Gary Moore, 1952-2011

Gary Moore in 2010, by Vlad Archic via Flickr (Creative Commons license)I don’t know why I had rediscovered Gary Moore in the last few months. But having recently added a few of his more recent CDs to my collection and enjoyed them tremendously, it was especially surprising and sad to hear of his untimely passing.

I was an avid listener and admirer in the 80s, when Moore — fresh from gaining recognition as a ‘metal’ guitarist by touring with Thin Lizzy — released a string of albums that featured a blend of hard rock (certainly not metal in any sense that we have of it today) and slow, melodious, meticulously crafted ballads that made him the king of slow dancing and hanging out in bars well after last call everywhere.

When the sun set on this kind of ‘power rock’ in the late 80s/early 90s, Moore reinvented himself by releasing a string of straight-up electric blues records which came during an otherwise dark time for this kind of blues rock (Clapton had gone all soft and poppy, and the 90s blues revival had not yet started). Cleverly, Moore included one or two of those trademark ballads each time, and I think those contributed handsomely to each album’s bottom line.

As the music industry changed sweepingly and irreversibly in the 90s and any hope of renewed mainstream success faded for Moore, he continued to release new electric blues records every two years or so. These are truly fine albums, hard-edged and yet emotionally differentiated. Their idiomatic familiarity in no way detracts from how accomplished they are; Moore surrounding himself with fine players, often pushing the power trio format to its limits.

The songs — some covers, many originals — all sound immediately as if you’ve known them your whole life. In the blues genre, this is of course not an indictment but actually a recommendation, an indication that an artist is fully immersed in the idiom and the literature. While Moore is not often recognized as a vocalist, he was an accomplished white blues singer, at least on par with legends like John Mayall or Peter Green (who he was friendly with in the late 1960s, and whose green Les Paul he played on 1995’s Blues for Greeny, a tribute to Green).

As a guitarist, Moore is peerless in a sense. He has a warm yet cutting tone, loud and assertive but never flashy (every note he plays seems to express his disdain for 80s lead guitar excesses à la Eddie van Halen). Often, his solos remind me of the kinds of things Richie Blackmore played in Deep Purple in the late 60s/early 70s.

Above all, Moore’s guitar solos have an unfailing, elegant and emotionally precise sense of melody. Listening to him solo always provides a pleasurable sense of suspense: of course you know where he’s going to end up, but exactly how he gets there is remarkable every time. A criticism that other listeners might level at him is that he doesn’t work hard enough at steering clear of cheesiness, especially in the ballads. But what’s so strangely satisfying about them is that he’s fully committed to their melodic inevitability and wrings every last bit of emotion from them. And he did know how to rock plenty hard, as evidenced by some of his recent work in his ‘rock’ touring three-piece, Scars (with Skunk Anansie’s Cass Lewis and Primal Scream’s Darrin Mooney; video here and here).

I think Gary Moore had a dedicated following and toured frequently, either with his ‘blues’ or ‘rock’ trio. Unfortunately, not many of his 80s hard rock fans made the jump from headbanging to appreciating his later blues albums, and in North America, Gary Moore never had any chart or radio success. As a result, the vast majority of the media coverage of his untimely passing at the age of 58 (from a heart attack, while on vacation in Spain) essentially described him as a guitarist in Thin Lizzy, which leaves out about 90% of the story.

Here is a selection of my favourite Gary Moore blues albums of the 2000s:

Gary Moore Bad For You Baby
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Gary Moore Close As You Get
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Gary Moore Back To The Blues
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Gary Moore Power Of The Blues
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