Gary Moore’s 1990 album, Still Got the Blues is next up in our series of classic blues albums. It was the most successful album of Moore’s career, selling over three million copies worldwide and heralded a change in direction for the guitarist and a return to his blues roots. It featured collaborations with Albert King, Albert Collins and George Harrison and reached No. 83 on the Billboard 200 in February 1991, and then was certified gold by the RIAA on November 1995.
Moore was from my home town, Belfast, but I only saw him perform once, on June 26, 2004, in the Belfast Odyssey Arena. His was the stand-out performance of seven in support of Bob Dylan, in a production that began around 2 pm and lasted until about 10:30. I really couldn’t be bothered with the other performances, to tell the truth, but Gary Moore was outstanding. (Dylan was on form that evening as well, in fine voice, with an excellent band and a fan-pleasing set that included an acoustic version of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Like A Rolling Stone, and All Along The Watchtower.)
Moore straddled the stage, legs apart, guitar slung low, hair cascading to his shoulders, like the guitar-god he was and gave us nine of his greatest hits, including Oh Pretty Woman, Still Got the Blues and his signature tune, Parisienne Walkways. The guitar playing was sublime and his facial contortions all we hoped for. “People make fun of me for doing that,” he said, “but it’s not contrived. When I’m playing, I get completely lost in it and I’m not even aware of what I’m doing with my face – I’m just playing.”
Reputedly, Moore was a modest man with few pretensions, who kept a low public profile and was happiest at home in Sussex. Typical is what he said of his gigs with Dylan on that tour: “At the Odyssey in Belfast, I tried to walk up the steps at the side of the stage to see who was in Dylan’s band. The bouncer said ‘You’re not allowed up there!’ and that was the end of that. The stage was quite high and I couldn’t really see, so I spent the next 20 minutes jumping up and down to get glimpses of what was going on!”
But he was an incredible guitar player – voted one of the greatest guitarists of all time by Total Guitar, but egregiously absent from Rolling Stone’s flawed list of 100 Greatest Guitar Players.
Gary Moore was born in Belfast in 1952, but left just before Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” started in 1969, going to Dublin to become a musician. His dad had bought him his first guitar, a second-hand Framus acoustic, when Moore was 10 years old. Though left-handed, he learned to play the instrument right-handed and by 15, he was the best guitarist in his home town. After stints with Skid Row and Thin Lizzy, he began his solo career in the 1970s, playing hard rock and heavy metal before returning to the blues with Still Got the Blues as the 90s began. The idea for the album had come when it had been jokingly suggested to Moore than he do a whole blues album after being heard noodling the blues in his dressing room on a previous tour.
The album got made and the rest, as they say, is history. Still Got the Blues was extremely successful and re-launched Moore’s career as a blues rock artist. Moore followed it up with After Hours in 1992 which went platinum in Sweden and gold in the UK, and then three years after that with Blues for Greeny, a tribute album to his friend and mentor Peter Green. A slew of other blues albums appeared in the 2000s – Back to the Blues (2001), Power of the Blues (2004), Old New Ballads Blues (2006), Close as You Get (2007), and finally Bad for You Baby (2008). Sadly we lost Gary Moore in 2011 when he died with a heart attack.
The original release of Still Got the Blues consisted of nine songs, but the CD version added three more, including that That Kind of Woman, unmistakably a George Harrison song, with Harrison, a friend of Moore’s playing on it. There was a further augmenting of the album in 2002 with five more songs, including Elmore James’s The Sky is Crying, a tribute by Moore to Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in 1990, which Moore attacks with some incendiary playing.
The album kicks off with a toe-tapping, rock’n’roll number, Moving On, featuring some tasty slide guitar. This is followed by Albert King’s Oh Pretty Woman, written by A.C. Williams, from King’s acclaimed 1969 album, Born Under A Bad Sign, Moore giving the song much more attack and edge. The interplay of his guitar and the horns is brilliant and the guitar solo, with its huge string bends and fast runs, is guaranteed to have the hair on the back of your neck sit up.
King played on the track and reputedly told Moore off for playing too many notes – “Think ten notes but play five.” Seemingly Moore was prepared to take the advice on board, recognising he’d come from a heavy rock scene where the more notes played the better. King, however, was impressed with Gary Moore – “I didn’t think he could play. I thought he was just another kid trying to get off into the blues guitar world… but listening to that kid play the wildest things… Golly Moses, where did he come from?”
A couple of songs later we get Moore’s own Still Got the Blues, with that sweet, searing and transcendent guitar introduction. It’s a beautiful song, well-constructed musically and intelligent lyrically but, of course it’s the extended guitar solo two-thirds the way through that stays in the memory – utterly transfixing and heart-wrenching. The song was released as a single and reached No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1991.
Moore pays homage to B.B. King in King of the Blues, “born in Indianola, Mississippi 1924,” (though King was born in 1925) with “Lucy by his side.” As well as the big guitar sounds, full of energy and emotion, there are the quieter, night-time blues of As the Years Go Passing By and Midnight Blues, with Moore’s guitar work restrained and tasteful, but still utterly soul-searching.
Throughout the album, Moore seems to play as if his life depended on it, each note utterly crucial. The combination of the strong songs, the collaborators, the associations, Moore’s incredible guitar work, the horns at time giving it a big band vibe, and Moore’s excellent vocal performance make it something of a masterpiece of blues rock.
Gary Moore proved himself to be a masterful exponent of the blues, and his extraordinary talent and devotion to his craft is sorely missed. We look forward to Provogue’s release of a new album, featuring previously unreleased material, How Blue Can You Get on 30 April, to mark the ten years since Gary Moore passed away.