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Members included Eric Bell (born September 3, 1947, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; left band), guitar; Brian Downey (born January 27, 1951, in Dublin, Ireland), drums; Scott Gorham (born March 17, 1951, in Santa Monica, CA; replaced Bell), guitar; Phil Lynott (born August 20, 1951, in Dublin; died of heart failure resulting from acute blood poisioning and pneumonia, January 4, 1986; married Caroline Crowther, 1980; children: Sarah, Cathleen), vocals, bass, songwriter; Brian Robertson (born September 12, 1956, in Glasgow, Scotland; replaced Bell; left band, 1978), guitar.
Phil Lynott, described in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul as a "brash black musician-poet from Dublin," founded Thin Lizzy in 1969 along with drummer and childhood buddy Brian Downey. The label "poet" stems from Lynott's early attempts at verse, which received some serious attention in Ireland. (Readers also found poetic sensibility in books of Lynott's lyrics that were published later.) As for Lynott's band, it would have to wait six years to chart an album--a record aptly named Fighting, given Thin Lizzy's struggles to find stable personnel and success.
Growing up black in Dublin proved relatively free of racist difficulties, according to Lynott, though presumably life in a Catholic working-class neighborhood raised by a single mother-- Lynott's Brazilian father deserted his son at age four--provided trials enough. Although he was for a time a fairly serious boxer, Lynott soon found, as he told Rolling Stone in 1978, that "the tough guy with the thick ear wasn't getting the chicks, while your man up on stage seemed to be doing okay." The observation was not misleading. That same year the British tabloid the Sun crowned Lynott "the superstud of rock."
Rejecting the ring for a musical career brought Lynott to London in the early 1970s, where he did encounter some prejudice because of his skin color. In 1973 Thin Lizzy secured a Number Six hit with a rock version of the traditional Irish tune "Whiskey in the Jar." The band, wishing to avoid being pegged as a folk-rock cover group, did not allow this song to be included in Vagabonds of the Western World, an album that came out later that year.
Thin Lizzy had already endured the record-buying public's apathy toward two earlier albums, their 1971 debut effort Thin Lizzy, and the following year's Tales from a Blue Orphanage. Vagabonds unfortunately followed suit, despite a more traditional "rock" sound. These mediocre sales strained the band's willingness to stay together. After guitarist Eric Bell collapsed on stage during a New Year's Eve show and quit the band, a series of guitarists took a swing at the job. No one seemed to work out, and for a time even Lynott's childhood friend Downey quit Thin Lizzy.
Finally Lynott settled down with Scotland's Brian Robertson and a Yank, Scott Gorham, from Los Angeles, thinking that perhaps two guitarists could equal the departed Bell. Downey returned and Thin Lizzy entered its most successful period. Robertson would stay with Thin Lizzy until 1978--although he was forced to miss a 1977 U.S. tour after suffering a cut hand in a London club brawl.
Thin Lizzy scored big with their 1976 album Jailbreak. The record did well on both sides of the Atlantic, going gold. A single from this album, "The Boys Are Back in Town," received much airplay and hit Number 12 on the U.S. charts and Number Eight in the U.K. The following year saw the release of Johnny the Fox, an album that was well received in Britain but fared poorly in the States. A follow-up U.S. concert tour folded early after Lynott contracted hepatitis. Thin Lizzy's constant touring of Britain had helped to establish a loyal fan base there--something which, perhaps from difficulties like Lynott's illness, the band could never quite do stateside.
Lynott's lyrics, as suggested by the title of Thin Lizzy's biggest hit "The Boys Are Back in Town," often concerned male bonding. As one Rolling Stone writer noted, some of the band's songs were "replete ... with comic book heroism." Aggression and violence interested Lynott, and his songs reflected that. He claimed the music and raucous concerts were a release from violence that young men, including himself, might otherwise wreak on society.
