Earl Slick On Bowie, Drugs, And The Late Singer’s Mismanagement

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Long-time David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick recalled the drug-fuelled environment which led to their split in 1976, saying the late singer was being manipulated, rather than managed at the time. While everyone in the band who recorded Station to Station had been using drugs, Slick said if the rhythm section had of been as bad as David and he, “that record would have sucked.

In a career which began in the early seventies, Slick has played with big names such as John Lennon, Robert Smith, and Joe Elliott. However, Slick’s association with ‘the man from Mars’ stretches across five decades, beginning with the Diamond Dogs Tour in ‘74.

The 68-year-old was just 22 when a mutual friend’s recommendation unexpectedly landed the jobbing musician the gig with Bowie in 1974. Following the “too poppy and syrupy for me” 1975 hit, Young Americans, Slick continued with Bowie on the six-track masterpiece, Station To Station.

While working on the aforementioned album, a drug-fuelled binge help David, and Slick create a truly wonderful album. However, the drug and alcohol habits may have contributed to the pair not working with each other again for almost a decade.

In a recent interview, rock’s most celebrated sidemen spoke on the fun they had making the record, and the mismanagement Bowie endured. Slick also reveals how people so out of their minds on drugs could produce such an extraordinary album. Bowie claimed to have been unable to remember the recording sessions at all!

Speaking to The Guardian, Slick recalls; “Well, how I was doing what I do on that record was no different than the way I did anything else, and my drinking and drug habits weren’t any different either, so I was operating on my normal paradigm, you know? David had gone levels into insanity, but the rhythm section – Carlos Alomar, George Murray, Dennis Davis – didn’t imbibe anything close to the silliness that David and I did. Had they been as f***** up as we were, that record would have sucked.

But we spent a lot of time together, me and David, just doing my guitar overdubs and stuff, and we were able to work in that condition quite well,” Slick claims. We were in our 20s. You can do serious damage to yourself in your 20s and still make records. I’d only been doing [drugs] for seven or eight years. You couldn’t do that amount of drugs for 25 years and think you’re going to make records. You’re not. Unless you’re Keith Richards [laughs].

As fun as it may have been for the lads to “experiment” so much when creating the album, Slick believes their behaviour may have contributed to him leaving the band before the ensuing tour. Problems began to arise over the sideman’s contract, although Bowie was unaware of the situation his management declined to inform him of. As a result, Slick’s association with David had been subsequently brought to an end, before reconvening for the Serious Moonlight tour in ‘83.

He found out that they had not let me talk to him, and I found out he had had no idea what was going on. It reminded me of the Elvis thing, man. The guy was so f***** up, and everybody around him was taking advantage of his money and keeping information from him that they didn’t want him to know”.

Slick played alongside David again from 1999 until the singer’s retirement from live performance in 2004 and “he did his usual vanishing thing”. Eight years passed before another acquaintance in 2012 for The Next Day.

It was during this time when Slick noticed Bowie “didn’t look so good, didn’t look himself”. However, he recalls the singer “was prone to depression, and that’s what I thought it was”. David also became quickly disabused of the idea that there would be any subsequent tour.

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.’

We knew each other very well for a long time, but we didn’t get into each other’s personal s***. 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, and he said: ‘Great idea, Slicky. Have fun.’