Solider of Fortune
Thin Lizzy's “Still Dangerous,” just ask its anchoring guitarist Scott Gorham.
By Raoul Hernandez,
10:48AM, Thu. Apr. 23, 2009
Scott Gorham has lived in London since 1974, when the flamethrowing 23-year-old guitarist joined Thin Lizzy for its third album Night Life, a neon shard of electric R&B. Harmonizing with mercurial Scottish axe murderer Brian Robertson, the L.A.-born Gorham, the only Yank musician Lizzy embodiment Phil Lynott ever entrusted his band to – from ’74 all the way to their twilight’s last gleaming in 1983 – set into motion a dual-guitar roller coaster that will never cease to thrill the annals of rock.
Though Lynott died in 1986 after years of drug abuse, Gorham and his last guitar partner in the UK powerhouse, John Sykes, now tours a Thin Lizzy that commemorates the Birmingham-born (Sabbath, Priest), Dublin-raised bassist dubbed the Black Rose back on his Emerald Isle. While my 2006 pilgrimage to Lynott’s final resting place in his “Old Town” yielded the black plastic flower that now nestles in a crystal shot glass from the Guinness Storehouse on my music mantle, Gorham’s current Lizzymobile previously cruised San Antonio in 2004. “Waiting for an Alibi” forever thunders white water.
Still Dangerous, “Live at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia 1977,” not only powers up the ‘classic’ Lizzy line-up – Lynott, Gorham, Robertson, and third Lizzy mainstay, drummer Brian Downey – it also ranks with 1978 masterpiece Live and Dangerous for bottling the Lizzy lightning. Not bad for a newly discovered vault find “baked” into digital existence by Gorham and produced by classic rock guru Glyn Johns. From Bad Reputation opener “Solider of Fortune” to closer “Me and Boys,” a razor-wire slice of the Gorham/Robertson guitar tandem, Still Dangerous delivers the goods. As does a conversation with Gorham, in New York’s VH1 studios to promote Still Dangerous via the channel’s label imprint. Nice to have one of the boys back in town.
Austin Chronicle: Tell me about this warehouse where you found the tapes to Still Dangerous.
Scott Gorham: It wasn’t actually a warehouse. It was two lock-ups, or two vaults if you want to put it that way. Our accountants were doing a financial clean-up to try and figure out where money was going and there was these two payments that we kept making, month after month, year after year. Nobody knew what the hell they were. Was equipment in there? Were Phil’s old couches in there?
We went and investigated and what we found was a huge mountain of multi-track recording tape. They all had different names on them. A lot of them had working titles, names I had never heard before. There was one I remember; the "Boys Are Back in Town" had a working title of "G.I. Joe." I saw that one there. I knew exactly what that was.
So I knew immediately what we needed to do to save all this historic Thin Lizzy tape. We had to go through the process of what’s called "baking" the tape in order to get it down into a digital format, just basically to save all this stuff.
As we were doing that, this one box came up. All it had written on it was "Philadelphia" and the number "2" on it. That kind of stopped me in my tracks right there. I started to remember what this thing was all about, because we had done two nights for the King Biscuit [Flower] Hour at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia. I’ll give you the history of what was going on in that era.
We had just finished our latest album, Bad Reputation, and had been offered an arena tour in the United States. Now we knew that America was a place that we hadn’t done a lot of touring in. We toured extensively in Europe. We had a huge fan base there. Every time we went out it was all sold out. But America was a different beast, so when we were offered this tour, we thought, "Yep, this is our shot. This is the tour we can go in, and live-wise, we can bust America wide open." This was the attitude that we had. This was going to be the live tour that was going to break open Thin Lizzy in America.
With "Philadelphia 1" and "Philadelphia 2," most people have the bootleg version of the first night [because four songs were broadcast]. But the second night is the one with all the new songs from this new album, Bad Reputation, so what you’re hearing on that is our road testing the songs for the tour. Did I mention this was like a two-week warm up period? This is us road-testing these new songs, this new album, basically seeing how well we played these songs live in front of an audience for the first time – checking out where to put these new songs in the set. So there’s a lot of experimentation going on with this particular concert.
