Black Star Riders

An interview with vocalist Ricky Warwick
by Sal Serio
April 2018

Black Star Riders - photo by Richard Stow

Black Star Riders
photo by Richard Stow

Black Star Riders formed in 2012 when the most recent members of Thin Lizzy were writing and recording new songs, but decided that it would not be appropriate to release the upcoming album (2013’s ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’) under the Thin Lizzy name. Vocalist Ricky Warwick chose the “Black Star Riders” moniker after being inspired by the movie “Tombstone” (1993) which features an outlaw gang of the same name. The current line-up of Black Star Riders is: Warwick, with guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson, bass player Robbie Crane, and drummer Chad Szeliga. Touring in support of their 3rd album, ‘Heavy Fire’, the hard rocking group hits the Upper Midwest for the following dates: Mon. April 2 at the Minneapolis Armory (w/ Judas Priest & Saxon); Tues. April 3 at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee (w/ Judas Priest & Saxon); Thurs. April 5 at the Resch Center in Green Bay (w/ Judas Priest & Saxon); Fri. April 6 at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL; and Sat. April 7 at Potawatomi in Milwaukee (w/ Saxon).

MAXIMUM INK:  You’ve got upcoming tour dates with Judas Priest and Saxon. Has Black Star Riders played with those bands before?
RICKY WARWICK:  We’ve toured with Judas Priest before, and this is our first time playing shows with Saxon. It’s great! It’s a real honor to be part of it.

MI:  I’ve been listening to your latest album ‘Heavy Fire’ since it came out, and it is an exceptional album. One song in particular really sticks in my head, “Dancing With The Wrong Girl”. When I was growing up and experiencing radio early on, back in the 70s, a catchy song like that would’ve been an immediate hit. What’s changed now that radio doesn’t gravitate to this stuff?
RW:  Everything’s changed. It was fairly simple before. You made a record [and] you tried to get it on the radio. If people heard it, they went out and bought the record. If they liked the single, they would go explore, and buy the album. Then they would come to a concert that you play, and the magazines would promote that. There’s so much media overload now. So many places you can get stuff from, and so much other entertainment that people can have, without ever leaving their armchair. That’s just the way it is! I’m not going to gripe about it. That’s just change and evolution, and that’s the way of the world. But it’s a shame that people don’t have time to appreciate stuff anymore. I think that’s the key factor. Y’know, I have kids, and they’ll listen to 45 seconds of a song and skip on to the next one, and be distracted by a video game or watch something on YouTube. It’s just a different culture, different generation, and a different world. It hasn’t changed as much in the U.K. where the BBC still has quite a stronghold, and we’re very lucky that “Dancing With The Wrong Girl” was played a lot on BBC radio, and had quite a big effect, as [did] “Testify Or Say Goodbye”, which actually was a hit single over there. In the States, it just seems to have really changed, and is completely formatted. Unfortunately, to try and break through costs a lot of money. In my opinion payola is bigger than it ever was. To get on radio, you need to buy advertising. It’s just tough… you can’t grumble about it. You just adapt, change with the times, and do the best you can.

MI:  Are you thinking about the follow-up to ‘Heavy Fire’?
RW:  Oh, absolutely, yeah! We’re one of those bands that are always writing and coming up with ideas. Literally when we come out of the studio there’s already ideas being put together for the next record. But, we’re looking to get in to record probably February of next year.

MI:  The lyrics on ‘Heavy Fire’ have thematic elements of worldwide tension, socially as well as personally, or internally. Are you going to continue to explore those themes?
RW:  Yeah, I just write what I see and feel. Things going on around me that have affected myself, friends, my family, or what you see on the news. That’s what I’ve always written about. The great thing about life is there’s a new experience every day. I never talk too much about politics or where I stand, but I think if you read my lyrics you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I think and feel. It’s really a complete diary of my soul.

MI:  Am I correct that your primary songwriting partner is Damon Johnson?
RW:  Absolutely, yeah!

MI:  I’ve had the pleasure to have met Damon before, and he seems like a really easy to get along with guy.
RW:  Terribly easy, yeah! It’s just fantastic, y’know? We’re both very committed and very driven, and have a lot of the same ideas and ideals. I think that’s why it works so well. It’s very laid back.

MI:  Of course Black Star Riders have the Thin Lizzy connection. I’m a long time fan, and Phil Lynott is a personal hero of mine. What are your feelings about Phil’s legacy?
RW:  For me personally, he was my hero as well, and he was the soundtrack to my youth growing up in Northern Ireland. So, obviously there was a huge connection for me, as a kid. To me, the songs are classic, they’re timeless. In my opinion, he was the greatest front man that ever lived. He had it all, the look, a great bass player, a great poet, and a great musician. He was edgy, aggressive, and at the end of the day, the songs were just fantastic. I think people are still discovering that, even now. That’s the test of great musicianship, that the songs are timeless.

