Behind the Band Name: Thin Lizzy

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

First printed in 1937, The Dandy was a British children’s comic magazine, which continued running as a print edition through 2012. Inside, The Dandy stories followed hundreds of different comic strips, featuring the misadventures of some colorful characters, including Tin Lizzie, a metallic robot maid, illustrated by Jack Prout, which appeared in the periodical throughout the 1950s.

Robotic Roots

By the late 1960s, as guitarist Eric Bell, was trying to think up a name for his new band, he remembered the old comic android, and suggested something along the lines of Tin Lizzie.

“It was [original guitarist] Eric Bell,” said original Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey, who founded the band with his old childhood friend, the late singer and bassist Phil Lynott (1949-1986), along with keyboardist Eric Wrixon, who had previously played in Them, which featured Van Morrison.

“We were throwing around ideas for a name after a rehearsal one night,” added Downey, “and Eric suggested Tin Lizzie, who was a character in [children’s comic magazine] ‘The Dandy.'”

The name eventually stuck, and Bell switched the spelling to Thin Lizzy, a playful reference to the local accent of their hometown of Dublin, Ireland, which would have pronounced “Thin” as “T’in.” 

“We all laughed at that one,”  he added. “But the next day, we were still trying to come up with a name, but nothing seemed right, so Eric again put forward Tin Lizzie. As we had nothing better, we thought why not. It was also Eric who changed the spelling to Thin Lizzy.”

Tin Lizzie Lives?

In the earlier days, some venues were still mistaking the band for the early Prout comic, promoting them as “Tin Lizzie” or “Tin Lizzy.” Eventually, the proper spelling of the band name caught on.

“Whiskey in the Jar”

By 1973, Thin Lizzy had a massive hit with “Whiskey in the Jar,” featured on their second album Shades of a Blue Orphanage, but the single was a double-edged sword for the band since it resulted in them being tagged more folk than rock. “We did a few gigs in the north of England, where people turned up expecting us to play folk music,” said Downey, “and when they realized we were a straight-ahead rock band some of them did walk out.”

‘Fighting’ and ‘Jailbreak’

By 1975, things turned around with the band’s new lineup, featuring guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham, and the release of their breakthrough album Fighting, which was solely produced by Lynott.

Followed by their sixth album, Jailbreak, which brought the band greater recognition and success in the U.S. with the hit “The Boys Are Back in Town,” Thin Lizzy released 12 albums together, including their final Thunder and Lightning, before Lynott’s death in 1986 at the age of 36.

Thin Lizzy Lives!

Among the Thin Lizzy hits left behind, including “Waiting for an Alibi” and “Do Anything You Want To,” off 1979 release, Black Rose: A Rock Legend, and favorites like “Bad Reputation” and “Killer Without A Cause,” throughout the decades bands Iron Maiden, Metallica, Def Leppard, among others have pledged their allegiance to the Irish rockers’ and their influence, and continue to cover their songs.

In 2022, Metallica, who have covered Thin Lizzy (also the favorite band of late bassist Cliff Burton) numerous times in the past, performed an acoustic version of the band’s 1976 song “Borderline,” off Lizzy’s album, Johnny The Fox

New Lizzy

Over the years, the band has released a number of compilations and rarities. Thin Lizzy has also been reimagined on tour with new members, and reunions with former members, including Downey, Gorham, and Robertson, and later keyboardist Darren Wharton, over the years, playing as a tribute to the band and Lynott’s songwriting.

Thin Lizzy / The Boys Are Back in Town: Live at Sydney Opera House 1978 CD/Blu-Ray box set was released in 2022 and accompanied by a documentary, directed by Emer Reynolds, spotlighting Lynott’s life and career with the band.

Photo by Jack Kay/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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