AC: Were parts of Live and Dangerous also recorded at the Tower Theatre?
SG: No, no, Live and Dangerous is from the Hammersmith Odeon. And there was one track that had to come off a Toronto show because we weren’t playing this one particular song in the set when we were doing the Live and Dangerous set.
AC: Was that "Southbound"?
SG: No, you know what "Southbound" is? And I have to keep admitting this to people. When we got to the end of recording Live and Dangerous we realized we needed one or two more songs. And we didn’t have them. We were all kind of freaked out. [Producer] Tony Visconti said, "Well, you know, we kept recording the sound checks, and it is live." So we thought, "Well, okay, let’s listen to it." He put up "Southbound" and we thought, "Well, it is live." There wasn’t an audience... but okay, put it on there.[Laughs]
AC: Glad you mentioned Tony Visconti. I interviewed him last year after reading his autobiography-
SG: What does that fucking guy say?
AC: He writes very lovingly about Phil and that Thin Lizzy is definitely one of the trophies on his resume as a producer. He addresses how much has been written over the decades vis-à-vis how live is Live and Dangerous? He says about 55%.
SG: I’ve heard the Chinese whispers that say the only thing live is the audience. I start bristling at that point. I bristle at 55 percent.
AC: He claims that Phil wanted to redo his vocals and bass parts. He also says that although the live guitars were good that they were then doubled again in the studio.
SG: That’s funny. That’s the first time I’ve actually heard that. It just gets better [laughs].
AC: The quote is: "Instead of replacing their guitars, they merely added an extra guitar each to fatten the sound of the original one."
SG: You know what I remember, especially on two songs. And I even remember the incident. You’d walk up to the front of the stage. You’re practically Hanging 10. You’re trying to get as close as you can to the audience, and immediately six arms come up and you’ve got both legs locked in. People are just grabbing onto you. You’ve got this chick over there and she’s rubbing your calf. Which is kind of nice. But people are untying your shoes and all that. Everybody wants to be a part of it.
But at some point you’ve got to break away, don’t you? "I’ve got to get to my pedals, gang." Or, "I’ve got to get to my microphone." And you’re tugging away and all of a sudden everybody lets go, and of course you go flying back, and your hands come flying off the neck of the guitar so you’re not falling on your face. And you’ve dropped a clam! Everybody else in the band has played this beautifully, but you’ve got yourself a big-ass hairy clam there.
So what we tried to do was, "Well, just let me drop in [an overdub] here for fuck’s sake. We’ll just get rid of the clam." We tried that and of course the sound’s not matching up. That’s pissing me off straight off the bat. And Tony said, "Well, just go ahead and do that rhythm track there." Well, all right. We had to do a rhythm track there. I think the same thing happened to Brian Robertson. I think that there was one other fuck up and I can’t remember where it was. So there was like two or three rhythm tracks that had to be done. You couldn’t let those clams go by. It’s like taking a group photo and you’re the guy with your eyes closed. You can’t let that go through!
So I remember those incidences. I don’t remember Phil getting in there and doing his vocals. At all.
AC: What’s great about Still Dangerous is that it somehow sounds more real, like, "This is what Thin Lizzy would’ve sounded like on any given night."
SG: Absolutely. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. I actually like the sound of this album much better. Sometimes I feel I have to be careful when I say that, because there’s obviously really huge fans of Live and Dangerous. They’ve been listening to it their whole life and, "How fucking dare you say this one’s better." But I do. I like the song choices. I like the way everybody’s playing on this. There’s a vibe on this album that I just think is really cool.
And I think Glyn Johns, the producer, caught what the band was all about. When he first brought up the faders on the multi-track, Jesus, I was on the back couch of the studio in the fetal position, rocking back and fourth going, "Oh God, this isn’t going to work, oh shit." [Laughs] Then he starts tweaking the knobs and all that, and all of a sudden I’m loosening up, "Well, okay, that sounds right." The next thing I know, I’m standing up going, "Yeah, man, that’s the fucking sound! That’s what we were."
So it was really cool watching him transform all this naked material into what I remember the band sounded like. I just loved it.
