Gary Moore / Happiest when he had the Blues

29 April 2021

A musician’s musician, Gary Moore was seemingly chameleon-like in his ability to adapt to different musical styles, always striving to stretch himself. From the jazzy Prog Rock of Colosseum II, the incendiary time he spent in Thin Lizzy, the full-on Hard Rock and Heavy Metal attack of his solo career and onto his late renaissance playing Blues and everything before, after and in between, he always dazzled.

Gary Moore – How Blue Can You Get (Provogue)

Release Date: 30 April 2021

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Whilst it seemed almost effortless, due to the natural talent he had always been born with, Moore was constantly striving, seemingly never settling for anything less than his very best and only being truly happy with a six-string in his hands.

When he announced in the late 80’s that he was stepping away from Hard Rock and making a Blues album, there was a lot of commotion from both sides of the equation. Some Metalheads accused him of selling out, whilst Blues purists felt that Moore did not have the necessary feel to do the genre justice.

Fortunately, the great strength of 1990’s ‘Still Got The Blues’ silenced the critics and showed that here was a man who certainly had the chops to truly make it his own, focusing more on the emotive heart, than the flash and volume he was labelled with. Barring his unexpected and short-lived dip back into heavier territory with supergroup Scars, Blues became his sole focus for the next two decades, right up until his tragically early death in 2011.

A love affair with music

Compiled from unused material over that twenty-year span, ‘How Blue Can You Get’ brings together eight tracks that cover the Irishman’s love affair with the music, ranging from the raucous to the pensive. A visceral version of the Freddie King classic ‘I’m Tore Down’ opens the proceedings, it’s live feel adding a rough charm and spark.Moore is on fine form both vocally and in his playing and follows this with the hard knock ‘Steppin’ Out’, his fretwork turning Memphis Slim’s piano led standard into something that has a real Stevie Ray Vaughan flavour.

Ballad ‘In My Dreams’ comes from the same mould as both ‘Still Got The Blues’ and ‘Parisienne Walkways’, so much so that key figures are echoed in it’s delivery, the similarity to the aforementioned favourites possibly the reason that it did not see the light before now. It is in no way a bad track, the guitarwork as excellent as always, just a little too near to these other self-penned tracks for comfort.

There is a rough-edged feel to Moore’s take of BB King’s ‘How Blue Can You Get’, the titular track having somewhat of an unpolished vibe that you will either enjoy for it’s spark or make you skip to the next track as a missed opportunity to produce a diamond.

‘Looking At Your Picture’ sounds like a coda slotted in at the end of an album, it’s spaced out and experimental, earthy feel shimmers in a desert heat and feels like a initial sketch during a jam, whilst ‘Love Can Make A Fool Of You’ takes the bonus track from the 2002 reissue of ‘Corridors of Power’ and makes it a towering slow blues, the guitarwork stunning and keys exemplary.

Gary Moore - Live From London
Gary Moore

The strutting ‘Done Somebody Wrong’ adds Moore’s own cocksure playing to the lively groove of the Elmore James number and the sublime and stately paced ‘Living With The Blues’ closes things very nicely indeed.

Whilst the tracks lack a uniformity of production, emphasising the scrapbook nature of this compilation of previously unheard cuts, there is no doubt that the eight pieces display the wildly original and passionate talents of this much missed figure. A worthy addition to any collection, it may not be a vital release, but very few people could touch Moore, even on days when he was not on the best of form, his constantly evolving career taking the guitarist wherever his next challenge led him.

‘How Blue Can You Get’ proves once again that here was a master with his instrument, the Belfast boy still a standard bearer of what can be achieved if you have the drive, talent and laser focused determination to follow entirely your own path.

As the album illustrates, it seems that Moore was happiest when he had the Blues.

“I think he needed a complete change”

For the last words on the subject, Metal Talk spoke to Moore’s long-time friend, bandmate and songwriting partner Neil Carter (Gary Moore, UFO, Wild Horses). A key figure in Rock, keys and guitar playing polymath Neil had shared stages all over the world with Gary, their partnership leading to the release of four classic studio albums and two live sets together and a fruitful collaboration that saw the pair pen some of the guitarist’s most popular tracks, including the international smash ‘Empty Rooms’.

With rumours abounding that Moore came to very much dislike playing the heavier material, we asked about the Irishman’s somewhat controversial shift from Hard Rock to Blues and if this had been something a long time in the making or a whim as he sought his next Everest to climb.

“I was always certain he was comfortable with the 80’s material, although not always in the theatre of it. He did not like the ‘hair’ bands and I do not think the songs we were playing were like that at all and indeed there was more diversity in them.

“The Blues thing was meant to be a side project and first mooted on the ‘After the War’ tour. He later said he hated what he was doing in the 80’s and indeed said to me, mid 90’s, that Rock was “dead”.

“There was a lot of Blues jamming at sound checks in 1989 which I slunk away from as it truly is not my thing, but the Blues album came out later in the year and it just flew. I had made it pretty clear it was not for me, but I thought he would come back to Rock at some point.

“On reflection, I think he needed a complete change which is certainly what he got. It was ironic the final tour was all the Rock hits (plus two blues numbers!) and to this day I am not sure why he decided to do it.”

That question may never have an answer, but what we do know is that very few guitarists had the talent or left the mark that Gary Moore did.

Whilst he may have been snatched from us a decade ago, his musical legacy through some jaw dropping fretwork and his influence will be with us for many more years to come.

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