Blowin’ Wind with Black Star Riders’ Ricky Warwick: “I could sing “Jailbreak” 1,000 times a day and I wouldn’t get sick of that song. It’s just genius for me.”

ricky_warwick_2012_04Ricky Warwick is someone whose music has been part of my life since 1988.  When I first heard The Almighty as a young fella I remember being blown away and thinking what an awesome band they were with their punk meets AC/DC kind of sound.  As the years would roll by I would follow Ricky all through the Almighty but it was his solo album, 2003’s Tattoos and Alibis, where I truly felt a strong connection with Ricky and his songs.  Fast forward to 2009 and Ricky seemed to do the impossible as he was picked to be lead singer/guitarist for the reformed Thin Lizzy who is now known as the Black Star Riders?  Why?  Well, read on and you’ll find out!

I had the pleasure of talking to Ricky Warwick for nearly an hour and he was such a great guy to talk to.  Ricky really opened up and talked about the personal connection of his solo material, what it was like to front the legendary Thin Lizzy, his love of Stiff Little Fingers, and what his favorite thing to do on a Friday night is.  This was a really fun interview and I think you’ll all enjoy getting to know Ricky Warwick.

Ricky Warwick, you’ve made my day sir.  I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time now.

[laughs] That’s good to know.  I’m glad I’ve done something right so thank you [laughs].

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Ricky, you live in LA.  Have you ever seen a more wretched hive of scum and villainy?

[laughs] Well, I’m from Belfast so I’ve seen quite a bit of that myself.  It’s a different kind of scum and villainy and the kind that I’m actually scared up.  I’m not so scared of the scum and villainy here in LA [laughs].  They’re not that scary here at all.

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How long have you been in LA?

Ten years this year believe it or not.

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So how does some punk kid from Belfast end up living in LA?

Love, you know?  I feel in love with my wife.  She’s a Texas girl but she lives in LA.  She’s based here and she had two young kids when I met her and I was living in Dublin.  One of us had to move and I was the one that was going to do it.  She has a great job and a good life already made here and I was spending a lot of time in America touring at that time anyways.  As a kid I was always fascinated with the states and I figured what the hell?  Let’s give it a go and here I am ten years later.

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How do you like living in the states compared to where you were living before?  Is it everything you thought and hoped it would be?

It’s different [laughs].  Living in California, the weather is stunning.  I come here and the sun is shining and I feel that there’s better opportunities for my wife and I since having another child and better opportunities for the kid as well.  It’s just a different way of life compared to the upbringing that I had.  Ireland is a different country.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it to death but the weather will drive you insane.  It’s just dull and cloudy and it rains way more than what is comfortable.

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Well it’s been raining and cold here in Atlanta for days so this must be what living in Dublin is like.

[laughs] Honestly, you can put up with that for a few weeks a year, no problem.  When it starts to be a few months and half a year it’s tough.  It gets to people and people get down because of the weather.  When the sun is shining in Ireland there’s no country like it in the world.  It’s the best place to be but it just doesn’t happen enough for me.

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Ricky, I’ve been an Almighty fan since I was in high school but I felt like that when you started putting out your solo albums that this was where you truly began this whole other life as a songwriter.  I felt like I got to know more about Ricky Warwick than I ever did through the Almighty.  When you started putting out those solo albums I feel like we also got to hear a lot more of the music of your roots and your homeland.  Was the beginning of your solo stuff a kind of coming of age thing?

