Best-known as one of David Bowie’s guitarists (during one of his most successful periods commercially — the mid-’70s), Earl Slick has gone on to play on a variety of other projects before returning back to Bowie in the early 21st century. Slick (then only 22 years old), came out of virtually nowhere to serve as Bowie’s first proper replacement for Mick Ronson after Bowie had spilt up the Spiders from Mars. Although Bowie supplied most of the guitar work for his hit 1974 release, Diamond Dogs, he sought the then-unknown Slick to replicate his and Ronson’s previous guitar parts on tour. Not only did Slick duplicate them, but the incredibly versatile guitarist managed to expand on them and inject his own style into the tunes, resulting in one of the greatest rock guitar albums of all time (albeit usually woefully overlooked), David Live, recorded at a stop at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Slick remained with Bowie for his next two studio albums, which saw the singer transform into his “Thin White Duke” persona and take on the funk genre, resulting in the classic full-lengths Young Americans (1975) and the more experimental Station to Station (1976), as well as the hit singles “Fame” and “Golden Years.”
Endless FlightLeaving Bowie’s band just as the singer decided to pack his bags and relocate to Germany, Slick continued on as a “gun for hire,” as he appeared on Leo Sayer’s Top Ten 1976 release, Endless Flight (which spawned the schmaltz hits “When I Need You” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”), ex-Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter’s 1977 solo outing, Overnight Angels, and also releases by such obscure hard rock outfits as Bad Boy and Tonio K. Also during this time, Slick attempted briefly to launch a solo career, resulting in such releases as Razor Sharp and Earl Slick Band. Up next for Slick was one of the high points of his entire career — working alongside John Lennon on what would become Lennon’s final all-new studio recording, 1980’s chart-topping Double Fantasy. After Lennon’s death the same year, Slick returned to the studio with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and appeared on what would become her highest-charting solo release, 1981’s harrowing Season of Glass (Slick’s guitar work would also appear on the posthumously released compilation of Lennon leftovers, 1984’s Milk and Honey, as well as CD box sets for both Ono, 1992’s Onobox, and Lennon, 1998’s Anthology).
Let’s DanceThe early to mid-’80s saw Slick return briefly to Bowie’s band (for the sold-out Serious Moonlight world tour in support of 1983’s Let’s Dance), and also virtually replacing Brian Setzer in the Stray Cats, as he joined up with ex-Cats Lee Rocker (bass) and Slim Jim Phantom (drums) in the trio Phantom, Rocker & Slick. The short-lived outfit issued a pair of moderately successful albums, 1985’s Phantom, Rocker & Slick and 1986’s Cover Girl, before disbanding. Slick would appear on other artists’ releases throughout the late ’80s/early ’90s, although he took a break from the music biz to sort out his personal life (allegedly to kick a serious drug problem). Slick returned stronger than ever, as he founded his own record label, Slick Music Inc., which specializes in solo releases by Slick (2000’s Lost and Found), as well as archival releases by other artists (Fanny, Kasim Sulton, etc.). In 2000, Slick accepted an offer to rejoin Bowie full-time, as he toured steadily with his previous employer and appeared on his 2002 studio effort, Heathen. David Bowie, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and others joined him for Zig Zag, which appeared on Sanctuary in fall 2003.
by Greg Prato (All Music)