The death of David Bowie sent a resounding message to rock and roll fans all over the globe. We are all vulnerable and subject to life’s termination. If you were a Bowie fan at any time of his career it was his guitarists that made each of his morphs that much more interesting. Each Bowie phase happened because of the elite eight that played guitar behind him.
Mick Ronson was discovered by Bowie after hearing his fierce guitar solo on Elton John’s song, “Madman Across the Water”. Ronson’s style was the catalyst of what became “glam”. His style was eclectically different but necessary to take rock and roll to a new intellectual paradigm. While Bowie came up with the songs, it twas’ the fire of Ronson’s fluidity, dirty sonicgrams helped to really crystallize them to absolute perfection. Bowie said to himself I found my “Jeff Beck” in Ronson! Mostly regarded for the “Ziggy” phase his best body of work was heard on “PinUps”. Ronson’s work lives on! Most people may not remember the man, but they certainly remember the sound, when they hear the great work he did on the song “Ziggy Stardust” or “Starman,” or any of the classic cuts from that pioneering David Bowie release. Mick Ronson is one of rock and roll’s unsung heroes indeed. Ronson died of liver cancer at age 46.
Bowie and Ronson
Interview With Bowie and Ronson
While touring Germany with Frank Zappa, Adrian Belew was talked about to Bowie by common friend Brian Eno. In Berlin, Frank Zappa was playing to a sold out audience when during one of his eccentric trodden guitar solos Belew noticed David Bowie and Iggy Pop were huddled around the mixing board. After collecting himself, Belew chimes to Bowie how much he loved his work, to which Bowie said, “Great, how would you like to be in my band?” Belew noted that he already had a gig and it’s with the guy currently soloing on stage.
David laughed and said, “Yes, I know, but when Frank’s tour ends my tour starts two weeks later. Shall we talk about it over dinner?” Following the show Bowie, Pop and Belew went by limo to a popular Berlin restaurant. Unfortunately, the Zappa troupe turned up at the same restaurant and it created a gruesome scenario. Though he clearly had been caught trying to poach Belew, the ever-debonair Bowie attempted to make the best of things – but Zappa was having none of it and was pissed. Bowie trying to be cordial said, “You have quite a guitarist with you”! Zappa screams, “ Hey fuck you… Captain Tom”(Zappa demoting Bowie from major to captain). Again, Bowie trying to be diplomatic… Zappa again screamed, “Fuck you Captain Tom!”
Zappa/Belew/Bowie.. “Fuck You Capt. Tom”
Adrian Belew toured with David Bowie during the 1989-79 tours and again in 1990. His work with Talking Heads and King Crimson was considered his finest.
At just twenty two years old self-proclaimed bad-ass guitarist Earl Slick was recruited by Bowie. They first teamed up in 1974 for the Diamond Dogs tour. When that wrapped, Slick entered the studio with Bowie to record “Young Americans” and “Station to Station” When Stevie Ray Vaughan walked out of the Serious Moonlight”tour at the last minute, Bowie called in Slick. After a long break, Slick reunited with Bowie in the early 2000s for Heathen and Reality and their supporting tours. For practical purposes he was Bowie’s “go to” guitarist for almost 40 years. While performing he would always be wearing black and have his back to the crowd with a “Keith Richard’s swagger”.. but when he played the chops which became the skeleton for Station to Station it was sheer madness.
Earl Slick and Bowie
Bowie’s recruitment of guitarists was as dynamic as his music. In 1974 he met Carlos Alomar, who was the son of a Puerto Rican evangelist; and at 16 was already a professional player. His background included stints with Chuck Berry, James Brown and The Main Ingredient. Alomar’s influence is what would become Bowie’s greatest pivotal moments… commercially and artistically. He injected the “soul” that Bowie was so desperately in awe of. He masterminded the riffs into what was to become Bowie’s iconic platforms. Yes, he created the iconic “riffs” of “Fame”, “Golden Years” and “Stay”. Alomar was shrewd from his days playing through the “Chitlin Circuit” in the South and the Midwest. He would never back down. When Bowie asked him, “What kind of guitar do you play?’.. Alomar replied, “The one that pays me!” Bowie wanted to hire him for the “Diamond Dogs” tour but because of money it never came to fruition. Alomar’s guitar-playing was also a prime component of Bowie’s pioneering “Berlin trilogy” – “Low”, “Heroes”, and Lodger.
