Remembering the Rocker:

It’s incredible how someone you never met ends up having such a profound impact on your life. It was January 4th, 1986; I was less than a year old when Phil Lynott passed from heart failure and pneumonia, complicated by years of drug abuse. But he left an indelible mark on my existence despite never knowing him when he was alive.

In the early days of my musical pursuits I was fronting a band called Amalgama, a college band of mine that flirted with some low level touring around the Northeastern United States but never really gained much traction & attention. Back then I was all about the riffs. The bloody riffs. Fast, angular, thrashing. The emphasis on lyrics had been there in a limited way, but usually to convey a particular political perspective. There were, however, moments of clarity and a few good lines here and there, but I always felt self-conscious about them, like they weren’t good enough to sing aloud to anyone or perhaps came across ham-fisted or infantile in their structure or delivery.

Then about 7 years ago someone stuck a copy of “Live & Dangerous” in my hand. I had by that point evolved from my maniacal speed/thrash headspace to someone more in tune with crafting songs and melody, returning to my roots of classic rock and rock & roll. Licks and riffing, lead guitar, and killer choruses yet still very much in the realm of heavy metal. Over the years EVERYONE had heard “The Boys are Back in Town” and I was no different. But until that point I really hadn’t been interested in discovering bands or exploring beyond my meager heavy-metal background. Then that copy of “Live & Dangerous” found it’s way into my Walkman and the big opening blast of “Jailbreak” kicked in. From that day forward I never looked back.

Phil exuded cool. If you ever wanted to front a band then you didn’t have to look any further than him. The swagger, the style, the emotion in his voice and his words stirred something in me of which the surface had barely been scratched. From that point forward all other bands fell by the wayside. It was as if my ears had been opened for the first time again. Everything I knew about songwriting was flipped straight on its head. It felt like his lyrics had been written about people I knew. Deeply meaningful tales of love and yearning, loneliness and leaving home, juxtaposed against visions of my gang of friends out on the town getting into trouble. The concept of being a songwriter suddenly became much clearer to me, the thrill of threading the rhythmic groove of words, the attitude or emotion, to sweeping chords, soaring guitar harmonies and driving bass lines. He had the poignant tunes bumped right up against some of the best rock n’ roll tunes in history (listen to the “Emerald” guitar riff and then try and tell me it isn’t one of the heaviest riffs of ALL TIME). His records adorn my walls, and his music spins regularly in the van on the way to gigs. It’s been my mission in life to convert everyone into Lizzy fans like I am, and I think I’m slowly succeeding.

A few years back I made my own sort of pilgrimage to Dublin and during my time there I was able to pay my respects to Phil and try and absorb some of the soul of the man who changed my life. A statue of him stands on Grafton Street, a true testament to the respect that so many have for him and his music. Hard Soul wouldn’t exist without Phil Lynott & Thin Lizzy. I can’t possibly imagine trying to be half the lyricist and songwriter he was, but I can sure try.


Johnny standing on Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland in 2009 with Phil Lynott.

Johnny standing on Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland in 2009 with Phil Lynott. Photo by Aoife McDonnell.

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