Queen’s Brian May and Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy fame have paid tribute to Classic Rock writer, former editor of Metal Hammer and rock biographer Harry Doherty, who died on Sunday at the age of 61.
“In a largely cynical music journalism world from the 1970s onwards, Harry was one of the Good Guys,” wrote May in his web diary. The notoriously press-phobic guitarist added: “He was a trusted friend, one of the very few that I ever had in the music press, and I will miss him greatly.”
Gorham, speaking from America whist preparing the second album from Black Star Riders, enjoyed a similarly trustworthy relationship with Doherty. Together they wrote the 2012 Thin Lizzy biography, The Boys Are Back In Town. It was a long time in the making. Doherty worked closely with Lizzy in the 1970s and was admitted to their inner circle. Leader Philip Lynott set wheels in motion for the book to be written back in 1977, circa the Bad Reputation album (to which Harry proudly contributed – he is credited on the sleeve as ‘Harry The Handclap’). However, it was mothballed when its “warts and all” contents (Doherty’s own words) were deemed too raw and personal.
When Lynott died in 1986, Gorham and Doherty remained determined to publish what the tome’s intro eventually called “the full story – the tale of a band that never knew when to stop and what to stop.” A version first appeared when it was printed in three parts in Classic Rock (issues 103-105).
“Harry was the only qualified person to tackle the project, and he did a superb job,” says Gorham. “I’m going to miss him, as will a great many others. Rest in peace, dear friend, your heart was always in the right place.”
Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, on January 13, 1953, Doherty was the son of a milkman. His career began on the local paper, the Journal, before moving to England during the mid-1970s, working on the Melody Maker, where he stayed till the decade’s end. His writing style reflected a brash, unapologetic personality. “Most critics have their heads stuck up their arse,” he said in later years. “I always considered myself a fan rather than [one of those].”
In 1986, due in part to a recommendation from Gorham, Doherty oversaw the British launch of Metal Hammer, a title already published in Germany and Holland. Politics between the rival nations were often fraught. In London, the toilets often got blocked up and stank to high heaven, cheques from Germany sometimes bounced – if indeed they arrived at all – and when the landlord of the first office in Waterloo threatened ejection, the staff did a ‘moonlight flit’ to new premises in Lancaster Gate. Yes, really…
“For Harry, a problem was only something to be bulldozed out of the way,” recalls Dave Ling, a member of the launch team who continues to write for Hammer to the present day. “To say that his methods were always conventional or politically correct would be a lie, but he got things done. Harry was a great boss and, whilst we worked together, a very good friend. I will never forget the editorial meetings he chaired (“Are you sober?! Here, drink this…”) or the numerous trips to Dortmund to put the magazine to bed. The typesetters spoke no English and our German was limited to ordering beer and schnitzel mit pommes, but somehow we muddled through.”
Doherty edited Metal Hammer from October 1986 until the end of 1987, before returning for a second spell in charge. He also founded the groundbreaking video magazine, Hard ‘N’ Heavy as well as writing several books, including the official Queen biography, 40 Years Of Queen in 2012. He started writing for Classic Rock in 2005.
“A cover story fell through,” remembers then-Editor In Chief Scott Rowley, “so we used an old feature Harry had written about the 1977-79 US tour featuring Thin Lizzy and Queen. We bolstered it with new interviews with all the Lizzy guitarists but the main feature was untouched – often you get stories written in the 70s that haven’t aged too well, but Harry had such a timeless style it fit right in. He called me afterwards and said he’d like to do more.”
Over the next few years, Doherty entertained Classic Rock readers by revisiting times on the road, in the studio (and down the pub) with AC/DC, Queen, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Kate Bush, Horslips and more, as well as writing new features and expanding into books and online publishing.
“He got in touch last year when TeamRock bought Classic Rock and our Country mag came out,” says Rowley. “Turned out he’d worked for a company called RockTeam and had tried to launch a country mag at the time. ‘You’re morphing into me!’ he said. I could think of worse people to turn into.
“Last I heard from him, he messaged me via Facebook and mentioned he was sitting in a hospital bed at the time. I asked after his health and he played it down and then called me a ‘bastid’ and pitched me an idea for a story on Andy Fairweather-Low! I’m going to miss him and his voice in the pages of Classic Rock.”
Classic Rock sends its sincere condolences to Harry’s family and friends.