It’s been thirty years since Thin Lizzy bandleader Phil Lynott passed away, and forty since their seminal ‘Jailbreak’ album was released. Assembling a new line-up that includes 21st century Lizzy guitarist Damon Johnson and Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton to celebrate these momentous milestones, we caught up with the pair backstage at Ramblin’ Man Fair in Kent, to discuss the tour, the detractors, and Aerosmith’s greatest bass line. Back in town with a sweet emotion: Eamon O’Neill
Hi guys, I was going to ask you how you are today, but as I’m catching you eating, I’m guessing that the answer is ‘hungry’.
Damon Johnson: Well, I guess this was to be expected. The U.K. is so special to us. It’s a big rock community, not just for Thin Lizzy but for Aerosmith and Black Star Riders, so inevitably our management and our Label would make this; “oh, by the way guys, you’ve got three hours of press today! Oh, and forgot to mention, the catering tent will be shut down”! *laughing*
The first question I have to ask, is Tom Hamilton, how did you come to be playing in Thin Lizzy for a summer?
Tom Hamilton: Well, first of all, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ll go all the way back to the night I went to a Motörhead show in Boston. And after the Motörhead show, they were very gracious and invited my son and I to come backstage and hang out with those guys. They’re really, really awesome. Lemmy, I had met some time before that, and I’m sorry to say this Lemmy, but you were a real sweet guy.
You’re blowing his rock ‘n’ roll reputation!
TH: You were a lovable human being.
DJ: Somewhere, he’s smiling right now.
TH: Right. But I got to know all of the other guys, and Mikkey Dee the drummer, sometime after that called up and said; “hey, I’m going to be playing drums in a Thin Lizzy reunion tour next summer, and I thought you might be interested in doing it?” And I said; "yeah, definitely, you can tell them I’d be interested for sure". And luckily I landed the job.
Did Aerosmith ever share a bill with Thin Lizzy back in the 1970’s?
TH: I’d be stupid to say ‘no’, but I don’t have a specific memory.
The lines are blurred?
TH: Most of them were in those days! *laughing*
DJ: That’s word for word what Scott Gorham [Thin Lizzy Guitarist] said, because I asked him the same question. I said; “surely you guys were on the same bill?”, and he was like; “maybe… I can’t remember”!
Damon, Thin Lizzy’s ‘Live And Dangerous’ and Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks’ are among your favourite ever albums. Standing on stage with Scott Gorham on one side and Tom Hamilton on the other must be something special.
DJ: No one has my life. No one else I can think of gets an experience like this, and I’ll say the same thing Tom said; I feel so fortunate. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with some of my friends back home, particularly my buddies from high school and college, and you know, we were just playing those records infinitely, and it’s as big a deal for my friends as it is for me. “WOW!”, you know? “Did you jam any Aerosmith songs?!”, the answer is YES! Scott Travis [drums], and Tom and myself, we had a great little blast, and I think we did four Aerosmith songs.
What Aerosmith songs did you play?
DJ: Well the first one we did was ‘Walk This Way’, which I was not expecting, but Scott Travis just jumped into the drum beat, and I was on that with a quickness. I believe that we also did ‘Train Kept A Rollin’, and then we did something else before we did ‘Sweet Emotion’. It may have been ‘Same Old Song And Dance’. We didn’t do ‘Mama Kin’, but we should have.
There’s just too many great Aerosmith songs, isn’t there?
DJ: People think that I just say these things to be funny, but there’s a real chance that I have played ‘Sweet Emotion’ and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ as many times as Tom and Scott have, because between 1982 and 1992 when Brother Cane got its record deal, those songs were staples, and I was in a really hard working band, man. We were playing three sets a night, four or five nights a week, you know, just grinding it, and those were both our go-to songs. When it was time to get the girls on the table dancing, we would play ‘Sweet Emotion’ or ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’.
‘Sweet Emotion’ has the sweetest bassline; does it still feel good to play it, Tom?
TH: Thank you. It feels really good, and I think of it as such as simple thing, you know? It’s a little jangly thing, but there are so many bass players out there that come up and say; “please tell me the secret to the bass part in ‘Sweet Emotion’”, and there’s really not much of a secret there. But I’m not trying to be falsely modest – it’s an honour, and Steven [Tyler, Aerosmith vocalist], reminds me regularly, he’ll say; “do you realise that you wrote a song that people know by the bass line?”
Which isn’t easily done, is it?
DJ: As I’m sitting here thinking, I can’t think of a bigger, more impactful song that started with a bassline than ‘Sweet Emotion’. And to reinforce just briefly what Tom’s saying, I had this incredible opportunity to do a one-off gig with Steven Tyler, and Sting was the bass player. We did ‘Sweet Emotion’, and before rehearsal even got started, Sting came straight over to me and said; “Damon, you’ve got to help me figure out this bass line”. He goes; “there’s something that Tom is doing I can’t figure out - do you know it?”, and I’m like; “well, I can show you how I play it, but I don’t play it how Tom plays it!”
That’s quite a story!
DJ: Sting is an incredible musician as we all know, [to Tom Hamilton] so I’m sure that was an honour for you to hear that story that a guy like Sting would be like; I bow down to Tom Hamilton! *laughing*
Getting back to Thin Lizzy, and I have to ask about the absence of Brian Downey on this run of dates.
DJ: Obviously man, Brian was the first phone call. Even before they called me, they called Brian, and I just think that Brian just felt like it was a lot of work. It was a lot of rehearsals and a lot of time on the road.
And he’s put in his time, historically speaking, right?
DJ: He has man, and he’s certainly earned the right to make that decision. And I have so much love for that guy, as a person and as a player, so when I heard back from management that, hey, that’s like where Brain’s at, we’re like, hey, I respect that.
Is it ever difficult to be standing with what is an admittedly phenomenal line-up of the band, given that there are still some people who say no Phil Lynott means no Thin Lizzy?
DJ: It’s never difficult - I just wish that those people would understand that I understand how they feel. I respect that, Ricky [Warwick, Thin Lizzy vocalist] respects that; everyone respects that. At the same time, I would hope that they would at least have enough common sense to see that there’s still a faction of people that want to hear to see songs performed by not only a couple of guys that were in the band with Phil, but with some lifetime musicians that love that music and respect it as much as anyone one the planet. And as long as they keep that in mind, that’s fine, but if they just want to sit behind their computer and throw jabs, we don’t even listen to that, because those people don’t matter. Those expressions don’t matter, but the other people that say; “no Phil, no Lizzy”, I get it, as long as they understand that it’s all being done with respect.
Tom, are there any songs that you miss playing on this run from the Aerosmith catalogue, or is it a nice change for you?
TH: No man, I’m relishing the change. As a matter of fact, I’m just concentrating with all my might, basically. I try not to go anywhere except; "what’s the next part of the song coming up?" A lot of the feeling is the same as with Aerosmith; as far as having a conversation with the audience and the body language of how a band unit works. It’s really nothing too different really.
Finally, I have to ask you were Aerosmith is up to at the minute? Is the farewell tour a reality?
TH: Well, things have been on hold and I think they’re about to not be on hold over the next few months. We have a show, a festival we’re doing in September out West, and then we have a South American tour in October and then a few months later we’ll start what we’re thinking of as pretty much our last conventional Aerosmith tour. Who knows how long that will go? This band still has a lot of shows in ‘em. Aerosmith still has a way to go before we completely finish.
Like this interview? Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same.