AC: This isn’t the only live recording that’s come out recently. UK Tour 75 came out as an import last year.
SG: I didn’t have anything to do with that one.
AC: Did you hear it? How does it sound?
SG: For what it was and for how little time that we’d actually been together... At that point we’d been together for little over a year maybe, and all of a sudden there’s a live album out. Fuck, man.
AC: I have bootlegs from that period and not only is the song selection from Nightlife and Fighting fantastic, the band sounds ready to tear you one.
SG: Yeah, I get surprised myself. Shit, we’d only been together a year and it actually sounds pretty good.
AC: The other item that came out last year was the DVD of Live and Dangerous. Have you had a look at that?
SG: That’s the remastered one right? I’ve seen bits of it, but honest to God, I have a hard time watching myself. They sent it over, and I thought, "Great, remastered – really cool." I put it on for five minutes and I have such a hard time watching myself that I went, "Yeah, okay, that looks really good, but that’s enough of that."
AC: Going back to the vault, are we gonna see more vintage Thin Lizzy material?
SG: Well, you know something, there was so much frickin’ tape there that I was astounded. I didn’t realize that we’d kept all that stuff. I’m still trying to figure out the brains behind actually collecting all this stuff and putting it into one place. I’ll have to go shake his hand.
Just a very few years ago the M.O. was that you finish your album and it’s, "Well, we don’t need this tape anymore," and it goes into the dumpster in the back of the studio. A lot of Stones and Who [material] got lost that way. So I’m looking at this mountain of tape and I stopped at the Philadelphia show, because I was so taken with it that I didn’t want to listen to anything else. I wanted to work on this. "This is really fucking cool." I got Glyn Johns on board. So now what I think I’m gonna do...
Obviously, we’ve got Lizzy touring and everything. So I need to find a window of opportunity that I can sit down and concentrate. Get in there with an engineer and go through it. They’ve already cataloged all the stuff, what everything is. What they’ve done is put all the working titles down, so there’s a lot of mystery stuff in there.
AC: Is there a concerted effort to get more vintage material out there?
SG: Yes, but only in a quality-controlled way. I’ve been shown things. There was a scheme: "What we can do is bring out an album a month!" "Whoa, whoa – what do you mean? What does this stuff sound like?" One got sent over to me and it was an off-the-cuff, one-guy-in-the-audience-with-a-microphone recording. I’m going, "No, no. There’s no way in fucking hell that shit like that is going out." So there’s a definite quality control thing going on. What it’s gonna take is myself and maybe somebody else to get the right stuff.
AC: People die, but they’re still part of our every day lives. How do you live with Phil all these years later?
SG: It’s probably just the way you describe it. Yeah, they’re gone. Yes, you physically won’t ever get to see them again. You can’t ever call them. They’re never going to call you.
But just through your experiences with that person, it really does live on. All of us that went through Thin Lizzy, we all learned stuff from Phil, at one time or another, especially Brian Robertson and myself. When we first got in the band, we knew nothing. We were the green kids. Neither of us had any albums under our belts and Phil was the guy that did. So you looked to him: "Hey Phil, how does all this shit work? How do we get started here? What’s the next move?"
He was really great in being that mentor or guru guy. He so badly wanted to make this work that he was into being the Obi-Wan Kenobi for those first couple of years – until we found our feet and we were able to make our own decisions. Once we understood what was going on, then it became the Thin Lizzy true democracy at that point. Those first couple of years, yeah, everybody learned a lot from Phil.
AC: Is he still that Obi-Wan Kenobi character for you – the ghost of Alec Guinness looking over your shoulder?
SG: [Laughing] We may be getting a bit Zen here.
You know, I think about him a lot. I know a lot of people that knew Phil really well do also. But the cool thing is when we go out and do the tours and all that, we make sure Phil gets introduced every night. He gets the biggest cheer every night. I just think that’s the coolest thing. That’s the main thing for me. Being out here means my buddy Phil is not going to be forgotten. It’s a big deal for me when the crowd gets on its feet and gives Phil a cheer.
AC: Long may he endure!
SG: I tell you what. He was a classic character, man. Mr. Magneto himself.