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02 July 2021

Earl Slick On Working With Bowie: “There Was Always A Curveball”

Earl Slick
Alamy
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Earl Slick has revealed what it was like to be a sideman to some of the most celebrated musicians of our times in a new interview with Alexis Petridis for The Guardian. The guitarist – who has worked with everyone from David Bowie to The Cure to Carl Perkins to John Lennon – described how it felt when he was recruited by Bowie for the Diamond Dogs tour at the age of just 22, a tour which changed its sense of musical direction halfway through: “I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. I really didn’t. I really wasn’t into how it turned out. To me, it turned out to be like a Vegas cabaret act. I might as well have been in a pit orchestra or something. It was pretty weird. Who knew what he was thinking? And that all happened within the first seven or eight months I was working with him, so I learned very quickly he could change with the wind, which happened all the way to the end. There was always a curveball; you never knew what was going to happen next.”

Still, that tour kicked off a working relationship with Bowie that endured on and off through the decades and Slick became an integral part of the singer’s touring band from 1999 to 2004, after which Bowie retired from live performance. Slick describes the sessions for Bowie’s 2013 comeback album, The Next Day, where he noticed the singer “didn’t look so good, didn’t look himself, but he was prone to depression, and that’s what I thought it was. We were sitting in the control room of the studio, listening to (You Will) Set the World on Fire, and David says: ‘Man, that track would be great live.’ I looked at him, but before I could even answer, he goes: ‘Don’t even think about it.’”

Slick goes on to address Bowie’s death in 2016, “We knew each other very well for a long time, but we didn’t get into each other’s personal shit. We were friends when we were working, but, in between, it wasn’t like we’d call each other up and go out for a cup of coffee or something. The last time I spoke to him was September or October 2015. I ran it past him [Slick’s tour in which he performed Bowie’s Station To Station in full], and he said: ‘Great idea, Slicky. Have fun.’”

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