The Flint Journal - January 8th, 2004

Bowie asks ex-bandmates to join him on road

By Doug Pullen (Journal Entertainment Writer)

David Bowie isn't just playing old songs on his first world tour in eight years. He's playing them with old friends like keyboardist Mike Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, who worked with Bowie in the '70s and '80s.

"I'm the rock 'n' roll foil," says Slick, who fills a role once occupied by the late Mick Ronson and Reeves Gabrels. "I'm probably the most aggressive guitar player he's ever had. I'm the fun, rock 'n' roll aspect of what he likes."

Slick first worked with Bowie on 1974's "Diamond Dogs" tour, appearing on Bowie's "David Live," "Station to Station" and "Young Americans" albums before launching a solo career and contributing to John Lennon's "Double Fantasy" album. He rejoined Bowie for 1983's "Serious Moonlight" tour (taking Stevie Ray Vaughan's place) and played on his remake of "Dancin' in the Streets" with Mick Jagger.

The 51-year-old guitarist also has backed Ian Hunter, formed the short-lived Phantom, Rocker and Slick with ex-members of the Stray Cats and released a few solo albums. Citing burnout, he dropped out of music entirely in the 1990s, retiring to the mountains of Oregon to run a small Web business for nearly five years.

"I could crank a Marshall at 3 o'clock in the morning and no one would hear it," he said.

Mostly, he didn't crank up his guitars at all.

"Once in a while I would get that twinge. I'd put the TV on and see a friend and say, What am I doing up here?' But it would go away," Slick said, laughing, during a recent interview.

His return to music began gradually. Old friend David Coverdale of Whitesnake asked him to tour in 1997, but Slick declined, though he did contribute to Coverdale's solo album a year later.

Bowie called late in 1999, wanting to know if Slick would do some promotional dates with him the next year. "When David called, I perked up. If I was going to disappear and come back, this is the right way to do it - go in with a bang and go out with a bang," Slick said.

Reuniting with Bowie sparked a creative burst for the guitarist, who quickly assembled pieces of more than a dozen songs. Slick polished off 10 of them with producer (and former Bowie bandmate) Mark Piati for his new solo album, "Zig Zag," named for the small Oregon town where he lived during his musical exile. The CD, his first in 12 years, combines moody rock instrumentals with vocal turns from Bowie, The Cure's Robert Smith and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, among others.

"It came together absolutely organically from the gate," Slick said. "I wasn't writing for any specific purpose. In 30 years of making albums, this is the first time I've ever done that and I'm happiest with this one."

And he's pretty happy with Bowie's band, which also includes guitarist Jerry Leonard, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, multi-instrumentalist Catherine Russell and drummer Sterling Campbell. Most of the group has been together for several years.

"He's put together a combination of musicians with particular personalities that absolutely gel," Slick said. "That wasn't by accident. He knew what he was doing."

The group rehearsed 50 songs for Bowie's current "Reality" tour, which came to the United States last month. Unlike his first stint with Bowie, when both the singer and the guitarist battled their demons with drugs and alcohol, Slick said the vibe is much more relaxed these days.

"It's very lighthearted. It's a lot of fun. We're smiling a lot on stage," he said. "We were talking the day after (the tour opened at New York's Madison Square) Garden, saying what a good time we had and how much different it was than before."

Slick also is at peace with himself. He's making music now because he wants to, not because he feels he has to. "Had David never called, I wouldn't have know the difference," he said. "I was just fine where I was."