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Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back!

By Lisa Sharken, New York Contributor
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 @ 6:05 PM

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Thin Lizzy was formed in 1969 by bassist/frontman Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey. Guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham both joined the group in 1974, establishing what was to become the classic lineup. Together, they developed a signature twin lead guitar style that was first heard on the 1975 release, Fighting.

Gorham recently had the opportunity to comb through the archives in Lizzy's vault and emerged with a very rare gem — an unreleased live concert recording from 1977. Legendary producer Glyn Johns was enlisted to remix and remaster the tracks. This endeavor has resulted in a new Thin Lizzy album called Still Dangerous.

Gorham told us about his experience after discovering these tapes and also explains the significance of this particular show during a turning point in Lizzy’s career. Although the acclaimed 1978 compilation, Live And Dangerous, is revered as one of the greatest live rock albums ever, Gorham believes that Still Dangerous is simply a better portrayal of Lizzy in action and captured just as the group was poised to conquer the world.

KNAC.COM: How many other shows did you listen to before selecting this one?

GORHAM: I think I’d only listened to one other. The box said “Philadelphia 2” and I wondered what that meant. There were a lot of things labeled with working titles that bore no resemblance to the end product. There’s one I did remember because the working title for “The Boys Are Back In Town” was “G.I. Joe.” So I knew what that one was, but I didn’t know what “Philadelphia 2” was. I called the ex-manager, he remembered it and explained. What you’re listening to is a radio show we did in Philadelphia called “The King Biscuit Flower Hour.” It was the one show that everyone wanted to do. We played two nights and this is the second. The first night was broadcast and included the “King Biscuit” audience, where people just show up no matter who’s going to be playing. We asked to play and record a second night, but we specifically wanted to advertise it as a Thin Lizzy show because we wanted our fans there. So this is that second show.

We had just finished recording Bad Reputation and we’d been offered a three-month arena tour in the United States. We had a huge fan base, and a few hit singles and albums in Europe. But over here, we had one song, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and one album, Jailbreak. That’s all America knew about Thin Lizzy. So this was going to be the tour to break us in America. We knew how we were playing — we were on top of our game and woe betide any band that has to follow us because we’re going to kick your ass! That’s the attitude we always walked out with. In listening to these tapes, we had the attitude, but we also had the chops.

We thought that before going out on an arena tour, we needed a two-week warmup period. So that’s what this album is from. What you’re actually listening to is Thin Lizzy road-testing these new songs to gauge audience reaction and see how well we play them. Do we have them in the right order in the set or are we killing the flow? That opening song is a brand new song, mid tempo, straight out of the bag. I don’t know what was going through our heads because we never did stuff like that. This was a big experiment to see what kind of reaction we’d get. It was really cool to sit in the studio listening to this and remember what was going through our heads at this point in time. Whether that set list would have stayed the same when we got into the arenas is under pretty heavy debate. I really doubt if we would start off with a song like “Soldier Of Fortune.”

KNAC.COM: Is what we hear the actual running order of the set and a bona fide live show?

GORHAM: Yes. That’s what caught my attention. We’ve started out with “Soldier Of Fortune! What I loved about it is that it was so different for Lizzy. We never had started a show with a slower song like that, but it was cool!

KNAC.COM: Was there anything from the show that was left out?

GORHAM: There was stuff that was recorded and left out, but it was because two of the reels were destroyed. We’re not quite sure how it happened. When we put them on, it sounded like somebody had put their fingers on the spool or something was leaning against it as it was recording because it was slow and warbled. I panicked! But there was no fixing it. It was dead and there was nothing we could do about it. So this is the show and I’m sorry we lost the two other reels.

KNAC.COM: There are two extra songs included on the vinyl release of Still Dangerous but are not on the CD version. Why is that?

GORHAM: These were new songs from the Bad Reputation album that we had just finished recording. The four new songs are “Emerald,” “Bad Reputation,” “Dancing In The Moonlight” and “Opium Trail.” For some reason, “Emerald” and “Bad Reputation” aren’t on the American version, but did make it on the British and Japanese versions, and on the vinyl. I was a little cheesed with that. And there would have been more if those two reels hadn’t been destroyed.

KNAC.COM: What condition were the tapes in when you discovered them?

GORHAM: We had to bake all these tapes we found. Whether they specifically needed it or not, we did it anyway as a precaution. There were a few that we were wondering if we should even try to pick up. After we baked everything, we got it all into a digital format to save this stuff because it’s Thin Lizzy history and we knew it was disintegrating.

KNAC.COM: Was Pro Tools software used to mix and digitize the tracks or did you combine some of the old-school methods and modern recording techniques to bring out certain parts when doing the mixes?

