The greatest musician you’ve never heard of

A look at the life of guitarist Gary Moore

By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer

There are countless ways to be introduced to new music. You might hear the buzz about a new artist over the radio, hear a great track in a TV commercial, or your older sibling might lend you their iPod with a more mature selection of genres.

I was first introduced to the music of Irish guitarist Gary Moore by my parents. My earliest memory of hearing his soulful blues-based ballads was on weekends after soccer games. I would come home for lunch after the game, with pancakes cooking and Gary Moore: Greatest Hits playing loudly in the kitchen. As a kid, when I was faced with the choice of paying attention to pancakes or music, my focus would lay solely with the stack smothered in melting butter and maple syrup; the meal always took precedence over the music.

Childhood traditions don’t last forever, and eventually soccer games and pancake lunches faded away—as did Gary Moore’s music from my ears. But a couple years ago, I heard his album playing in the house again and paid attention. It was as if I was hearing his music for the first time. I was amazed by the beautiful sounds this man and his guitar were making. I was also mad at myself for not listening to more of my parents’ CD collection while back in high school. Mostly though, I was just happy that I had finally discovered this musician whom I was so unfamiliar with.

The more Gary Moore I heard, the more I wanted to hear. His clean guitar sound and passionate songs struck a chord with me and I was hooked—and yet, I had no idea who he was. So I decided to find out.

Born in Ireland in 1952, Moore began playing the guitar as a teenager and was heavily influenced by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. Moore’s greatest early influence was Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist Peter Green. Green was an early mentor to Moore and eventually sold his Gibson Les Paul to Moore because he thought it deserved a good home.

Moore first gained listeners’ attention in the late ‘60s when he joined the original Skid Row in Dublin at the tender age of 16. After touring and recording some albums with Skid Row, Moore decided to leave the band and try his hand as a solo musician in 1971.

Moore’s first solo album, Grinding Stone, was released in 1973 and gained little attention, even though the album is full of sweet rock and roll and blues ballads. Most impressive was the technical guitar ability that young Gary Moore possessed—even on his debut album, you could tell that he was in another league. The man could shred hard.

Though most of the world didn’t pay much attention to Moore’s debut, one important person did: that person was Phil Lynott. The frontman of famed Irish band Thin Lizzy (known for hits such as “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Whiskey in the Jar”) needed a guitarist so he called on Moore, who accepted the offer. The move to Thin Lizzy brought more attention to Moore’s playing ability, and he became well-known in Europe. But after spending time playing with Thin Lizzy, the time came to venture out alone once again.

In 1978 Gary Moore’s second solo album Back on the Streets was released, and its single “Parisienne Walkways” made it into the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. The album was a moderate success, and the sheer force and passion that Moore demonstrated while playing his guitar should have turned him into an instant rock god—but it didn’t. The likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and George Harrison held firmly onto that status, though many of said rock gods were fans of Moore. In an interview with Irish DJ BP Fallon in 1987, George Harrison said of Moore that “he’s an unbelievable guitar-player.” It says a lot that a member of The Beatles thought so highly of Gary Moore. It also says a lot that Harrison was ranked number 11 on the Rolling Stones’ “100 Greatest Guitarists,” Hendrix was number one, and Gary Moore didn’t even make the list.

I’m not saying that Gary Moore was underrated. Everyone who listens to him, watches him play, and gets to know his music can appreciate the skill and talent that he had. He’s well-respected by those who hear him—it’s just that not many people hear him. One could say that he’s a guitarist’s guitarist, but he’s underappreciated by most others. He hasn’t received the recognition that his talents should have garnered.

When I first saw videos of him playing live and saw how much effort and power went into his performances, I was in awe. I was also blown away when I saw that he didn’t make the Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists” (votes were gathered from people within the music industry). Like a stealth fighter, sometimes the most impressive and powerful fly under the radar.

Gary Moore recorded 20 solo albums, mostly blues with some harder rock albums, and his last album was released in 2008. In February of 2011, he died at the age of 58 of a massive heart attack while in a hotel on vacation in Spain. Toxicology results showed that he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.38 per cent, which is nearly five times the legal limit for driving. Like many people, Moore struggled with controlling his alcohol intake and it eventually killed him. He left behind a catalogue of legendary music, and his comrades have spoken well of him in remembrance.

One of the many people who spoke out at the time of Moore’s passing was the lead guitarist of Metallica, Kirk Hammett, who wrote a touching letter to Rolling Stone magazine. Hammett wrote that “Gary Moore is definitely in my list of top five guitar influences, right up with Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Michael Schenker. His influence is strong to the point that the opening lick of the guitar solo of “Master of Puppets” is a variation of a lick that Gary Moore played a lot.… He just blew me away from the first time I heard him.” Metallica is one of the world’s largest and most influential groups, and for Kirk Hammett to say that Gary Moore was a major influence in his playing style and Metallica’s sound shows how far and wide Moore’s touch was. Hammett goes on to say that the “reason why he wasn’t more popular here in America is beyond me because he was incredible.” Other big names to pay respect were Bob Geldof, who called Moore “one of the great blues players,” and Eric Clapton, who covered one of Moore’s songs on his new solo album Old Sock, which was released in March of this year.

So long as the music business is a business, amazing musicians will continue to go without the recognition that they deserve. Gary Moore was one of those musicians. He created some of the most radical, beautiful, and mesmerizing guitar tracks of all time and was adored by many. I urge you to seek out his music. His life will be remembered for contributions to the music world, but he’s also remembered as one of the greatest musicians that half the world ignored. Hopefully that will change.