Despite sad end, bluesman Gary Moore still remembered as ‘an inspirational player’

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Those who played with Gary Moore remembered his furious ingenuity rather than his sad passing, as news broke this week that the legendary guitarist died a year ago from alcohol poisoning.

Moore, who came to early fame as a member of Thin Lizzy, later established a celebrated career in the blues. But Greg Lake — an original co-founding member of both King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer — says that was just the beginning of the guitarist’s boundless versatility.

“He’s not really blues,” Lake told us, talking about their collaborations on a pair of early-1980s solo albums. “He played the blues, but he chose that as a career. In truth, the spirit of Gary Moore is Irish. That was not the music he played professionally. But when you hear him play sort of an Irish jig or a ballad, it would break your heart.”

Otis Taylor, another long-time collaborator, echoed Lake’s sentiments: “Gary could play any kind of music — Irish music, jazz,” he said. “People don’t know how talented he was a guitar player. He could play anything. If it had stings on it, he could figure it out. He was one of those people.”

A medical report confirmed the details surrounding Moore’s sudden death during a vacation in in Spain on February 6, 2011. Tests revealed Moore had nearly 10 percent more alcohol in his blood than the official fatal limit when he died. No traces of any illegal drugs, however, were found — though the toxicology report says the father of three had been been abusing alcohol for years. He was 58.

Taylor eventually worked on three albums and toured extensively with Moore: “It was a real experience,” Taylor told us, in a recent interview. “I learned about touring at a high level — and how to be a diva. I learned that promoters weren’t treating me good enough! (Laughs.) I learned a lot about touring. They traveled with their own chefs!”

After his career-making stint in Thin Lizzy (highlighted by 1979’s Black Rose: A Rock Legend, featuring “Waiting for An Alibi” and “Do Anything You Want To”), Moore enjoyed a successful run as a solo artist, and also appeared with George Harrison, Ozzy Osbourne, B.B. King and Jackson Browne, among many others. He kicked off a final period focused on American blues music with 1990’s star-studded Still Got the Blues.

In many ways, Lake’s very first experience with Moore remains the most indelible — the day the guitarist laid down a solo on the 1981 track “Love You Too Much”: “Gary walked in with his guitar, and I’ll never forget it: He had a leather overcoat on and the amplifier was already set up in the studio for him. He said, ‘Can I get set up?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ I opened the studio door for him, and he went in and opened his guitar case, he took out the guitar and plugged it in then he just said: ‘Can you run the track.’ So we thought, ‘Straight away? Maybe he’s got somewhere to go.’ It seemed like he just wanted to get on with it. So we ran the track, thinking he was going to do a rehearsal. But I always press the record button. I always do it. You never know what you’ll capture the first time around. What you hear on the record is Gary’s first time through the song. He’d never heard it before.”

A life-long musical connection was made, one that many fans — having seen the guitarist display that same kind of off-handed virtuosity, night after night in concert — instantly shared with Moore, as well.

“That was all pure instinct, absolutely pure instinct,” Lake enthused. “When you listen back to that track, knowing that, you really get a feel for good he is. Look, it’s only a 12-bar, but the way he interprets the lyrics as they go down live? He’s just hearing it, and he playing his part – and that was it. End of story, job done. I was absolutely knocked out by that. I said to Gary: ‘We’ve got to work together. You’re such an inspirational player.’

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Gary Moore. Click through the album titles for more …

GARY MOORE – BACK TO THE BLUES (2001): Plenty of blues rock guitar gunslingers out there only understand the blues as filtered by the likes of Clapton and Jimmy Page. Moore goes much further back than those guys to get his knowledge of the blues form, and it comes out on his highly amplified axe every time. There are few spots where he makes the connection between his brand of hard-rock blues and the vintage Delta stuff more clear than on this original.

GARY MOORE – BAD FOR YOU BABY (2008): When Moore is in a blues state of mind you always know what you’re getting: blazing hot, arena-sized guitar licks, a scowling vocal and hard-rocking renditions of blues covers or songs that could easily be mistaken for such. You can put Bad For You Baby in a sack with the other ten or so blues-themed records he’s done since 1990’s Still Got The Blues, mix ‘um up and pick most any of them and not detect any change in the presentation. They’re all pretty predictable but they’re all consistently good, if not outstanding. A favorite: the James Gang groove of “Umbrella Man.”

GARY MOORE – CLOSE AS YOU GET (2007): A mixture of originals and familiar standards, as well as mood and intensity. The originals generally best the covers, even if they sound more than a little familiar. For some, Moore’s vocals is an acquired taste, but his sneering, flexible vocals fit the songs just right to our ears. He has, in several ways, led a career with many parallels to Eric Clapton, even if he is little known on these shores. A technically sound guitarist who made his mark in a famous rock band, shows command of a variety of styles, has had a considerable solo career, and even formed a power trio with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce with the short-lived BBM.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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