“Vulnerability is a liability/There ain’t no place for it in this world/Animosity will never let you be/It’ll never let your soul relax”
YOU may think you know who Black Star Riders are – the current incarnation of Thin Lizzy, called something else so as not to insult that legendary band’s fans, with perhaps a few legal and financial benefits as a bonus.
But lyrically Black Star Riders are also very much the intellectually-driven, bitter realism of their 50-year-old singer, Ricky Warwick. No matter how much the dual-guitar multi-national rockers achieve, Lizzy veteran Scott Gorham will always be bathed in the afterglow of that band.
But Warwick, formerly of New Model Army and The Almighty, is probably at his creative peak right now. And given the first paragraph of this story, from the song “Testify Or Say Goodbye” off their new album Heavy Fire, he’s evoking the worldview of a musician who’s spent plenty of years living hand to mouth.
“You’ve got to hurt a little to get by,” he croons on “Killer Instinct”, off the previous release. Except “hurt” sounds a lot like “whore”.
“Well, you know something? It’s hard to argue that sometimes it feels like a glass half empty world right now,” guitarist Damon Johnson, 52, says down the line from Nashville.
“I just know that Ricky is a realist. Ricky Warwick does not suffer fools, he’s a very thoughtful person.
“The guy is a complete nut job too man, so funny and I think he just kind of takes it on a song-to-song basis and I know from really having a front row seat with him while he puts these song lyrics together, a lot of the songs, they come from a kind of a culmination of several ideas. You know he’ll lay out … he usually has two or three notebooks, he’s got lyrics in his phone, he’s lyrics in his iPad, so as I begin to play in pieces of music or we’re working on some rift that he had, he will start to kind of look over all these different group of words and verses and then piece things together.”
Some of those lyrics, like “We’re only real as the promises we keep” and “If you never take a gamble, all the horses look the same”, border on the poetic.
In an earlier interview, Warwick told HM: “I’m always looking for inspiration but again, something will come into your psyche from a memory.
“In this life we get to live, you should never be lost – I don’t think – for ideas. There’s always something going on that you can write about and have an opinion on and that’s really all they are, songs – just opinion.”
To that end, the fourth track on Heavy Fire, “Who Rides The Tiger” sets it’s anti-gun theme pretty early. “All you need is Jesus and a .44/A contradiction in fath … the pulse of a nation at war with its own”. Warwick is an Irishman living in California; it strikes me that some of his band mates may not agree with some of his politics.
“We all kind of do give Ricky the full green light, carte blanche to say whatever he wants to say because Ricky is such a proven lyricist and he’s very passionate about being a songwriter,” Johnson explains.
“So, you know, the five of us spend a lot of time together, on tour, on the tour bus, in restaurants, backstage. We talk about current events, we talk about things that we read in the paper that day, we talk about things that are happening in our own lives and Ricky is a wizard at taking bits and pieces of all those things. (continued below)
“I know for a fact that a song like ‘Who Rides The Tiger’ is very very obvious with that and that certainly comes from conversations that we’ve had on the road, things that we see on the news.
“Anytime there is an election here in America, we talk about the gun controls and you know (that is) one of the biggest issues at the forefront. So I don’t think he needs us to really call him out for something that he wrote, you know taking him to task and being like ‘I wish you wouldn’t say that’.
“We have got a lot of respect for Ricky, not only as a musician but as a human being. He’s got a big heart and is very passionate and he is a great father and great husband so we are lucky we have got that kind of energy in our band and certainly in our front man.”
Lest this story come across as a paean to Ricky Warwick, let’s detail some of the other stuff Damon helped us out with. For a start, he said Thin Lizzy shows last year reassured him the decision to play under another name had been the right one.
Asked how drummer Jimmy Degrasso would juggle his Black Star Riders duties with his involvement in the reformation of Ratt, he answered: “I love the fact he’s involved and all the stuff, there’s no way the fact he is participating in that he is going to interfere with Black Star Riders. I think all the Ratt guys are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do anyway. It is a great opportunity for Jimmy and anytime I talk to him about it, he just kind of laughs about the whole thing because it is crazy to think that he would be at this point in his life and his phone would be ringing all the time from all types of people that want to have him come to play. So I’m happy for him and it’s got to be a lot of fun.”
Johnson played on “lost” album by supergroup Damn Yankees; he likes being asked about it. “I don’t know if it’s ever going to see the light of day; there’s definitely some good sounding stuff on there and I know that my fans would certainly get a kick out of it, you know to hear me singing lead vocals on a song, Jack Blades singing harmony and then have Ted Nugent come in with some ripping guitar solo. It is pretty awesome, so fingers crossed mate, I hope it sees the light of day sometime.”
Hope is something Johnson insists his bandmate Ricky Warwick possesses in spade loads – despite how it might sometimes sound.