"I'll turn around and say to Scott Gorham, 'Dude, you're in fucking Thin Lizzy!' " says Ricky Warwick. "And he goes back to me, 'Yeah, and so are you!' "
As a wee lad in mid-1970s Northern Ireland, Warwick would play air guitar to his big sisters' Thin Lizzy records. Watching the Dublin-based band on TV, he was mesmerized not just by their ruggedly romantic, Celtic-tinged rock but also by guitarist Gorham's waist-length locks and frontman Phil Lynott's wry swagger.
"And to hear him talk with an Irish accent," Warwick recalls of Lynott. "Because back in those days there were no black people hardly living in Ireland."
Warwick went on to front his own successful hard-rock band, the Almighty, which toured in the early 1990s with the likes of Megadeth and Pantera. After relocating to Beverly Hills in 2005, he settled into family life and a solo career.
That is, until January 2010, when Gorham (whom he'd befriended during the Almighty's heyday) suddenly invited Warwick to front a revamped Thin Lizzy. He's been touring with the band in Europe for much of this year, and now stateside as special guests on Judas Priest's farewell tour.
"Scott basically wanted the songs to sound the same ... but he wanted the band to be 'as of now,' " Warwick, 45, explains. "He knew me; he knew how I could sing."
Though Thin Lizzy are best known for their 1976 hit "The Boys Are Back in Town," the band's original career (1969-84) produced a string of international big-sellers, including "Jailbreak." Bands from Mastodon (who've covered Lizzy's "Emerald") to Iron Maiden (who re-recorded "Massacre") acknowledge the influence of their pioneering twin-lead guitar arrangements.
Lynott died from pneumonia and organ failure in 1986. Versions of Lizzy toured on and off from 1996 to 2009, when Gorham started assembling his new crew, which now includes original drummer Brian Downey, longtime keyboard player Darren Wharton, guitarist Damon Johnson and bassist Marco Mendoza.
As for Warwick, he's a decidedly white guitar player who resembles a burly, tatted-out Braveheart extra. He bears zero resemblance to the lanky, afro'd Lynott. All of which was just perfect for the new Lizzy.
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"You can't fill Phil's shoes; you'd be stupid even to try," Warwick says.
Since he made his live Lizzy debut in Aberdeen, Scotland, in January, reviews have been overwhelmingly warm. England's Yorkshire Evening Post declared his performance "a very true interpretation of Lynott's vocal style, while keeping his own husky tones intact."
But the words that hit Warwick hardest came from Lynott's mother, Philomena, after she watched him sing her son's songs at Dublin's Olympia Theatre in February. "Phil would be absolutely proud of you," Warwick recalls her saying. "You've got the heart and soul."
Thin Lizzy perform Sat., Oct. 22, at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino.