In this article, I’m going to spotlight Ian Fletcher Thornley who is one of my favorite guitar players and is vastly under-appreciated in my opinion
I will focus on live performance examples where I can as the truly great players frequently play and sound better live than in the studio.
Introducing – Ian (Fletcher) Thornley
Ian Thornley (latterly billed as Ian Fletcher Thornley) is, in my opinion, one of the great guitarists that has not received the acclaim he so richly deserves.
His intoxicating mix of hard rocking and melodic playing as well as a touch of slide makes for a tone that is recognizably and uniquely Ian Thornley – and, in my opinion, incredibly exciting.
Front man to Big Wreck as well as Thornley (band), Ian has also produced awesome music as a solo artist and session musician.
Here is Ian playing Mississippi Fred (LIVE at the Suhr Factory Party 2014) – prepare to be stunned by his slide playing and absolute control over the guitar!
Ian is a highly accomplished song writer and vocalist as well as a guitarist of extraordinary skill.
And so, here is my personal homage to Mr Thornley…enjoy,
Early Life and Influences
Born in Toronto, Ontario on July 21st, 1972, his early influences include the legendary Chicago blues man Buddy Guy as well as Supertramp and many other late 60’s and 70’s bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who.
Later, Ian was also much intrigued by Bruce Cockburn’s jazzy versions of folk-rock tunes and this is undoubtedly what influenced some of the intriguing sounds we get today.
One of the defining moments for Ian was attending a Bruce Springsteen concert in his teens, and he says that was a significant factor in him pursuing a career in music (one of the few things I might personally thank Bruce Springsteen for – that’s right, I’m not a big fan of Bruce Springsteen!)
Like so many of my favourite guitarists, IFT attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts during the early 90’s with an initial focus on Jazz.
It was whilst studying at Berklee that Ian met David Henning, Brian Doherty, and Forrest Williams and formed the band Big Wreck, relocating back to Toronto in the mid 90’s where they signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records.
Here’s a taster of things to come – a live version of “The Oaf” from the first album, performed at the Suhr Factory party in 2015…
Big wreck debuted with the highly successful “In Loving Memory Of…” album in 1997, which included several singles in the Top Ten lists of Canada and the United States and went on to go double platinum.
I happened to hear of Big Wreck via a news group discussing Dream Theater and bought the CD speculatively in 1997 – I’ve been listening to it ever since!
The band went on to record a second album “The Pleasure and the Greed” in 2001, but fractures were beginning to develop within the band which broke up shortly afterwards.
Ian says that there was pressure from the record company to produce singles and the bands artistic direction began to suffer – he also admits that perhaps, some strong-headedness also crept in and relationships within the band began to suffer.
Reflecting on events much later, Ian says that they all lost sight of the fact that “The biggest ego in the room has to be the song” which becomes very apparent later on in his career.
Another example of his incredible talent – “The Fool” from the Suhr factory party in 2016…
After the breakup, in 2002 Thornley refined and showcased his talent as a session musician with popular Canadians such as Nickelback, Sarah Harmer, and Stephen Fearing.
By 2004, Ian had formed a new band simply called Thornley that released the album “Come Again” followed by “Tiny Pictures” in 2009.
Between 2010 and 2012, Ian reconnected with Brian Doherty and reformed Big Wreck, releasing “Albatross” in 2012. “We were more mature and it was just for kicks” says Ian in an interview. The album was a success in Canada and the US reaching positions within the top 10, including #1 in Canada, topped off by winning a Juno award in 2013.
Whilst not my personal favourite, there are some stand-out tracks on this album and yet again, flies under the radar for many rock fans.
In 2014, Big Wreck announced the release of their fourth studio album “Ghosts” which sold 4000 copies in the first week after release and debuted at #5 on the Canadian album chart. I love this album and it really showcases a band reaching the full potential of song writing and a cohesive sound. Others must agree with me, as it was nominated for Juno best rock album of the year in 2015!
More stunning playing on “How Long” – again live – because he’s so damn good at it!
His solo acoustic project led to the defining Secrets in 2015. Many fans refer to Secret’s 13 tracks as full scale reflection of Thornley’s maturation and innovative identity.
“… it suited the song (Frozen Pond), and took it to a whole new place I wouldn’t normally go to,” confirms Ian in an interview. This is a whole new sound for him – no trademark screaming guitar riffs here – it’s a “back to the roots” album of mainly acoustic songs that make it all the more compelling listening.
There is a “reimagined” remix of Blown Wide Open working with what he refers to as a “Nick Drake-style chord progression” on the album. “Being able to cut it live with a really tripped-out lush guitar sound made it even more enjoyable” which is really a different interpretation of the song and is fantastic ear candy.
Gear and Equipment
These days, Mr Thornley almost exclusively uses Suhr guitars and amps.
He has used many different guitars over the years – Fender, Gibson and Godin to name a few, but definitely gravitates back to Strat style guitars.
For many years, Ian’s favourite guitar was a 1965 Fender Stratocaster that he still has today and has been re-fretted countless times!
Whilst effects and Suhr Hedgehog amps are his basic setup today, he has played many amps from Marshall and Vox and still loves the VoxAC30 but still fondly remembers Basement and Bandmaster amps from his early days.
He uses Experience effects and is a big fan of Rufus pedals.
Let’s close with the legendary “Blown Wide Open” in a live setting – amazing!
Ian Thornley is, in my opinion, a highly talented force with a strong work ethic, as evidenced by his daily practice sessions for voice and guitar.
He married model, actress, and host of CBC Television and Canadian Living’s Best Recipes Ever, Christine Tizzard in 2003.
The couple connected with the help of her brother, musician Ken Tizzard. The marriage was held in his parents’ back yard. Thornley and Tizzard are the parents of Ozzie and Sophia. The family resides in the Toronto area.
Having watched and listened to many interviews and live performances, I hold Ian Thornley in very high regard as a singer, songwriter and guitarist – but most of all, a good guy without the arrogance that is present in many less talented players.
So – What do you Think?
Are there any other less mainstream guitarists that you’d like to see put under the spotlight?
What are your thoughts on my homage to Ian (Fletcher) Thornley and his music? – I’d love to hear from you in the comments section…
All the best and keep on rockin’