By Jeb Wright
Scott Gorham, in the interview below, states he’s ‘sporting a chubby’ over the excitement of being on the BBC’s A List.
The outspoken guitar player has reason to be getting wood, and no, it has nothing to do with a little blue pill. Another color, black, is the reason he’s with Mr. Happy, namely his band, Black Star Riders. The band has released their sophomore effort and it is another slab of killer rock and roll!
Titled The Killer Instinct Gorham and his band mates are playing rock and roll like people still care about new music from—ahem—heritage artists. People should care and the more of us old rock dudes that check out this album the more it will reach out and remind people that rock and roll, at least in this band’s DNA, is alive and well. Gene Simmons, listen up, Scott Gorham has a message for you…rock and roll ain’t fucking dead!
If this is not the hard rock album of the year at www.classicrockrevisited.com then we are in for one hell of a year! Black Star Riders are the best band out there making killer rock and roll. This one has story teller lyrics, amazing guitar-harmonies, killer guitar solos and songs that simply make you listen to them over and over and over again.
This is real rock record! It has the magical qualities of what music used to be about, but also the freshness that makes it relevant in the modern day.
It is no surprise to hard core music fans that Black Star Riders rose from the ashes of Thin Lizzy. In the interview that follows Gorham speaks of why he distanced himself from a proven band name in order to make new music. He also discusses the importance of the Thin Lizzy sound and how BSR accepts their Lizzy roots.
This is a great interview promoting a great release. As Scott says at the end of this interview, everyone should at least listen to The Killer Instinct. I say one listen and you will be buying this sucker! Yes, it’s THAT good. Oh yeah, Scott also talks some Lizzy history including that song that goes do-doo-do-do and the melodic guitar break in the classic Lizzy tune “The Boys are Back in Town.
Read it…then buy the CD by clicking here:
Jeb: Today I am talking to you, but last night I went to see Bob Seger, who fits into Thin Lizzy history with “Rosalie.”
Scott: Where did you see him?
Jeb: In Wichita, Kansas at the Enormo Dome.
Scott: He can still play places like that? Great.
Jeb: He had not been in Wichita for many years and it was a great night of music. He had a fifteen piece band on stage with him.
Scott: Just so he can pay his musicians I hope he sold it out! You are talking some high overhead.
We did this live album a few years ago and the guy from the record company guy goes, “Can you put down the songwriting info for the songs?” I said, “Yes.” When it came to “Rosalie” we had made that song so much our song with the arrangements I flat put, “Written by Phil Lynott.” It stayed that way all the way through the printing process and somebody finally goes, “Hey, this is a Bob Seger song.” I said, “Holy fucking crap!” We had to call up the Bob Seger people and apologize profusely and they said, “It’s okay, just send the checks.”
Jeb: You are out with the second Black Star Riders album titled The Killer Instinct. You were very classy not calling this band Thin Lizzy. Many bands do not have but one or two key members and they keep putting out albums and tours. You did not do that. Why?
Scott: We had so many people who thought it was a mystery why would do that. We walked away from a brand name. The record advances were easily twice as much as we got with Black Star Riders for obvious reasons. In my mind, especially, as well as everyone else in the band, it was the right thing to do.
We were thinking about it for two or three years when the question came up as to when we were going to make an album of new material. Every other band that got together did just that. We were the only ones that hadn’t done it. As the time got closer and closer to closing this thing out, and we were going to go in the studio, I told everybody, “You know guys, this has been going on for a while, but I just feel too fucking uncomfortable going into the studio and recording an album under the name of Thin Lizzy. Everything that I’ve done under that name, recording wise, has been with Phil Lynott and I am too uncomfortable to do this.” Ricky Warwick chimed in and said, “I agree with that. It would be great doing an album under this name, but I think you’re totally right.” Most everybody out there thinks it was the right way to go.
Jeb: Is it important to Black Star Riders to write music in the Thin Lizzy style? I am talking the twin guitars and overall vibe. Not all songs are like that but there is that elemental Lizzy style.
Scott: It is not a pre-meditated kind of things where we go, “Let’s go write in the Thin Lizzy vein.” That is absolutely not happening. What is happening is that people do know where we come from. It is almost like they hear the twin guitars and immediately “that’s Thin Lizzy.” Then again, people have brought songs to me that other bands have done and said, “This band sounds like you.” Really, all there was going on was a harmony guitar. We are never going to lose that tag and I don’t want to lose that tag. Thin Lizzy has been a massive chunk of my life. I don’t know what to tell you. We write the songs the way we write them and they come out sounding the way they do. We don’t try to sound like something that has already been.
Jeb: If it were no genuine then people would see through that. But, like Lizzy you have a sound, and you should as it’s you playing on this. Phil always stamped his presence over everything.
Scott: Oh, God yes, even to the point where we didn’t do background vocals, as he wanted to do all of that himself. I was like, “Fuck off, Phil. I want to sing too!” It did give it a distinctive type of sound.
For years people have said to me, “Why were not bigger in America?” It was the way we wrote the songs. No album sounded like the last album. It was the way we wrote. If we liked it we recorded it and we put it on the album. We were not too bothered if it was a heavy rock song,or a love song, we just put it on there. For the masses at large, I think that kind of confused people because we didn’t have that one sound that they were buying into.
Jeb: Take the most famous Thin Lizzy album Jailbreak. You have a song like “Jailbreak” then “Emerald” and then “Boys are Back” and then that one that goes doo do doo doo, do doo do do…shit what is the same of that song [Editors Note: “Running Back” is the title of the doo doo song]?
Scott: I know that one. Do doo do doo. Do doo do doo, on the guitar? What is the name of that? There is a song like that and then there is a song like “Emerald.” Go figure.
Jeb: That’s my point. You change dramatically on the same record let alone album to albums.
Scott: I think that’s where we lost a lot of people. They couldn’t figure out what kind of album it was supposed to be. Then again, I say that but you get a lot of people that really liked that about us. Now that I think of that I have no reason why we were not bigger in America [laughter].
Jeb: You are a key founder to Black Star Riders. I want to know how important Ricky Warwick is to the band.
Scott: He is extremely important. He’s the guy that when you come up with a riff, or a chord pattern, he goes, “I’ve got a lyric for that.” I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s where the hard shit comes in. You have to write a song in a four-minute format that means something and you have to have a melody that one can remember. That, to me, is the hardest part of songwriting. He does that time after time after time. He pretty much tells a story a lot like that other guy we were just talking about. That is where he reminds me of Phil; the actual prolific way he writes these songs that are stories. You walk away from them and know what that guy was singing about.
Jeb: He has energy about him.
Scott: He is enthusiastic like you wouldn’t believe. He’s probably the hardest working guy I’ve ever worked with. It is almost to the point to where I have to say, “Ricky, would you just calm the fuck down?” It’s actually great. Every group needs somebody like that who is piled high with energy.
Jeb: How did you meet?
Scott: The very first time I met Ricky was 1980-something and it was at the Donnington Park Festival. My wife was working with MTV and Ricky’s wife, at the time, was the girl that did Headbanger’s Ball. Her name was Vanessa. My wife and I drove down there. My wife, Christine asked me if I would give Vanessa’s husband a ride do the park, as he was playing that day. I arranged to meet Ricky in the lobby of the hotel and here comes this guy with tons of fucking hair and ink all over him and he’s got a scowl on his face. I am thinking, “Holy fuck, what I am going to talk to this guy about all the way to the site?” He turned out to be a really great guy.
Twenty years later, I get a call from Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. He goes, “You know, Scott, I’ve got a guy in here that I’m producing. As soon as I heard his material I immediately thought of your guitar style. Would you be willing to fly over and play on a track?” I said, “I could do that. Who is the guy?” He goes, “His name is Ricky Warwick.” I said, “No shit? I’ve met Ricky and he’s a nice guy. I will fly over and do it.”’ When I got there Ricky’s hair had changed and he’s the guy that we know now. I did the one song and I did the one song and I had such a great time with hit I ended up playing on something like five of his songs. I was impressed.
Jeb: Joe was supposed to produce The Killer Instinct.
Scott: He was. During the embryonic stage of this new album he came to us. He said, “Listen guys, I would love to produce your second album. I’ve got the studio. I’ve got the know-how and I’ve got the kick ass engineer. What do you think?” We said, “Yeah that sounds great.” We’ve all been friends with Joe for decades and we knew it would be a really kick ass situation. We would be in the studio with this really competent guy, who has had a lot of success and he’s got his own studio. Hell yeah.
