Guitar of the endless note

by Vicente Mateu

A calling card lasting over nine minutes long. Grinding Stone is the name of the first song that Gary Moore performed at the start of his recording career. We're back in 1973 and that is also the title track of his debut album under his own name with his own band. He was 21 years old and another guitar legend began to take shape in the damp climes of Ireland.

The same island that gave birth to Rory Gallagher, among others, whose influence can be heard on the second cut, Time to Heal. The third track, Sail Across the Mountain, is a ballad with a strong nod to Traffic and Moore's true idol by his own admission: Peter Green, the soul of Fleetwood Mac (Moore would dedicate an entire 1995 album to him, Blues for Greeny, as well as buy one of his first guitars from Green, that magnificent 1959 Les Paul).

The needle has traversed a little over 20 minutes so far, sketching out a portrait that for all practical purposes would not change until his death at 58 in a hotel room, a typical setting for everyone who gives their soul over to the blues and the guitar. Fate wanted the hotel room to be in Estepona (Malaga) this time. True to form, the British press would embrace the task of feeding the smear campaign with massive doses of alcohol. Officially, the cause of death was a heart attack.

Few artists are so famous and yet so unknown. Gary Moore is a prime example of fierce individualism and any attempts he made at joining a band were always over in the blink of an eye. He was what you call antsy. However, the general public continues to know him as the guitarist of Skid Row, Colosseum II and especially Thin Lizzy, where he barely had enough time as an official member to help record one of their finest albums: Black Rose: A Rock Legend. And not much else. What undoubtedly contributed most in tying his name to the legendary band was his role as the replacement guitarist filling in at hundreds of concerts. That and his friendship with the no less legendary Phil Lynott.

Proof of his less-than-strong commitment is that once Thin Lizzy recorded the album and finished the tour with Moore filling the hole left by Brian Robertson, who had decided to quit the band, he immediately plunged into recording his second solo album, Back on the Streets. We're now in 1978. Moore recruited Lynott himself, Don Airey–another key name in '80s hard rock- and John Mole for the recording and would come away with his first major commercial success, Parisienne Walkways. A ballad, of course.

It began a decade where his name ended up on the list of winners. After the half-cocked experiment of G-Force, Moore returned to using his own name as the drawing card and planted one foot firmly in the heavy metal camp for his next albums. The high point came in 1984 with We Want Moore!, one of the best live albums of the era. Run for Cover earned Moore his first U.K platinum album the following year.

His career would gain renewed momentum in the '90s through another change in musical direction. Without turning his back entirely on hard rock, it was time for the blues. He recruited Don Airey again and recorded Still Got the Blues, a declaration of principles that finally gave him a foothold in the U.S. –an audience always hard to crack for him- and ended up establishing him as a giant of the genre. But never one to lose his bad habits, Moore founded BBM in 1994 with none other than Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, a project that only produced a single album during the year the group existed. No one better than him to try and revive Cream.

was a brief interlude, as usual, and also marked a turning point in his career, leaving him without a definite direction and his point of reference lost as he experimented with an assortment of styles. But his name was now synonymous with virtuosity with a guitar in his hands, an unmistakable Les Paul that always played the lead role in every aspect of his life, the guitar he was capable of extracting that infinite endless note that charged his solos with intensity and along the way overcame the initial envy of his peers, now converted into admirers. Just knowing how to play with Ibanez pedals or obtaining the "effects" custom designed for him at the Marshall factory, wasn't enough to place you on his level. This is someone who was every bit the equal of the giants of the blues, from B. B. King to Albert Collins, somewhat beyond ordinary guests in the recording studio. There is little more to say about one of the most closely analyzed six-string masters of the last few decades.

Despite the stylistic variations of his recordings, Moore greeted the 21st century again proclaiming himself a blues hero and proud that his music was free of studio tricks: “No overdubs used” was the motto of his tremendous Live at Monsters of Rock album from 2003. But predictably enough, Robert William Gary Moore would take a surprise detour in between by forming a new, short-lived band with bassist Cass Lewis of Skunk Anansie and Primal Fear drummer Darrin Mooney. Scars was the title of his foray into the alternative rock of the period, maybe the only genre he still had left to try.

Having seen that the sound wasn't right for him, he took another abrupt turn in 2004 and returned to the fold with Power of the Blues, a tribute to the "fathers" who invented the style without making the slightest concession to anything that didn't evoke a cotton plantation. This time, his blues phase lasted four years until 2008, when he released the last official album in his lifetime, Bad for You Baby, a genuine return to his roots where rock and rhythm & blues again played prominent roles. It is an album that sounds as if Gary Moore had finally found his true calling with a handful of songs that were powerful, entertaining and, naturally, technically perfect.

Bad for You Baby
, his 20th studio effort if we leave out his various –and essential- live albums, closes out his recording career only in theory. His story cannot overlook the fact that Moore is one of the artists whose music has been subjected to all kinds of torture in the form of compilations, re-recordings, collaborations and some outright pirating.  Sometimes for the best, of course: he left behind an ample legacy of gems worth releasing, like his posthumous tribute to Jimi Hendrix in 2011.  Unfortunately, the vast majority are unscrupulous assaults which wound up sending some of his ‘greatest hits’ –it's not necessary to list which ones- to the couples corner at some New Year's Eve party, robbing them of their essence. This is the injustice of fame, the curse of another guitar legend.