The Secret Handshake: Gary Moore's Scariest Guitar Lick
It's difficult to put in perspective how Gary Moore changed things with Still Got The Blues. Those albums were huge. For me, as an eleven-year-old guitarist who had already been playing for a few years, Still Got The Blues changed my world. I could relate to the album cover — a young lad sitting on his bed playing guitar while a poster of Jimi Hendrix looked down with what I saw as equal amounts of interest, pride and encouragement. I didn't have a Les Paul and Marshall though: I didn't even have an electric guitar yet. I did sticky-tape checkers or bottle caps onto the body of my guitar in a homespun approximation of a Les Paul's controls. And I was obsessed with Still Got The Blues. I bought the sheet music (remember sheet music?) and made my guitar teacher talk me through it. It taught me about bending — even though I couldn't quite manage to bend the strings of my nylon-string acoustic. It taught me about distortion and sustain — even though the closest I got to regularly playing an electric guitar was throwing a mic into the soundhole of my guitar and plugging it into the stereo. It taught me about minor chords, about musical restraint, and ultimately about extended guitar solos, because the radio version was way edited down from the album version.
Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that Gary Moore wasn't always a blues-rock player.
Maybe this seems obvious to folks with a few years on me, but it was a huge revelation to me when my cousin Darren gave me a box of his old cassettes. This was pre-YouTube, where you couldn't listen to a band unless you physically had access to their music. They didn't play this kind of stuff on the radio in my small town. That box contained albums by Metallica, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken, Saxon, T&T, Triumph and much more. And there, almost appearing in tunnel vision, was Gary Moore's Corridors Of Power. It was Moore's third solo album. Released in 1982, it featured a dream rhythm section of Ian Paice from Deep Purple and Neil Murray, who I knew of from Black Sabbath albums (but who had played with Moore earlier in Colosseum II). On keys was Tommy Eyre, who arranged the organ introduction to Joe Cocker's version of "With A Little Help From My Friends," and Cream's Jack Bruce even joined in on vocals for the title track. In those days I was a collector of names — whenever I got a new album I'd go straight to the credits to see who was involved, so I could make connections back to other albums they'd worked on. It was like rock music was this intricate puzzle, or even better, a huge tangle of guitar cables to be sorted out.
So I popped this album on, expecting the kind of blues rock I'd known from Still Got The Blues.
The first track, "Don't Take Me For A Loser," kicked off with a hard-rocking riff that reminded me of the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath stuff I'd already started to listen to. It was aggressive and energetic and it told a story. Then the pre-chorus dropped down to half-time, a trick I could relate to because I was a big Sepultura fan. In the second verse Moore started to add little guitar tags after each vocal line and his tone was immense and expressive. Argh! I was hooked! How could he be so good at blues and yet so perfect at rock too? Other tracks were equally mind-melting, including a powerful take on Free's "Wishing Well" which reminded me a little of Led Zeppelin's sense of groove combined with a post-Van Halen approach to rhythm guitar. The solo had it all: whammy tricks, screaming bends, fast passages, pinch harmonics, fast licks. "Wow, my guitar teacher was right," I remember thinking. "Gary Moore is one of the greatest guitarists in the world."
Then I popped on Side Two and heard "End Of The World." Now, this was an era when players were competing with the legacy of Van Halen — not necessarily from a one-upmanship point of view but certainly from a perspective of "This is what guitar is right now, so I'd better step up to that level." I don't know if that was going through Moore's mind when he performed the unaccompanied intro to "End Of The World," but it certainly feels like you can draw a link between this and "Eruption." It's here that Moore brings out his most intense playing of the album, including a particular speed-picked open-string lick which — okay, I've had this discussion with many players, and it's like their secret. Everyone shared licks from "Eruption." It was a standard and you had to learn it. But the guys who knew and figured out that "End Of The World" intro kept it to themselves, their little secret. Because it contains a good four or five licks that can absolutely destroy. And you don't want fellow guitarists to know you borrowed them from someone else. But every now and then if I bring it up in conversation, someone will know what I'm talking about because they spent hours trying to figure out those licks too. It becomes like a secret handshake. Even better if you're jamming with someone and they start throwing out phrases from "End Of The World" that you can then respond to.
I've met and/or interviewed most of my heroes now — even played on stage with some of them — but I never got to meet Gary Moore. I would have loved to tell him what his music meant to me, from that redefining blues-rock stuff to the hard rock material that came earlier but which I discovered later. All we have now is the music and the memories, and that has to be enough. But the little shared moment of "Wow, you know those licks too?" with other guitarists is a pretty nice gift to leave behind.
Do you have a secret guitar lick that you think other players should know?
Gary Moore: End Of The World (Live)
Check out the Gary Moore Les Paul Standard here.