Wow, thank you for saying that, Don.  That’s really sweet of you to have picked up on all of that.  You nailed it.  In a nutshell, I was in my 20’s while in the Almighty and it was an amazing time but it was crazy.  The band made some great music, we didn’t get on, we raised hell, and we did everything we shouldn’t have done [laughs].  We did things our own way.  We pissed people off, we made people happy and it’s something I’m really proud of.  It was a real roller coaster and it was crazy.  When I got to the point where I felt we had taken it as far as we could I walked away from it but I didn’t think about what I really wanted to do with my life after that.  I was staring 30 in the face, I had just gone through a terrible, messy divorce, I had just left the band I started with my buddies from school, and I was probably doing too much stuff that I shouldn’t have been doing.  It was a real turning point for me.  I got to 30 and it was the first time in 10 years that I had no manager, no record deal, no publishing deal, no nothing.  I didn’t even know if I wanted to make music anymore.  I had just become disillusioned with everything.  I retreated back to Dublin to just sort my head out and lick my wounds and I hadn’t picked up a guitar for about 7 or 8 months.  I knew Joe Elliot (Def Leppard vocalist) really well and he’d always been a good friend of mine and still is to this day.  He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I really didn’t know and that I was lost.  He said, “You should be making music.  That’s what you do.”  I just didn’t know if I could be in a band again and with all democracy, the egos, and everything else that comes with it.  He told me to just write songs and try playing solo.  He gave me some studio time and we did some demos and he really turned it all around for me.  I can’t give that guy enough credit.  He really believed in me and as soon as picked up a guitar good things started happening again.  That first album Tattoos and Alibis, I really poured my whole soul into that album.  It was a definite pivotal moment and it turned my whole life around completely.

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Your 2009 solo album Belfast Confetti is such a great album and I remember hearing this back in the day and thinking, “This has a lot of Thin Lizzy influence to it.”  Was this album a bit of foreshadowing?

It’s a great story.  I like to live and I need to get out before I make a record.  I can’t just go in and say, “Here’s another record with 10 songs about blah, blah, blah.”  I need to get to a place where I can write a body of songs that mean something to me.  I had written about 8 or 9 songs for what was going to be the 3rd album but I wasn’t happy with them.  I just felt that the songs weren’t good enough.  A good friend of mine, Tom Vitorino who actually manages The Cult, said, “You’ve never really written about your days in Belfast.”  I just said, “I don’t know that anyone wants to hear about me being from Belfast.” [laughs]  He said, “You’ve told me stories and they’re great stories.  Why don’t you write about that? These stories are great.”  That’s how Belfast Confetti was born.  I just started writing about stuff that had happened to me while growing up in Belfast and the influence that being from Northern Ireland had on me, my friends, and my family.  How I felt about conflicts over there and what I’d seen it do to people and do to the country.  That was really the whole subject matter for that album.

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I’m a big fan of traditional folk music and storytelling and Belfast Confetti really reminded me of that.  It’s the kind of record you can hope that 30 years from now someone will stumble upon it and see it as almost time capsule of sorts.

Thank you, man.  At the time I was also listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy at the time.  Tracks like “Wild One”, “Philomenia”, and “Borderline” and some of the real mellow stuff that they did.  I just love Phil’s voice on that stuff.  I was also listening to a lot of Van Morrison which was really inspiring me when I was making this album.

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In 2009 when you were contacted about joining Thin Lizzy, did you have some mixed emotions about the band being called Thin Lizzy and if so how did you get past that?

That’s a great question.  I’d know Scott (Gorham; Thin Lizzy guitarist) for a while and he played on Tattoos and Alibis.  Scott knew me as a person, a singer, and a writer so he knew I what I could do.  I was very honored that he picked me for the job.  I was blown away.  When I got that phone call the phone literally dropped out of my hand [laughs].  I said “yes” right away and then once I hung up the phone I said, “Shit.  What have I done?”  Phil was my hero and I just didn’t know if this was the right thing to do.  I called up my wife and we talked and I said if there is ever one second that this doesn’t feel right, I’m not going to do it no matter how long into it we go.  I love Thin Lizzy too much as a fan and she agreed.  I called another buddy of mine who’s a Thin Lizzy fanatic and I knew he would tell me the truth and he said, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to go for it.”  I just said that if I was going to do this I was going to it with as much grace and respect and love that I possibly can.  That means singing those songs the way we all know and love them and as close to Phil’s renditions of them as we possibly can without standing in that great man’s shoes.  I would never try and stand in Phil’s shoes.  All I ever want to do is stand beside them and if I can do that, that’s good enough for me.  There’s days when I wake up and I’d say, “This is great.  I’m the singer for Thin Lizzy and it’s going to be a great show” and the next day you wake up and say, “Oh God.  What am I doing?  I shouldn’t be doing this.”  There’s always days like that no matter what you do in life.  I’d be lying if I said that the pros and the belief and the feelings that I felt that I was doing the right thing.  Meeting Phillip’s mother had a big impact on me as well.  The minute I met her and the minute she hugged me and gave me a kiss and told me that Phillip would be proud, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought ever again and never will.

