Phil Lynott was never a household name in the U.S., remembered largely for the Thin Lizzy hits he penned during the band’s heyday — most notably “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Dancing In The Moonlight.”
But don’t tell that to the legion of followers who remain loyal to the Irish-born rocker a full 25 years after Lynott’s death at age 36.
Recent years have seen the resurgence of Lynott’s legacy, with his mother and several friends spearheading a campaign that has seen the release of rare cuts and led to the 2005 unveiling of a bronze statue of Lynott in his hometown of Dublin.
And while Lynott was Thin Lizzy, his former bandmates have now revived the band.
Obviously, the bassist/singer/songwriter must have done something right.
Lynott’s childhood was fraught with obstacles. The product of a racially mixed affair — something frowned up on in post-war Ireland — Lynott was raised in part by a single mother and by his maternal grandmother.
He emerged from it with a drive to succeed and a knack for both music and poetry. His poetry would emerge as Lizzy lyrics, and his musical bent had him playing in local bands by the mid-1960s. One of his early bandmates was Brian Downey, who would man the drums for almost all of Lynott’s musical life.
The two would later team up with guitarist Eric Bell, forming Thin Lizzy’s first lineup. They quickly scored with an unexpected tune, the traditional Irish ballad “Whiskey In The Jar.” The song not only hit it big in the U.K., but got airplay in the U.S. as well.
But just as the band seemed poised to break out, Bell quit mid-show. Lynott and Downey had to regroup. Determined to avoid a repeat, they opted to hire two lead guitarists.
With Californian Scott Gorham and Scottish guitarist Brian Robertson, Lizzy found a signature sound that would propel them to worldwide acclaim.
The band’s first release as a unit was “Nightlife,” followed by “Fighting,” a harder-edged release. Yet it was their 1976 album, “Jailbreak,” that pushed them to the top. The album included the international hit, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” which they followed up with “Bad Reputation,” the album that included “Dancing In The Moonlight.”
The acclaim sent Lizzy on world tours during which they established themselves as a premier live act. But things soon started to change.
“Bad Reputation” marked the end of Robertson’s tenure with the band, with longtime Lynott friend Gary Moore filling in on stage and in the studio. Moore would join Lizzy at various times over the years, and worked with Lynott on solo projects as well.
In all, Lynott and Lizzy released 13 albums, as well as solo recordings that began with Lynott’s “Solo In Soho,” released in 1980.
The band’s waning success would also take a toll. Lynott’s substance abuse became more obvious — and more damaging — by the early 1980s. Thin Lizzy disbanded in 1983, with Lynott moving into solo work and other musical projects.
His body beaten by drugs and alcohol, Lynott collapsed on Christmas Day 1985, and was rushed to a local hospital. He died on Jan. 4, 1986, at just 36.
Several posthumous recordings have since followed, as well as tribute releases. Lynott’s former bandmates, including Downey, Bell, Moore, Gorham, Robertson and keyboardist Darren Wharton were all on hand for the ceremony at the Lynott statue unveiling.
Today, Downey, Gorham and Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, play under the Lizzy banner.
ThinLizzy.org also released “Still Dangerous,” a collection of unreleased cuts from a 1977 concert at Philadelphia’s Tower Theater.
It’s kept Lynott’s legacy alive and well, a full quarter century after his death.
(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)
Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LHListeningRoom