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Gary Moore - Last of the great guitar heroes?

Issue #24

Moore's first brush with fame was in 1968 when, aged just 16, he crossed the border into Eire and joined his first pro band, Skid Row. Skid Row managed three albums and some serious touring credits (including supporting the Allman Brothers and Mountain in the USA) but never managed to quite make headline status. In 1973 Moore released his first solo album, Grinding Stone.
Gary Cooper

Gary Moore -  Last of the great guitar heroes?

As part of our special tribute issue to the late Gary Moore, Guitar Interactive assesses the impact of one of the finest guitarists ever to emerge from the British Isles. Gary Cooper  reflects on a stunning musical legacy and talks to GI's vintage expert, Phil Harris, who knew Gary Moore throughout most of his career.

Gary Moore, who died three years ago aged 58, didn't just leave a huge gap in the role of honour of guitar heroes: there's a case to be made that his will be the last name on it - or at least on a major chapter of it. Though born in 1952, a few years after most of the guitar superstars who emerged in the mid-1960s, Moore drew on the same musical roots and was among the last of the generation of British (Anglo-Irish in his case, if you prefer) guitar players who reinvigorated the Blues in the last half of the 20th Century. As a child in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the '60s, he listened intently to the emerging guitar slingers who redefined the sound of the electric guitar, ripping it away from the whistle-clean tones of Hank Marvin and the Shadows, supplanting it with the darker and more menacing sound invented, more or less, by Eric Clapton, himself channelling the Blues from its American originators.

'The sound' was first heard to major effect on John Mayall's seminal 'Beano' album (aka 'Bluesbreakers'), released in 1966, but soon others had it too and were doing their own things - much as Moore was later to do - for the most part driving the, then new, Marshall amps with Gibson guitars to make a sound unlike anything heard before. Peter Green, who followed Clapton in Mayall's band and who played a major part in Moore's career in several ways, was the greater influence on the young Ulsterman, but he must also have heard those other guitar masters who seemed so thick on the ground back then: Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff, Jimmy Page, Mick Taylor, Alvin Lee, Stan Webb - there were times during the late 1960s when you sometimes felt you could walk into almost any pub in Britain and find a new guitar hero warming-up. And there was Jimi Hendrix. You can never forget Jimi Hendrix.

Moore's first brush with fame was in 1968 when, aged just 16, he crossed the border into Eire and joined his first pro band, Skid Row. Skid Row managed three albums and some serious touring credits (including supporting the Allman Brothers and Mountain in the USA) but never managed to quite make headline status. In 1973 Moore released his first solo album, Grinding Stone. Despite being very much a guitarist with his roots in the Blues, he then joined Phil Lynott (himself a former member of Skid Row) in Thin Lizzy, replacing Eric Bell. It wasn't destined to be long residence, as he soon left, only to re-join briefly again in 1977, standing in for Brian Robertson, then finally signing-up 'permanently' in 1978 for the Black Rose album and subsequent tour.

It was working with Lynott that saw Moore's greatest commercial success when, in 1979, he released Parisienne Walkways - a single featuring Lynott on vocals, which made the UK Top 10 and became, in effect, Gary Moore's theme tune.. It's hard to imagine anything even remotely as musical appearing in the charts these days, but it was still possible back then. Sadly, it wasn't a commercial success Moore was able to repeat.

What was to become possibly Gary Moore's most important album, Still Got The Blues, appeared in 1990 and saw him standing his own musical ground in the company of Blues legends like BB King, Albert King and Albert Collins. It shows the regard in which he was held that they agreed to do it, let alone Moore's own self-confidence, and it cemented Gary Moore as a name to conjure with among 'serious' Blues and Rock guitarists.

In 1994, he went even closer to walking in Eric Clapton's shoes, when he became what must have been the uncomfortable sandwich between the ever-warring Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in BBM. The single BBM album was a lot better than anyone could have expected but it was a one-off.  A year later he paid the ultimate tribute to his hero Peter Green by releasing Blues for Greenie but, ever restless, he then released a couple of more experimental solo albums, before returning to the Blues again with the appropriately titled Back To The Blues, in 2001.

For a lot of players, that might have been the furrow he ploughed for the remainder of his career but Moore shocked his fans by turning to the Metal(ish) market in 2002, with the power trio Scars. With the Gibson temporarily ditched in favour of a Charvel (among others) Moore showed he could shred and grind with the best of them.

Scars may not have been his finest hour (there was always something improbable about Gary Moore in a 'big hair' type setting) but it certainly proved the scope of his abilities, though he was soon enough back with the Blues on 2004's Power Of The Blues album.

Gary Moore's career continue on its restless journey with notable solo albums and tours, many guest appearances and even a hint that he may have been about to return to a more varied style, following his final tour, in 2010, when he and his band played a wide selection of material from the past repertoire.

A new album was planned, with a short holiday beforehand in Spain before he got down to work, but it wasn't to be. On 6th February 2011, he suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep, in the early hours of the morning.

What made Moore important wasn't just that he was a superbly talented player - it was that he was one of the last of a generation that put feel above technique. Which isn't to say that Gary Moore wasn't capable of blazing speed when the occasion demanded it, nor that he lacked any of the skills needed to justify the place many accord him as one of the all-round greats, as he showed in the stint he did with Jazz Rockers Colosseum II.

Though he never achieved the recognition he deserved from mass audiences in the USA, the list of top American players who regarded him as a major artist is long and the reason most often cited is his impeccable 'touch' and 'feel'. That feel is what set him apart from most of his peers and places him alongside the likes of Green, Kossoff, Taylor and Clapton.

