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Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy

Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy embodied several elements that set them apart from the pack in their time and have made them one of the more long-lasting influences and unique presences in rock music. Led by singer/songwriter/bassist Phil Lynott, they combined insightful and intelligent lyrics of the working-class experience with harmonizing twin-lead guitar attacks that punctuated both the sturdy construction and unexpected catchiness of the songs. Also, as a Black man, Lynott was an anomaly in the nearly all-white world of 1970s and '80s hard rock, and as such imbued much of his work with a sense of romanticized alienation; a self-styled poet of the lovelorn and downtrodden. Beauty, celebration, simple joys, and eternal questions all combined into something as unique as it was exciting on landmark Thin Lizzy albums like 1976's Jailbreak (which featured their international hit and calling card of a tune "The Boys Are Back in Town"), and they soldiered on into the '80s with increasingly musically complex efforts like 1983's Thunder & Lightning. Lynott died in 1986 at the age of just 35, but various iterations of Thin Lizzy regrouped as early as the late '90s, moving through the ensuing decades as a way to keep Lynott's songs alive and pay tribute to his legacy.

Lynott formed Thin Lizzy in Dublin, Ireland in 1969 with his childhood friend, drummer Brian Downey, and guitarist Eric Bell. Their 1971 self-titled debut, 1972's Shades of a Blue Orphanage, and 1973's Vagabonds of the Western World all featured this lineup, and saw the band quickly evolving from a pub-ready blues rock style into a more guitar-centric sound that complemented Lynott's increasingly strong narrative songwriting. The next year's Nightlife marked the introduction of new twin guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson to the band, and the material on the album took a turn away from hard rock and more toward soulful, subdued songwriting. The band fully came into their sound on 1975's Fighting, which was their first album to crack the charts in the U.K. Lynott's thick, soulful vocals were the perfect vehicle for his tightly written melodic lines. Gorham and Robertson generally played lead lines in harmonic tandem, while Downey (a great drummer who had equal amounts of power and style) drove the engine. Lizzy's big break came with their next album, 1976's Jailbreak, and the record's first single, "The Boys Are Back in Town." A paean to the joys of working-class guys letting loose, the song resembled similar odes by Bruce Springsteen, with the exception of the Who-like power chords in the chorus. With the support of American radio, the song became a huge hit, enough of a hit as to ensure record contracts and media attention for the next decade. Also released in '76, seventh studio album Johnny the Fox was written and recorded while Lynott was recovering from a hepatitis episode that was bad enough to disrupt the band's touring for Jailbreak. It would be the final album where Robertson was a vital part of the band (he played minimally on the next year's Bad Reputation, but was effectively out of the band by that point), with whom Lynott was having more and more creative and personal differences.

Never the toast of critics (the majority writing in the '70s hated hard rock and heavy metal), Lizzy toured relentlessly, building an unassailable reputation as a terrific live band. Lead guitar players came and went quickly, however, with Gary Moore, Snowy White, and John Sykes all taking turns filling the role on tours and albums that took the band rockily out of the '70s and into a new decade.

By the mid-'80s, resembling the dinosaur that punk rock wanted to annihilate, Thin Lizzy called it a career. Lynott recorded solo records that more explicitly examined issues of class and race, published a book of poetry, and sadly, became a victim of his longtime abuse of heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, dying in 1986 at age 35. In 1999, Thin Lizzy reunited with a lineup featuring guitarists Scott Gorham and John Sykes, and keyboardist Darren Wharton, which was rounded out by a journeyman rhythm section of bassist Marco Mendoza and drummer Tommy Aldridge. The quintet's ensuing European tour produced the live album One Night Only, which was released in the summer of 2000 to set the stage for a subsequent American concert tour. For many years to come, various line-ups of Thin Lizzy toured, almost always including at least one member with a connection to one of the Lynott-led variations of the band. Although the band performed their early catalog regularly into the 2020s, no new material was recorded under the name Thin Lizzy following Lynott's death out of respect for the band's central creative voice. ~ John Dougan & Fred Thomas

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