I am going to stick my neck out and say that most of the hard rocking guitarists who broke through in the 1970s started out as blues guitarists. That is to say, they learned their chops jamming along with classic 12-bar recordings from the likes of The Bluesbreakers, BB King or Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. If left to themselves, they often dropped back into this style and appeared totally at home, as we can hear on Van Halen’s version of Ice Cream Man, UFO’s Mystery Train or Quo’s Railroad. Gary Moore was one such; like most of his contemporaries, his technique is Clapton-based, but he made his name with hard rock albums such as Back On The Streets and Corridors Of Power, or rocking out with Thin Lizzy or Skid Row. But then in 1990 he released the double-vinyl Still Got The Blues, featuring guest spots from guitar maestros Albert King and Albert Collins, and suddenly he was a blues guitarist again, even using Peter Green’s own Les Paul on his recordings. A string of massively successful blues-based albums followed until his premature death in 2011 at the age of 58.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, Provogue have compiled some previously unreleased material into this new 44-minute release, How Blue Can You Get, kicking off the selection with a barnstorming, up-tempo cover of Freddie King’s I’m Tore Down, much beloved of pub rockers as the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s. Moore’s raw vocal style and aggressive riffing get the compilation off to a fine start, followed by a welcome cover of the Bluesbreakers’ instrumental classic Steppin’ Out. This 1966 number has become so closely associated with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and especially Eric Clapton’s incendiary technique, I was actually surprised to find it was a cover even then, having been originated by Tennessee piano player Memphis Slim. It was great for me to compare Moore’s version with Stephen Dale Petit’s immaculate rendition on his recent album 2020 Visions; Petit did what he called a ‘deep dive’ on this number, learning Clapton’s version note for note and screaming it out with even more passion and aggression. Moore takes a more intuitive approach, learning the main hook line in the intro and outro and basically jamming the bit in between, in a style reminiscent of Clapton’s take. Both versions are valid, and both do justice to the original, (as I shall continue to call the Bluesbreakers’ recording).
Moore struck gold in 1979 with the crying guitar ballad Parisienne Walkways; so much so that he recycled the same chord structure for the equally Successful Still Got The Blues. He trots out another very similar song here in the first ballad of the album, the previously-unreleased In My Dreams, before launching into the title track, a proper, major-key slow blues with more of a clear-toned, perhaps coil-tapped guitar sound, and a restrained backing, less blues-rock and more traditional blues. It’s pure Fleetwood Mac, in both the guitar and vocal tone, very reminiscent of Peter Green’s Jumping At Shadows.
Looking At Your Picture is heavily experimental from a Gary Moore point of view; an actual rock number but relatively restrained, with low, conspiratorial vocals. It’s a dead ringer for Dr.Feelgood’s Hong Kong Money, right down to the fade-in; close your eyes and it even sounds like Lee Brilleaux singing. The brow furrowed a bit trying to work out why this sounds so unusual, as if he has the 6th string on his guitar tuned an octave lower than standard, giving it a deep, rasping, sandpaper sound. As it happens, the track is just Gary by himself, playing a Jerry Jones Baritone guitar in open tuning over a drum loop, so a real rarity.
The 6½ minute Love Can Make A Fool Of You is another torch ballad, with the great solo at the end being the first real highlight of the album – the soaring, Parisienne Walkways-style soloing we just love to hear. Done Somebody Wrong is an easy, mid-tempo, riffy pub blues 12-bar with lots of ride cymbal, which suddenly starts rocking properly at the three-minute mark. Moore treats this one with slide guitar too, which makes a welcome change, before ending with Living With The Blues, another slow blues with Peter Green-influenced guitar. At seven minutes it’s the longest track on the album, and diverges from the 12-bar format, taking the form more of an end-of-evening Still Got The Blues-style ballad. Another highlight, this one has the best guitar solo on the album I reckon, screaming and tortured as blues arguably should be.
And it’s that last track that puts the whole thing in perspective to some degree, as it’s clearly the most finished and professional piece on the album. The whole set is great of course – well, it would be, Moore was right at the top of this particular tree when he died. But to find enough unreleased material of that calibre at this late stage would be something of a miracle, and one gets the impression that they are having to look at the next tier down, so don’t expect it to be utterly definitive Gary Moore. No matter, anything that comes out of this particular stable is well worth a listen.
Gary Moore’s new Album, How Blue Can You Get, is released on 30 April 2021 via Provogue – featuring previously unheard and unreleased material.