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This kind of thing has been done with great success and with class.  Alice in Chains did it.  Blind Melon did it really well.  So why not Thin Lizzy?  In the end of it all, it’s all about the spirit of the music and being true to the original music.  I saw you guys on the Download Festival on TV and I remember just loving it.  It was so intense and it really hit a chord with me.

Aw, thank you, Don.  The music is timeless.  People will die but the music lives on and the legacy lives on.  The thing for me that I’ll take from this is looking out into the crowd and seeing kids out there with their mom and dad and their grandparents and they love Lizzy and they love Phil and they’re here to hear those timeless songs.  To see the smiles on their faces is such a great thing.  It’s just such a great thing to be able to do for somebody and that’s what I love about it.

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At any point has singing songs like “Jailbreak”, “Waiting for an Alibi” or even “Cowboy Song” lost the novelty of being classic Thin Lizzy songs or do you feel something special every time?

Oh it’s always special.  Every time, without a doubt, hand on my heart, I’ll look down at the setlist and go, “Wow.  Emerald’s next.  Oh brilliant.  “Massacre” is next?  OH man, what a song!”  I’ll be honest, I’ve been in bands when I look at the setlist I’ll say, “Ok, that one’s next.  Ok.”  With these songs, man, I could sing “Jailbreak” 1,000 times a day and I wouldn’t get sick of that song.  It’s just genius for me.

Is there a Thin Lizzy song that you haven’t played yet that you would love to have a go at?

I would love to play “Got to Give it Up” from Black Rose.  Scott Gorham, if you’re reading this interview, me and Damon Johnson have been on to you for the last two years to play that damned song and you won’t give in.  Please can we play it in the Black Star Riders’s set [laughs].  I’d love to play that song.  That’s one of the ones I’d love to play.

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It would be cool to hear such an obscure song in the set.

Yeah, obviously we go out and we play all the hits.  We try to mix it up a little bit and play songs like “It’s Only Money” which is on the Nightlife album.  You play it and like 200 people will go, “Oh my God they’re playing “It’s Only Money!” and the other 1500 people are going, “What’s this song?” [laughs]  That’s the problem that you face.  Sometimes you play the obscure tracks and you please a small minority but the vast amount of people might not know those songs.  You sometimes have to watch what you do because at the end of the day people are expecting to hear the classic Lizzy songs and we want to give them what they want.

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The Black Star Riders has really taken on a life and identity of its own yet it still encapsulates the spirit of Thin Lizzy.  Is this a more comfortable place for to be part of a band as opposed to the singer for Thin Lizzy?

Yeah, absolutely and again you nailed it.  It’s very true.  Really nobody can argue and stuff like, “You shouldn’t be doing it.”  That can just be put to bed.  We have changed the name and that has given us the freedom to record without any anxiety or criticism.  It allows me to be myself as much as I want to be but you nailed it on the head Don when you said that Thin Lizzy’s spirit is something that we will always retain in Black Star Riders.  Scott Gorham has his guitar sound and the way he plays will always be reminiscent of Thin Lizzy and that’s beautiful and that is something that will always be a part of Black Star Riders.

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So with Black Star Riders, is this your “forever band” or is this just where you’re at this place in time?

I would like to think that this band will continue for quite some time but you never know what’s around the corner.  We’re already working on album #2 and we’re going to start recording that in October so I do know that the next 18 months are already planned out for us with recording and touring.  It’s good to know that for the foreseeable future this is what we’re going to be doing because I love the guys in band and I love making music with the guys in the band.  I love writing with them.  As far as I’m concerned this is the number one thing and I’d love it to continue.

One of the questions I usually like to ask people is, “If you could sing for any band for just one night, who would it be?” but something tells me I already know the answer to this one so pick another!

