim Dunlop Crybaby wah
Robert Keeley two-knob Compressor
Boss TU-2 tuner
Boss DD-3 delay
Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus
TC Electronic Stereo Chorus Flanger
Ibanez CS9 Chorus.
Ernie Ball Super Slinky .009s