John Sykes

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John Sykes
Sykes in 2008
Sykes in 2008
Background information
Born (1959-07-29) 29 July 1959 (age 61)
Reading, Berkshire, England
GenresHard rock, heavy metal
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1980–present
Associated actsStreetfighter, Badlands, Tygers of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott, Whitesnake, Blue Murder

John Sykes (born 29 July 1959[1]) is an English musician and songwriter, best known as a member of Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, and Tygers of Pan Tang. He also fronted the hard rock group Blue Murder, and has released several solo albums.

Following a stint in the heavy metal group Tygers of Pan Tang in the early 1980s, Sykes joined the Irish hard rock group Thin Lizzy for their 1983 album Thunder and Lightning. Sykes then joined Whitesnake, with whom he released the multi-platinum selling 1987 album. However, Sykes was let go from the group before the album's release and thus decided to form his own band Blue Murder. After three albums, Sykes embarked on a solo career before reforming Thin Lizzy in the 1990s as a tribute to the group's deceased frontman Phil Lynott. Sykes continued to front the group until 2009 when he left the band to continue his solo career.

In 2006, Gibson released a limited line of signature John Sykes Les Pauls, which were modeled after his 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom, that he has used throughout most of his career.


Early career[edit]

Influenced by the likes of Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Gary Moore, Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth,[2] Sykes began his musical career in 1980, when he joined the band Streetfighter. However, he soon left the group to join Tygers of Pan Tang.[1] Sykes recorded two albums with the band, Spellbound and Crazy Nights, before leaving to join the Irish hard rock group Thin Lizzy in 1982. He did however make an appearance on Tygers of Pan Tang's album The Cage, which was released after he had already joined Thin Lizzy.[3] Sykes was also briefly a member of former Uriah Heep vocalist John Sloman's band Badlands, which failed to procure a recording contract.[4]

Thin Lizzy[edit]

After successfully audtioning for Thin Lizzy in 1982, Sykes performed on the group's 1983 album Thunder and Lightning, for which he also co-wrote the track "Cold Sweat".[5][6]:19 Sykes has later been credited for revitalizing the band musically, steering them towards a sound more akin to heavy metal.[7]:21 The supporting tour for Thunder and Lightning was billed as Thin Lizzy's farewell tour, though Sykes and the group's frontman Phil Lynott were eager to continue on.[8]:41 During the tour, Thin Lizzy recorded the live album Life and Sykes also accompanied Lynott on a European solo tour.[7]:164 Thin Lizzy played its final UK concert at the Reading Festival in August 1983, before finally splitting up after a show at Nuremberg's Monsters of Rock festival on 4 September.[6]:114

Phil Lynott died on 4 January 1986, aged 36.[7]:202 In 1994, Sykes along with former Thin Lizzy alumn Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Darren Wharton formed a new touring version of Thin Lizzy, which was presented as a tribute to Phil Lynott's life and work.[9] While the band only performed material from Thin Lizzy's back catalog and did not compose any new material,[9] they were still criticized for using the Thin Lizzy name without Lynott being present.[7]:214 In 2000, the group released the live album One Night Only. Sykes continued to front Thin Lizzy through various line-up changes before announcing his departure from the group in 2009, stating that "I feel it's time to get back to playing my own music".[10] Scott Gorham would later reform Thin Lizzy, without Sykes' involvement.


Sykes performing with Whitesnake in 1984

In 1983, Sykes was asked to join the English hard rock group Whitesnake. After receiving Phil Lynott's blessing, Sykes agreed to join. His first task was to record new guitar parts for the US release of the group's 1984 album Slide It In.[3][8] Whitesnake then embarked on a lengthy world tour, which culminated in two shows at the 1985 Rock in Rio festival.[5][11]

Sykes was heavily involved in the making of Whitesnake's next album, co-writing nine songs with vocalist David Coverdale.[12] The two began writing together in the South of France in early 1985, before heading to Little Mountain Sound Studios in Vancouver to begin recording.[13] During the album's recording process however, Coverdale's relationship with the rest of the band began to sour, which culminated in him firing all other members, including Sykes.[3][12] Whitesnake's self-titled album was eventually released in April 1987, and it became the band's most commercially successful album to date, reaching number two on the Billboard 200 chart and selling over eight million copies in the US.[14][15]

Since leaving Whitesnake, Sykes' relationship with David Coverdale has remained strained, with Sykes admitting he's still "very bitter" about how Coverdale handled his firing. In 2017, Sykes said of Coverdale: "I really have no interest in ever talking to him again."[12] He's also stated that "I regret that I never got to play those songs live - and I think fans regret it, too."[16]

Blue Murder[edit]

Following his dismissal from Whitesnake, Sykes formed Blue Murder, which also featured bassist Tony Franklin and drummer Carmine Appice.[17][18] Vocalist Ray Gillen was initially tapped for the project as well, but after some encouragement from Geffen Records' A&R executive John Kalodner, Sykes decided to handle lead vocal duties himself.[9][19]

Blue Murder's self-titled debut album was released in April 1989, and it reached number 69 on the Billboard 200 chart.[20] The band then embarked on a tour across America and Japan.[18][21] While the band's debut album would go on to sell an estimated 500,000 copies according to Sykes, Blue Murder's success fell short of expectations.[9][18][22] Sykes felt Geffen Records did not properly promote the band, stating: "I think they were trying to get me and David [Coverdale] back together. They wanted me to get back with the 'winning formula'. But the wounds were too fresh. I stayed with the same label. In hindsight, I would have done better with a different label."[9][3]

Franklin and Appice eventually left Blue Murder, with Sykes releasing the band's second album Nothin' But Trouble (1993) with a new line-up. It failed to chart, something Sykes once again attributed to Geffen Records, whom he felt "didn't do anything" to promote the record.[3] In 1994, Blue Murder released a live album, Screaming Blue Murder: Dedicated to Phil Lynott, after which the band were dropped from their label and broke-up.[9]

There have been several attempts to reunite Blue Murder since the band's break up. In 2019, Carmine Appice revealed that the group had rehearsed together, but Sykes wanted the band to tour under the moniker John Sykes & Blue Murder, something Appice was unwilling to do.[23] In 2020, Appice stated that he and Sykes had once again talked about the possibility of a Blue Murder reunion, but nothing came of the conversation.[24]

Solo career[edit]

Sykes released his first solo single "Please Don't Leave Me" in 1982, which featured Phil Lynott on lead vocals and bass. The track was later repackaged with some Tygers of Pan Tang material and released as an album. Sykes released his first proper solo album Out of My Tree in 1995.[9]

Sykes released his second solo album Loveland in 1997. His record company had initially requested a seven-track extended play of ballads, but Sykes ultimately decided to expand the project into a proper album. That same year, he released 20th Century, an album of heavier material written as a response to the softer sound of Loveland.[9] In 2000, Sykes released Nuclear Cowboy, which was followed by 2004's Bad Boy Live!, a live album featuring songs from his time with Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and Blue Murder, as well his solo material.[2][19]

In 2011, Sykes revealed he was forming a new band with drummer Mike Portnoy. However, in 2012, Eddie Trunk confirmed that the project had dissolved. Bassist Billy Sheehan had also been tapped for the project, but ultimately their individual schedules didn't line up, and Sykes "was not on the same timetable" as the others.[25] Sykes was later replaced by Richie Kotzen, and group became The Winery Dogs.

In 2013, Sykes revealed he was working on a new solo album.[26] Samples from the record were released in 2014, and Sykes discussed the album in a 2017 interview with Young Guitar Magazine.[27][28] In 2019, it was announced that Sykes had signed a recording contract with Golden Robot Records, with the intent of releasing his upcoming album that same year. However, in November 2019, Sykes announced that he had ended his partnership with Golden Robot Records.[29]


Sykes performing in 2007 with his 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom

Sykes has used a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom throughout most of his career. The guitar is fitted with chrome hardware (which were added at Phil Lynott's suggestion), Grover tuners and a brass nut. The guitar featured a Gibson Dirty Fingers pick-up in the bridge position, that has since then been swapped out for a Gibson PAF reissue.[30] In 2006, Gibson produced a limited number of Les Pauls based on Sykes' Custom model. The line quickly sold out.[5] Other guitars Sykes has used include a sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul (which is featured on the cover of his album Loveland), a 1961 Fender Stratocaster, an EVH Frankenstein and a Joe Satriani model Ibanez.[30]

Sykes mainly uses EVH 5150 III amplifiers and cabinets. He previously used a Marshall JCM800 for live performances. For Whitesnake's 1987 album and the first Blue Murder record, Sykes used two Mesa Boogie Coliseum heads with Mark III pre-amp sections and six 6L6 power tubes. Sykes also uses Ernie Ball strings, gauged at .010 to .046, and Dunlop 1.14mm Tortex picks.[30]


Solo albums[edit]

with Tygers of Pan Tang[edit]

with Thin Lizzy[edit]

with Whitesnake[edit]

with Blue Murder[edit]

with Phil Lynott[edit]

Other appearances[edit]

Year Artist Album Track Refs
1996 Various artists Crossfire: Salute to Stevie Ray "Pride and Joy" [31]
1998 Various artists Merry Axemas 2 – More Guitars for Christmas "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" [32]
2002 Hughes Turner Project HTP "Heaven's Missing an Angel" [33]
2004 Derek Sherinian Mythology "God of War" [34]
2018 Various artists Moore Blues For Gary: A Tribute To Gary Moore by Bob Daisley and Friends "Still Got the Blues" [35]


  1. ^ a b Jason Ankeny. "John Sykes - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b "BAD BOYS RUNNING WILD: Interview with John Sykes". Archived from the original on 10 April 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e "June 1999 Interview with Tony Nobles from Vintage Guitar magazine". 27 March 2008. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Interview with NEIL MURRAY". Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Biography". Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  6. ^ a b Ken Brooks, "Phil Lynott & Thin Lizzy: Rockin' Vagabond", Agenda, 2000
  7. ^ a b c d Alan Byrne, "Thin Lizzy: Soldiers of Fortune", Firefly, 2004
  8. ^ a b Mark Putterford, "Philip Lynott: The Rocker", Castle, 1994
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview with John Sykes, July 1999". Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Ex-THIN LIZZY Guitarist JOHN SYKES Featured On Metal Express Radio This Thursday". BraveWords. 26 July 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  11. ^ "Whitesnake History". Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "WHITESNAKE – Guitarist JOHN SYKES Discusses DAVID COVERDALE – "I Have No Interest In Ever Talking To Him Again"". BraveWords. 7 June 2017. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  13. ^ Mick Wall, "Appetite for Destruction: The Mick Wall Interviews", Hachette UK, 2010
  14. ^ "Billboard 200 - The Week of June 13, 1987". Billboard. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  15. ^ "RIAA Searchable Database: search for Whitesnake". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  16. ^ Michael Molenda, "Guitar Player Presents 50 Unsung Heroes of the Guitar", Backbeat Books, 2011
  17. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who’s Who of Heavy Metal (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 59. ISBN 0-85112-656-1.
  18. ^ a b c "Tony Franklin, Carmine Appice & Eric Blair talk John Sykes 2020". YouTube. blairingoutshow. 26 January 2020. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  19. ^ a b "2001 Interview with Troy Wells of". Archived from the original on 19 December 2009.
  20. ^ "Billboard 200 Chart - Week of June 24, 1989". Billboard. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  21. ^ "Carmine Appice - The full in bloom Interview - Guitar Zeus, Vanilla Fudge, Ozzy, Book, Blue Murder". YouTube. full in bloom. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Blue Murder Bassist Talks John Sykes, the Breakup & Whitesnake". YouTube. full in bloom. 4 February 2020. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  23. ^ "CARMINE APPICE Talks Aborted BLUE MURDER Reunion - "I Don't Need To Go Out And Play Under JOHN SYKES As JOHN SYKES & BLUE MURDER"". BraveWords. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  24. ^ "CARMINE APPICE On Why BLUE MURDER Reunion Hasn't Happened Yet: We Still Can't Get JOHN SYKES Out Of The House". 29 January 2020. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  25. ^ "Sykes/Portnoy band ends, the story". 24 January 2012. Archived from the original on 27 January 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  26. ^ "JOHN SYKES - Fifth Studio Album Due In 2013". BraveWords. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  27. ^ "New Track Samples". 25 December 2014. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  28. ^ "YOUNG GUITAR 2017年4月号:特集 ジョン・サイクス". Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  29. ^ "Legendary Guitarist JOHN SYKES Splits With GOLDEN ROBOT RECORDS Without Releasing Long-Awaited New Album". 17 November 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  30. ^ a b c "Equipment". Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  31. ^ "Various Artists – Crossfire: Salute to Stevie Ray". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  32. ^ "Various Artists – Merry Axemas, Vol. 2: More Guitars for Christmas". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  33. ^ "Hughes-Turner Project – Hughes-Turner Project". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  34. ^ "Derek Sherinian – Mythology". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  35. ^ Lewry, Fraser (6 December 2018). "The story behind this year's all-star tribute to Gary Moore album". Louder. Retrieved 29 June 2020.

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