Black Star Riders: when legacy becomes a source of inspiration to move forward

It took two years for Thin Lizzy’s heirs to finally go and make a new album – guitarist Scott Gorham confessed as early as 2011 that he was open to this possibility. But what are two more years after almost thirty years of waiting and touring with different line-ups? Admittedly, the band’s name was changed to Black Star Riders, in order to not dissociate Thin Lizzy from its emblematic leader Phil Lynott, thus following the wish of many fans, but also so the band could be judged according to what it is now, and not what it used to be.

And yet, after thirty years, no album could be so anchored in its legacy as All Hell Breaks Loose. But as Ricky Warwick, the man whose hard job was to fill in Lynott’s shoes, says: “I’ve been living and breathing Thin Lizzy for three years now: it has become my life, and I think some things are now part of my DNA”.

Why now? we could ask. Why was this particular line-up able to go from the potential to the actual, to convert the try, when others didn’t even dare think about it? When you read the following interview, it’s all rather obvious: it was a matter of deep respect, of desire, of inspiration and alchemy. All these criteria finally converged, when they had not done so before.

We talked about this with the man who faced the biggest challenge of the group, the man who had to revive the voice of Thin Lizzy: Ricky Warwick.

« We could have said ‘Well, hell, we’ll not record them and let’s keep going as Thin Lizzy and play the classics’. We didn’t want to do that. We felt we needed to do this as musicians and artists. »

Radio Metal: The band changed its name from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders before the recording of the new album. Why did you change it ?

Ricky Warwick (vocals, guitars): We were touring with Thin Lizzy for three years and it was going very well. We wanted to write some new songs and that’s what we did. We had the intention of recording these songs under the name Thin Lizzy. When we began to record the songs, a few doubts started creeping in. It’s been 30 years since the last Thin Lizzy record, over 25 years since Phil passed away, and Scott [Gorham] and Brian [Downey, Thin lizzy’s drummer] thought: “Maybe it’s not the right thing to do: we should let history be history and leave the Thin Lizzy thing with Phil”. We talked to a few people, so as we loved the songs, we decided that we would record them under a different name. All this also brought to light one thing: at that point, Brian said to us: “Guys, I’ve given it a lot of thought, but if you’re going to do this record, and as we’re on tour 250 days a year, it’s going to be even more, and I don’t really want to be away from home now much anymore and I want to spend more time with my family” and that kind of stuff. I have a lot of respect for that, and Brian wished us all the best, but he didn’t want to do it. Darren Wharton [note: Thin Lizzy’s keyboardist], who’s working on a movie, which he can’t finish as we keep going on the road all the time, said to us: “Guys, I want to work on that movie and have a lot of stuff going on”, he stepped aside too. So, Damon Johnson, Scott Gorham, Marco Mendoza and myself, we are the road dogs: we love being on tour, you know. So the four of us were like: “Right, let’s get a new name, get in, record this album and get a new drummer”.

Is it a way for the band to be judged on its music and not on its name ?

It probably is because it happened like that, but we certainly didn’t think like that: we believed that the songs we had written were very strong, and that’s why we did this record. We could have said: “Well, hell, we’ll not record them and let’s keep going as Thin Lizzy and play the classics”. We didn’t want to do that. We felt we needed to do this as musicians and artists. Everybody can go for what they want. You know, people were sceptical about the band continuing without Phil: that’s not happening anymore, because we changed the name. The Thin Lizzy fans want to hear the new material, and they’ll hear it, because it’s the Black Star Riders. I think it was the right decision to make, at 100%, and I’m happy we did it.

Is it exciting for you to work on the brand new recognition of the band ?

Yes, it’s really exciting. You know, it’s not like we were starting from the ground: everybody knows that this was Thin Lizzy and the record was done as such. So, that’s a huge push. But it’s very exciting, because we feel so good about the band’s name, the songs, the people in the band, the logo. It was almost like a weight off our shoulders when we finished the album and finally got it delivered to the record company.

Scott is the only member now who has worked with Phil Lynott: is he a guarantee that we’ll find Thin Lizzy’s spirit in the songs?

Well, I think he is and we all are. You know, I’ve been living, breathing and singing Thin Lizzy for the last 3 years: it’s been my whole life and certainly some of that has become part of my DNA. I’ve learned so much of it and I’ve been a part of it, so I’ve brought some of it with me. Marco Mendoza has been with Thin Lizzy for longer, he was there when John Sykes was singing. Damon Johnson and myself are Thin Lizzy fans: we’ve always had that, regardless whether we’re in the band or not. Scott Gorham is what he is and his guitar sound is Thin Lizzy and recognizable. The spirit is always going to be there, and it’s a good thing: I’m glad it is.

« We have been Thin Lizzy for the last 3 years and it’s just a natural continuation for us to write in that style and have that feel. […] You just write from the heart and from what you know. »

Jimmy DeGrasso, your new drummer, comes from the metal scene: he played with Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies. In an interview, a few years ago, Scott Gorham said to us that Thin Lizzy’s previous version was going too metal, so why this choice?

Jimmy played for Y&T or Alice Cooper: they are more rock’n’roll, and not metal. He can play any style you want, and that’s what we love. He’s a massive Thin Lizzy fan, he knows all the songs and is a huge fan of Brian Downey’s drumming, but he’s got his own style. He wants to go on the road and play: he was the perfect fit, personality wise and playing wise.

