Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott on the Majesty of Thin Lizzy

For years the band had been building to this moment, piece by piece, guitarist by guitarist. Then in 1976, Thin Lizzy released Jailbreak and changed the world.

It is without hyperbole one of the Top 10 greatest rock albums of all time that shows a band playing at its absolute peak in both artistry and craft. Jailbreak is deceptively simple, wholly personal, and of course, full of melodies from those twin-lead guitars.

Before he would go on to front one of the largest bands of the ’80s, before Jailbreak even came out, Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott was a scrappy kid from Sheffield, England, who was excited at the possibility that lay in Lizzy’s first hit, “Whiskey in the Jar.” It seemed to be a sign of something big on the horizon.

Elliott, and the rest of the world, would have to wait another three years before hearing anything from Lizzy again. But after that, Elliott formed a bond with the band—specifically guitarist Scott Gorham—and since has became intrinsically tied to them.

In 2011, Elliott and Gorham set about to remix Jailbreak, and two other Lizzy albums, 1976’s Johnny The Fox and 1978’s double live LP, Live and Dangerous, hardening the production to give it bit more edge. They even found an unheard verse from the late Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott on “The Boys Are Back In Town” and reformatted the song.

This is all to say: Elliott and Lizzy are extremely close.

In honor of the most famous rock band in Irish history, we spoke to Joe Elliott about his relationship with Thin Lizzy, his favorite song, his favorite album and how Phil Lynott blamed Def Leppard for splitting up the band.

~ What was your first memory of Thin Lizzy?

Joe Elliott: My first memory of Lizzy was “Whiskey in the Jar,” which was kind of a minor hit in the UK back in ’73. I remember buying the single on Decca records, and thinking, “Jimi Hendrix look-a-like, nice songs, we’ll see where he goes from there” sort of thing because everybody gets excited when they’re kids at new music. A band comes along whether it’s Bowie or T-Rex or whatever and you’re just wondering what’s going to happen next. Is it going to be a sustained attack or something? Is it just going to be this one hit? And after that there wasn’t anything else for three years, and you kind of forgot all about them. This was me in Sheffield, of course. You talk to somebody in Dublin and they’ll be like, “Oh no no no we heard them all the time.”


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