From the Archives: Gary Moore

RIP Gary Moore, 1952-2011

I was shocked to hear about guitarist Gary Moore’s death at age 59. The news prompted me to pull this 2004 Guitar World interview out of my archgives. I interviewed Gary several times. He was a UK and Euro legend who rarely made it to the US. I saw one of his few American solo shows, at the Beacon Theatre when he was promoting his second blues album. The great Albert Collins opened.

Gary was a kind and easy interview, the kind of guitar guy whom I could have easily spent hours just shooting it with. 

Gary Moore’s embracing of his musical roots on 1990’s Still Got The Blues was downright revelatory. The Irish axe slinger  traversed the worlds of hard rock and fusion for two decades, establishing himself as one the instrument’s most accomplished and expressive players without ever quite finding his musical home. His niche turned out to be waiting for him back in the music of his youth.
Still, the ever-restless guitarist couldn’t stay in one place for long; after one more successful foray into the blues, 1992’s After Hours, Moore moved on, collaborating with Cream’s Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and recording two experimental albums dabbling in electronica and dance rhythms. Now he has come full circle with Back to the Blues (CMC), the title of which speaks for itself.
“I just follow the music wherever it takes me,” Moore explains. “I enjoyed making the last two albums, but both were very drawn-out affairs, with laborious hours spent in the studio programming and sequencing. Because of that, I had a strong urge to play live with a band and just let ‘er rip. And that’s exactly what I did.”

GW: You often make huge stylistic leaps from one project to the next. Do you have to alter your mindset to play such different genres?
MOORE: Not really, because I only play one way. The context changes, but it’s always basically the same guitar playing. I was still playing blues phrases on A Different Beat (Castle, 1999), which was an attempt at marrying my guitar to contemporary dance rhythms. You can refine your playing and adapt to your setting, but you never abandon your favorite licks or basic feel.
GW: Are you a significantly different or better player than when you started out?
MOORE: God, I hope so. I think my playing has changed a lot even since Still Got The Blues. That was my interpretation of the blues at the time, but it was a very overblown version, as some of my friends in the media were quick to point out. [laughs] I was pissed off about that criticism, but now I think they had a point. I thought I was playing the blues as it should be played, but I was actually playing too much and the whole thing was overdone. It’s taken me 10 years to play what needs to be played and hopefully not too much more.
GW: You’ve always had a beautiful, very vocal vibrato, which is typical of great blues players, but made you stand out in the hard rock world.
MOORE: Yes. Your identity as a player is judged by your vibrato. I got turned onto that whole thing by Eric Clapton, when he did the Bluesbreakers album [in 1966]. I was 14 or 15 when that came out and it set me on this course.
And I still work on my vibrato, because you can always get it a bit sweeter or a bit more aggressive. That’s the type of thing I focus on now instead of technique or scales. I practice my phrasing and iming and try to make my playing swing more, which I think is finally starting to happen. I feel like my timing really improved after working with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in BBM. Like a lot of guitar players, I tended to rush a lot, and they showed me how to play to a different rhythm, for which I am very grateful.
GW: Another of your trademarks is never-ending sustain. What is your secret?
MOORE: When you put a Les Paul on the bass pickup and run a ton of gain through a Tube Screamer, you’re going to get a lot of sustain. The key is controlling it and to do that, you have to understand how your guitar and amp interact. I have so much gain that no one else can control my guitar on stage. I’m constantly adjusting the volume control to stay on top of it. And to really make a note sing, you also have to stand in the exact right place on stage. All of that becomes second nature eventually.
The electric guitar is a very responsive, expressive instrument and it takes years of playing and tinkering to learn how to get the most out of it. Understanding that is just as important as what notes you choose or how good your technique is.
GW: You mentioned Eric Clapton’s influence, but wasn’t Peter Green, who replaced him in the Bluesbreakers, your real idol? To me, Peter was more of a genuine blues player.
MOORE: I know what you mean. He had a more classic blues sound, with a real B.B. King style sweetness, and because of that, his contributions have aged better in some respects. But Eric revolutionized the guitar world over night with Bluesbreakers. That album lit me on fire, but Clapton never came to Ireland with John Mayall and Peter did.
Seeing him live was just unbelievable. The whole room was vibrating and he looked so relaxed, with his fingers just walking across the strings making the cleanest, most ridiculously beautiful sounds. It was a new experience to feel a guitar instead of just hearing it.  And later he became a very important mentor to me, getting his manager to bring us to England. Eventually, when Peter decided to leave Fleetwood Mac, he gave me his Les Paul for just the ridiculously low sum I fetched for my own guitar and, of course, I treasure it to this day.
GW: Did you play it on this album?
MOORE: Just on one tune. I also used my ’59 Paul a bit, but I mostly played my 1960 Gibson 355. For the straight blues sounds, I played that straight into an early 70s Fender Dual Showman. I also used a Marshall DSL 100-watt, which was the prototype. In fact, they keep asking for it back, but they can’t have it. In a few places, I used a Marshall Guv’nor pedal, a Line 6 distortion, a CryBaby wah and an Ibanez chorus pedal, but mostly it was verys traight-forward tones.
GW: You were a big influence on Eighties metal players like George Lynch and Randy Rhoads. Were you aware of them at the time?
MOORE: I got to know Randy pretty well when he came toEngland to join Ozzy’s band. In fact, I remember him asking me if I thought it was a worthwhile gig [laughs]. I told him to give it a few years and see what happened. He was so sweet and he was a great little player. He was so fucking fiery and really took the instrument seriously. I was incredibly sad when I heard what happened to him, because it was just such a dumb thing. It never should have happened. They called me the next day trying to get me to finish the tour, but I was too upset. It’s tragic to think of what Randy would have done. Same thing with Stevie Ray. The two of them should be the kings of guitar right now. Unfortunately, I didn’t really listen to Stevie a lot when he was around, but I sure do now. He pulled an incredible feat, developing his own voice in a familiar idiom and making his music swing so damn much.

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