This was meant to be the introduction to a blogpost on Earl’s gig in Islington. I appear to have been digitally thwarted. Having (I thought) bought two tickets online for the gig, it appeared that the order never went through. In the whirl of the 21st century, I forgot to check my inbox. It wasn’t until the night before the gig when I went to print out the tickets that I realised that I hadn’t actually bought them.
Cue much apologising to my mate Blair who was coming along too.
So here’s what would have been a gig review post, with a bit of post cockup editing.
Now did I really buy those Glastonbury tickets?????????
There has been a vogue for a while for artist sanctioned quasi-tribute acts. in recent years. Many moons orbit the planet of King Crimson. Some acts have so few original members, they are the equivalent of Trigg’s broom from “Only Fools And Horses“.
Even before his death in January, Bowie had one authorised tribute act in Tony Visconti’s “Holy Holy” with Woody Woodmansey in the line up along with members of Mick Ronson’s family. Then late last year, Earl Slick announced that he would be part of a band touring “Station To Station”, Bowie 1975 LP.
Slick and Bowie had a chequered past. Slick first worked with Bowie in the summer of 1974, on the ambitious American “Diamond Dogs” tour. Bowie was looking for a guitarist to cover the parts he had played on the album live. He happened across his stalwart, Carlos Alomar, while recording Lulu’s version of “Can You Hear Me.” Alomar joined the tour and Michael Kamen came on board as musical director. Kamen introduced Slick as a second guitarist to Bowie, having played in Kamen’s own band. Slick settled in and in particular took over Ronson’s showpiece on “Moonage Daydream”.
Slick then joined the “Philly Dogs” tour, which took place after Bowie had completed the bulk of what would become “Young Americans” at Sigma Sound. Alomar had worked on these sessions but when Bowie went back in the studio after this second tour to record “Fame” and “Across The Universe” at an impromptu Electric Ladyland jam, Slick came on board for the first time.
Here’s a clip of Bowie performing “Young Americans” from the Dick Cavett Show in December 1974. Earl is standing on the top riser at the rear with the wide white collar playing the black Les Paul Gibson. The more observant of you will also spot a very young Luther Vandross, the backing singer on the far left as you look at the screen.
When Bowie went into the studio to record “Station to Station”, his follow up to “Young Americans”, both Alomar and Slick came along too. This was Bowie post-“The Man Who Fell To Earth”, under the worst of his cocaine excesses as seen in the BBC’s “Cracked Actor” documentary. Bowie went into a Hollywood studio with only some sketchy song ideas.
The hours were long and Bowie recalled little of them, aside from this in 1997:
I remember working with Earl on the guitar sounds and screaming the feedback sound I wanted at him. I also remember saying “Take a Chuck Berry riff and play it all the way through the solo, don’t deviate from it.
It was all very intense and Slick was almost as up to his eyes in the dark stuff as Bowie was. Slick. Bowie had a falling out with his new manager, Michael Lippman, and Slick fell by the wayside after Lippman had secured him a solo deal with Capitol Records. The perceived betrayal fractured the relationship between Slick and Bowie.
The two musicians did not work together again until Bowie needed a guitarist to replace Stevie Ray Vaughan for the “Serious Moonlight” tour in 1983. Stevie Ray was sacked during rehearsals for the tour. It was drugs and management issues again as Vaughan apparently was playing beautifully. Alomar roped in his old sparing partner, Earl, a frantic learning of the setlist ensued and Slick was back on board.
Slick then worked with Bowie off and on live, coming back into the fold for the Glastonbury and New York gigs in 2000 and the subsequent “Heathen” tour. Slick was one of the guitarists in the Bowie band’s last gig, the posthumous version of “Life on Mars” sung so beautifully at the Brit awards this year by Lorde.
The clip below is from the BBC gig which was around the time of the Glastonbury performance in 2000. This is Earl’s showpiece from the “Station to Station” LP. I always had a hankering for Nile Rodgers to play that opening funky guitar riff but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Bowie and Slick even worked together on record, with Bowie contributing “Isn’t It Evening” to “Zig Zag” in 2003. Slick was never quite as central to Bowie’s sound as either Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar or even Reeves Gabrels. However what he did offer was a bluesy embellishment to the base sound, not dissimilar to the way that Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew did.
The chosen vocalist for the tribute tour, Bernard Fowler, has been the Rolling Stones main backing singer for many years. He has a more direct connection to Bowie though via Philip Glass, Bowie’s New York composer pal. Fowler sang on Glass’s “Songs from Liquid Days.” The project was the nearest Glass has got to the world of rock, working with David Byrne of Talking Heads and Paul Simon. The contrast of Fowler’s soulful vocals with the typical minimalist backdrop of Glass’s music. A few years later, Bowie and Glass worked together on the “Low” and “”Heroes”” symphonies (note the double speech marks for complete Bowie accuracy.
Slick had Bowie’s blessing to take “Station To Station” on the road before his death. The musical director for the gig was Terry Edwards, sax player who appeared on the rather wonderful Everlasting Yeah album, “Anima Rising” (which I blogged about here). The sax player for the evening was Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman. The Spands were all big Bowie fans so it isn’t the greatest of leaps of Norman to take the opportunity to play with Slick.
So what of the gig that I didn’t go to?
Well judging from the clips that I’ve seen posted on Youtube via various cameraphones, it looks like what it was – a highly skilled group of musicians tackling a very good and challenging album. From the bits that I’ve seen, unsurprisingly Fowler seems to excel on those songs which are closer to his natural soulful style (“Wild Is The Wind” for example), than the title track. Of course, Slick nails the guitar parts but you would have expected no less. Here’s a perfect example of that with “Stay”:
I’m disappointed I didn’t go. I’m guessing that given the distance that has passed since Bowie died, it would have been more of a celebration than a wake. And it is always good to catch up with my mate Blair. I think we are going to try the Bowie Prom at the Royal Albert Hall instead.
I’ve asked Blair to get the tickets – I think it is for the best.