BLUE MURDER (1989–94). Classic lineup: John Sykes (guitar/vocals), Tony Franklin (bass), Carmine Appice (drums).
In a number of respects, Blue Murder’s self-titled debut was a more appropriate (and more inspired) follow-up to Whitesnake’s phenomenally successful 1987 Whitesnake album than Whitesnake’s own Slip of the Tongue, released the same year (1989). This is because of John Sykes, whose virtuosic guitar and writing were critical elements in the success of Whitesnake’s commercial breakthrough. Having been fired from Whitesnake shortly before the release of their self-titled album, Sykes went on to form Blue Murder, which released its debut in 1989. Joining him on the album are bassist Tony Franklin (ex-The Firm), and veteran drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Rod Stewart). After searching for a lead vocalist, Sykes ended up singing himself. He sounds very much like David Coverdale, with remarkable range and power, although perhaps a shade less bluesy.
The writing on the album is similar to Whitesnake, with blues-based hard rock influences manifesting themselves in epic arena rock soundscapes and rockers. Franklin’s fretless bass adds some unusual ambience to the mix, while Appice’s thundering drums anchor the band effectively, in a style reminiscent of his contemporary and friend John Bonham. The key sonic element here though is Sykes’ explosive guitar sound, which provides the glue that holds the record together, much as it did in the 1987 Whitesnake album. It’s a sound at once raw and refined and full of power and belies the group’s power trio configuration. Sykes’ writing too, while missing some of the more obvious hooks of his work with Whitesnake, is in a number of ways more interesting. Tracks like “Valley of the Kings” and “Ptolemy” tap into historical and mythical imagery in their lyrics, giving the album its own unique flavor.
While “Valley of the Kings” did well as an MTV video and the album was moderately successful, Blue Murder was not able to match the success of Sykes’ former group. And while Sykes returned with a new and expanded lineup for a follow-up in 1993, the market for his style of melodic metal had shrunken considerably. Sykes has nonetheless maintained a successful solo career and has also toured consistently with the re-formed, post-Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy, of whom he was a latterday member.
Discography: Blue Murder (Geffen, 1989); Nothin’ But Trouble (Geffen, 1993); Screaming (Alex, 1994); Live in Japan (Import, 1994).