It is almost a year since Gary Moore died at the age of 58 on February 6, 2011. Moore’s heart attack while on vacation in Spain was a shock, and took away one of Ireland’s most celebrated guitarists. In music, though, Moore had plenty of heart. An outspoken, man, Moore was a take-no-prisoners player. He never stayed long in bands and he flirted with numerous styles of music and fashion but, ultimately, Moore just loved playing guitar. And to his devoted following, he was one of the very best guitarists ever.

Moore grew up in east Belfast, Northern Ireland, where his father ran the Queen’s Hall ballroom in Holywood, a seaside resort 10 miles outside the city. Seeing the Irish showbands who played pop and country and western tunes there, Moore was soon transfixed. At six years old, Gary Moore was on stage. “I sang a song called ‘Sugar Time,’ he remembered. “That was it. I had the bug.”

Discovering the Blues

At 11, Moore had a guitar and was in his first band, The Beat Boys. He turned professional at 16 with Dublin band Skid Row, who then featured another ambitious Irishman, Philip Lynott, as singer. While Moore started playing Beatles songs and covers of Shadows instrumentals, like many of his peers, his guitar fire was stoked by the British blues boom. John Mayall and the Blues Breakers’ “Beano” album, featuring Eric Clapton on lead guitar, changed everything.

“Eric turned more people of my generation onto the blues than anyone else,” Moore once told Guitarist magazine. “I was round this guy’s house. I was 14 and couldn’t afford to buy the album. He lent it to me and, obviously, he never got it back. I wore that record out. I didn’t go out after that. That was basically the end of my childhood.”

Moore’s other key influence was Peter Green. In 1966, Skid Row supported Fleetwood Mac at Dublin’s National Stadium, and Mac guitarist Peter Green (whose work with John Mayall Moore also admired) was impressed by Moore’s playing. They struck up a friendship, and a few years later Green sold Moore his fabled 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar for just £100.

Moore made one solo album, Grinding Stone (1973), but was soon happy to accept an offer to join Phil Lynott’s newer group, Thin Lizzy. Moore stayed only briefly, but long enough to cut the solo on “Still in Love With You” on Lizzy’s Nightlife album (1974). The incoming Brian Robertson eventually made the solo his “own” on Lizzy’s landmark Live and Dangerous album, but at the time even the headstrong Robertson thought he could never better Moore.

Robertson recalled, “As it was time to record the guitar solos I refused to replace Gary’s original solos. They were the best solos I’d ever heard at that point and I wouldn’t let anyone talk me into changing that!”

Moore and Robertson eventually got to play the slow-burning song together on duelling Les Pauls, at a tribute show to writer Lynott in Dublin.

Moore moved from his brief tenure in Thin Lizzy to prog rock/jazz-fusion group Colosseum II, formed by drummer Jon Hiseman. Moore recorded three albums with Colosseum II and shredded away… but it was hardly music that was going to bring him success.

Moore rejoined Thin Lizzy in 1978, replacing an injured Brian Robertson for a U.S. tour. The 1979 Thin Lizzy album Black Rose: A Rock Legend and Moore’s solo career (with the album Back on the Streets) continued for a while in parallel. Black Rose is arguably the best “rock” album Moore ever appeared on, but it was the “solo” album Back on the Streets that delivered his signature tune.

Lynott remembers “Paris”; Moore moves to America

“Parisienne Walkways” is an odd song in many ways. The music, and that sustaining Les Paul tone, is all credit to Moore. But the lyrics and vocals were by Thin Lizzy’s Philip Lynott. And there’s nothing “French” about “Parisienne Walkways” at all. Cecil Parris was the name of Lynott’s estranged father. The opening lyric of – “I remember Par[r]is in ’49” – was Lynott’s sly reference to the father he never knew and his own year of birth.

Nevertheless, the lilting tune and Gary’s aggressively sustaining Les Paul made Moore famous, as he now had a “solo” hit. Moore moved to the U.S. and formed G-Force, an ill-fated band that lasted only one album, but then Moore embarked on a solo career. Corridors of Power (1982), Victims of the Future (1983) and Run for Cover (1985) were all successful: the latter included the hit single “Out in the Fields,” again co-written with Lynott. Wild Frontier (1987) was Moore’s homage to traditional Irish music (if roaring humbuckers were ever traditionally Irish, that is), and After the War (1989) was another guitars-a-blazing album.

Moore’s 1980s were overtly heavy rock, and he soon tired of it. “I didn’t want to end up in Hollywood having facelifts and my hair dyed blond so I could appear on my own album cover,” he said.

Still Got the Blues?

Moore’s best years started with Still Got the Blues (1990), which featured Albert Collins and Albert King as well as George Harrison. After Hours followed, which again featured Collins as well as a cameo appearance by B.B. King on “Since I Met You Baby.” “He was the nicest guy I ever worked with," Moore said of B.B. King. “There was no ego trip. It’s inspiring to be around people like that.”Peter Green, Gary Moore and the “Holy Grail” Gibson Les Paul

Moore, by then, had returned to his love of highly amped Les Pauls and mournful blues-rock. He played the ’59 sunburst Les Paul bought from Peter Green for much of the time. His love of that particular Gibson guitar and its sound culminated in Moore’s album Blues for Greeny, a heartfelt yet arguably ersatz covers album of early Fleetwood Mac tunes.

“Peter’s style of playing is just as important as Eric [Clapton]’s or Jeff [Beck]’s, but because he wasn’t around to promote himself, he was forgotten,” said Moore at the time. “The restraint and the emotional content was far above anything else at that time.”

Amidst this, Moore made one album with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. BBM’s Around the Next Dream effectively had Moore play the role of Clapton in Cream.

Subsequent releases such as Back to the Blues, Power of the Blues and Old New Ballads Blues and Bad for You Baby (2008) reflected Moore’s wish to be seen as a blues guitarist, above all else.

Gary Moore played loud and with amps cranked: on Blues for Greeny, his sound was much more aggressive than the subtle phrasing and “restraint” he so admired of Peter Green. But Moore was undoubtedly versatile: he could play blues, he could shred, he could tap. He could act the rock star, but was also a friend of B.B. King. “Parisienne Walkways” remained his “theme,” and he sometimes eked it out to extraordinary lengths.

When Moore died, Bob Geldof commented that Moore was “without question one of the great Irish bluesmen. His playing was exceptional and beautiful. We won’t see his like again.”

Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham added that “playing with Gary during the Black Rose era was a great experience. He was a great player and a great guy.”

More Moore:

Gibson Gary Moore BFG Les Paul

Great British Blues Albums