July 02, 2021
He played through extreme drug-taking on Bowie’s Station to Station, and with Yoko Ono weeks after Lennon’s death. The guitarist explains why he’s great at backing legends – and terrible at selling timeshares
Rock sideman Earl Slick: ‘Bowie had gone levels into insanity’
It’s not surprising that Earl Slick was in the middle of a tour when the first Covid lockdown began. The guitarist is, by his own account, “the biggest roadhog on the planet”, one of rock’s most celebrated sidemen: his association with David Bowie stretched over five decades; he has played with everyone from John Lennon to the Cure to Carl Perkins. This time, he was playing in the UK with his friend Glen Matlock, which meant he spent the first six months of lockdown living not at home in New York but in the former Sex Pistol’s spare room in London, an experience he winningly likens to the 1968 comedy The Odd Couple. Apparently, Matlock was the neat-freak Jack Lemmon character and Slick the more laissez-faire Walter Matthau figure. They put on shambolic Facebook live performances, which, Slick notes, “probably had more comedic than musical value”. Between songs, there was certainly a lot of peering at the camera and discussing whether or not it was switched on.
Video-calling from his home in New York, he says he “lost a lot of gigs and a lot of dough” as a result of the pandemic, but at least he had time to put the finishing touches to a solo album, Fistful of Devils, his first in 18 years. It’s instrumental – a stark contrast to 2003’s Zig Zag, which featured Bowie, Robert Smith and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott among its supporting cast. “But when I go out live,” he notes, “I always go out with a singer. When I’m on stage with a Singer, all my sideman tools get pulled out the box. Even if my name’s on the marquee, the main focus should be on the vocalist.”
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