How did the recording go with Jimmy ?

Really easy. I mean, Jimmy came with two days of rehearsals, he learned the songs and that was it.

Most of the songs on the record sound incredibly like classic Thin Lizzy. How did you achieve such result?

I think it goes back to the previous question: it’s who we are. We have been Thin Lizzy for the last 3 years and it’s just a natural continuation for us to write in that style and have that feel. The album was done extremely quickly and very much live: we put our live set up in the studio, plugged in and played. You just write from the heart and from what you know. Nobody’s trying to do anything they’re not, Scott is not saying: “Oh, I need to change completely my guitar style”, he’s Scott Gorham. Damon has got an amazing guitar playing and their chemistry is amazing. So that was all. There wasn’t any thought about it, like “What do we have to do to get this or whatever”, it was like “Let’s make a record, make some songs, and see what happens”.

The song “Bound for Glory” mentions a certain “Johnny”: is there any connection with “Johnny The Fox”?

No, and I’ll tell you why. This guy is called Johnny Wong and actually exists: he owns a Chinese restaurant in Plymouth, England. Scott and Marco went there for dinner, one night, on a day off when we were on tour. Johnny Wong turned out to be this old Chinese guy and was a massive Thin Lizzy fan. He had lots of stories to tell and Scott and Marco told me about him, so I just thought he was a great character for the song: Johnny Wong keeps trying to get it right, you know. That’s where it comes from. I know that there is “Johnny The Fox” and all this kind of stuff, but that was the guy’s name: I just wrote about him. If you ever go to Plymouth, go to Johnny Wong if you’re hungry ! (laughs)

During the recording, the guys of the band were very impressed by the fact that you had come up very quickly with the songs’ lyrics: could you tell us more about that ?

I write up a lot of lyrics, it’s my thing and what I enjoy doing. The guys were bringing the riffs in and I was getting lots and lots of ideas very quickly. The creative juices I guess were flowing pretty good. I was so excited about writing these songs, had a wealth of ideas: for instance, Scott would show me a riff and I’d say: “Hey, I’ve got lyrics for that”. During my whole career, I’ve always been influenced by people like Bruce Springsteen, Phil Lynott, Van Morrison or Joe Strummer from The Clash, guys who tell stories. That’s what I like to do and I did in my solo stuff, in The Almighty. It’s the way I write.

Dou you have any plan in your head when you start writing ?

No, not really. It’s just subjects and each song was treated differently and is about a different theme.

« It’s great to do what we love, keep writing songs and touring and I’d like to think that next year, we’ll make the follow-up to our new record. »

When we talked to Vivian Campbell a few years ago, he said that he had been very happy to be part of a Thin Lizzy tour. Did you try to get him for this record?

We couldn’t afford him on the record! (laughs) When we had Vivian in the band, it was very clear that once it was over, he’d be back in Def Leppard, because it’s his band. We didn’t really want to get any guest musicians, like him or Richard Fortus: we all love them, they’re amazing players, but we felt that this was the new band and we wanted to use the people that had written the songs, built it up and played on it. For Damon and Scott, it was their first album together playing guitar and we just didn’t want to say: “Hey, come down and play on our album !” We wanted to focus on the core, and that’s no disrespect to Vivian and Richard.

How do you see Black Star Riders’ future ?

Busy! (laughs) The album is going to come out in May, we hit the road in June and we’re going to tour and tour.

What are you foreseeing for the new record?

I want people to enjoy it, to like it and come to see us play live, because I think it’s going to be a hell of a show. It’s great to do what we love, keep writing songs and touring and I’d like to think that next year, we’ll make the follow-up to our new record. I hope we’ll keep going on and pushing. We’ll see what happens: you make a record, you put it out there and let people decide for you.

What do you prefer: people seeing you as a new band or as Thin Lizzy’s follow-up?

I don’t care personally, as long as they enjoy it and like it. It’s fine with me: I’m happy either way.

Could you tell us a few words about Kevin Shirley’s work, on this album ?

Very fast! (laughs) Kevin doesn’t waste any time: he records very quickly and very live. He’s a great guy and has got a great musical ear. He’s a great motivator and he’s fantastic for confidence. He’s very fast in the studio : when he hears something, he knows when it’s right and not quite right. It was a lot of fun working with him: he made us feel very relaxed and confident. I mean, we recorded 12 songs in 12 days! I think that any of us has never done an album so quickly. He was like: “You guys can absolutely do it !” and he was right. Kevin was very focused and it made us focused as well. He’s a great person to be around, he’s very funny: there’s nothing but good things to say about Kevin.

What can we wish you for 2013?

I’d like to think that hopefully that the album will come out and be successful, so that we play some shows and get back to France as well, which will be great. Like I’ve said, that’s what it’s all about: we go out there and spread the word, and build a band up. We’ll still be playing Thin Lizzy as well as Black Star Riders songs.

Interview conducted face-to-face on March, 26th, 2013 by Amphisbaena
Introduction by Spaceman
Transcription : Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Black Star Riders’s website: blackstarriders.com

Album : All Hell Breaks Loose, out since May 27th, 2013 via Nuclear Blast

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