The winner’s smile

By Sergio Ariza

Jailbreak was Thin Lizzy’s sixth album and the third with the classic lineup, with the twin guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, as well as the founders, Phil Lynott, on vocals and bass, and Brian Downey, on drums. Although their previous work, Fighting, already inaugurated the sound of their classical era, success was still elusive and their record company had given them an ultimatum. So it was all or nothing ... but anyone in their right mind knew that it must be crazy betting against Ireland's favorite son, Phil Lynott.

Lynott was many things, a renegade, a cowboy, a hero …but mainly, a rock star. Until that point the fact that he had not sold many records was almost irrelevant, because anyone who had seen a Thin Lizzy concert could attest to his unique charisma. One day Lynott decided that if everything depended on success, he, and his band, would have it. At the end of 1975 he gathered ‘the boys’ in the studio in Buckinghamshire and they started rehearsing; he had a collection of songs that seemed like a flush of aces. This time he had a winning hand with gems like Jailbreak, Running Back, Romeo and the Lonely Girl and The Boys Are Back in Town. With the help of his band, Lizzy would also add the essential Cowboy Song and Emerald. It only remained to be seen which particular song would bring them glory.

In 1976 Lizzy had found a winning formula, melding the charisma and stories of Lynott with the embellishments of Robertson and Gorham’s guitars - that blended perfectly. Lizzy’s sound was pure Les Paul, Gorham had a Sunburst Deluxe that he had bought as soon as he joined the band in '74, while Robertson also had a Sunburst Deluxe from '73. The favorite pedal of the former was the MXR Flanger, while the latter was relying more on the wah. Both were equipped with 100-watt Marshall amplifiers. Their characteristic sound can be appreciated to perfection on songs like The Boys Are Back In Town and Cowboy Song, both great examples of their twin guitars working in unison. Of course, throughout the album, both have moments to shine alone; Gorham produces a great solo on Romeo and the Lonely Girl, while Robertson becomes a source of inspiration for
Kirk Hammett with his wah solo on Warriors. On Cowboy Song, one of the best compositions in their history, you can listen to both of them in turn: the first solo sees Gorham in charge, while Robertson shines on the sharp second solo.

But beyond Lizzy’s brilliant guitarists, Jailbreak was the record that marked their period of splendor as a band and managed to give them the success they coveted. In the end, the irresistible The Boys Are Back in Town led the way, after several US stations played it incessantly. But it could have been the epic Emerald, the Van Morrison touches (one of the great idols of Lynott) of Running Back or the tremendous energy that comes from Cowboy Song. Each track on this album is played with an energy and a conviction that is rarely achieved on earth; Lynott was playing the game of his life and his winning smile made it clear that, this time, he could not lose. Of course he did not, to the delight of rock & roll lovers throughout the world.