John Sykes

 

JOHN SYKES - GUITAR 1983

John Sykes was born in Reading, England on July 29 1959. He grew up with a sister and brother and remained in Reading until he was 14 years whereupon he went to live with his uncle in Ibiza. His uncle was a blues-guitarist and John soon learned to play the guitar ("not much else to do" as he puts it).

Coming back to the UK in 1976 and without a job or money, he wanted to get into a band, so he practiced his guitar playing non-stop, and in Blackpool, he got hooked up with a local band called Streetfighter. Although they mainly performed covers they also had a few original songs. One of them was "She's No Angel", which would be John Sykes' first album recording, eventually released on a compilation album in 1980 called "New Electric Warrior".

That same year John answered an advert for a band seeking a "solo guitarist". John was successful and became a member of Tygers Of Pan Tang in July 1980. Their first album release was "Spellbound" and after many concerts their second album, "Crazy Nights", was released. John got all the experience he needed to move on and by now he had touring in his veins and a reputation as a solid guitar player that was spreading like wildfire.

After Randy Rhodes died in an airplane crash on April 19, 1982, John was contacted by Ozzy Osbourne's management to replace Randy. (Bernie Tormé had filled in temporarily). Tickets and visas were arranged, but in the end Brad Gillis (the guitarist in Ozzy's live album 'Speak of the Devil') got the job. Jake E Lee replaced Gillis sometime in Jan 83 and John was left without an explanation. Ozzy did, however, get in touch with John later and booked him for an audition - but nothing happened and John looked for a new opportunity.

A chance meeting with Philip Lynott in a Dublin studio while John was recording "Please Don't Leave Me", led to John inviting Phil to sing on the track. Things went well and led to Phil realising that John was the ideal man for the then vacant guitarist position in Lizzy. Lynott hoped that Sykes would bring an aggression and power to Lizzy that had been missing since Gary Moore's departure in 1979. "Please Don't Leave Me" was credited to Philip Lynott and John and was to become an introduction of the new Thin Lizzy guitar player to the bands fans. The song is a ballad of lost love and summer memories, it's catchy and very easy to like. The original title was "Don't Hurt Me This Way" (as John would later re-name it) and John and Phil performed the song in playback on TV, but sadly it never made it to the charts. Not until 10 years later when the Danish band Pretty Maids recorded it, did "Please Don't Leave Me" become "the number 1 song of 1992" in, well... Denmark and Japan... The success of the song, however, made John start playing it live and including it at many of his gigs, but more about that later.

As the newest member of Thin Lizzy John Sykes co-wrote "Cold Sweat" and as a saviour he played 'til his fingers bled and never left his master's side. From day 1, since John joined Thin Lizzy, he has considered it to be the highlight of his career. Philip Lynott had only positive things to say about his latest recruit, "he's as fast as Gary, as blonde as Snowy, as crazy as Robbo and he's John Sykes".

John recorded on the "Thunder & Lightning" album and the subsequent tour which would prove to be their farewell outing. He also featured in the 'all star jam' at the Hammersmith Odeon which featured several ex Lizzy guitarists and was included on the Life/Live album.

Aside from Lizzy, John also participated in the 'Three Musketeers' Tour in Sweden in 1983. The Three Musketeers were a temporary touring outfit for Phil's solo band and featured Brian Downey, John Sykes and Philip.

It was around this time, while Philip Lynott was putting together his post-Lizzy band Grand Slam, which he hoped would include Sykes, that John got a call from David Coverdale of Whitesnake fame, who had spotted the guitarist on stage with Thin Lizzy. John eventually joined Whitesnake after Coverdale made him a financial offer he couldn't refuse, and the first thing he was asked to do was to get into the studio and overdub guitars on "Slide It In" for its US release. However, as the producer Keith Olsen got sick, John was never able to re-do all of the guitar work. On a rainy day you can sit there with the US edition and listen carefully, trying to make out what's left of Mickey Moody and what's John Sykes! It's no secret that Whitesnake changed their whole appearance at the same time John joined them, and the band went towards a more commercial AOR sound.

The new line-up made their tour debut at Wembley in London and the tour was a great success. A German tour was postponed in favor of more UK dates, which was just as well, because when they finally made it to Germany, Mel Galley tripped and took Sykes with him in the fall with the result of a badly damaged hand and arm for Mel Galley's. The tour continued with Sykes alone on guitars.

