Thin Lizzy: The Founding Fathers of Irish Rock

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Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March the 17th as a celebration of Irish heritage and culture, and provides an opportunity to shine a light on Thin Lizzy, considered the Emerald Isle’s greatest Rock N’ Roll band.

Formed in Dublin, Ireland at the end of 1969 with ex-members of Them, guitarist Eric Bell and keyboardist Eric Wrixon , the first Thin Lizzy line-up included bassist/vocalist Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey. Wrixon left soon and the trio started their epic saga of recording, touring, membership changes and substance abuse.

Tall, lanky, and husky-voiced, Lynott fronted every version of the band, dependably anchored by Downey’s drumming. Born of an Irish mother and a black father from British Guiana, Lynott stood out as the only black person many of his fellow Dubliners had ever seen. He would forge a strong reputation as a charismatic, good looking, quick-witted romantic who possessed a talent for poetic lyrics underscored by his thundering bass and passionate vocal delivery.

Showing off their Celtic influences, the band’s break-thru came via the traditional Irish ballad “Whiskey in A Jar”. They became a quartet with the departure of Bell and the addition of Scottish guitarist Brian Robertson and native Californian guitarist Scott Gorham, who forged the iconic twin lead guitar sound that set the band’s fortunes. After years of touring and releasing more singles that included “The Rocker” and a cover of Bob Seger’s “Rosalie”, and albums including “Nightlife” and “Fighting”, their hard work finally captured a global audience with the release their 6th studio LP “Jailbreak” and the   hit single “The Boys Are Back In Town” in 1976.

Between 1976 and their break-up in 1983, Thin Lizzy would release another 6 studio LPs (“Bad Reputation”, “Chinatown” and “Renegade” being stand-outs), 2 live albums and an impressive additional 20 singles. Equally impressive is the parade of talent flowing through the band starting with Gary Moore (who would have a successful solo career after replacing Robertson twice) followed by Midge Ure (between Visage and Ultravox) Snowy White (a hired gun for Pink Floyd) and John Sykes (between Tygers of Pan Tang and Whitesnake). Lynott himself did 2 solo LPs, sessions with ex-New York Doll Johnny Thunders and Jeff Wayne for “War of the Worlds”, and established both punk and metal credibility with the splinter group The Greedy Bastards (featuring himself, Gorham, Downey and Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook with Chris Spedding).

Lynott and Gorham’s abuse of heroin contributed to the split of Thin Lizzy, the effects of which claimed Lynott’s life at age 37 in 1986. Despite only having a brief but influential stay at the top, Lynott’s influence and legacy continue through reissues, compilations, concert and documentary DVDs, and Scott Gorham and John Sykes touring in a Thin Lizzy band as a salute to their fallen comrade. Even the members of U2 will tell you with a great sense of Celtic pride that they would not exist without Thin Lizzy having kicked open the doors for them. So enjoy your Saint Patrick’s Day, but enjoy the sounds and songs of Ireland’s Thin Lizzy every day.

 

 

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