Talks guitars, amps and playing to Tony Bacon
Gary Moore seems to shrug off group lineup changes as an inevitable fact of life and when you've played around as much as he has, it's an understandable reaction. He first came to notice as the lightning-fast guitarist at the centre of Dublin band Skid Row in the early 1970s, and since then his fluid guitar tones have enlivened groups like Colosseum II in the later 1970s, and two versions of Thin Lizzy (recording Night Life in 1974 and Black Rose in 1979 with them). He's played on countless sessions too, including work with Rod Argent, Eddie Howell, Cozy Powell, Greg Lake, and even Andrew Lloyd-Webber. He's also recorded his own albums - Grinding Stone in 1973, Back on the Streets in 1978, G-Force with his group of the same name in 1980, and, with the latest line-up of the Gary Moore Band, Corridors of Power at the end of 1982.
A couple of reshuffles result in this current line-up: Moore, plus Don Airey (keyboards), John Sloman (vocals, keyboards), Neil Murray (bass), and Ian Paice (drums). Moore's aim is to achieve compatibility among the players in his band. As he explains: 'Obviously Don Airey I've worked with quite a lot before, in Colosseum II and he also did a lot of my solo things — we've got a very good musical rapport. So I knew he'd work out pretty well. John Sloman, apart from being a real good singer, also plays keyboards, which gave us that extra bit of scope from two keyboards if you want to do something with a sort of orchestral kind of sound. What I really look for is that I get off on their playing and get excited by playing with them — that's really all I can say.'
Corridors of Power was produced by Jeff Glixman, most noted for his work with US band Kansas, and Moore acknowledges the American leaning of the Corridors sound. His guitar needed little modification in the studio — backing tracks went down at Air London, overdubs and mixing at the Townhouse — but nonetheless some trickery was employed at various points in the basic track-laying.
I'm happy with my guitar sound pretty well,' he explains, 'and if the producer can get what I'm getting and put it on tape, that's the hard part. Sometimes you have to do a lot of things just to contain that kind of sound, because it's quite a big guitar sound, a pretty wild kind of guitar sound to capture just by sticking a microphone in front of it.
There are things you can do — mainly microphone positioning, and the kind of microphones you use. They're not usually the most expensive microphones — sometimes Jeff used cheap microphones and stuff and got a very live kind of sound on it. We did a lot of silly things — one we did was to play the guitar back through one of the Studer copying machines which has got a little baby speaker on one side of it, and miked that from a distance to get this really funny kind of tight sound. We did that on the intro of 'End of the World', when the lead guitar comes in at the very start of the fade-in thing, there's a line that comes in with this very small, tight sound. You couldn't really get the same sound from amps.'
If you've seen Gary Moore live in the last year or so you'll have noticed that he's favouring a Strat these days, winning out over his trusty old Les Paul. 'I've got into playing the Strat more at the moment,' he says, 'I've been playing it for about a year now, it's become my main guitar I s'pose — it's the one I'm most comfortable with. And on Corridors I went for a harder kind of sound with it, I didn't go for that very distorted Van Halen kind of sound, I sort of eased off on that a bit and went for a more metallic guitar sound, on purpose, because it's a little more distinctive, it doesn't sound like every other guitar, it's a little bit cleaner but with enough attack to it.
'The trouble is that too many people use a Strat and then they disguise it so much that it ends up sounding like a Gibson anyway. I wanted to try to get a cross between the two, bringing out the quality of the Strat but making it dirty at the same time. Because a Strat has a definite punch to it that you can't get off a Les Paul — it's not just a top-end thing, it's a definite physical punch that you can get. When you get that just right it's a great sound, very clangy but with an edge to it. I mean it's not like the Shadows — it's kind of closer to some of the early Hendrix stuff, without the fuzz, when he'd do some stuff with his rhythm parts — a big, clangy, meaty guitar sound.
"WHAT I REALLY LOOK FOR IS THAT I GET OFF ON THEIR PLAYING AND GET EXCITED BY PLAYING WITH THEM - THAT'S ALL I CAN REALLY SAY."
'On the album I just used the treble pickup, but on the gigs we've been doing I've got more into using different pickups for different sounds, messing about, just to vary it a lot more. Because it's like anything, you're playing every night and you get bored using the same settings ail the time. I'm always trying to improve on the thing.'
Moore's had this 1960 'pink' Strat for about 18 months now, although he went for about six months without playing it as it needed a good reworking, most notably a refretting. The Strat turned up as the result of a shopping trip that Gary and Greg Lake made to Kingston in south London one day. 'We found it in a shop called John King's,' he remembers, 'Greg tried it out but he didn't like it because it had a few scratches on it — he likes his guitars to be real immaculate.
And I said, well, you're not going to get one like this that is immaculate, they stopped making them in '62, and on most of them the paint's worn off so you can't get that particular colour. I said, if you don't want it, I'll have it, very calmly, trying to control myself! 'It's great, it's the best Strat I've ever had — it's the best Strat I've ever played, I think.
I've had loads, but they've always been real wanky ones. I think the more Strats you get the more you get into them. You realise how good they can be. All the ones I've had before have been you know, off-the-peg ones that you can pick up anywhere. This one's special, like my Les Paul.'
"...A STRAT HAS A DEFINITE PUNCH TO IT THAT YOU CAN'T GET OFF A LES PAUL - IT'S NOT JUST A TOP END THING, IT'S A DEFINITE PHYSICAL PUNCH THAT YOU CAN GET."
The Les Paul takes second place now to the Strat, although Gary uses it currently at the end of his set — on songs like his hit 'Parisienne Walkways', which was recorded with the LP and doesn't feel right on anything else. 'For that long sustain,' Gary reckons, 'it's just built for that. I can do it on the Strat, but I don't think I trust the Strat to go that far through a set without breaking a string. I have this nightmare about breaking a string in the middle of 'Parisienne Walkways' on my long sustained note, that would sound like pure poetry!
'I've had the Les Paul - it's a '59 Standard — about eight, nine years. I bought it from Peter Green, it was his original Les Paul, the one that played 'Albatross' and all the Fleetwood Mac hits, back as far as John Mayall, 'Hard Road', and all that. I was working in Skid Row in Dublin and he sort of took me under his wing and had his management sign the band up. And shortly after that he left Fleetwood Mac and asked me if I wanted to buy the guitar — he sold it to me for like nothing.
'Also, when I got the guitar from Peter Green, Eric Clapton's Les Paul had been stolen during the making of the Bluesbreakers album and he'd given Peter the case cos he didn't need it any more. So I had the case from Clapton's Les Paul for a while! But that got nicked — and nobody knows where that guitar is.'
Gary has a number of other guitars, although he certainly doesn't go about acquiring axes with a collector's mentality: 'I like to have guitars that I can use for something, I don't want to have them lying around as investments and all that shit.' Among the more interesting things he has are a few Charvel instruments, built by Grover Jackson in Los Angeles. They're all basically Strat-shaped guitars, but with humbuckers rather than single-coils. You may have noticed Allan Holdsworth using similar guitars. One particularly disgusting guitar Moore had made by Charvel at one time boasted a leopard skin front — 'a joke really,' he says — which eventually came off the guitar following a recent scissor attack. 'I use the Charvels from time to time,' he explains, 'but I've made up my mind that what I want to do now is buy another old Strat and just take that on the road as a spare for the pink Strat. Cos I've been using the Charvels as spares for the Strat, which is really wrong. I have my equipment set up for the Strat, tone-wise, and you plug a Charvel in and it's a lot more powerful. They've got all kinds of shit on them: Di-Marzios, Seymour Duncans... just because they're humbuckers they're a lot more powerful. So you have to run over and switch all you tones around and mess it all up — you haven't got time to do that really, so you end up with a bad-sounding guitar on two or three songs. I'd rather have another Strat, plug it straight in.'
"WHAT I WANT TO DO NOW IS BUY ANOTHER OLD STRAT AND JUST TAKE THAT ON THE ROAD AS A SPARE FOR THE PINK STRAT."
Which brings us to amplification. Gary's a pretty strict Marshall man although there have been a few modifications lately, and a rather out-of-character growth in the effects department. Over to our man with the glowing bottles. 'I use a whole different setup now than what I did for Corridors. It's now split to two Marshalls, basically: one's dry and one's got effects on it. But it's not split in stereo. What happens is I go from the guitar through an Overdriver into the first amp via a splitter box, and out of the splitter box also comes a lead which goes back through all the effects pedals and echoes into the second amp. But the second amp is on all the time, so even when the effects aren't on I've still got a dry signal coming through the second as well as the first amp.
'So you don't get that thing of having your echo split stereo, where when you switch it on all of a sudden another 100 watt Marshall comes in and knocks your head off. It's just a more balanced thing. I used to do it the other way, but I could never get along with the stereo effect. So I've got the full 200 watts all the time, and when the effects come on it's only on one side, so that for out-front the guy can mix the effects as he wants. For instance, if I put too much echo on and it's a very ambient kind of hall, he can back off on that but I can still hear it on stage. So it's a more sensible set-up really.