The touring then continued with the rest of Europe, Japan and finally the USA with the last concert on December 22, 1984. Two concerts at Rock In Rio between Christmas and New Year's 1984 became John Sykes' last shows with Whitesnake.

New material was going to be written, and John Sykes spent time with David Coverdale at his residence in France. Then John Sykes went back to his own studio in Blackpool together with Neil Murray, only to team up with Coverdale in Los Angeles later on. New members were brought in, and a desperate search for a drummer continued... John had all the guitar work done when he got a call from Philip Lynott wanting John to feature in a reforming Thin Lizzy.

The next call he received was to let him know that Phil passed away.

John did return to Los Angeles to finish the guitar work but spent most of his time in 1986 in the UK. In his absence parts of his work were taken off the "1987" album, leading Sykes to a final row with David Coverdale which marked the end of their association. "1987" is probably the most successful album Whitesnake or Sykes has made and John co-wrote most of the songs.

It's no secret that John was devastated over Phil passing away. He couldn't bear going back to Dublin. He couldn't face the reality. Not very different from every other person who knew Phil and got close to him. John Sykes moved permanently to California, where he still lives.

John decided that from now on he wouldn't play for anyone but himself and Blue Murder was formed. The debut album was released in 1989 - but the road to get there was troubled. The record company, Geffen Records, refused to release it if John was singing and they demanded a vocalist other than John. Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) was brought in and during the sessions they wrote "Valley Of The Kings", which would be the first single to be released. John however was determined to sing himself and when the album was released he was.(Tony Martin had no clue what had happened to his vocals).

John, who had worked out a lot and lived a healthy life, was now a star in his own right. The album sold well in the States, Europe and Japan. Together with Tony Franklin on bass and Carmine Appice on drums they toured the US and Japan (never mind Europe, eh?). Unfortunately the limelight had to be shared with lots of other new bands and when the second album, "Nothin' But Trouble" was released 4 years later it wasn't well accepted. That's sad, because it's a great album. New in the band at that time were Marco Mendoza on bass and Kelly Keeling on shared vocals.

The last album to be released under the "Geffen" label was "Screaming Blue Murder - dedicated to Phil Lynott" in 1994. It was a live album with titles such as "Cold Sweat", "Please Don't Leave Me" (with an outstanding guitar solo), "Still Of The Night" and "Dancing In The Moonlight". After three albums, Blue Murder had come to an end.

In late 1994 John Sykes joined Scott Gorham, Darren Wharton, and Brian Downey for a few Japanese gigs under the name of 'Thin Lizzy' dedicated to Phil Lynott, with Marco Mendoza on bass. This was after demand from fans to hear them play Lizzy songs again and Japan seemed like a natural place to start as it couldn't really happen in the US nor Europe, where the pressure would be too high.

After this, a new band was created out of the ashes of Blue Murder. It was simply called 'Sykes'. Their first album was released 1995, and left from Blue Murder was John and his friend Marco Mendoza, the new boy was Tommy O'Steen on drums. What was also new was that this album was only released in Japan.

January 4, 1996, John Sykes various musicians and ex-members of Lizzy for a tribute to Phil Lynott at the Point in Dublin, celebrating the memory of "The King of rock'n'roll" as John shouts throughout the gig.

In August 1997 a brand new ballad album ("for the girls") is released. "Loveland" is John Sykes' first and so far only solo-album. "Don't Hurt Me This Way" was included as John originally intended it to be, with Phil on vocals but with brand new guitars by John. The album stirred up some controversy because of "Don't Say Goodbye"; a sort of love song for John Lennon with the original version having a news broadcast informing of the death of the former Beatle. The album version is similar, but not as powerful as the original. Because of this, the album is delayed until August 1997 and a new hard rock album by Sykes was released within a few months: "20th Century", one of the heaviest albums John's made to date. John and Marco are still the original members of Sykes while the drummers keep changing; Tommy Aldridge is however the one that sticks by them for their tours of Japan.

Besides touring with his 'Thin Lizzy' tribute line-up the last few years, John released a 3rd more experimental Sykes album in October 2000 called "Nuclear Cowboy".


Ozzie Adenborg