What happened is that the fucking guy’s band, you may have heard of them, they are called Def Leppard. They got their first record deal, the first one they’ve had in years. The record company threw a boat load of cash at them and told them they needed a release by such and such a date, which meant that they needed to record right in our time frame. He couldn’t apologize enough and we were a little cheesed off. What it did is pave the way for Raskulinecz, who I thought was just a killer find as a producer.
Jeb: Is The Killer Instinct just an album title or is it an attitude?
Scott: It’s a total attitude. As Ricky puts it, it is not a negative attitude. He told me he was watching a Mohammad Ali documentary and one of the journalists said, “Ali, if you would not have been a boxer what would you have done and would you have been any good at it?” I am paraphrasing here but he said if he was bagging groceries at Safeway, or a librarian or a garage mechanic he would have been the best at it because he has the killer instinct and that’s what it takes to get to the top. You have to have the killer instinct to want to be the best that you can possibly be. Ricky heard that and he thought that was really cool. He wrote a lyric around that with that same attitude and title.
Jeb: How long did the album take to write? You had an album less than two years ago. You’re working at a Thin Lizzy pace!
Scott: It seems like it, doesn’t it? The good thing is that there are three or four writers in the band. Everybody has something on the boil at any given time. There always seems to be enough material and we are never rushed into a corner. It has never been like, “Oh gosh, we’ve got to write another song fast.”
Ricky is so prolific with the lyrics that has never been the anchor. We’ve never had to throw the anchor to wait for someone to come up with lyrics. So far, I am crossing myself right here, so far it hasn’t been an issue coming up with material, which is completely opposite than it was with Lizzy. We had a lot of times we walked into the studio and said, “So, have you got a song?” “No, I thought you had some songs?” It happened a lot.
Jeb: A lyricist has 26 letters to make combinations with. A guitarist has but seven notes. How do you use those seven notes and not repeat yourself?
Scott: You don’t! You just disguise it a little bit. You’re absolutely right and that is a really great question. There is a little bit of smoke and mirrors and disguising what you’ve already played before, in a different way with different sounds. You’re always looking for another melody line and you’re trying to pull another one out of your ass to see if you can make it work. We all repeat ourselves. You watch any guitar player who is out there and you can see the repeat. That is why I am against really long guitar solos because it’s too easy to play the same fucking phrase nine times. Its like, “Come on man, end this thing.” You know what I mean?
Jeb: I do. The challenge, of course, is that you willingly took away a big brand name in Thin Lizzy. At least the fan base knows what’s going on but you do have to rebrand yourself. You’ve made your mark.
Scott: You just want to do it. Ricky and Damon [Johnson] have not yet and they are just blown away with what’s going on. We are getting great reviews for this album and we’ve just been added to the A List for BBC radio, which has never happened to Ricky or Damon. They are riding on a high right now and it is actually fun watching these two guys. They are just springing a full blow fucking boner the whole time. That is how I was back when it first started happening with us. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a bit of a chubby going on with myself, as it’s been a while since I’ve been on the charts with our own stuff. I think it is exceptionally cool that after all of these years I can do it again. It is what keeps you going.
Jeb: America is tougher nut to crack.
Scott: It always will be. Right now we have to rely on news coming over from Europe. Hopefully there is a lot of word of mouth kind of thing going on. They can watch videos that we’ve done and read the reviews. We can then come over and make little stabs. We can’t afford, as a band, to go over and do an eight week tour, that’s not going to happen.
Jeb: Now that you have two albums will you still play Thin Lizzy songs?
Scott: We put some of the Lizzy things in there. The cool thing is that now that we’ve got two albums we’ve got a lot more Black Star Riders material to play. We still sneak in four or five Thin Lizzy songs, knowing these are the songs that everybody wants to hear. Every once in a while we will stick one in to make people go, “What was that?” We like to get a bit of a reaction out of people. Maybe we will put in that one that goes, “Do doo do doo, do doo do do” [laughter].
Jeb: The rock nerds like me would like to see you put in a 21 Guns song.
Scott: Wow! I would love to do that, but if you do that then you’ve got to do an Almighty and a Brother Cane and then it goes ape shit crazy.
Jeb: I heard you started out life as a bass player.
Scott: I did. I absolutely did. When I was 13 years old and we started our first band and we were called The Jesters…we had the boy guitar genius and he was going to be in our band. His name was Steve Schrage. He was 13 also and he was on his fourth guitar teacher as he kept going past them and he’d have to get another guy. We had the school drummer from the school band and I think we had a saxophone player from the school band. I wanted in so I said, “What can I play? I want to be in this band?” Steve said, “You can play bass.” I said, “Okay, great! What’s that?” Steve would give me guitar lessons. He would show me the names of the strings. He showed me my first bass run that I used on absolutely everything. It took off from there.
Jeb: How did you graduate to the six-string?
Scott: I just wanted more spotlight and more chicks! [Laughter]
Jeb: That’s funny.
Scott: My father, when I was nine, for Christmas he gave me a really cheap-ass nylon string acoustic guitar. It was a dust gatherer from hell. It never got played. After a few years, I might have been 17 or 18 years old, I started looking at it and picking it up once in a while and picking things out. I started to really get into it. One day, I just became really good at it and I just said, “I am now a guitar player.” To be honest with you, when I came over to England I had only been playing guitar about three years. What the hell was I doing in England?
Jeb: Wasn’t there a Supertramp connection with you?
Scott: Bob Siebenberg married my sister. They moved over to England and within about 18 months he had joined this thing called Supertramp. I think they had a couple of albums out before he joined, but they were failures.
Jeb: The crappy ones.
Scott: [laughter] Not the greatest efforts. They were pre-Crime of the Century. Bob had to fly back to get his Visa redone. I told him to stay with me and he stayed with me for about two weeks. He said, “You’ve got to listen to this.” He handed me this cassette of the demos for Crime of the Century. I listened and it was such a cut above everything that he and I had ever done in Glendale. I told him it was amazing. He said, “Man, I think I could get you into this thing.” I went, “Great.”
It was a great motivator to get me to work really hard to get some cash to get the plane ticket, but it just flat out took too long. By the time I made it to England Supertramp were already sorted out, personnel wise. It was cool. I think if I am really deadly honest I think if I had joined Supertramp I don’t think I would have learned a thing guitar-wise. If you look at it, it is a real guitar player’s graveyard.
Jeb: You were the guy that got closer to Phil Lynott than anyone else. What was it about you to make click like that?
Scott: It was just flat out down to personality. Brian Robertson was the Scottish hard man who wasn’t going to take any shit from anybody. If it wasn’t shit then he wasn’t going to take it. He wasn’t about to toe the line even thought he was as green as I was at this thing. I wanted to learn everything there was to learn. I was like, “Phil, what have you got? Show me.” Brian came along with the attitude, “I already know how to do this.”
Gary Moore was an odd fish anyway. Nobody actually really got close to Gary. To give you an idea, we were in the Bahamas doing some recording once. Phil and I were in the pool sunning ourselves and here comes Gary. It is like a hundred degrees and Gary comes out dressed in black and his skin is totally white. He’s sitting under an umbrella. We are like, “Gary, come on jump in the pool.” He was just, “No, no I don’t want to do that.” It was him keeping himself apart from what was going on.
At that point, Gary didn’t drink and Phil and I drank and we went out and partied all the time. After a while we knew not to even give him a knock on his door when we were going out. It was things like that. Phil and I used to pal around all the time and do stupid things together and have a laugh. It was a real easy hang.
Jeb: You still miss him.
Scott: Oh God, yeah. When he died it was a crushing blow to me. He was literally one of my best friends. I don’t know if you’ve lost anybody like that, but if you have you know what I am talking about.
People ask me, “When you play a Lizzy song on stage are you thinking about Phil the entire time?” You don’t want to say, “No.” I don’t walk around thinking of Phil 24/7. He’s only been dead thirty fucking years! You don’t want to say that because it makes you sound really callous. Those kinds of thoughts left years ago.
There are times where you talk about him and you remember great things that you did and there are great stories. They guys in the band are always asking my about things and about what Phil was like. It never really goes away. I don’t want it to go away. You are, but then you’re not thinking about the guy.
Jeb: How much of a concentrated effort did you all take to making that Wishbone Ash twin-guitar thing and putting it into popular music? It is something you still do today in Black Star Rider. Was it a concentrated effort or was it more organic?
Scott: The latter. In fact, it was an accident, really. We were in the studio and we were doing the Fighting album, I think. Brian Robertson had gone in to record just a single line. As he was playing, the engineer had left on this delay that had this millisecond of feedback on it. It fed back in harmony. The engineer goes, “Shit, I am so sorry about that.” Phil and I looked at each other and said, “That’s kind of cool. I want to hear that.” He played it back and we liked it.
