Published on December 9th, 2003 | by Gerry Galipault0
Bowie’s main man is back
David Bowie fans can thank the Internet for reuniting the rock legend with his ’70s-era guitarist, Earl Slick.
Disillusioned with the music business, Slick disappeared into the High Sierras in the early 1990s. Job offers continued to pour in, but he turned most of them down.
Eventually, he re-emerged. He started his own label, Slick Music, releasing his solo material and rarities from other artists, such as Fanny and Little Caesar.
It was through his Web site that Bowie’s people sent word that he wanted to find the man he had tapped to replace Mick Ronson in 1974.
“If it wasn’t for the Internet, they never would’ve found me,” Slick said recently. “I was unfindable for a long time. It had been eight or nine years since I had talked to David. We were living our lives separately.
“I was happy as a clam living in the High Sierras. I needed a break. Nothing was inspiring me to do a record. I was mostly very, very bored with the creative end of it, with the music I was involved with. It had literally ripped everything out of me and stopped me for five years.”
Slick rejoined Bowie’s band, starting with his 2002 “Heathen” tour and continuing with the current “A Reality Tour.”
Working again with Bowie was just what Slick needed. He began writing songs for his first album of new material in 12 years. That album, “Zig Zag” (released Dec. 9 on Sanctuary), started out as a collection of instrumentals and morphed into a Santana-like all-star effort.
“While we were out doing David’s thing, I thought I’d make a really cool instrumental record that’s not going to be one of those in-your-face rock albums,” Slick said. “I just don’t want to do those anymore. I wanted something more melodic and textural. I have a few friends in the movie business, and I thought it’d be great to get into scoring a film. So the album was almost like making a demo to get scoring jobs.
“But as soon as we started the project and David found out about it, he volunteered to do a song (‘Isn’t It Evening [The Revolutionary]’). Then I ended up doing a track with The Cure, which is coming out on their box set next year – it’s a remake of the old Cure song ‘The Forest.’ The guy who produced that produced my album (Mark Plati). Then (Cure frontman) Robert Smith heard David’s track and he said he wanted to sing on my album, too (on the first single, ‘Believe’).
“Suddenly, some of my favorite singers of all-time wanted to be part of it, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should rethink this original instrumental concept.’ I had no control over it, which is probably a good thing.”
Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott provided some “Psycho Twang”; The Motels’ Martha Davis took a walk down “St. Mark’s Place,” and Spacehog’s Royston Langdon added his touch on the title track.
“The album wasn’t done on a continuum,” Slick said, “because I had been touring a lot. When we finished the ‘Heathen’ tour last year, I took a break over the holiday. I started figuring out what I had and what I had to do. There really was no big plan.”
Slick’s biggest regret is that his mentor, Michael Kamen, isn’t around to see his recording rebirth. Kamen, an award-winning composer, died last month of a heart attack at his home in London at age 55. He had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago.
“He started the whole thing for me,” Slick said. “I always kept in touch with him and whenever I’d go to London, I’d see him. We were supposed to get together (during the last week of November) when we were doing Wembley Stadium. I found out about him dying when someone in the States saw it on the news and then they told me.
“I knew he was sick, so it wasn’t an absolute shock. But in a way, it still was.”
Slick was a struggling young guitarist in the early 1970s when Kamen discovered him and took him under his wing.
“I had a friend when I was growing up in New York, Hank DeVito,” Slick said. “Hank was a pedal steel guitar player who went on to become a very successful Nashville writer over the last 15 years. He was playing in Michael Kamen’s band. I had a band and (DeVito) suggested Michael produce some demos for us. Michael took a liking to me and he’d call me in to do some sessions once in a while.
“At one point, I was in a band that was doing nothing but cover tunes. I hated it. I knew Hank was going on the road with Michael, so I said, ‘You know what? I’d rather be a roadie than do one more Crosby, Stills & Nash cover song with this band.’ Hank got me a job as a roadie. I always brought my guitar and would jam with the guys.
“David Sanborn also was in the band. One day, David said to Michael, ‘Why don’t we let this guy play live? Why’s he carrying gear?’ For a while, I was doing both – being a roadie and a guitar player. Eventually, I became the guitar player in Michael’s band. When he met Bowie in New York and Bowie was looking for a guitarist, he suggested David call me.”
Slick first appeared on Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour and played on the classic “David Live,” “Young Americans” and “Station to Station” albums. From there, he collaborated with many artists, including hero John Lennon. He played guitar on Lennon’s final album, “Double Fantasy” (1980).
There’s no stopping Slick now. He’s already working on a follow-up to “Zig Zag.”
“On the next album, I may go deeper into more guitar textures, different kinds of drumbeats,” he said. “I want to make something more on the ‘up’ side, but still accessible. I may work with The Dandy Warhols on that one sometime in the spring; they opened for Bowie on the European tour. They’re awesome.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Meet the Beatles,’ right after I saw them on Ed Sullivan. The next day, in fact. Then to actually work with John, that was amazing.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I think the first big concert I went to was Led Zeppelin’s first U.S. tour. That was groundbreaking stuff.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I’m not going to name it, but it was that cover band I played with. I only did it because I felt I had to do it. It’s all a good experience, but you get to learn the right way the hard way, which gives you the angst to continue in this business. I still love what I’m doing, and I’m very grateful for it and for working with David again. I’m thrilled to be doing records again.”
ON THE WEB: www.earlslick.com.
BWF (before we forget): A bout with the flu forced Bowie to cancel the opening four dates on his North American tour. The tour is expected to resume Dec. 12 in Toronto. (See tour dates below.)
The Earl Slick album discography – “Razor Sharp” (Warner, 1976); “Earl Slick Band” (Capitol, 1976); “In Your Face” (Slick Music, 1991); “Lost & Found” (2000); “Live 1976” (Metal Blade, 2001); “Slick Trax” (2002); “Zig Zag” (Sanctuary, 2003).
Upcoming Bowie tour dates – Jan. 11, Minneapolis, Target Center; Jan. 13-14, 16, Rosemont, Ill., Rosemont Theatre; Jan. 19, Denver, Fillmore Auditorium; Jan. 21, Calgary, Pengrowth Saddledome; Jan. 24, Vancouver, General Motors Place; Jan. 25, Seattle, Paramount Theater; Jan. 27, San Jose, HP Pavilion at San Jose; Jan. 30, Las Vegas, Hard Rock Hotel/The Joint; Jan. 31, Feb. 2, Los Angeles, Shrine Auditorium; Feb. 4, Phoenix, Dodge Theater; Feb. 14, Wellington, New Zealand, WestpacTrust Stadium; Feb. 17, Brisbane, Australia, Brisbane Entertainment Centre; Feb. 20-21, Sydney, Sydney Entertainment Centre; Feb. 23, Adelaide,Entertainment Centre; Feb. 26-27, Melbourne, Rod Laver Arena; March 8-9, Tokyo, Budokan Hall; March 11, Osaka, Osaka-Jo Hall; June 13, Isle Of Wight, U.K., Isle Of Wight Festival.