Bowie and Alomar
Back in 1987 David Bowie took a step backwards in order to make a leap forward by masterminding the rock outfit, “Tin Machine”. It was certainly the first time since The Spders From Mars that he wanted to be committed to a “group “effort. Through an exchange of a cassette he was introduced to guitarist, Reeves Gabrels. Not since Mick Ronson did he hear someone play with such voracity. It was back to distortion and a way for Bowie to become relevant to the crazed alternative music scene. The band included the sons of T.V. icon Soupy Sales, Hunt and Tony which seemed comical at the time but in all diffidence they were pretty god damn competent due to their taking licks during the L.A. punk circuit. The Sales brothers gave Tin Machine a bit of humor relief with band pranks and shenanigans that I’m sure inspired Spinal Tap moments. Bowie’s sense of pure adventure is maybe how he ended up sawing a water cooler in half while recording to make a cool vocal effect that never worked so it was back to the drawing board. Tin Machine was seriously maligned by critics and radio but it did sell in excess of 3 million copies!
Tin Machine and Bowie With Reeves Gabrels
The music world was in serious tumult during the MTV generation. Musicians from the Baby Boomer generation just seemed out of step with Duran Duran, Michael Jackson and Cindi Lauper garnering so much media attention. Bowie needed a fix and that was found with Austin blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn who he saw at a jazz music festival in Switzerland. After hours of exchanging phone calls and talking about Bowie’s vision which Vaughn obliged and played the guitar on “Let’s Dance”..which turned out to be the biggest hit record of Bowie’s career! Promoters were clamoring to put him into stadiums all over the world. Immediate sellouts in Asia and Europe. There was lots of tension between the two and when the issue of touring ensued managers and record labels got involved.
Bowie…. Stevie Ray Vaughn….. Nile Rogers
Stevie was promised by Bowie to have Double Trouble as the opening act but was later reneged by management. Double Trouble’s debut was just released and Epic Records didn’t feel comfortable with the Bowie camp. Not only would they not allow Double Trouble to open for Bowie, but Stevie couldn’t give interviews about his album while on tour for Bowie. SRV never got to decide whether or not to stay with Bowie. Vaughn’s manager told Bowie to fuck off and die but that wasn’t till Bowie’s people threw him and his gear off the tour bus in the middle of the street. What ended up happening was a lot of name calling and rumors of hygiene issues. Evidently, SRV was not a prudent flosser of sorts. To David’s chagrin the career of his latest guitar playing slinger turned out to be nothing less than epic and was only eclipsed by Jimi Hendrix.
Bowie With Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton….. Bowie’s Teeth
It was Bowie who calls Peter Frampton and asks him to become his road guitarist for the “Glass Spider” tour. Frampton’s career had been stalling but it was universally agreed that he still played a mean guitar. Bowie and Frampton became friends when they were students at Bromley Technical School (Frampton’s dad, Owen was Bowie’s teacher in art school); but had never worked together in their professional career until the tour. At the time, Frampton’s career had stalled when the massive success of 1976’s ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ was met head-on by the failure of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ movie two years later. What prompted his hiring was that Bowie just loved the way Peter played the blues. He wanted the sound of Clapton, Beck and Page. In subsequent years; in fact, Bowie often opened for Frampton’s band, Humble Pie. “It was always very friendly, always supportive of each other,” Frampton added. “When you share a background and roots like that with somebody it doesn’t matter.”
Bowie, Fripp and Eno
The “Heroes” album of 1977 would have been entirely different if it weren’t for the angular guitar playing of Robert Fripp. The zeigeist of Fripp, Eno and Bowie created an intellectual fashion which dominated a school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time while making this album. Lore has it that Fripp would mark by “duck tape” the floor of the recording studio so he would no where to stand in order to achieve a particular sound.
Remember we can all be Heroes…. God Bless David Bowie