"I lost my mind when I got the gig."
That's Ricky Warwick, former vocalist/guitarist for THE ALMIGHTY, on being asked in 2010 to join the new and, as it turns out, altogether brilliant incarnation of the legendary THIN LIZZY by long time guitarist Scott Gorham. Which was, of course, a no-brainer decision. Several years of road dog touring later, the band got down to discussing the possibility of and need for a new Thin Lizzy record. The fans had embraced the new band with Warwick standing in for the irreplaceable Phil Lynott, so why the hell not? Of course, one doesn't simply pick up where Lynott and Lizzy left off 30 years ago (with Thunder And Lightning) without taking long, hard repeated looks in the rear-view mirror and questioning the wisdom of doing so. In the end songs were written, music was laid down, and the band decided to leave the past where it belongs as far the Thin Lizzy legend is concerned, opting to release the new album All Hell Breaks Loose as the BLACK STAR RIDERS.
Before getting in to the why and how of the Black Star Riders, Warwick is gracious enough to recap how he came to front his dream band even though he's taken on the question a gazillion times since getting the gig. The story has lost none of its fire for him in its re-telling.
"Basically, what happened was is I've known Scott for many years, back from when I was in The Almighty in the '90s. I did a solo record in 2002 and Scott payed guitar on a few tracks for me. So, he knew me well, he knew what I sound like, and when he was putting Thin Lizzy back together again he sort of had everybody except a singer. He was talking to Joe Elliott (DEF LEPPARD) saying that he couldn't find anybody to sing, and Joe asked him 'Have you thought about Ricky?' Scott's reaction was pretty much 'Fuck, why didn't I think of that?' and I got the phone call from out of the blue. It was like 'Here's what the story is, here's what I want to do; do you want to sing?' (laughs)."
"I describe it as winning the musical lottery. Thin Lizzy is the band I idolized my whole life, and I was given the chance to stand up there on that stage to play and sing those songs. You'll say yes to that without even thinking about it. After I said yes and put the phone down, then I thought 'Shit, what have I taken on? Phil is such a legend, he's iconic, he was the greatest frontman in rock n' roll, how am I going to pull this off?' But, instead of freaking out I lived with it for a couple days and thought about how I as a Thin Lizzy fan would want to see the band presented. But, it never stops being surreal. It's surreal every day and it will be for the rest of my life."
"I never take it for granted," he adds. "The honour is as huge now as it was when I got that phone call. And there have been moments where I'm standing there, I look over and there's Scott Gorham, there's the Thin Lizzy backdrop behind me. I have to be careful because there are moments where I'm off in dreamland thinking 'Oh my God, I'm fronting this band, I have to put on a show.'"
"It's a dream come true, absolutely. It really is, and it's been an honour and a privilege to be involved in it."
Adopting the Black Star Riders moniker rather than continuing to hit the bricks as Thin Lizzy is a ballsy move. Sure, it's a massive sign of respect to Mr. Lynott's legacy by choosing not to cash in on the Thin Lizzy name, but Warwick & Co. are also toying with career suicide by, in essence, pushing themselves as a brand new band on a largely spoiled and jaded music scene.
"It was really one of those things that... we started writing the songs, there's so much going through everybody's mind because it's such a huge thing because it would have been the first Thin Lizzy album in 30 years. I think our respective guts were saying to us 'It's going to be great...' one day and 'Maybe this is a step too far, using the Thin Lizzy moniker...' the next. Certainly for me, I was really wrestling with my conscience on this because I'm a huge fan. We all had a discussion and we all kind of blurted out that they were feeling the same way. That started the ball rolling, where we agreed that the new songs were great but we should put them out under a different name."
The band hasn't looked back since, and there are no regrets.
"I think doing things the other way would have been far more detrimental," says Warwick. "A lot of people just wouldn't have accepted it if we put the album out as Thin Lizzy, and I think this way it's almost like a new beginning. It's created something... if you told me at this time last year that we'd be having this conversation I'd be wondering 'How did that happen?' but in four short months Black Star Riders is everywhere. It's phenomenal, and it was the correct decision. It's certainly a weight off my mind and I can actually get back to being me a bit more."
For all its Lizzy-isms, so-called newbies Warwick and guitarist Damon Johnson did the bulk of the writing on All Hell Breaks Loose and managed to turn out a record pretty damn faithful to the back catalogue they've been serving up on stage for the last few years.
"Scott came in with two or three of those killer Gorham guitar riffs," Warwick laughs, "so between the three of us we covered it all. It's such a unique situation. I've been living and breathing Thin Lizzy my whole life, and in the last three years it's consumed my whole life. And I'm such a fan of Phil's style of writing that it's just part of who I am now. It's ingrained in me and I can't deny it. I've never learned so much from a dead guy in my life (laughs). It's absolutely nuts. It's like Phil is there teaching me along the way. I've learned more in the last three years than I've learned in the last 25 years in the industry just from absorbing Phil's style of writing. Of course it's rubbed off on me, and it's something I don't want to lose. I want to retain that as we move forward."
"It's the same with Scott. He's Scott Gorham. and when he picks up a guitar and plays it, it's going to have that Scott Gorham sound everyone knows and loves from Thin Lizzy. I've heard people say 'Oh, we didn't expect Black Star Riders to sound so Lizzy-ish...' Well, what did you expect? How could it not? We've kept all the old ingredients and we're adding new ones along the way as much as we can, but we'll never lose the foundation of what Black Star Riders, which is Thin Lizzy."
Warwick inists that at no point during the writing and recording for All Hell Breaks Loose did the band consciously reference Thin Lizzy's previous albums. There was no push/pull to channel a specific era of Lizzy's past and no second guessing the new material.
"We wanted to keep the Lizzy spirit and vibe, and write in that vein. That was the only thing we were really conscious of. If anything, Scott was going the other way and we were like, 'Dude, you can't do that; stop denying who you are...' (laughs). A song like 'Bound For Glory' is Thin Lizzy, totally, but songs like 'Bloodshot' or 'Valley Of The Stones' are, for me, quite far removed from Lizzy. It's all about trying to strike a balance, but we didn't overthink it too much. We wanted to write catchy songs, big choruses, really melodic, and great guitar riffs."
Black Star Riders have wasted no time getting out on the road for the new record, ripping up the pavement in Europe while this was going to press. Warwick comfirms that Thin Lizzy still exists, but only as a here-and-there live band. From now on, the Riders are the top priority for everyone involved.
"We're touring constantly, and that's the main reason why Brian (Downey/drums) and Darren (Wharton/keyboards) aren't with us in Black Star Riders. They didn't want to do the amount of roadwork that we're already doing, and they've earned that right. That's fine with us. Myself, Damon, Marco (Mendoza/bass) and Scotty, we're the guys going 'How long can we stay out there?' We're the road dogs, so we'll tour as much as we can. Thin Lizzy might do a few one-offs if and when we get offers coming in, but there will be no more touring. But the Black Star Riders thing will probably dictate that as well because we're very focused, and we put a lot of time and effort and belief into this. We're very committed to seeing this through."
Fans can expect to hear the Thin Lizzy classics in any given Black Star Riders set, however...
"Absolutely," Warwick assures everyone. "People will be expecting that and we want to do it. We can go out there and play eight or nine songs and do six or seven Thin Lizzy songs as well and that's the beauty of this for me. We get the best of both worlds."