“Whiskey in the Jar” stands as a venerable cornerstone of Irish folk music, weaving a tale of intrigue and betrayal around a daring highwayman and his ill-fated escapade. Its roots delve deep into history, with numerous renditions echoing through the ages. Among the tapestry of interpretations, notable renditions have emerged from luminaries such as THE DUBLINERS, THE HIGHWAYMEN, and even Bryan Adams. However, it’s the rendition by the Irish rock legends THIN LIZZY that etched itself into the annals of music history, catapulting the song to newfound heights of fame when they unleashed it as a single in 1973, captivating audiences across the UK and Ireland.
In a bold twist of fate, the song found itself reimagined by the iconic heavy metal behemoth METALLICA in 1998, earning them a Grammy for their electrifying rendition. Drawing heavily from THIN LIZZY’s rendition, METALLICA’s cover paid homage to the rock legends who paved the way. The homage extended beyond the studio, as METALLICA graciously invited THIN LIZZY’s co-founder Eric Bell to join them onstage during a live performance in Dublin in 1999. Yet, as Bell revealed in a candid interview with Guitar World, the experience wasn’t quite the harmonious collaboration one might expect.
Recalling the events, Bell remarked, “I was blissfully ignorant about METALLICA. Their music wasn’t my cup of tea, so when I heard they covered ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, I was intrigued – ‘Who are they?'” His encounter with the band was met with a curious mix of misunderstanding and surprise. “They invited me to join them for the gig, which was chaos from the start. I’m not sure why they reached out to me; perhaps they assumed I was familiar with their work. But the truth is, I had no clue. They seemed to anticipate awe, but I was indifferent. That certainly threw them off guard.”
Reflecting on the performance alongside METALLICA, Bell recounted, “It wasn’t exactly a seamless collaboration. They tuned down a whole step, as is their custom, but I didn’t follow suit. Suddenly, ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ was sounding unfamiliar, even alien, in the key of F. My mind struggled to reconcile. I played it my way, they played it theirs, and we parted ways.”
The encounter served as a reminder of the diversity and complexity within the realm of music, showcasing how even iconic compositions can elicit vastly different interpretations and experiences. Despite the dissonance, it remains a testament to the enduring legacy of “Whiskey in the Jar,” a song that continues to captivate and inspire across generations and genres.