Gary Moore, How Blue Can You Get

“Gary Moore was the most astonishing musician any of us ever worked with.” Don Airey (Deep Purple)

Gary Moore, How Blue Can You Get, Provogue Records

If you buy one blues album this year, this is it. A set of eight songs, some previously unheard and unreleased, from the Moore family archives, will move you, excite you, get you on your feet, and make you regret all the more that Gary Moore is no longer with us.

Released on the tenth anniversary of Moore’s passing How Blue Can You Get proves, if there was ever any doubt, that Gary Moore was a master of the blues. Whether he’s breathing new life into a blues classic or squeezing every ounce of emotion out of one of his own songs, Moore exudes blues feeling, combined with jaw-dropping technical skill.

Bob Geldof has said that Moore’s “playing was exceptional and beautiful. We won’t see his like again.” The likes of Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Kirk Hammett and Zakk Wylde all cite him as an influence. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview, Hammett said, “I remember the first time hearing Gary Moore’s blues album and just getting totally blown away – not only by the playing but by the sound of it too, his tone.”

That’s the thing about Moore’s guitar playing – it’s brilliant technically, but the feel and the emotion he was able to express set him apart. The way he could build up a melodic solo, layer upon layer, blending heart-rending melody with fiery technique was masterful. It all came from a deep commitment to the music and performing, a seriousness you could see in the facial contortions you often saw on stage. “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.”

Born in Belfast in 1952, just a few miles from where I was born, he left for Dublin as a teenager, already 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. A slew of top-notch blues albums followed until his untimely death in 2010.

How Blue Can You Get kicks off with a song often performed by Moore, Freddie King’s I’m Tore Down, 6 minutes of driving blues rock, introduced by a characteristic Moore flourish and featuring a screaming guitar solo that has you begging for more.

There’s all the intense, Gary Moore guitar work you could ask for across these eight songs, at times astonishing, at times sweet and gut-wrenchingly emotional. No more so than on In My Dreams, a close relative of Parisienne Walkways and Still Got the Blues. The moment you hear the introductory sweet tones of Moore’s 1959 Les Paul Standard through a Marshall amp, you know, even though you’ve never heard the song before, that it’s Gary Moore. Case in point – my wife, no fan of most modern music happened into the kitchen as these first few notes flew out of the hifi system and she immediately knew who was playing. “It just reaches right inside you, doesn’t it…it’s so emotional,” she said.

Yes it is. Moore’s luscious, mellifluous tone here tugs at the heart strings for sure. The solos here show off his incredible vibrato and the way that he is able to build the emotion up bit by bit.

There’s another slow emotional number in Love Can Make a Fool of You, this time Moore on a Gibson ES 335 and proving that his vocal performance can match his guitar chops. Though mind you, the guitar solo on this on is quite astonishing.

We get a wonderful 7-minute version of a never been released take on B.B. King’s 1964 hit How Blue Can You Get, with Moore clearly playing homage to King with his King-esque licks – suitably Gary Moore-d. Moore had great respect for King, with whom he toured, saying “He was the nicest guy I ever worked with. There was no ego trip. It’s inspiring to be around people like that.”

Before this there is another previously unreleased number – a fiery version of Memphis Slim’s instrumental Steppin’ Out. And there are more classic blues with Elmore James’s Done Somebody Wrong (more associated with The Allman Brothers band), where Moore plays a cool slide on a Gibson Firebird I, something that he did quite rarely during his career.

The album closes with the title track, a slow, achingly emotional grappling with romantic loss. From start to finish, this set of eight songs show just how badly missed is Gary Moore’s talent and artistry. It’s a gift to be able to listen to the deep feeling he had for the blues and appreciate his dedication to his craft – and to just sit back and enjoy the songs.

Toto’s Steve Lukather said of Gary Moore, simply, “He was a master…He was one of a kind.” ‘Nuff said.

[check out our take on Gary Moore’s classic Still Got the Blues album from 1991 here]