January 4, 1986 – Philip Parris “Phil” Lynott was born on 20 August 1949 in West Bromwich, England from a British mom and an Afro Guyanese father and became the bass player/frontman singer of the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy.
When Phil was four years old, he went to live with his grandmother Sarah in Crumlin, Dublin, while his mother stayed in Manchester. In spite of a seemingly confusing domestic arrangement, Lynott had a happy childhood growing up in Dublin, and was a popular character at school.
In the mid 1960s, he began singing in his first band, the Black Eagles. Around this time, he befriended Brian Downey, who was later persuaded to join the band. Before long however the Black Eagles broke up and Phil joined ‘Kama Sutra’ before settling into a short stint singing in (Irish) Skid Row alongside guitar icon Gary Moore (all of 16 years old at the time), before learning the bass guitar and forming Thin Lizzy in 1969.
In 1969, Phil and Brian Downey formed Thin Lizzy with guitarist Eric Bell and keyboard player Eric Wrixon, both had been in the top Irish band Them with Van Morrison as frontman.. Phil was the main songwriter for Thin Lizzy, as well as the lead singer and bassist, even though he was essentially a shy person, who took a long time to create his on stage persona.
The name Thin Lizzy came from the character “Tin Lizzie” in the comic The Dandy, which in turn was based on the nickname for theFord Model T car. The “h” deliberately added to mimic the way the word “thin” is pronounced in a Dublin accent. Lynott only later discovered Henry Ford’s slogan for the Model T, “Any color you like as long as it’s black”, which he felt was appropriate for him. Wrixon was felt by the others to be superfluous to requirements and left after the release of the band’s first single, The Farmer in July 1970.
During the band’s early years, despite being the singer, bassist and chief songwriter, Lynott was still fairly reserved and introverted on stage, and would stand to one side while the spotlight concentrated on Bell, who was initially regarded as the group’s leader. During the recording of the band’s second album, Shades of a Blue Orphanage, Lynott very nearly left Thin Lizzy to form a new band with Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice. He decided however he would rather build up Lizzy’s career from the ground up than jump into another band that had big-name musicians in it. Due to being in dire financial straits, Lizzy did, however, soon afterwards record an album of Deep Purple covers anonymously under the name Funky Junction. Lynott did not sing on the album as he felt his voice was not in the same style as Ian Gillan.
Towards the end of 1972, Thin Lizzy got their first major break in the UK by supporting Slade, then nearing the height of their commercial success. Inspired by Noddy Holder’s top hat with mirrors, Lynott decided to attach a mirror to his bass, which he carried over to subsequent tours. On the opening night of the tour, an altercation broke out between Lynott and Slade’s manager Chas Chandler (former Animals bass player), who chastised his lack of stage presence and interaction with the audience, and threatened to throw Lizzy off the tour unless things improved immediately. Lynott subsequently developed his onstage rapport and stage presence that would become familiar over the remainder of the decade.
Their first top ten hit was in 1973, with a rock version of the traditional Irish song “Whiskey in the Jar“. After this initial success, the band found strong commercial success in the mid-1970s with hits such as “The Boys Are Back in Town“, “Jailbreak” and “Waiting for an Alibi” and became a popular live attraction due to the combination of Lynott’s vocal and songwriting skills and the use of dual lead guitars.
Having finally achieved mainstream success, Thin Lizzy embarked on several consecutive world tours. The band continued on Jailbreak’s success with the release of a string of hit albums, including Bad Reputation and Black Rose: A Rock Legend, and the live album Live and Dangerous, which feature Lynott in the foreground on the cover. However, the band was suffering from personnel changes, with Robertson being replaced temporarily by Gary Moore in 1976, and then permanently the following year, partly due to a personnel clash with Lynott.
In 1978, Lynott began to work on projects outside of Thin Lizzy. He was featured in Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, singing and speaking the role of Parson Nathaniel on “The Spirit of Man”. He performed sessions for a number of artists, including singing backing vocals with Bob Geldof on Blast Furnace and the Heatwaves’ “Blue Wave” EP. He was a judge at the 1978 Miss World contest. Towards the end of the 1970s, Lynott also embarked upon a solo career, published two books of poetry.
He released two solo albums in 1980, though Thin Lizzy were still enjoying considerable success. In 1984, after Thin Lizzy disbanded, he formed a new band, Grand Slam, with Doish Nagle, Laurence Archer, Robbie Brennan, and Mark Stanway, of which he was the leader until it folded in 1985 due to a lack of money and Lynott’s increasing addiction to heroin. He had one more major UK success with Gary Moore with the song “Out in the Fields”, followed by the minor hit “Nineteen”, before his death on 4 January 1986.
His heroin dependency landed him in the hospital on Christmas Day 1985. Although he regained consciousness enough to speak to his mother, his condition worsened by the start of the new year and he was put on a respirator. He died of pneumonia and heart failure due to septicaemia in the hospital’s intensive care unit on 4 January 1986, at the age of 36
He was 36 years 4 months 15 days old when he died on 4 January 1986
He remains a popular figure in the rock world, and in 2005, a statue to his memory was erected in Dublin.
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