It is curious that this guitarist, who was in love with Peter Green and B.B. King, ended up marking forever the sound of all the heavy and metal bands of the 80s. Brian Robertson may not be a name known to the general public but there was not a single hard rock band in the 80s that was not influenced by the sound of his harmonized guitar together with his partner Scott Gorham in Thin Lizzy. And the fact is that this man who replaced Gary Moore in the band - and was replaced by him four years later, was the perfect complement to Phil Lynott's songs in the band's golden age.
Robertson was born in Scotland on February 12, 1956, and from a young age was interested in music. He studied cello and classical piano for eight years, until his brother, who couldn't play as well as he could, switched to guitar. Brian soon followed and again easily surpassed him, so switched to bass and they started a band.
At 18 years old, Robertson was already a veteran when it came to playing in clubs and he had just acquired the guitar that would mark his career, a '73 Les Paul Deluxe. It was 1974 and Thin Lizzy, a band that had achieved great success the previous year with Whiskey In The Jar, had just been left without a guitarist for the second time in four months. Earlier in the year, Whiskey In The Jar guitarist Eric Bell had left and his replacement, Gary Moore, a good friend of Phil Lynott, the band's bassist, singer and leader, imitated him soon after and left to play with Colosseum.
Lynott decided he didn't want a guitarist to let him down again, so he looked for a double replacement for Moore and that's how Robertson and Californian Scott Gorham joined the band. The first thing they did was to record Nightlife, the band's fourth album. Robertson, despite his young age, was the better guitarist of the two at the time, and so it was him that Lynott asked to re-record the solo that Moore had left on one of their best songs, Still In Love With You. But Robertson, who had been nicknamed Robbo by Lynott to differentiate him from drummer Brian Downey, refused. Moore's solo was unsurpassable.
Their second work as a quartet, Fighting, had already shown the world the band's new sound, with Robertson and Gorham's Les Pauls harmonizing and creating their wonderful 'twin guitars' sound, something that was already apparent on For Those Who Love to Live and Wild One. They had already found their signature sound and the following year they completed it with the best songs of their career. Gems like Jailbreak, Emerald, Running Back, Romeo and the Lonely Girl and The Boys Are Back in Town, revel in the wonderful double attack of Robertson and Gorham… and the former became Kirk Hammett's idol with his wah-laden solo on Warriors.
Jailbreak was a smash in the UK and opened the doors to the US where The Boys Are Back in Town became a hit, but in the middle of the tour they had to suddenly stop due to Lynott's hepatitis. Back home they returned to the studio, and before the end of 1976 their second album of the year, Johnny the Fox, was released.
Robertson's wah solo on Johnny opened the follow-up to their masterpiece with a bang. It may have been below the level of Jailbreak but it showed a band at the height of their powers. It was time to conquer America and Lynott, who had been dreaming of the promised land since he started with the band, felt like he was already touching it with his fingers. It's fun to play "what ifs" and we'll never know, but what is clear is that Thin Lizzy's future could have been very different if Robbo hadn't gotten into a bloody fight the night before the start of their new US tour. The band already had had to cancel their previous tour, so now they couldn't falter - the success of The Boys Are Back In Town was still fresh and Jailbreak was still in the charts. Thin Lizzy might have had AC/DC's success or not, but what is clear is that they didn't even have the chance to try.
They had a golden opportunity, but Robbo decided to continue emulating his leader to the end - if Lynott drank like a drunkard, so would he, if Lynott smoked like a chimney, so would he, and if Lynott got into countless fights, so would he, so would he, so would he… So when on the night of November 23, 1976 he drunkenly went up to play with Gonzalez, a funk band, at the Speakeasy he must have known that nothing good was going to come of it. Especially when his friend, and fellow Scot, Frankie Miller, - who was even drunker than him - also tried to reach the stage. The band's guitarist took it as an insult, broke a bottle and headed towards Miller to slash his face, but Robbo stepped in and ended up with a torn hand, two severed tendons and the future of Thin Lizzy up in the air. Before he was taken to the hospital he had time to knock three other guys to the ground - but even he was aware that Lynott wasn't going to pat him on the back; on the contrary, he knew his future in the band was over.
Lynott was livid when they called to tell him. Robbo was out and Lizzy had to ask Moore to come back, but the American tour was again disrupted and the promoters there took note of a band that was just too conflictive to invest in. Even so Lizzy managed to play several dates with Queen at the beginning of 1977. Freddy Mercury's band still remembered with joy their tour with Mott The Hoople, so they decided to go for the Lizzy as their opening act, as they were one of their favorite bands.
Robertson, for his part, received even worse news, he could not play the guitar again, but the guitarist was stubborn - both for the good and for the bad -, so with a sore hand he picked up the six string again, and soon he was back in the hospital with an open wound, something that would be repeated several times. It hurt like having a tooth pulled out without anesthesia, but it hurt even more not to play again.
Incredibly Robertson went to see Lizzy with Moore back in their ranks, and Lynott, Moore and Gorham asked him to join them on stage. The hand still wasn't right but Robertson didn't want to let Lynott down again; it was the most painful day he remembers, but also one of the best. The bassist asked Moore to stay with them but the guitarist left again, and so in May of that year they entered the studio to record Bad Reputation as a trio, as Lynott saw Gorham as more than capable of handling the guitars alone on the album. But the studio was one thing and playing live was another. Gorham knew that the sound he had achieved with Robertson was part of the band's DNA, so he left two songs on it without guitar solos and asked Lynott to call his colleague in Toronto. Lynott reluctantly agreed and Robertson flew to Canada to record solos on Opium Trail and Killer Without a Cause, and so soon after him arriving the 'Twin Guitars' sound was shining again on That Woman's Gonna Break Your Heart… in sum, Robertson and Gorham were still the perfect duo.
The album was another of Lizzy's best but Robbo's volcanic demeanor hadn't changed and fights with Lynott were frequent. Still it gave him time to tour with them again, despite the bassist leaving him out of Bad Reputation’s cover photo, and Lizzy was back to playing like in the best of times. Robertson alternated between his beloved '73 Deluxe and a 1960 Les Paul Standard. From that tour came the recordings of the most famous album of Lizzy's career, Live And Dangerous; a sort of live greatest hits. It is still a matter of debate how much of it is live and how much is studio, but there is no possible argument about the enormous quality of it.
Robertson was finally able to get rid of his thorn on Still in Love with You, recording a solo that, this time, surpassed Moore's on the original. Despite the huge success of the album, the relationship with Robertson and Lynott never recovered and after a heated argument in Ibiza, Robbo packed his bags for good. Lynott again called Moore who, for the third time back in the band, ended up recording his only album with them - the excellent Black Rose: A Rock Legend, possibly his second masterpiece, after Jailbreak - while Robertson called his compatriot Jimmy Bain, former bassist of Rainbow, to form Wild Horses.
After a couple of not too memorable albums, although Lynott and Gorham lent a small hand - Robertson was a great guitarist but not a particularly gifted songwriter -, the band broke up in 1982 and Robertson was off to Canada to record his first solo album when he got a call from another volcanic bassist/singer. It was Lemmy, "Fast" Eddie Clarke had just left Motörhead, and both he and especially drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor were huge Thin Lizzy fans.
In the end Robertson said ‘yes’ and completed that tour as well as recording an album with the band, Another Perfect Day. It is the band’s best sounding album but it is the furthest from what Motörhead is. Just as Robertson was a worse guitarist than Moore but much better for Thin Lizzy, Robertson was a much better guitarist than "Fast" Eddie Clarke but not the perfect guitarist for Motörhead. Slowing down the tempo and putting in minor chords didn't go with the breakneck speed at which Lemmy lived (and drank).
Even so, it is an album to vindicate, but if musically Robertson was not the best for the band, it was worst on an aesthetic level. While Lemmy and Philthy Animal continued with their rock & roll animal looks, Robertson went up to play in shorts and ballet slippers. As Lemmy would later say "let's face it, ballet shoes and Motörhead don't mix very well".
Neither did it help that Robertson refused to play the band's great classics, which turned the crowd totally against him. In the end Robertson left the band, but over time songs like Dancing on your Grave, Shine and One Track Mind have become minor classics of the band. His last concert with Motörhead was on November 11, 1983 in Berlin, but before that he had also had time to say goodbye to the band to which he will always be linked.
On March 12, 1983, during their farewell tour, Thin Lizzy played London's Hammersmith Odeon and Lynott decided it was time to make amends with the guitarists who had marked his band, so Robertson was invited back on stage and the 'Twin Guitars' got the send-off they deserved, playing Emerald, Rosalie and Baby Drives Me Crazy. Next Gary Moore came on stage and played Still in Love With You and Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend, and, finally, it was the turn of the band's first guitarist, Eric Bell, who played Whiskey In The Jar. To close the circle, the three of them, Robertson, Moore and Bell, joined the band to close with The Rocker.
Lizzy gave their last concert on September 3 in Nuremberg, as parrt of the Monsters Of Rock festival. On that day Brian Robertson, who played with Motörhead, was also present. I'm sure he had time to go back over everything that had happened and, in all probability, he must have felt that he was playing on stage with the wrong band...