JEEZ, will you look at that CV. Robert Smith, Bowie, David Coverdale, Glen Matlock, John and Yoko, The Yardbirds; quite clearly, Earl Slick is a man you need aboard if you need six strings tickled with real love and precision.
He’s just dropped an album of instrumental blues, Fist Full Of Devils: but look, when I say blues, it really is much more, fusing in elements of all the musics he’s been involved with down the years – I mean, take a listen to “Vanishing Point”, cinemascope pianos and crisp drums, a dusty TexMex beauty; this ain’t just 12-bar for the masses.
He ain’t ready to just rest those engineer’s boots on his laurels, whoah no; he’s pushing simultaneously forward and deeper into the vital stuff of the rock and roll he’s been romancing for more decades than it’s polite to enquire; a music he first fell for the potency of back in late Sixties, when blues-rock found its feet and got electric and feedback-swathed and caught fire.
Earl’s never had a plan B, another way to pursue; he follows his instincts, follows his nose, chases the muse; in analogy, he’s a shark that’s aware what happens when he stops swimming.
“If you have a backup plan,” he says, “then eventually you become the backup plan.” And Fist Full Of Devils, he adds, is acrobatics without a net. He’d have it no other way. From the moment he picked up a guitar, he says, “I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
Earl was born in Brooklyn in 1951 – birth name, Frank Madeloni, “at exactly the right time.” He was 13 on that fateful night when The Beatles blew into the living rooms of 73 million Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show – 8.12pm, Eastern Time, February 9th, 1964. The die was cast. His father scraped together $30 for a bargain Danelectro guitar, befan lessons – which lasted for precisely three lessons: “I was playing along with these silly, nursery rhyme kind of things like “Oh Susanna” or whatever the fuck”.
So he decided to give himself an education – began spending every red cent on blues records, then the Stones. “It’s all I did. All I thought about,” he says. “Your parents might accept The Beatles. They’d never accept the Stones. So I loved them. It’s like the world went from black and white to technicolor. From the Rolling Stones, I learned the blues.”
Soon it was time to bust out, begin playing live; covers such as “Louie Louie”, “Little Red Riding Hood”. Just basement bits and pieces. But pretty soon Earl and his band were in demand on the high school circuit. But there was still more to be done.
“When I started playing guitar and where I started playing guitar in New York City – unbeknownst to me at the time – I was in one of the major hotspots on the globe if you wanted a music career,” he says. Pretty soon he was a studio man in demand, having been recognised as a major guitar talent by composer Michael Kamen. “Michael took me under his wing,” Earl says. “And eventually he put me in his band”; if only as a roadie.
Earl laughs at the memory. “Michael said, ‘I don’t really need another guitar player right now. We’re getting ready to do a tour. Would you carry gear?’ I said, ‘I don’t give a shit. I need to get out of Staten Island.’”
And so began the road to Bowie, as Mick Ronson’s shoes needed filling for Diamond Dogs. Twenty-two years of age, and on the road with a much-missed genius: a musical relationship that was to bear fruit on and off until Bowie’s death, with Earl hitting the road for the Serious Moonlight tour and playing on Toy, Heathen and Reality and toured them, as well playing on Bowie’s penultimate studio set, The Next Day.
All the while though, he was feeling that first love, the blues, deep down; Fist Full Of Devils is a homecoming, which road led through Chicago nightclub Legends, owned by blues guitarist, Buddy Guy.
“I was in Chicago and Edgar Winter was playing at Legends,” says Earl. “I sat in with Edgar. Buddy wasn’t supposed to be there, and I was a little disappointed. Then Buddy walks in while I was playing. And he invited me to play.
“That first night with Buddy Guy. Wow. Buddy’s where it comes from. Someone like him thinking I was good enough to get on stage with him … was a trip.” The charts were spread; the course marked, in that moment.
Some of the tracks on Fist Full… were ideas that had been rattling around for decades. “Vanishing Point” was born in a lick he’d saved nearly 30 years ago and only recently rediscovered in a sound file. He didn’t know what do with it when he wrote it, so he tucked it away. But now, “all of these years later, I came at it with a different head than I had then.”
“I am,” Slick said. “Exactly where I should be.”
Earl adds: “UK – we’re coming for ya! I’ll be heading over in November with a killer band to play twelve intimate shows. Get ready for some real blues and rock ‘n’ roll, including some tracks you may recognise…”.
Tickets are on sale right now; there’s a small amount of early bird tickets available for certain shows. Click through on the venue hyperlink to get your mitts on one – here they are:
Monday, November 8th, London, King’s Cross, The Water Rats;
Tuesday, November 9th, Manchester, Night People;
Wednesday, November 10th, Kinross, Backstage at the Green;
Friday, November 12th, Norwich, The Brickmakers;
Saturday, November 13th, Hull, Wrecking Ball Arts Centre;
Sunday, November 14th, Newcastle, Cluny 2;
Monday, November 15th, Glasgow, Mono;
Tuesday, November 16th, Edinburgh, The Voodoo Rooms;
Thursday, November 18th, Gravesend, Leo’s Red Lion;
Friday, November 19th, London, Putney, The Half Moon;
Saturday, November 20th, Pudsey, Old Woollen, and
Sunday, November 21st, Reading, Purple Turtle.
“Vanishing Point” is taken from Earl Slick’s Fist Full Of Devils, which is out now digitally, on CD and on limited 180 gramme double vinyl from Schnitzel Records; order yours direct from the label, here.