[laughs] Wow.  Yeah, you see, I already got my dream and my wish come true [laughs].  Honestly, I guess if I had to pick another one it would be another favorite band of mine from Northern Ireland called Stiff Little Fingers.  They are an amazing band.  Thin Lizzy and Stiff Little Fingers are the two bands I can’t live without.  I guess it would have to be Stiff Little Fingers.

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So I was told that you’re a Star Wars fan.

I am by default [laughs].  Up until about 2 ½ years ago I had never seen a Star Wars movie.  I was the guy that would say, “No way.  I’m not watching Star Wars” [laughs].  My little girl Pepper, when she was about 3 ½ or 4 got into Star Wars like you wouldn’t believe.  For about a year and half, every weekend she was sit and watch all six of those movies, quote lines from it, trivia, you name it.  We asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up and she said she wanted to go to Jedi School to be a Jedi Knight.  We were actually worried about her at one point because it was all she would talk about [laughs].  She’s now 6 ½ and now she’s getting into My Little Pony and stuff but certainly she’s a Star Wars nut.  So because of her I ended up watching all the movies.

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That’s funny.  I was so infatuated with Star Wars as a kid that when I got obsessed with music, my parents were like, “Finally.  Something else!”  Now I’m 40 and I’m infatuated with music and Star Wars so go figure.

[laughs] That’s so cool.  That’s rare for a parent to be like that.  You and my daughter would get along perfectly.

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At what point did a young Ricky Warwick know that he wanted to play music?

I was always into music for as long as I could remember but the defining moment for me was going into Belfast just before my 14th birthday to see Stiff Little Fingers play.  I walked in and my jaw just hit the floor.  I had never seen anything like it before and my life changed forever.  I remember that night I walked out of that show and I said, “That’s what I want to do and that’s what I have to do.”  It was simple as that.

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So that really sealed the deal for you?

Absolutely.  It was the whole thing.  I asked my dad to lend me some money so I could buy a guitar which he did and from there I never looked back.  I never wanted to be a guitar hero.  I just wanted to write songs and as soon as I learned 2 or 3 chords I started writing songs straight away.

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Do you remember the first time your first gig ever?

I do, yeah.  It was a buddy’s 16th birthday party and it was in like the village hall in the village where we lived.  I had moved to Scotland at this point.  It was awful, really awful but it felt amazing [laughs].  The power and the confidence that the guitar gave you was just such a buzz.

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Do you get nervous before you go out on stage these days?

I do, yeah.  It’s different now though.  With the Lizzy stuff I would get very, very nervous.  Terribly nervous.  Also with the solo stuff because up there it’s just you.  In Black Star Riders I get nervous but not as much because I think there’s not as much pressure if that makes sense.  I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I still get nervous but not to the degree that I did when it was Thin Lizzy.

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It sounds like it kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier and how Black Star Riders is more of your own identity now instead of standing beside the identity of someone else.

Exactly.  Half the songs in the set are songs that I wrote so these songs are mine to screw up where as the Thin Lizzy songs are the holy grail and if you forget a song or a word it’s like, “how dare you?” [laughs]  There’s that kind of pressure but when I’m doing the BSR stuff and I forget a word it doesn’t matter, I wrote it [laughs].

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Have you had any negative confrontations with fans over your role in Thin Lizzy or even as Black Star Riders?

You know, nothing face to face.  Usually it’s snotty remarks on Facebook and Twitter and stuff like that.  It always makes me laugh because most of those people are so called Lizzy fans but they can’t even spell Phil’s name right [laughs].  People will criticize anything you do.  I’ve got pretty thick skin and I just don’t let it get to me.  Nobody has ever come up to me and got in my face and said anything but I’m a pretty big guy so maybe that’s why [laughs].  The only time I can really think of was one time in a bar on a day off in Birmingham, England I was having a beer and some guy had a go with me saying that what I was doing was wrong but he also said he’d never seen a show.  If somebody comes to see the show and says, “I don’t get.  I don’t agree with it.  I don’t like it.” That’s great.  They made the effort to come and see it and it wasn’t for them and I can respect that totally.  For someone to start mouthing off about it without really doing their homework and actually checking it out, that’s just not fair.  It’s like trying a whole different kind of food.  How do you know you don’t like it unless you try it [laughs].