Part of that anger came from the limited economic opportunities that England offered to working-class kids. Later, hard rock as a protest vehicle gave way to punk rock. Lynott's interest in this new music found expression in his participation in a side band called Greedy Bastards, which dabbled in less commercial waters. Gary Moore of Colosseum played guitar in Greedy Bastards and also wound up playing with Lizzy on concert tours.
But internal dissension plagued Thin Lizzy. Spats with guitarist Brian Robertson caused him to depart for a solo project. He did not return for months. The insufficiently attended 1977 U.S. concert tour stressed the band. Lynott realized that Thin Lizzy was too good to open for someone else but not a big enough name in the States to draw a crowd on its own. He told Rolling Stone that Americans weren't happy unless they could pigeonhole a band; perhaps, as some critics have suggested, Thin Lizzy simply failed to develop a sufficiently distinctive sound for U.S. ears.
record label, Mercury, feeling the company partly to blame for spotty American showings. The band's final Mercury product was the 1977 album Bad Reputation. Thin Lizzy then signed with Warner Bros. and quickly turned out the 1978 concert album Live and Dangerous, which struck English gold within two weeks of its release, hitting Number Two. The following year yielded a studio effort, Black Rose-- A Rock Legend. A U.S. tour ws again somewhat jinxed when band management fired new guitarist Gary Moore. Midge Ure was flown in from London to act as a temporary replacement.
Subsequent Thin Lizzy releases on the Warner Bros. label included 1980's Chinatown and 1981's Renegade. Chinatown's "Killer on the Loose" caused a British stir following the Yorkshire Ripper killings. However, Warner had come in on a fading comet--U.S. popularity seemed to have peaked with the band's mid-'70s albums Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox, although subsequent efforts continued to sell well in the U.K. During this time, Lynott struck out on his own, releasing the 1980 album Solo in Soho. It reached Number 28 in Britain.
Thin Lizzy disbanded in 1983, 14 years after its inception; Lynott felt the group's music had grown predictable. Thunder and Lightning from that year was the band's final studio effort. Lynott then tried to form a new band, again with his childhood friend Brian Downey, but the two failed to secure a recording deal. Lynott also attempted another solo effort, but that too was unsuccessful. On Christmas Day, 1985, he fell into a drug- and alcohol-induced coma. After ten days, he died of liver, kidney, and heart failure complicated by pneumonia and acute blood poisoning.
Various Thin Lizzy compilation albums continue to appear in Britain, where a taste for the band was always strong. In 1991 a "best of" album reached Number Eight there. Despite this lingering interest, Thin Lizzy never attempted to re-form and hit the road in self-tribute, although they did play a single concert in 1986. This one-time performance was a tribute to the recently deceased Lynott, who was clearly the band's inspiration.
by Joseph M. Reiner
Thin Lizzy's Career
Thin Lizzy founded in 1969 by Lynott and Downey; first album, Thin Lizzy, on Decca, 1970; Jailbreak, released on Mercury in 1976, made the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic; group disbanded, 1983.
- Selective Works
- Thin Lizzy, Decca, 1971.
- Tales From a Blue Orphanage, 1972.
- Vagabonds of the Western World, Decca, 1973.
- Night Life, Polydor, 1974.
- Fighting, Mercury, 1975.
- Jailbreak, Mercury, 1976.
- Johnny the Fox, Mercury, 1977.
- Bad Reputation, Warner Metal Blade, 1977.
- Live and Dangerous, Warner Metal Blade, 1978.
- Black Rose--A Rock Legend, Warner Metal Blade, 1979.
- Chinatown, Warner Metal Blade, 1980.
- Renegade, Warner Metal Blade, 1981.
- Thunder and Lightning, Warner Metal Blade, 1983.
- Life--Live, Warner Metal Blade, 1984 (recorded pre-breakup).
- Dedication: The Very Best of Thin Lizzy, Mercury, 1991.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books, 1991.
- Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.
- Periodicals Audio, December 1991.
- Billboard, May 29, 1976.
- Rolling Stone, June 17, 1976; January 27, 1977; September 21, 1978; February 27, 1986.
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