One of the most gifted guitar virtuosos of his generation and admired by blues-rock devotees, writes Padraic Coffey
Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00
Gary Moore, who died last Sunday, aged 58, bequeathed one of the most prolific and versatile collected works of any musician from the island of Ireland in the last few decades. Born in Belfast, Moore moved to Dublin aged 16, where he forged what would prove the most memorable on-off collaborative partnership of his career with Phil Lynott, tragically curtailed by Lynott's death in 1986.
Cutting his teeth with Brush Shiels and Skid Row in the late Sixties, Moore would later auction the band's trademarked name to an American heavy metal group for €35,000, much to Shiels' chagrin.
In Dublin, he was mentored for a while by Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green (when Green left Fleetwood Mac he gave Moore his 1959 Les Paul Standard guitar) before he linked up for the first time with Phil Lynott and Skid Row.
Although Lynott left after a few months to launch Thin Lizzy, Skid Row continued as a three-piece with Brush Shiels (bass) and Noel Bridgeman (drums).
The trio moved to London and made two albums, Skid (1970) and 34 Hours (1971). When Skid Row split, Moore fronted the Gary Moore Band, releasing the album Grinding Stone (1973), before answering a call from Lynott to help out Thin Lizzy following the departure of guitarist Eric Bell.
His natural, soulful style earned him widespread respect across a variety of genres. He was that rare rock star who gloried in different styles, equally adept at folk, jazz, country as well as blues and heavy metal. "Music," he said, "just flows through me." This eclecticism was reflected in his playing.
Moore contributed three separate stints as guitarist in Lynott's Thin Lizzy. Lynott, in return, provided lead vocals for Moore's signature solo hit, Parisienne Walkways, which reached the Top 10 in the UK singles charts in 1978.
He played a key role on one of Lizzy's most successful albums: Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979). It included the single Sarah, co-written by Lynott and Moore.
Moore admitted to partying hard throughout the Seventies, but by the mid-Eighties he had discarded such excesses, unlike Lynott, whose heroin and drink-fuelled habits would ultimately lead to his downfall.
Moore attempted to intervene on Lynott's behalf, sadly to no avail: "Once when he was in bed in Brussels I said, 'Don't you wanna see your kids grow up?' He said, 'Thanks, yeah', but nothing changed."
By 1986, Lynott was dead.
Moore was known primarily as a hard-rock guitarist throughout the Seventies and Eighties. Of his son, Moore's father Bobby said, "he didn't do it through any gimmicks. He did it through sheer ability, and anything he has recorded he can stand up on that stage and do." While rarely holding back on his talent in studio recordings, he would often attempt to surpass them live by performing, for several minutes at a time, unaccompanied guitar solos, a flurry of lightning-fast notes. This absolute technical mastery had been honed from the age of eight, when he first picked up the instrument.
In 1990, he swapped his Fender Stratocaster for a Gibson Les Paul, and returned to his more melodic origins with Still Got the Blues. Moore's unusual approach to guitar playing -- being naturally left-handed but playing a right-handed guitar -- gave him particular strength in string-bending, which he utilised to its full potential on that album's title track.
His grandstanding in the Eighties invited comparisons with American counterparts such as Eddie Van Halen, but Moore's work remained rooted in a distinctly European feel.
"A lot of the so-called rock bands over here just copy American bands and it makes them sound stupid in the end," he said. As well as blues, heavy metal, jazz and folk, Moore dabbled in Celtic rock, as demonstrated in 1986's Over the Hills and Far Away.
Though growing up off the overwhelmingly loyalist Upper Newtownards Road, Moore left politics aside.
"I don't feel it's fair for me who's not lived there for so long to start mouthing off about politics in Belfast," he told an interviewer in 2007. "I left Belfast just before The Troubles started."
Like fellow Irish-born guitar virtuoso Rory Gallagher, Moore's career focused entirely on music, rather than the theatrics of rock and roll. "I'd rather have attention for the music than for my scintillating personality or haircut," he once dryly commented.
He also demonstrated his self-deprecating sense of humour by appearing alongside other guitar greats such as Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour in French and Saunders comedy sketch show in 1990.
Besides his many solo albums and work with Thin Lizzy, Moore was a founding member of the jazz fusion group Colosseum II. He also formed BBM, a supergroup with Cream's Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, in 1994. Other luminaries he worked with included George Harrison, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Beach Boys and Ozzy Osbourne.
Moore moved to England in 1970, and despite a tough image that was his legacy from his days with Thin Lizzy, he was a gently-spoken character with few rock star traits who generally shied away from publicity, living quietly in Brighton. He was found dead in his hotel room while holidaying in Spain.
Gary Moore is survived by his partner, Jo, two sons Jack and Gus and two daughters Saoirse and Lily.