Thin Lizzy's Gary Moore (1952-2011)

For an artist whose career spawned such wide-ranging diversity and whose circle of collaborators included some of the biggest names in rock, Gary Moore never became more than a cult hero outside of his native Britain. Yet the news of his passing this past Sunday while on holiday in Spain -- initial indications are that the 58-year-old musician succumbed to a heart attack -- has brought him a measure of posthumous appreciation that escaped him in life.

A brilliant guitarist who considered himself a disciple of Fleetwood Mac's iconic ax master Peter Green, Moore was equally adept in blues and heavy metal and won a small but devoted following based in both realms.

Moore's on-again, off-again tenure in Thin Lizzy was an auspicious addition to his lengthy résumé, and it remains the band with which he's most often identified. He first became associated with Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott in the very early '70s, when he joined the hard-rock group Skid Row (not to be confused with the American hair band of the same name), an early Irish outfit that employed Lynott in its lineup. Despite a pair of albums and assorted singles, Skid Row never gained much traction, and both Moore and Lynott parted ways early on. 

Lynott would first taste stardom when Thin Lizzy scaled the American charts with its single "The Boys Are Back in Town," a signature song that eventually became an enduring anthem. Propelled in part by the band's dual guitar leads and Lynott's defiant vocal, it purveyed a blue-collar attitude that celebrated that most common of rock 'n' roll excesses, namely, going out, getting frisky, and tearing up the town. It made them perennial favorites throughout the '70s (Universal Records is prepping expanded rereleases of two of their albums, Johnny the Fox and Jailbreak, both due later this month) and allowed Lynott to cultivate his own aura of personality; as a black man, and a black Irish man to boot, he was an anomaly in the whitewashed world of British rock 'n' roll. Still, he struck a singular distinctive image and proved the perfect frontman for the band's insurgent outpour. 

Moore's role in Thin Lizzy was fleeting, encompassing one song on the album Nightlife, the bulk of their critically acclaimed LP Black Rose, a good portion of the concert set Live/Life, and a partial presence within the usual array of obligatory compilations. Bolstered by a subsequent solo hit, "Parisienne Walkways," he left the band in the mid-'70s only to rejoin in 1979 before abruptly quitting again, this time in the midst of an American tour.

Still, the bond between Moore and Lynott never fractured completely, and the two continued to work together even after Lynott launched his own solo career.

Sadly, Lynott succumbed to the usual rock-star indulgences -- a combination of heroin, cocaine, and booze -- in January 1986 at age 35. Various Thin Lizzy revivals were attempted, but without its charismatic frontman, it remained only a shadow of its earlier incarnation. 

Moore, meanwhile, enjoyed a prolific period throughout the '80s and '90s, teaming up with such luminaries as ex-Cream members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, drummer Cozy Powell, Albert King, Albert Collins, George Harrison, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and the prog-rock outfit Colosseum. He also pursued a successful solo career, garnering legions of adoring guitar geeks in the process. 

Whether Moore's passing will be linked to anything more than medical causes remains to be seen. At age 58, with no apparent previous maladies, the rock 'n' roll lifestyle certainly seems a suspect. If there's any comfort to be derived from his unexpected demise, maybe it's the fact that Gary and Phil may find themselves united at the forefront of heaven's ever-growing rock 'n' roll choir... that is, if Hendrix and Janis don't mind ceding the spotlight.

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