Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gary Moore’s Blues

When I think of the great blues guitarists Gary Moore does not readily come to mind. A blues shuffle is one of the most basic guitar skills to learn and running up and down the blues scale to construct a riff or a solo is not that difficult to learn and I guess the blues is the base from which many young guitarists start their career even if they progress to something much more technically complicated or just heavier. Jamming on a shuffle in A or E, or any one other key, is one of the commonalities of guitarists the world over, a language two guys from opposite ends of the spectrum can understand.

Gary Moore was a heavy rock guitar player, with Thin Lizzy, a heavy jazz fusion guitarist with Coliseum and had a solo career too, in the rock anthem arena. He is one of those rock artists who had an entire career of which I know little and for which I could care less, as his kind of rock bombast never appealed to me. It is based on the kind of triumphant virtuosity that does not seem to have much more effect than to sound impressive yet have very little visceral impact.

In the early Nineties Moore saw the commercial light and released a trio of blues albums. The trilogy comprised of two studio albums (Still Got The Blues [1990] and After Hours [1992] ) and one live set, Blues Alive (1993). He recorded a mix of blues standards and his own compositions. On at least one track he performed alongside Albert King, whom Moore dubbed "King of the Blues", a title Albert had always claimed though that right had also always been disputed by B B King.

I guess this collaboration with Albert meant that he was a greater influence on Moore's blues style than B B King ever was, given Moore's rather muscular hard rock approach to the blues. I really rate Albert King and, if pushed to make a choice, would prefer him over B B King, good as the latter is, because I like the powerhouse Albert King style. Not that either Albert King or Gary Moore is incapable of subtlety; it just does not seem to be quite the norm. Having said that, Gary Moore also recorded a tribute to Peter Green's blues from the Fleetwood Mac years, called Blues for Greeny (1995) that amply illustrates Moore's ability to replicate the style of one of the most exquisitely tasteful and subtle of blues players.

A couple of years ago and at a now defunct flea market stall on Green Market Square I bought the album Ballads & Blues 1982 - 1994 (2006) that featured, as appears to be mandatory for Gary Moore compilations, "Parisienne Walkways" in a live incarnation, along with some rock ballads and a couple of kind of blurs tracks. I bought the CD because it was very cheap (the inlay was missing) and I was disappointed because it was not that much of a blues album and I do not care for the Moore take on would-be-anthemic rock ballads. Three or maybe only four of the tracks are worth repeated listening. "Blues for Narada", an instrumental, was the biggest surprise of the album, as it is a very moving performance, more blues in conceptual feel than dirty downhome wailing and in the same ballpark as "Parisienne Walkways" as a song that could be a major crowd pleaser at a gig. One can see the thousands of flickering lighters or, as a more contemporary innovation, flickering cell phones.

Having googled the Gary Moore discography I now know that there are even more blues albums than the four released between 1990 and 1995. I have never seen the more recent albums or even been aware of them. Clearly the commercial appeal of the blues remained even amidst the more standard rock fare. I would be so bold as to say, though, that the earlier albums are still the best.

There are a couple of compilations of the 'blues years'. The one I have is Parisienne Walkways: The Blues Collection (2003), which is in fact a compilation of tracks from the blues albums released by Moore, plus the mandatory "Parisienne Walkways", a song on a Phil Lynott solo album and which seems to be so closely identified with Gary Moore that a collection of his songs must include it to have any chance of selling in significant volume. The version generally available is a live version, with an incredibly long sustained note that is probably the moment the listener waits for as the song is not bad but hardly compelling other than for the Moore guitar part. In this instance "Parisienne Walkways" comes from Blues Alive.

I picked up this blues collection for a song at Cash Crusaders. The presence of "Parisienne Walkways" was not a unique selling proposition; in fact, I would have preferred an album without it.

As I recollect Chris Prior played a few of these Gary Moore blues numbers on his late radio show on Radio 5 and they sounded pretty good on the FM airwaves. I really like the blues and have a fondness for good blues rock as well, or maybe I should call it blues influenced rock, as a bunch of bands who have tried to make rock songs out of blues just made crap. The two main issues are the rock rhythm section just cannot get the backbeat that is so necessary to swing the blues and that the lead guitarist believes he should solo as often and as long as he can, usually to boring effect over the length of an album.

Blues is meant to be about feeling and not simple technical ability, awesome as it might be. Gary Moore comes from a musical heritage where he could use his technical skill work for him in the blues context to produce music that satisfies as a whole. The backing musicians are often not, as far as | know, blues musicians but most probably simply top session musicians who can play in any style you require.

On this collection we have few Moore tunes, a couple of standards, including a duet with Albert King on "Oh Pretty Woman" and, significantly, a handful of songs either written by one P A Greenbaum, better known as Peter Green, or associated with the Green-era Fleetwood Mac.

"Oh Pretty woman" is the bravura opening track with a big blues rock guitar attack that belies any semblance of a deep attachment to the spirit of the blues though, of course, the Albert King signature tune, is pretty well standard braggadocio by a bluesman who was never ashamed to grandstand when he could. It is just that the bluster of the rock trappings do not do justice to the song or to the concept. This version could easily have fitted in with the Gary Moore heavy rock show.

I know "Walking By Myself" better in a much more sympathetic treatment by Johnny Winter from Red, Hot and Blue, the second album Winter cut with the Muddy Waters band in the late Seventies, and Moore's take on this Jimmy Rodgers classic is not as leaden as the opening track, yet also not as easily swinging as the Winter interpretation. I guess this is the difference between a guitarist who grew up in Ireland listening to the blues on record and a guitarist who grew up around the Texas juke joints.

"Need Your Love So Bad", "Merry Go Round", "Showbiz Blues" and "Love That Burns" represent the Fleetwood Mac tribute and are the most bluesy and sensitive of the tunes on offer. Moore has an appealing lovelorn voice and does justice to his material here. He cannot quite beat Peter Green at his own game though. Who can? Nonetheless these versions are worth revisiting.

The weirdness on this compilation is a George Harrison song that is rather appealing and melodic but I would hardly have thought of Harrison as a bluesman. The pop smarts of the song works well in this context of good time rocking blues. Great sing-a-long chorus. Coulda been a hit, I guess.

The three versions of "The Sky Is Crying" I know best are by the composer Elmore James, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here Moore takes the Albert King approach with piercing, forceful leads though he adds to the more or less dimensional King thing with a nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan's virtuosity. The basic thing one can say about Moore's take on the blues is that is loud end powerful. Unfortunately it is also somewhat too technically proficient and clinical to move me in the way Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf or Albert King move me. The blues should be about a feeling and the feeling Moore gives me is that he is making a commercial move and not a heartfelt one.

The album ends with three Gary Moore compositions: "Cold day In Hell", "Only Fool In Town" and "King of the Blues" and these tunes show that he is facile songwriter who knows his blues moves and can contemporise them to fit in with his big rock anthems. Rock solid rhythm section with melodic lead guitar combined with rousing choruses, is a formula for audience enjoyment and Moore knows how to work a room. He does not write blues from the heart, though. It is an exercise in song writing, albeit a successful exercise, that cannot truly touch the heart or even the gut, at least not mine.

Whereas I have listened a lot to Eric Clapton's blues and will continue to do so. The same applies to early Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, Michael Bloomfield and even Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom were steeped in the blues and tried to do justice to the music and the emotion of it. My feeling is that I won't spend that much time listening to Gary Moore's version of the blues. Owning this compilation has more to do with satisfying my curiosity, after all these years, than with a desire to immerse myself in the man's product. Undoubtedly talented and skilled, yet not nuanced enough for my liking.



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