Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Star Man’s Side Men

The Star Mans Side Men
Bowies Eclectic Adventurism and His Guitarists

About half-a-week has passed since the sad news of David Bowies death. I am going to guess that tens of thousands of articles have been written in the past four days. I wont even attempt sum up such an artist in such a pithy venue. Bowie needs his own encyclopedia, or perhaps even his own Internet, which he launched in the late 90s under the moniker “BowieNet.”

I would like to make the point that great artists have great collaborators. A few jump to mind in relation to Bowie, such as producers Tony Visconti and Brian Eno. But it should be known that as a “solo” artist, Bowie always could put together a hell of a band.

Bowies guitar alumni, fall into two categories: those who are household names, and those who should be.


Bowie once said of Ronson: “He was my Jeff Beck.” Although best known as the lead guitarist during the Ziggy era, Ronsons contributions included songwriting, producing, and arranging. He is often seen as Bowies greatest onstage foil. In 1972, sexually ambiguous, androgynous, extraterrestrial performers tended to push the limits of even the most progressive mainstream rock fans. Mick Ronson, with his meaty, muscular, and decidedly macho guitar heroics, made it OK for the squares to dig the Spiders.


So where does a pasty limey,” in Bowies words, turn when he wants to explore his more soulful side? Well a good place to start is with an ace guitarist whos had tenure with James Brown, Ben E. King, and The Main Ingredient. Oh, and for good measure, have him bring his buddy, an unknown Luther Vandross, along for the ride. Davids collaboration with Carlos yielded the eternally awesome “plastic soul” of the Young Americans album. But dont think Carlos was any more limited to a single genre than his boss was. He could get experimental with the best of them and ultimately played on a dozen Bowie albums across a period of almost three decades.


Bowie knew a good thing when he heard it. As was the case during Stevie Rays 1982 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Vaughan was a pretty big fish in blues circles, but was still relatively unknown to mainstream rock audiences. That soon changed after Bowie featured him on his most commercially successful album, Lets Dance. Stevie, however, wasnt meant to play in anybodys shadow, and the partnership, while mutually beneficial, was short lived.

OK, I left out a bunch of great players who shared the stage and studio with Bowie. Off the top of my head, there are Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Earl Slick, Peter Frampton, and still others! It just goes to show that a truly great artist knows how to find the right people to help them to realize their vision.

To your success!


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