GORHAM: We only used Pro Tools to transfer the tapes into a digital format. Glyn Johns was adamant that we do this on an analog board, but we didn’t actually work within Pro Tools. I’ve known Glyn for quite a few years and I know all the classic stuff he’s worked on. Even though he’s my friend, I’m in the studio looking at Glyn thinking that here we’ve got this legendary producer that’s come up with all these legendary sounds, this classic band, Thin Lizzy, and a recording from the ’70s. What a great marriage! I was so happy that he wanted to come out and do this.

KNAC.COM: How did you persuade Glyn to come out of retirement for this task?

GORHAM: Don’t use the “r” word! He will be so angry at the “r” word. I apologized to him for that because the press release did say that I brought him out of retirement. Now what Glyn does is he only works on things he absolutely wants to work on. He doesn’t go out looking for jobs. Fortunately, I’ve known Glyn for about eight years now. We play golf together, we go out to dinner, our wives know each other. And he’s the one that had kept saying that we really have to do some Thin Lizzy project. His idea of what he wants to do is to take a few of the studio albums, cherry pick a few of the songs, strip them down and remix them all, and make that into an album with the Glyn Johns mix on them. I actually love that idea. I think that’s such a great idea of having Glyn do that. But we haven’t progressed far enough into it to do that kind of project yet. But when this opportunity came up, and knowing he wants to work on something Thin Lizzy, I went to Glyn. He jumped straight on it and had the studio booked. The next thing I knew, I was sitting next to Glyn, who I only knew as my friend before this, and now he’s Glyn Johns the legendary producer and I’m actually watching him do all his hands-on work. So it was really cool for me to watch what he does.

KNAC.COM: When you listen to this show, does any one song stand out because of the band’s performance that night or the way it was received by the audience?

GORHAM: The song I really liked on this was “Massacre,” and for one particular reason — Brian Downey’s drumming. Sometimes you tend to forget about each individual guy because you work with them so much. But when you take a long break and you’re able to sit back and listen objectively, you realize, “Wow, man! This guy was kick ass!”

KNAC.COM: Looking back on the entire catalog of Thin Lizzy’s recordings, which song do you feel truly defines the band?

GORHAM: Well, I think a song that really says what Thin Lizzy is all about is “Emerald.” It’s got the melodic lines, it’s got the power, it’s got the right kind of lyrics. I’d say that was a pretty good example of Thin Lizzy’s personality. You know, Thin Lizzy was a strange band. It’s not like we had one sound from point A album to point Z album. It didn’t work like that with us. We didn’t give everybody that familiarity from album to album.

KNAC.COM: Describe Thin Lizzy’s songwriting process. Did someone typically come in with an idea or did songs evolve out of jamming together?

GORHAM: Very few things came out of jamming. Very rarely would you see four names credited for writing a song. Usually, the way it happened was somebody would come in with a riff or a portion of a song idea and ask what the other guys thought of it. You play your idea or riff and invariably, somebody would say, “I’ve got a bit that will fit perfect with that,” or “How about if we throw this in there?” At that point, everybody started to dive on that particular song. Sometimes there would be songs where two people liked it and the other two didn’t. So two people would end up working on it and taking the lion’s share of the writing on that. You’d have to kind of drag everybody along on that song. But that’s usually how it happens. Phil would bring in something and ask, “What do you guys think of this?” It could be just a verse or a vocal line, or he would have half a song and we’d all dive on it and finish it. On a few occasions, he would actually have the whole song written, and at that point, you’re adding your bits on top of that song. So there were a lot of different combinations of ways that we actually wrote the songs. I don’t think there was ever really one system that we stuck with. I know one thing for sure — if at some point anyone ever said, “Hey, you know, that kind of sounds like…” Bang! That song definitely got thrown out off the bat, which was a killer. Sometimes you’d walk in thinking you’ve really got something and then someone would just innocently say, “You know, that kind of sounds like such-and-such band.” That was it for that song. The song got trashed and you’d be all depressed for the rest of the day.

KNAC.COM: Did you ever try to rework something if it was good but had been thought of as sounding too much like another band or another song?

GORHAM: That did happen a couple of times also. We were so into making this our sound and not sounding like anybody else. Maybe we kind of cut ourselves short by doing that. But what can I say? That’s the way we worked. I hope that maybe these days people can try to appreciate what we were trying to do. I’ll admit that some of the end product that we came up with, I listen to it today and wonder what the hell were we thinking about when we were recording that. But for the most part, I can go back and I can listen to a few things and go, “Wow! I don’t remember doing that, but that was actually pretty cool!” That’s always fun to do.

KNAC.COM: Have you discovered any other audio or video tapes to consider for future release?

GORHAM: After we get done with the extensive Lizzy tour, I’m going to grab an engineer, go back into the studio and see what we’ve got. I’d love to find some old film that somebody had the foresight to save. It seems like there’s potential for a lot of stuff in there. So at some point, it’s going to be really fun to sit in the studio just to see what’s going on. I’m hoping to find outtakes from the studio albums, or songs that were finished and not included on albums. Let’s find out the reason why. It’s going to be fun just to see what’s there.

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