MI:  Has that association to Phil and Thin Lizzy been a challenge to you at all? I mean, as far as establishing your own identity…
RW:  Well, my band The Almighty was very successful over in Europe, so people over there knew who I was. So, I wasn’t trying to establish myself, I was just the guy that got the Thin Lizzy gig when Scott asked me to sing those songs. That’s the way I look at it. I wasn’t trying to replace Phil. That would be completely crass. He’s irreplaceable. I’ve always said this, and will always say it: I’ve never tried to step in to those shoes. All I try to do is stand beside them, and do the best that I can. Keep the songs alive, and keep playing them with the spirit, intensity, power, and passion, that hopefully Phil would approve of himself. It is a challenge, of course it is. There’s enormous pressure that comes with that, but it’s a very good challenge to have. To wake up every day [and] know you’re a small part of that huge legacy.

MI:  Your singing voice sounds a lot like Phil’s. I’m under the assumption that a lot of that comes from your vocal inflections and accent, since you’re both Irish.
RW:  Well, Phil was from the Republic of Ireland… Dublin, and I’m from Belfast. But, yeah, it’s Ireland. I’ve got a baritone voice. I’ve never been able to hit the high notes, and Phil never sang up there very high. I grew up liking those kind of singers, Springsteen, Lynott, Joe Strummer from The Clash. Those were the guys I was drawn to, and tried to emulate.

MI:  Have you met Phil’s mother Philomena?
RW:  I have, yes. She’s a wonderful lady.

MI:  Has she given you her blessing?
RW:  Absolutely she has, yes. Which is all I needed to hear, once Philomena said that she loved the show and was blown away by what we were doing. She was so sweet to me, so gracious and so lovely.

MI:  What are your favorite songs from the Thin Lizzy catalog? Both songs you already perform, and ones you would like to do some day.
RW:  There are so many. I’ll never get tired of playing “Jailbreak”. I just love that song… a great song with a great riff. I love singing it. In Black Star Riders, that’s probably the one we play the most. “Hollywood” is a great song, I’d love to play that, and “Got To Give It Up” from ‘Black Rose’… “Do Anything You Want To”, from the same album. There’s so, so many.

MI:  You mentioned Joe Strummer a minute ago. In your bio I noticed you had some touring opportunities very early on playing with a couple of my favorite punk bands, New Model Army and Stiff Little Fingers.
RW:  Yeah! I was a huge New Model Army fan, and I was in this little punk band, and we ended up getting some shows with [them]. One thing led to another, and I got asked to go on the road with them for a year. I was 20 at the time, and that was my first taste of proper professional touring. I did a world tour with them, which was unbelievable. I learned so much. It was a fantastic experience for me, and I’m still great friends to this day with Justin Sullivan from New Model Army. Stiff Little Fingers were the first band I ever saw play live in Belfast when I was a kid, about 12-13 years old. I literally walked in to the concert and walked back out completely mind blown. Changed. Converted to being [like] that’s what I want to do. I want to be that guy up on stage making that racket. Seeing people react the way I’d just been reacting to it myself. It was life changing. That was my first real [influence], Stiff Little Fingers and Thin Lizzy. There was a great punk scene in Northern Ireland around ’78, ’79… The Outcasts, The Defects, Rudi, The Undertones, The Starjets, all those bands were local because you have to remember at that time there was so much trouble going on that a lot of international bands would not come and play there. So the homegrown talent, the Irish artists, were the ones that would be playing regularly that you could go and see. Quite a strange time, but amazing.

MI:  I had the opportunity to see Stiff Little Fingers a couple months ago when they came through Wisconsin, and had my own mind blown, like you said.
RW:  Yeah? Still great, right?

MI:  I was completely satiated… there was nothing else I needed from that show. Speaking of shows, your Milwaukee date with Judas Priest is sold out, but fans still have a chance to come see you at Potawatomi Casino with Saxon. What would you say to the folks that are still on the fence?
RW:  It’s really simple. It’s a night of pure soulful, adrenaline, tuneful, amazing, in-your-face rock and roll. We’ll get you up, get you moving, put a smile on your face. We’ll make you forget your worries for an hour. We’ll motivate you to feel good. That’s what Black Star Riders do. Miss it at your peril! The band is great. We’ve got Scott Gorham there. We’ve got Damon Johnson, Robbie Crane, Chad Szeliga on the drums. All of these guys are phenomenal players. The chemistry in the band is outstanding. It has to be seen to be believed.

MI:  Wow… thanks, Ricky! Good luck on the road, and we’ll see you in Milwaukee.
RW:  I appreciate the support. Thank you so much and see you then. Take care!

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Black Star Riders
CD: Heavy Fire Record Label: Nuclear Blast
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