Black Star Riders interview with Damon Johnson
Few bands can claim the influence and legacy of Thin Lizzy; the band founded by legendary frontman Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey in 1969. Lynott’s voice and songwriting abilities made for some of rock and roll’s most notable songs and albums. Yet it was not until 1974, with the addition of guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson that the full measure of Thin Lizzy came to fruition. The duo’s dual harmony guitar leads blazed a path that numerous others bands soon began to emulate.
The 70s and early 80s saw the band create such classic and seminal rock radio staples as “The Boys Are Back in Town”, “Jail Break”, “Whiskey in the Jar”, “Killer on the Loose”, “The Cowboy Song”, “Don’t Believe a Word”, and “Cold Sweat”. They have been covered by artists as legendary as Def Leppard, Megadeth, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden and Mastodon.
Despite the tragic loss of Lynott in 1986, Gorham and Downing have carried on the Thin Lizzy name. However, without Lynott, who was the band’s principal songwriter, the band was ill-at-ease with the idea of recording new music under the Thin Lizzy name out of respect for his memory. Still fans and current band members were excited to continue making music in the Thin Lizzy vein.
When Gorham reunited the band in 2010 with Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) on vocals, and later Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane) on guitar, the unit began crafting and demoing new songs for a potential new Thin Lizzy album: Yet in the end it was decided the band would need a new name, even though the goal was to carry on the spirit of its origins. In December 2012, the group announced it would move forward as Black Star Riders.
Former Thin Lizzy members Downey, and keyboardist Darren Wharton did not follow into Black Star Riders. Instead, former Y&T, Megadeth stick-man Jimmy DeGrasso was tapped to play drums, and bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) rounded out the line-up. Gorham stated that he did not see BSR using keyboards on a regular basis. The quintet released its debut album, All Hell Breaks Loose in May, 2013. The record was an instant hit with longtime Thin Lizzy fans and critics.
All Hell Breaks Loose was written primarily by Warwick and Johnson–both Thin Lizzy fans since childhood. The two crafted an album full of powerful tracks that paid homage to the trademark Thin Lizzy sound while also creating its own voice as Black Star Riders.
The Irish sound, the Irish spirit was a part of Thin Lizzy’s entire discography, as it would be having a frontman and principal songwriter that is from Dublin and has always been a proud patriot of that country and its history and its struggles in its evolution. So to have Ricky Warwick now, in this band, and to also be a proper, special songwriter in his own right, we’ve been able to express that Irish style that Thin Lizzy was always known for. But we can be legitimate about it because Ricky’s from Ireland. He’s from Belfast. He lived there in the 70s, through the troubles, through the social and economic issues. He’s the real thing and just shudder to think—I mean I’m sure there was a laundry list of guys that Scott [Gorham] could have reached out to about fronting Thin Lizzy, but there’s no one else he could have gotten that would be a better fit.
I had this Irish melody and Ricky had this whole other Irish melody and we were able to work them out and combine them in the same song. I could not be more proud of that song. It’s absolutely my favorite song on the album.
During our interview Johnson, he also talks about and preparing to record the second album this fall with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott producing, as well as his thoughts on new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Lynch Mob) who will be taking over for Mendoza when the band embarks on its European tour this summer. Finally he shares some of the classic Thin Lizzy tracks he’d like to see Black Star Riders dust off and perform live as well as giving us his three favorite Thin Lizzy riffs.
Thin Lizzy continues to move forward both as Black Star Riders, and occasionally performing under its legendary name. Regardless, the sound is unique, and a timeless reminder of an era where the music mattered more than the image.