Brian went to redo the line and while he was doing that I was figuring out the harmony notes of what he was playing. I walked up and I played the harmony notes to that line. I said, “You know something, I have another line in the song. Why don’t we do the same thing in that?” We did and it came out great. We were not thinking it was a style at that point but the more we did it and the more albums it actually went on then you started to read from different journalists who were reviewing the album say, “The patented Thin Lizzy twin-guitar harmony sound…” Brian and looked at each other and said, “Holy shit, we’ve got a sound!”
Jeb: Black Star Riders’ first album had “Bound for Glory” which was kind of the signature song. Killer Instinct has one too called “Finest Hour.” Talk about that song.
Scott: It is the new single over here in England. We were in Cambridge rehearsing. Ricky was thinking this would be too big of a jump into the pop world. He played me the acoustic skeletal version of “Finest Hour” and I am listening to this and it put a big ass shit-eating grin on my face. Even in the acoustic version I loved it. I told Ricky that we had to do that song. I told him it was a green light for this album. It is one of those songs that you can’t help but like. It has that good feel to it. I am so glad that he wrote that and we put it on the album.
Jeb: You could have named the album Hooks. This album has a ton of hooks.
Scott: It has more of them than the last album. I think everyone is more comfortable with each other and the writing. No one is worrying about things so much. We can do different songs and no one is going to slay us for it as long, as we do it right. There are plenty of good hooks on this album; you can’t not like a good hook.
Jeb: Who is the genius behind the album cover art theme?
Scott: Well, I suggested the theme bit. The Killer Instinct title was going to be there. People would come to us with pictures of wolves, or there would be a guy in the shadows with a knife. Each time I would think, “That is shit.” I just said to Ricky, “Why don’t we do this like a theme. We can carry the cover on from the first album. This will be BSR2 cover design-wise.” He loved that and he got the artist in on it and it went from there.
Jeb: What is the next step? This one is not out but I am asking do you think a live album might be next?
Scott: To be honest to God, we will just have to wait and see what happens. We have to see the lay of the land and let the dust settle after this one. So far, the record company is just ecstatic with what we’ve given them. Nuclear Blast has never had a band that made the BBC A List.
To think a third album, that is a bit of a no-brainer that we will be doing a third. That is a good question. Do we do another studio album, or do we do a live album? The amount of material being written in this band makes one wonder if a live album may seem a bit of a waste on the talent side. You could always do a live album as an interim kind of thing. We’re pretty good live, so we could pull it off [laughter].
Jeb: Last one: Tell me who wrote the little melodic run in “The Boys Are Back in Town?”
Scott: That was a combination between Brian Robertson and me. Phil got to the point in the song that all he said was, “We need a guitar bit here.” I was like, “Okay.” I think it started out with Robertson doing something that was not going anywhere. I got what he was talking about in that kind of arena.
[Drummer Brian] Downey was playing a shuffle on the drums, so I went and did the run and then Brian went and put on the last part. We were going, “That’s good. That works.” It was a combination.
We finished it and then just forgot about the song. We didn’t pick that as a single. The record company didn’t know what to do with us, at this point, as the first two albums were total, absolute failures. That particular song, “The Boys are Back in Town” is a song that two deejays in Louisville, Kentucky absolutely fell in love with and played to fucking death, so much so that the surrounding areas caught onto it and deejays from other stations started playing it in a wildfire sort of manner. It just sort of broke out of Louisville. It really caught the record company with their fucking pants down, as they didn’t know what to do. They were like, “Holy crap, we’ve got a hit! Where did this come from?”
If any record company guy ever comes to you and says that he broke that song , you tell him that is bunch of bullshit. It was two guys from Louisville, Kentucky that did that.
Jeb: Did you get to thank them?
Scott: Oh hell yeah. We played in Louisville while they were hot-dogging this song and we bought them drinks and got them good and drunk.
Jeb: Make a final comment about the new album The Killer Instinct. What do you want people to know?
Scott: I want people to actually listen to this album. We think the production is great on it and there is a lot of great playing on it. It would be a shame if it was one of those albums that got left under the rug. I don’t toot my horn very often, but I really do think this is one of those albums that people have got to listen to. We all think it is really cool.
You’re there in Wichita. Man, tell the radio station to play that fucking song! We are really proud of this album. Even if you don’t buy it I would really like people to just have a listen and to see what they think.
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited