Earl Slick, American guitarist: “I never imagined that Double Fantasy was going to be Lennon’s last album”

Earl Slick, American guitarist: “I never imagined that Double Fantasy was going to be Lennon’s last album”

“The internet says it happened, so it must be like that,” laughs the great Earl Slick talking to Culto on the phone. The man who brought his roaring guitar into the recording of records like Station to Station, by David Bowie, and Double Fantasy, by John Lennon, claims to surprise himself by reviewing his life.

And it is that, for the native of Brooklyn, having seen the Beatles live at the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964, when he was only 13 years old, was something that marked his destiny forever. “All that generation of kids we had never seen anything like this before. It was like something from another world. We wondered what that was, and it really made a lot of us become musicians. As much as I am the number one fan of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles came first. When I saw the Stones, they were really cool, but the Beatles changed my life. “

So much so that Earl pressured his parents to buy him a guitar with the little money they were earning. When guitar lessons got boring, he preferred to teach himself to master the instrument by playing blues records by ear. As early as 1969, he attended his first recital: Led Zeppelin at the Fillmore East. “I already had their album by then, and that summer I saw them at least twice. It was crazy, ”he recalls.

At the age of 17, Slick was making a living playing with a group of friends in New York, when composer Michael Kamen saw him on stage and decided to hire him. Thus, Earl joined his band, the New York Rock Ensemble, where he was the saxophonist David Sanborn. The two hit it off immediately. But the real twist would come the day Kamen offered Slick to audition for a major artist tour, without telling him who it was. When he got to the studio, they made him play the guitar to the sound of the first mixes of Rebel Rebel. The artist who required him was none other than David Bowie, planning his tour for the then newly released Diamond dogs.

On the tour, immortalized on the live Live at the Tower Philadelphia, and also known as David Live, Slick unleashed his incendiary skill, endowing cuts like Moonage daydream O The width of a circle of a raw edge, almost punk, far from the preciousness and baroque of his predecessor Mick Ronson. The chemistry with saxophonist David Sanborn was evident and enviable. Each one of the cuts sounds like a duel between the bronze and the demonic fingers of Slick, accompanying the most feverish, possessed and messianic Bowie at the same time, the product of an increasingly exacerbated consumption of cocaine.

“When you listen to that record, it turns out that I and Sanborn had already been playing together in Michael Kamen’s band for two years. And I learned a lot from him. When we met for the first time we lined up immediately and I stole a lot of licks from him ”, recalls the guitarist.

Bowie, marveling, offered Slick to play at Young americans, an aesthetic twist that took him by surprise. “What happens is that I did not enjoy recording it so much, since at that time I was coming from a harder side, more bluesy. My vibe was that, and, let’s say Bowie threw a curve ball at me there. Besides, there wasn’t much I could do there. “

But then it came Station to station. On the album, considered by many to be one of the pinnacles of the chameleon, Slick opens the eponymous track with a wall of three and a half minute feedback. “It’s fun, because that was David’s idea. We were ready with all the songs, we had been recording for days, and suddenly it occurred to him that we would do that and I went along with him. We spent an hour or two doing that feedback and that’s it ”, he laughs.

“Before working with Bowie I had been a session player, but with him it was always different. There was never any demos, we learned everything in the moment and did everything that was in our head. Today, I function the same way because I learned it from him. And I like it, because if I make a record and tell everyone what to do, then I’m missing out on what the band has to deliver. The best albums are made like that, when the band is focused and throwing ideas, and it all comes together ”.

The use of cocaine in the sessions, motivated by the desire to keep working and launching new ideas, was so exacerbated that Earl even confesses not remembering the moment he met Lennon in the sessions of Fame and Across the universe. “Nobody remembers much of those days. Maybe he was really high, the seventies just disappeared and I don’t know what happened. It was so long ago that it seems like a dream. But it happened. ”, Sentence.

But something that the guitarist does not forget was that he had recorded Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey with Lennon and Yoko. “And obviously at the time we didn’t know that it would be John’s last album. We recorded all that stuff at the same time, the two albums in the same sessions. We were supposed to go back to the studio in January 1981 and we were also going on tour. I thought I was going to work with John for a long time, at least a couple of years, and suddenly he was gone. We never imagined that this was going to be John’s last album, “he adds.

By listening to Bowie’s studio albums where he participates, and the various live records (Glastonbury 2000, Cracked Actor, A Reality Tour), it is clear that Slick never opted for stagnation. “If I played like in the records, or like I did before, I would be bored and that would mean that I have not learned anything. You have to keep everything moving. I rarely play everything the same all the time, because I let things happen ”.

And the existence of your new plate Fistful of Devils it is also due to a kind of synchronicity. The footage, recorded in 2014, had been sitting on Slick’s hard drive for seven years, until it got a call from London’s Schnitzel records. “When I recorded it, I wasn’t sure what to do with the material. I said, either I go to a stamp or I get it out myself. I didn’t know what to do, and then I started doing a lot of things. I was on tour from that year until last year. He hadn’t stopped. And suddenly the Schnitzel label called me asking if I had any material that I wanted to release and I told them I had an album ready. We reached an agreement and that’s why it came out. If they hadn’t called me, this would still be on my hard drive. I had always thought that the album was ready and that something was going to happen to it, but I didn’t know what. I just knew something was going to happen, and I didn’t think about it. “

The album has a hint of Link Wray’s raw blues, and a David Lynch loaded atmosphere. “You’re the first to mention it,” he says. “There is a song called Black, the second of the album, and is inspired by Fire Walk With Me, in a dark scene in the movie where the band is playing and everyone is very ugly and sinister. That scene has been in my head since the movie came out. “

In this new purely instrumental album, which comes 18 years after the excellent Zig Zag, where the guest vocalists were none other than Bowie himself, Robert Smith, Joe Elliot and Royston Langdon, Slick takes the time to remember Lennon again, baptizing a cut in his honor with the acronym JWL

With the worldwide and gradual return of live shows, Earl will return to the stage, but now in the first person and not as a companion. “And that’s something I haven’t done in a long time, which has me excited and anxious at the same time.” One of his next sold-out shows will be in Hull, the hometown of Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist on the Spiders from Mars. “That will be in November. And every time I go to Hull they treat me very well, although a life ago there was a competition with Mick, ”he jokes.

But this year, unknowingly, Slick went further than Ronson: when the Perseverance rover touched the surface of the planet Mars last February, NASA accompanied its broadcasts of the event with a surrender of the Life on mars? by Bowie covered by Yungblud, where Ronno’s original classic guitar solo was performed by Earl, alongside Mike Garson on piano, Sterling Campbell on drums, and Gerry Leonard on second guitar.

“Turns out we did a remote show for David’s birthday this year, and they recorded it. But I never knew what the recording of us playing was for. And now I found out from a friend, who called me saying ‘hey, you traveled to Mars! And I didn’t know until I was in space, ”laughs Slick. A space odyssey.

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Earl Slick, American guitarist: “I never imagined that Double Fantasy was going to be Lennon’s last album”