 

GARY MOORE AND 'GREENIE'

Was there a Gary Moore sound? Actually, there were several during his career - and though he was almost always associated with Les Pauls and endless sustain, he was also a notable Strat user at times (his choice was a red 1960) and he certainly 'had his moments' with a wide variety of other guitars including a Firebird, a Telecaster, a 335 and various models from Charvel, Ibanez, Hamer, Jackson, PRS and others. But it was always the endlessly sustaining Les Paul that was Gary's first love and his devotion was rewarded with a Gibson Signature BFG model, with an entirely appropriate 'lemon burst' colouring, reminiscent of the 1959 'Greenie' Les Paul, which will be forever associated with both Moore and Peter Green, its original owner, and which makes a guest appearance, later in this issue! While Moore might have spread his favours fairly widely among guitar makers, amp-wise he was renowned as a Marshall man, using a variety of the finest vintage heads and cabs, as well as Marshall combos, including the reissued Bluesbreaker. In our Real Gear gear feature later in this issue, it's no accident that our vintage expert, Phil Harris, chose to bring some elderly Marshalls into GI's studio, along with the original 'Greenie' Les Paul, but to be strictly fair, he could (and did at one point suggest) one of the various Fender combos Moore used on occasion and he could even (if he has one - we didn't ask) have chosen a rare Dean Markley amp. Moore was a Dean Markley string user and also used the company's amps at times (rumour has it they are about to be re-launched, so keep your eyes open for news on our news website!). But 'that sound' will forever be associated with Greenie and a Marshall stack, which is what we settled on for Phil's vintage gear demo.

Phil Harris is well placed to discuss Moore's style and influence - not least because he is currently the custodian of the Peter Green Les Paul, which we featured back in GI issue 17 when we looked in some detail at Green's guitar, which Phil played live in our studio, as he does again in this issue, this time talking about how Moore played it. If you haven't seen that original 'Greenie' feature, by the way, Click here to check it out now! 

Harris has another claim to inside knowledge as he, too, had a spell in Thin Lizzy, when he was struggling young guitarist in the early 1970s, during which time he got to know Moore well. Their paths crossed repeatedly down the years and later, when Harris had become a vintage gear specialist, it was he who sold Moore his famous 'Stripe' Les Paul, which he was still using at the time of his death, having sold 'Greenie' some years before to a collector.

Phil Harris agrees that Gary Moore may well turn out to be 'the last of a kind'. “There are great guitarists out there today - technically better than ever - but that thing that Gary had seems to have been and gone,” he says. “There's a difference in mentality and it's related to the period in which these people, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Jimi Hendrix and Gary were brought up. It's like with each generation after, the mixture has been diluted. It kicked off in the '60s and '70s and it reached a peak, for me, with Still Got The Blues, in the '80s. To me it's like playing reached a peak of that style and has since gone off at a tangent - and Gary Moore was a major part of that peak.

“He found his way with that album - he found his own direction. He played like a Rock guitarist playing Blues but he learned from that how to refine it. He could still play at phenomenal speed but he didn't do it all the time. Unfortunately, it was a direction that cost him commercially.”

The story of how Gary Moore acquired 'Greenie' was told in detail in GI issue 17, but in case you haven't read it (you haven't read it?!), the story goes that Moore had wanted the guitar badly and had pestered the far from well Peter Green to sell it to him, which Green eventually did. According to Harris, there was a suggestion that part of the deal had been that if Green ever wanted to guitar back, Moore would sell it to him, but Harris insists that Moore told him, had Green ever asked, the answer would have been 'no'.

However attached to it he may have been, in time, Moore himself sold the guitar - presumably to raise money. Which brings us back to his comparative lack of commercial success. Gary Moore may have been 'a Rock star' but he had a complicated personal life and never sold albums in the quantities needed to join the superstar elite. So the Peter Green Les Paul passed out of his hands through a series of collectors before, in one of those strange twists of fate that happen in the guitar business, it wound-up being owned by an American collector, who asked Phil Harris to act as its curator.

And now we interrupt this feature for some breaking news. Just as we were closing for press we learned that the current owner of 'Greenie' wants to sell it. So if you just happen to have won the lottery.... and no, we are not acting on commission and we will pass on messages!

Explaining why he thinks Moore, like Green, had parted with the guitar they both loved, Phil Harris says: “Gary suffered financially, doing a lot of tours just to put food on the table. He wasn't financially rewarded like some others. Ask yourself, would he have sold the family silver, which is what the Peter Green Les Paul was, if he didn't have to? No he wouldn't. He had a '58 standard, two '59s, a '57 gold top and he ended up with one Les Paul out of that lot, Stripe, which was the one he died with. But he wouldn't have sold that Peter Green one unless he'd had to”

There's no doubt that there are some fine Blues guitarists around today and no doubt some who can match, note for note, anything hat Gary Moore played. But Blues is a music of feeling and emotion, not of technique and even among those who have deliberately set out to recapture that 60s/70s/80s sound it's hard not to come away with a feeling that an indefinable 'something' is missing - however note for note they get, and however authentic the instruments they are using. Maybe Phil Harris is right and the mixture has just got diluted down the years. Maybe it needs an element of creation to, rather than just replication, to have an edge? Whatever the reason, no one has yet appeared on the scene who has anything like the 'touch' of Gary Moore, whose passing just three years ago seems a greater loss as time goes by.

GARY MOORE - THE REAL GEAR

Phil Harris, curator of the legendary 'Greenie' 1959 Les Paul once owned and used by both Peter Green and Gary Moore, kindly brought the guitar back to GI's London studio - this time to show us how Gary Moore used it. Also on show are the vintage Marshall's that were also such a part of one of the most remarkable solo sounds of recent years.

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