Tag Archives: Johnny The Fox

Rocks In The Attic #569: Thin Lizzy – ‘Thin Lizzy’ (1971)

rita569From small acorns…

All throughout my 20s, I used to see a small non-descript advert every week in the classified section of the NME: ‘GUITAR LESSONS – ERIC BELL, ORIGINAL GUITARIST OF THIN LIZZY’ and a London-area telephone number. It’d be in there without fail every week, alongside the usual ads for recording studios and CD mastering services.

Every week I’d see it and toy with the idea of catching a train down to London one day to take him up on the offer. A guitar lesson from the man behind the riffs to Whiskey In The Jar and, more importantly, The Rocker – what could be better? I’m not sure why he would be advertising his services in such a place – perhaps he had fallen on hard times and simply needed the cash.

I never got around to phoning him and booking that lesson though. I really regret it now of course. Just to ask him about that awesome riff from The Rocker, and to see his fingers blast that out, would have been a dream come true. He’s still around – a sprightly 69 years of age – although in 2010 he moved from London to West Cork in Ireland. One day maybe…

This debut from Thin Lizzy makes for interesting listening. Recorded as a trio – Phil Lynott, Eric Bell and Brian Downey, it’s a far cry from the later twin-guitar duelling histrionics of records like Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox. Half of it is in a folk vein, similar to something you might hear on an early Van Morrison album; very mellow and not what you’d expect from the band that brought us some of the best rock riffs of the 1970s.

The remaining half is a bit more guitar-heavy; a bit more in the direction of where the band was ultimately heading towards. Look What The Wind Blew In is built around a repetitive Eric Bell lick, and gives an indication of the riff-based material Phil Lynott would later hang his lyrics on. Remembering, the final song on the record, plays with light and shade as successfully as early Led Zeppelin. Thin Lizzy would be pigeon-holed in the same genre as Zeppelin later in the decade, although Lizzy would sadly never see the same levels of international success.

Hit: Look What The Wind Blew In

Hidden Gem: Saga Of The Ageing Orphan

Rocks In The Attic #515: Thin Lizzy – ‘Jailbreak’ (1976)

RITA#515I’ve been blasting Lizzy a lot recently. Their Wild One compilation, the CD that turned me onto them, is a favourite on my iPod. There’s nothing like a quick blast of Jailbreak to decompress on my drive home from work.

I saw the fantastic film Sing Street recently. Directed by John Carney, formerly of Irish band the Frames, it’s set in Dublin like his awesome 2007 film Once. That earlier film had a lovely moment when the film’s protagonists try to enlist the services of a couple of Grafton Street buskers to back him on a recording of his songs. They immediately ask him if they’ll be recording ‘any Lizzy’; the subtext implying that the city’s struggling musicians haven’t moved on from the successes of its black rocker son.

Everybody’s heard The Boys Are Back In Town. Advertisers love it, and it commonly adorns film soundtracks. The title-track Jailbreak is something else though. Its white-hot, guttural guitar riff is too vulgar to be a mainstream hit. It shouldn’t work; it’s too simple. Brian Downey’s drums turn it into something else though. In the hands of a lesser drummer, it would be a dirge, but Downey’s syncopation – man, those opening high-hats! – breathes life into the arrangement.

Jailbreak is the sixth studio album by the band, and proved to be the one that broke them in the U.S.; and with good reason. It’s the perfect mix of melodic heavy rock and Phil Lynnot’s soulful, romantic lyrics. The twin-guitar of American Scott Gorham and Scot Brian Robertson also feels much more natural here than it does on earlier albums. If anything, the guitars feel fat where on the last couple of Lizzy records, they lacked that ballsy sound.

This might be the most successful Lizzy album, their biggest seller, but I prefer its follow-up Johnny The Fox, released just seven months later. They’re both so good though – the Rubber Soul / Revolver of the band.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Running Back

Rocks In The Attic #99: Thin Lizzy – ‘Johnny The Fox’ (1976)

It took me quite a while to track this album down on vinyl. When I eventually found it, in Manchester’s vinyl exchange, I realised why. Most record shops over a decent size won’t store this album in the Rock & Pop section, as you might expect – instead it gets lumped into the Breaks & Beats section, all because of the very cool drum intro that opens Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed on the second side of the record.

Although it’s not as popular as the Jailbreak album, I think I prefer this album. There’s only so many times you can listen to The Boys Are Back In Town and Jailbreak – and although this album doesn’t really have as big a hit as those two songs, the biggest hit on the album – Don’t Believe A Word – is a really nice, short sharp slice of Phil Lynott’s poetic lyrics.

I came across an amusing comment on this album on Wikipedia:

The album also includes two tracks with the name “Johnny” in their titles as well as the album title itself, a character by that name having already appeared in earlier songs such as Showdown and The Boys Are Back in Town. Guitarist Scott Gorham noted the name’s proliferation: “Phil should’ve been this guy’s publicity agent, as he was cropping up everywhere!”

There’s a story that my Dad always tells that happened to him in the early 90s. At somebody’s wedding reception or 50th birthday party, in a function room of a grim working man’s club somewhere in Oldham, a lady walked over to my Dad and said “Pete – I think the lead singer of Thin Lizzy is sat in the next room. He’s sat having a beer.” “You mean Phil Lynott?” asks my Dad. “Yes,” she says. So my Dad rolls his eyes, and goes and takes a look. On his return, he says to the lady “Well, I don’t think it’s Phil Lynott.” The lady looks disappointed. “Why not?” she asks. “Because,” he replies, “Phil Lynott’s black, and that guy’s white. And Phil Lynott’s been dead for five years!” It was later established that the honky at the bar was Oldham resident, and latter-day Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Wharton.

Hit: Don’t Believe A Word

Hidden Gem: Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed