Individually, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson earned their keep as premier hard rock guitar players.
But when they joined forces for the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, something just clicked. Something special.
(photo courtesy of Robert Ellis/thinlizzy.org)
In their six albums together with Thin Lizzy, Robertson (above, far left) and Gorham (above, far right) carved out a unique dual-harmony guitar sound that helped catapult the band to international stardom.
Led by bassist/singer/songwriter Phil Lynott (above, center) and drummer Brian Downey (above, rear), Lizzy went on to score big with hits like “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
The band’s music — and its success — hinged largely on the two-tier guitar sound that Lynott crafted after founding guitar player Eric Bell walked away from Lizzy.
“When I came into the band from Los Angeles, Brian Robertson had a very traditional British blues style, and I had a very American way of playing, sounding and thinking,” Gorham says on Thin Lizzy’s website. “Phil really liked the idea of melding the two styles.”
“We were never afraid to experiment and try different things, or to do things in different ways,” he says. “The mantra of the band was that we didn’t want to sound like anybody else.”
Gorham and Robertson came to the band from radically different places — in more ways than one.
Gorham, a Californian who got his start with a local surf band, travelled to London with the hopes of landing a gig with Supertramp, whose lineup included his brother-in-law, Bob Siebenberg. When that didn’t pan out, Gorham started his own band — until he heard Lynott and Downey were auditioning guitar players.
Robertson, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, was just 17 at the time. But he was already an accomplished musician: He was classically trained at piano and cello at a young age. After he turned to rock, Robertson mastered guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, and went on to play with his brother, Glenn, in the band Dream Police — which later evolved into the Average White Band.
In 1974, Robertson set out to make it big in London, hoping to land a job as a drummer. Instead, he auditioned for Thin Lizzy.
Lizzy had already gained some attention. Founded by Lynott, Downey and Bell — a former member of the band Them with Van Morrison — they scored a U.K. hit with a rock rendition of the Irish traditional song, “Whiskey in the Jar.”
But friction in the band prompted Bell to walk away. Blues guitar player Gary Moore, a close Lynott friend, filled in temporarily, as he would periodically over the years for Lizzy. But Lynnot sought permanence and a harder, more unique sound.
The idea of two lead guitars was not new — bands like Wishbone Ash had gone there before. Lynott wanted to reinvent it.
Then it happened: The album Jailbreak, with the hit release “The Boys are Back in Town,” turned Lizzy into an international sensation, charting in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan.
However, Robertson’s tenure with the band was running out. He had gotten hurt, reportedly in a bar brawl, prior to the release of Bad Reputation, and had been replaced by Moore.
Robertson healed, but told the band he would not resume full-time duties. He toured and played with them periodically, most notably appearing on the band’s double-live album, Live and Dangerous. But he was done.
Robertson went on to form the band Wild Horses with former Rainbow bass player Jimmy Bain. He played with various bands over the years, including a brief stint with Motorhead, as well as playing with The Pogues and the Clash’s Joe Strummer.
Gorham remained with Thin Lizzy until 1983, playing alongside a series of replacement guitar players that included Moore, Snowy White, Dave Flett and John Sykes. He went on to play with Phenomena II and finally did some gigs with Supertramp.
Following Lynott’s death in 1986, Gorham and other former Lizzy bandmates worked to keep the band’s memory alive. This year he was part of a group of Lynott friends that released Still Dangerous, another live album from the band’s heyday.
The album features the band’s most successful lineup, with the unique two-guitar harmonies of Gorham and Robertson.
Fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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