Photo by David Heitur
Star guitarist Vinnie Moore has toured the world for decades, but Delaware’s ‘mojo’ always draws him home.
Home is where the heart is, or so the saying goes, and renowned guitarist Vinnie Moore embodies that very concept. No matter where he plies his trade in the world, the lifelong Delaware resident says he always returns to his roots.
The secret to Delaware’s continued appeal is simple, in Moore’s view. “It’s probably the mojo of the Delaware River,” he says. “I grew up right outside New Castle, and there’s a lot of history there, especially with all those old buildings. All that shapes who you are as a person, and the way you think.”
Delawarean ideals have long filtered into Moore’s work. He’s built a stellar reputation over four-plus decades as a guitar player with a melodic ear who can also rock out with the best of them. In addition to his longtime gig as the lead guitarist for the British classic-rock band UFO, Moore authors “Moore Power,” a monthly instructional column for Guitar World magazine, and he was recently nominated as a finalist for Player of the Year in the Rock category in Vintage Guitar magazine’s annual readers’ poll. He also runs his own record label, Mind’s Eye Music, out of his home here, whose latest release was the catchy solo album Soul Shifter (October 2019).
Moore wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else.
“That’s the power of rock music,” he says. “It transcends language or geographical area. It influences everybody all over the world.”
New Castle beginnings
Born in New Castle on April 14, 1964, Moore’s favorite childhood pastime was Little League, where he was a bit of an anomaly as a left-handed third baseman. “My youth was all about baseball,” he recalls. “I loved the Cincinnati Reds and, of course, the Phillies.”
An ankle injury at age 12 threw Moore a curveball that put him on track for his career. That Christmas, he asked for a Teisco guitar and a Kay amplifier he had spotted in a J.C. Penney catalog. After what he calls a “disastrous” first lesson with Mary Biddle at the town’s Drum Shop, Moore’s “stick-to-it-iveness” began to impress his teacher a year or so in.
Once Biddle felt she had nothing more to teach him, she sent him to Nick Bucci, a guitar enthusiast in Claymont who Moore studied with for another few years. “My ear started getting better and I began putting it all together,” Moore remembers. “I could hear things and figure them out pretty quickly—even see them in my head when I wasn’t playing.”
The burgeoning guitarist submitted a demo to the Guitar Player’s “Mike Varney Spotlight” column in 1985. It received such high praise from Varney himself that it led to Moore being tapped to supply epic guitar riffage for a famous mid-’80s Pepsi commercial. He signed with Varney’s own Shrapnel Records, briefly joining the proto-metal band Vicious Rumors for their 1985 release, Soldiers of the Night. On that album, Moore’s incendiary instrumental track “Invader” paid direct homage to “Eruption,” the signature piece by one of his earliest heroes—the late, legendary guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen.
Moore’s first two solo albums, Mind’s Eye in 1986 and Time Odyssey in 1988, cemented his reputation as a fiery, inventive player with chops to spare.
“It’s crazy. I think I was barely 21 when I wrote and recorded my first record,” Moore reminisces, “and people are still mentioning it to me all these years later. It’s something I never expected.”
As multifaceted as Moore’s playing is—equal parts neoclassical, fusion and all-out rock—he humbly submits you please don’t call it shredding. “I don’t like that term, because it insinuates playing with a lot of technique and speed, without much substance,” he notes. “Who knows if that’s the correct interpretation or not, but I get a negative connotation from it because I was always about having melodies and emotion in my music. Going nuts on the guitar is one thing, but that in and of itself isn’t enough.”
Moore’s solo career ran concurrently with his role as the lead guitarist in Alice Cooper’s early-’90s band, as well as opening for Rush as a solo act on their 1991 Roll the Bones Tour.
“It was a natural evolution,” Moore observes of the ways his technique shifted over the ensuing decade. “I got bored and had to move in another direction, which is typical of me. If I get bored with something, I have to gravitate somewhere else to keep myself interested.”
Flights and sounds
In 2003, Moore heard that UFO—the British classic-rock band who made their bones during the heyday of FM radio with hard-driving hits like “Lights Out” and “Too Hot to Handle,” and who Moore had loved since he was a kid—was looking for a new guitar player. He sent a recording of his best material across the pond to the band’s co-founder and lead singer Phil Mogg, who immediately liked Moore’s sound and wanted to work with him.
Soon he was with UFO bandmates in Celle, a small farm town outside Hanover, Germany, rehearsing for a world tour and recording original music that would land on the 2004 album You Are Here.
Moore jelled with his British counterparts immediately; the only barrier was language—“English-isms” that Moore learned over the years. “Musically, it was easy. With those guys, it flowed quite naturally right away.”
Performing live, Moore says, delivers the most satisfaction. UFO tracks “Love to Love,” “Rock Bottom” and “Lights Out” are among his favorites to play for audiences the world over. “I grew up with those songs, so it’s an honor to play them in front of people,” he marvels. “I used to jam along to their records in my bedroom, never thinking I would someday be playing in the band. It’s just crazy and surreal that it actually happened.”
In 2018, UFO commenced a lengthy farewell tour dubbed Last Orders, with the idea of it both celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary and ending their career on a high note. While the band had already concluded their dates in the United States before the pandemic hit, tour runs scheduled for South America, India and Europe had to be postponed until 2021 at the earliest.
An interesting offshoot of the unexpected time off the road is that Mogg is reconsidering UFO’s retirement. “This year off is actually lighting a fire in him,” Moore reveals. “He sends me messages every day: ‘I’m sitting home. I need to get onstage!’ You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and then you realize how special it is. If there’s any light to come from all this, it’s that Phil realizes he can’t yet walk away when there’s a lot more we can do together.”
The Moore, the merrier
In the meantime, at home, Moore has resumed recording new solo instrumental music.“I realized it’s probably the best route to take nowadays,” he says. “Since I have a studio in my house, I can just come in here and work. It’s been very fulfilling. Once I feel that music is ready to share, I’ll put it out on my label.”
Moore’s creative intentions speak volumes about who he is at heart. “I would hope people hear how there’s a lot of feel in my music,” he says “If I’m not expressing my emotions in the music, then I don’t even want to be doing it, you know? If you can move someone at least a little bit and create a mood to make them feel something, then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re successful.”Moore power to you, Vinnie.
For a whole lot more on Moore’s music, visit vinniemoore.com.