Saturday, April 27, 2019

David Bowie & the Guitar

I've been either teaching or performing various Bowie songs as of late, and since I teach primarily guitar, discussion of Bowie's guitarists has come up a lot. It occurred to me that I should jot all this info down for anyone & everyone who may find it of interest.

David Bowie had an incredible career full of splendid musical challenges (and much more, but remember our focus is on guitar), and he had an entire stable of incredible musicians with whom he forged this path; his '70s work saw players from Mick Ronson in the early days to tag team Carlos Alomar & Earl Slick to Robert Fripp to Adrien Belew as well as guests like John Lennon, followed by his '80s output with the likes of Nile Rogers & Stevie Ray Vaughan to Peter Frampton (with Carlos a constant traveling companion) as well as guests like Charlie Sexton, to his 90s catalogue featuring the introduction of Reeves Gabrels (with a brief return of Rogers & Ronson & Alomar) and guests like Lenny Kravitz. The 2000s saw a collaboration with David Torn and Gerry Leonard, and guests ranging from Pete Townsend and David Grohl and more as well as a return of Earl Slick and, for his final album, Ben Monder.

And the list is longer than this.

But even so, the above list is far too dense for this medium. As such, I'm going to trim it down to only a half dozen so we can focus with greater depth the players on the brief roster. Apologies in advance, as I'll be leaving out some amazing guitarists....including Fripp (who created the long sustaining guitar soundscape of "Heroes"), SRV (who played on much of the "Let's Dance" album), and Bowie himself, who handled much of his own guitar duties throughout his entire career (including the lone 12-string of "Space Oddity", the amazing chord riffing of "Ziggy Stardust", and the iconic electric signature riff of Rebel Rebel").

That said, here we go....

1) Mick Ronson - Largely (and unfortunately) forgotten by many modern players, its worth remembering that in 1974 in a "Best Guitarist" poll, Jimmy Page took 1st, Eric Clapton took 3rd, and Mick sat between them at 2nd place; he is rated as one of the top 100 best guitarists ever by Rolling Stone Magazine; and Ronson was a primary inspiration for later guitar legends from Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne) to Steve Stevens (Billy Idol).

Bowie himself has said that he felt the "Ziggy & Ronson" duo was on par with Jagger & Richards or Axle & Slash.

He was also admired by (& thus hired by) artists ranging from Lou Reed, Morrissey, Ian Hunter, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and many others, and it has been argued that it was his re-working of "Jack & Diane" that made the song the biggest of John Mellencamp's career.

His work with Bowie was arguably Bowie's most prolific period, from "The Man Who Sold the World" in 1970 to "Pinups" in 1973 (a total of 5 albums in 4 years). He returned briefly for "Black Tie White Noise" shortly before his death from liver cancer in April of 1993.

2) Carlos Alomar - Carlos Alomar is among the players on my personal list of "most under-rated guitarists ever". In addition to Bowie, he has played with Arcadia, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Simple Minds, Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, Ben E. King, James Brown, Luther Vangross, Chuck Berry, and more.

Alomar also cut his teeth in the house band of the Apollo Theater, was later band leader for the Caroline Rhea show (an NBC production), and was hired by The Stevens Institute of Technology in 2005 to teach music & technology.

He also has the distinction of playing on more Bowie albums than any other guitarist. The dozen albums on which he played (not to mention the world tours, many of which where he served not only as guitarist, but musical director) ranged from 1975's "Young Americans" to 2003's "Reality"....and, on a personal note, it was Alomar who played one of the first Bowie albums I ever owned (the epic "Scary Monsters" from 1980). I was stunned by it all.

3) Earl Slick - Slick played on 4 of Bowie's studio albums, but his collaboration goes far beyond that (tours and other appearances) and he has the battlescars to prove it. He is also the man who replaced both Mick Ronson (in the '70s) and Stevie Ray Vaughan (following SRV's departure following the release of "Let's Dance").

Outside of Bowie, he has also worked with John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Dirty White Boy, and others, and has performed with 2 other Beatles (Ringo and George), Rosanne Cash, New York Dolls, Robert Smith of the Cure, John Waite, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Carl Perkins, Yardbirds, and many more.

4) Adrian Belew - Belew was Frank Zappa's guitarist when he met Bowie, but Frank's tour was ending and he was ready for a new challenge. He did several tours with Bowie as well as the "Lodger" album, helping steer Bowie's new direction.

He had brief working relationships with Talking Heads & Tom Tom Club, but a year later was teaming with Robert Fripp to re-form Fripp's band King Crimson (and to move it into entirely new territory) and, all the while, had a storied solo career.

His work has influenced everyone from Tool to Toxik, and he has worked with artists as diverse as Cinci Lauper to Paul Simon, Tori Amos to Trent Reznor.

5) Nile Rodgers - What can one say about Nile? The co-founder, guitarist, and principle composer for Chic, Nile has worked as guitarist &/or producer with everyone from Mick Jagger to Madonna to Daft Punk to Duran Duran...Jeff Beck, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Peter Gabriel, B-52s, and the list goes on.

On, in fact, to Grammy Awards, Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame inductions, an appearance backing Thompson Twins during "Revolution" at Live AID, over a dozen movie & game soundtracks, and a staggering 500 million albums sold where he wrote, played, produced....including his work with David Bowie, which includes his biggest selling album, "Let's Dance" and a decade later "Black Tie White Noise".

His initial work with Bowie on "Let's Dance" (where he produced, played guitar, and co-wrote) also helped launch the career of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Bottom line: I could write paragraphs more and not say enough about Nile Rodgers.

6) Reeves Gabrels - It is this man who is often credited with putting fire back in Bowie's creative machine following his late 80s burnout. Bowie formed a band with Reeves called Tin Machine, who did 2 studio albums and one live album, and hundreds of performances.

Then Bowie kept the relationship alive as he worked with Reeves on a string of 4 albums in the 1990s.

Guitar.Com said that he is " of the most daring rock-guitar improvisers since Jimi Hendrix..." and he has gone on to work with everyone from Paul Rogers to The Cure.

====== you have some players to listen to. Get to it, friends!

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