Exactly twenty two years ago today, January 4th, 1986 Irish rock legend Phil Lynott, who came to fame as the frontman of Thin Lizzy (perhaps best known stateside for their hit "The Boys Are Back In Town") died of pneumonia and heart failure, apparently the result of complications from a heroin drug overdose.
And today many people around the world are honoring the man. Most notable is the big annual 22nd Vibe For Philo: Johnny the Fox meets Jimmy the Weed celebration tonight in Dublin, Ireland at The Button Factory at Curved Street in the Temple Bar district where numerous artists will perform, including Cait O'Riordan (formerly with the Pogues), the tribute band Tizz Lizzy as well as Satoshi Shibata -- lead guitarist with Japanese tribute band The Lizzy Boys. The late singer's mom, Philomena Lynott, will also be on-stage tonight in Dublin.
Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy (who in recent years reformed but it ain't the same without Phil) are one of those bands whose influence is very great and wide with countless Thin Lizzy tribute bands popping up worldwide over the years, as well as numerous bands who do Thin Lizzy covers/tributes, including Europe, Motorhead, and Metallica, whose cover of Thin Lizzy's version of the old Irish traditional folk song "Whiskey In The Jar" is perhaps better known with American audiences than the Lizzy's 1972 recording -- their first hit single, which is below in video form (check out the opening which features the Celtic influenced art of modern Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick who did most of Lizzy's album covers).
But it is back in Ireland where Philo, as Lynott is fondly referred to, is the most revered. So much so that a couple of years ago the City of Dublin unveiled a bronze statue of the man (pictured above) on Harry St. off of Grafton St., something that places him among the ranks of such great Irish literary figures as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Brendan Behan, all of whom also have statues in the Irish capital. Coincidentally, Lynott had several books of poetry published and was working on a book of prose at the time of his sudden death.
Although raised in Ireland, Phil Lynott was actually born in England, the son of a white Irish mother, Philomena Lynott and a black Brazilian father who abandoned them both less than a month after young Phil was born. His mother, whose last name he adopted, raised him in Manchester, England (where she had immigrated to) for the first several years of his life, but then sent him back to Dublin to live with her mother, his grandmother, who helped raise him into his teens.
It was in the mid sixties when he began his music career around Dublin, at first with a group called the Black Eagles, soon after joining Skid Row for a short time (the Irish hard rock group named Skid Row led by Brush Shiels and later featuring short term Lizzy member Gary Moore).
In 1969 Thin Lizzy formed. Joining bassist/vocalist Lynott were drummer Brian Downey plus two former members of Van Morrison's band Them, keyboardist Eric Wrixon and guitarist Eric Bell. Note that the two lead guitar harmony hard rock sound that Lizzy is credited with pioneering and which became synonymous with them would not happen for a few more years and under a different group lineup -- but always with Lynott as the leader, bassist, singer and songwriter.
As a black man in Ireland at that very different time (pre Celtic TIger when there were virtually no non white people in the country, period), Lynott was an anomaly and drew inspiration from Jimi Hendrix as a role model. It would be a few years of heavy gigging and several recordings before Thin Lizzy really clicked at a large level.
After signing with Decca they (at this stage a trio) released their eponymous album in 1971 followed by Shades of a Blue Orphanage the following year. Their big break, which came in 1973, was the surprise hit on the UK charts: their rock reinterpretation of "Whiskey In A Jar. " This single first blew up when it was released initially as a single in Ireland in 1972, striking a nerve with a renaissance of Irish music in Ireland at the time, with bands like Horslips and Planxty making Irish traditional music hip for the first time with the young generation, and it not only topped the charts in Ireland but then later went into the Top Ten in England, which was what really launched the group.
By 1976 their lineup (as pictured above) was Lynott, Brian Downey, Brian Robertson, and Scott Gorham. The most recent (post Phil death reformation) includes John Sykes, Scott Gorham, Marco Mendoza, and Tommy Aldrige --while previous band members have included Snowy White, Gary Moore, Darren Wharton, Michael Lee, Randy Gregg, and the aforementioned early members.
And in 1978 and 1979 (as pictured right), Steve Jones and Paul Cook, free after the breakup of the Sex Pistols, teamed up with Phil Lynott and Scott Gorham and Brian Downey to become the Greedy Bastards, later known as the Greedies. As such, they did a bunch of concerts, including a memorable one at the SFX Hall in Dublin and in 1979, under the name The Greedies, recorded a Christmas single, "A Merry Jingle," which was a hit and landed them on Top Of The Pops.
By 1980, while Thin Lizzy were still enjoying much success, Phil Lynott simultaneously launched his successful solo career with the album Solo in Soho, which included two hit singles that year, "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" and "King's Call" (a tribute to Elvis Presley that featured Mark Knopfler on guitar).
In 1983, Thin Lizzy disbanded, and soon after that same year, Lynott recorded the single "We Are The Boys (Who Make All The Noise)" with a lineup of Roy Wood, Chas Hodges, and John Coghlan, and collaborated with former bandmate blues/rock guitarist Gary Moore on "Out in the Fields" (a No. 5 UK hit in 1985, his highest-charting single ever) and "Parisienne Walkways" (a UK no. 8 hit).
In 1984, he formed a new band, Grand Slam, with Dosh Nagle, Laurence Archer, Robbie Brennan, and Mark Stanway. Considered by record labels as a risky unknown commodity in comparison to the mega scale Thin Lizzy, Grand Slam couldn't get a deal so the band fell apart. But as a solo artist Lynott had no problem getting signed and was working on a new solo album and other projects at the time of his untimely death at age 36.