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What song, aside from Thin Lizzy, whenever you hear it makes you say, “I wish I wrote that?”

[laughs] “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead.That song, to me, is the most perfect piece of genius rock n’ roll writing out there.  It’s just a fantastic song melodically, energy wise, attitude wise, it has it all.  That song comes on and you just want to turn it up, jump around, throw your fist in the air, and break things.  To me, that’s what rock n’ roll should make you want to do.

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You’ve crossed paths with many legendary musicians over the years.  What is the most star struck you have ever been?

Probably meeting Lemmy.  I’ve toured with Motorhead before and we were pretty star struck.  The Almighty opened up for the Ramones and I think it took me about a week to get up the courage to go talk to them [laughs].  Those two bands right there were idols of ours but besides that I don’t get too star struck.  People are people and if I admire somebody’s work I want to go talk to them and let them know that I like what they’re doing.  Nine times out of ten those people are very gracious and very happy that you talked to them.  It’s not very often that people are dicks.  I’ve not been let down too many times.

In your mind what is one hard rock album that nobody should live without hearing?

Excluding Thin Lizzy? [laughs]

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Man, I’d be a bitch if I didn’t let you include a Thin Lizzy one so pick a Thin Lizzy one and a non-Lizzy one.

[laughs] Alright!  If I had to choose a Lizzy one it would have to be Black Rose.  There’s something great about them all but Black Rose has so many of my favorite songs.  I love Gary Moore’s guitar playing.  For me, again, I’d have to go back again to Stiff Little Fingers’ first album Inflammable Material.  That album is just great, angst, dirty rock n’ roll coming out of the streets of Belfast.  It’s just a wonderful record and without it there would be no Green Day.  As soon as you hear it you’ll see the connection.

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If I were to come hang out with you on Friday night, what would we do?

Ah see, now you’re talking [laughs].  Friday night we have all the kids here and everyone is home from school.  My wife and I will open a bottle of wine and usually a pizza is ordered and then we have Friday Night Disco Night.  We’ll put on Katy Perry and KC & The Sunshine Band and Bee Gees and then we all get up and start dancing around and having a good time.  I think you’ll dig it.  [laughs]

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If Hollywood called and said they were making a movie about your life, who would play you?

Wow.  Oh man [laughs].  I think Colin Farrell would be good.  He’s got the attitude and he’s a fellow Irish man so yeah, I think he’d definitely be good.

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If you could have a pint with any musician alive or dead, who would it be?

Probably Joe Strummer from the Clash.  I used to be a big drinker but I’m not really a big drinker anymore.  I like Guinness and I like beer but I don’t touch the hard stuff anymore.

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Ricky, finish this sentence: if I wasn’t a musician I would be_____________.

A chicken farmer.  [laughs]  I was brought up on a chicken farm and that’s what I did when I left school before I went into the music industry.  My father had a farm in Ireland and that’s what I went into when I left school for about three years.

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And finally, what’s in store for you for the rest of 2014?

The Black Star Riders have a US tour and some European festivals and some more US dates have been added and we’ll start recording the follow up album in October in Dublin with Joe Elliot producing.  I also have two solo records coming out this year.  One’s electric and other is acoustic.  Both of them were done through the Pledge Music campaign which is the European version of Kickstarter so if anyone wants to check it out go to www.rickywarwick.com and check it out.  Yeah, there’s a lot going on and I’m thankful.  It’s good.

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Ricky, hopefully you’ll eventually make it to Atlanta and we can have a pint together.

Absolutely and when we do, please get in touch and we’ll make that happen.    I know we’re adding dates all the time and we’re looking at adding some more East coast and southern shows.  Hopefully Atlanta will be one of them.

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Ricky, thanks so much for such a great conversation.  As a longtime fan I really enjoyed getting to know you.

I appreciate that Don and thanks so much for your support.  I really appreciate it.

 

For more on Ricky Warwick, go to www.rickywarwick.com and check out Black Star Riders at www.blackstarriders.com