I'm using quite a lot of effects at the moment, believe it or not. I normally don't go in for a lot of effects. I've been experimenting with a few more on this tour because I just fancied getting some different sounds, but I wouldn't bet my life that I'll be continuing to do it. They can be a bit of a problem. I'm using a flanger, an octave splitter, and a chorus pedal — they're all Boss pedals. The chorus I only have because the chorus on my Chorus/Echo isn't very satisfactory to me, it's not kind of intense enough, so I use the pedal in place of that — the only thing I use on the Chorus/Echo is the repeat effect itself, and sometimes the reverb.
'The flanger, chorus and octave splitter are external things. I've also got a volume pedal, which I use for violin effects and stuff now and again. But the thing is even though I've got all those things there I don't use them much. I think I use the flanger once all night, and the chorus about twice. If you use them all the time you may as well not have any, it sounds like shit, and also you disguise everything you do — which is probably a good thing in some cases. But I like to get the notes to come out.'
"I'VE ALSO GOT A GRETSCH TENNESSEAN, WHICH I HATE. IT WAS ONE OF THOSE IMPULSIVE BUYS THAT I NORMALLY DON'T GO IN FOR.. I'VE ALSO GOT A COUPLE OF TAKAMINE ACOUSTICS, FROM JAPAN, QUITE A NEW COMPANY."
But wait! Still some more guitars we've missed! 'I've also got a '55 Les Paul Junior which I bought from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. It looks like crazy paving on the front of it, all cracked. He kind of left it in my flat once, just chucked it against the wall. It was there for six months and he never bothered to come back, so I said I'd buy it off him, and he says (adopts a London-ish accent) "Oh all right then". And I have a 1955 Gibson ES5, it's beautiful, blond finish, hasn't got a scratch on it. I bought it from Greg Lake.
It's a real nice guitar for playing around with at home, you know — taking it on stage would be ridiculous. It's one of those guitars you just hang on to. It's got three volume controls, no switches, it's sort of like a weird set-up, three of those black P90s and a master tone control, three volume controls, and that's it. They made a Switchmaster version after, but this is the old one. It's nice, a great sound.
'I've also got a Gretsch Tennessean, which I hate. It was one of those impulsive buys that I normally don't go in for. I think I'm gonna flog that and get another Strat. I've got a couple of Takamine acoustics, from Japan, quite a new company. They're like an Ovation set-up, electric-acoustic, but they've got bass, treble and volume controls up on the neck joint, all separate. And the jack socket is where the strap is, it looks really funny because you see a jack plug sticking out of the strap, very weird. I use them in the studio — I don't really play any acoustic on stage. If I do then I'll take them on the road. I used them on the album, on Always Gonna Love You and a couple of other things, just in the background — they're in there somewhere!'
Gary feels that his technique changed most markedly while he was with Colosseum II (roughly 1975 to 1977), when he developed his picking style. 'I got into the picking thing then much more, instead of playing with one hand. Up until then I'd been playing very orthodox sort of rock guitar. But I got more into the John McLaughlin thing and all that, I really had to strengthen my picking technique. It was because of the kind of direction I was going in musically, I couldn't have coped with the lines and stuff if I hadn't been able to have got that picking technique down a bit better.
'It's not totally orthodox picking technique anyway, because I'm a left-handed person but a right-handed guitarist. If you try to develop your picking with your weakest hand it won't be the same as other people play it, you'll find that it stiffens up after a point, and that you start using your arm for leverage. It doesn't really hold me back because I've still got the speed on the picking.'
But he's always been the sort of guitarist who'll go for a break, rather than laying back and analysing his scales and modes. He's a rocker rather than a technician, although his playing skills are founded on undoubted expertise. In our closing discussion on other players, I mentioned Al Di Meola as an example of the 'technician' approach to guitar playing — technique rather than feel? 'Oh yeah, it is,' reckons Gary. 'Everything he does is academic, really. It's like a classical player's approach, if you like, cos that's what he originally was. He adapted that to the electric guitar. And whatever it is he does it's his style and it's really great for what it is. But I just find it very dead and a very sterile kind of style. Shame, cos what he does technically... if he just had a bit of depth to it, it could be fantastic. He should I get a pair of jeans and stuff — he had palm trees on stage when I saw him, and fans blowing to get this exotic atmosphere, and he just stood there, sort of a contradiction in terms.'
So who does Gary like now? 'I still like Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Peter Green. Eddie Van Halen's first couple of albums were really great, and then after that it just rather went downhill a bit, I think everyone agrees with that really. He sort of did it all on the first two albums. Unless he gets into a different format and starts playing a different kind of music I think he'll get very stagnant. But I've heard that he goes out and plays with Allan Holdsworth and stuff, jams with him. So he realises it.'
Moore remains a guitarist to be seen playing live. It's in the sweat of a stage show that he shines, Strat poised and Marshalls steaming — he's no big fan of studios, as he says: 'So dead, you know? No-one's gonna give you a standing ovation if you do a good take.'
Interview by Tony Bacon
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