Earl Slick Exclusive Interview
By Cyndi Ford
One of the coolest cats in rock and roll, full of talent not to mention drop dead looks. Earl Slick has made his mark in the history of the music, with his contributions to playing and recording with such iconic talents as David Bowie and John Lennon. It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to interview such an epic guitarist, and truly an icon himself.
Ladies and Gents may I introduce the one and only, Earl Slick~
I would like to thank you for the honor of interviewing you. I have enjoyed your playing for many years, to me you are a guitar god... You were born in Staten Island, NY, what was the music that influenced you in your youth?
- Correction [laughs] - I was born in Brooklyn, NY. I listened to a lot of early British invasion rock n’ roll and early black American rock n’ roll. Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
Most boys say they started playing guitar to pick up the girls, lol, when and why did you start to play, and what was your first guitar/amp?
- I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and I saw the girls and the clothes they were wearing and that got me interested. Then, I saw Keith playing guitar with the Stones on Ed Sullivan and I was sold. My first guitar was a Danelectro. I hounded my father for six months until he bought it for me. When he finally did buy it, he told me, this is the last piece of equipment I’ll ever buy you - if you get good enough, you can buy your own. My first amp was a 1965 Fender Deluxe.
You played around a bit before landing the gig replacing Mick Ronson, how did you get that one, and were you nervous replacing such a guitar icon?
- I got that gig through the late Michael Kaman, the film composer, who was my mentor. He had met David Bowie backstage at a performance by the Joffrey Ballet, which Mike had scored. David was looking for young, unknown guitar player. Mike suggested me and got me the audition, then the rest is history. And, no, I wasn’t nervous - I was so young and sure of myself, it didn’t even occur to me to be nervous.
What was it like on the Diamond Dogs tour, and being part of the Glamour revolution?
- Absolute debauchery, across the board!
You have a signature look, where do you shop, and who does your hair?
- I shop everywhere, especially when I travel. I also customize some of my own clothes, as well as Keenan Duffy and Michael H. are two close friends and clothing designers who also give me clothes. I do my own hair, so I’m always the one who gets asked for hair products while we’re out on tour.
You were amazing on your appearances on John Lennon’s albums, to what extent were your contributions in the writing process, and how did it feel to work with one of the greatest writers known to man? Please tell us about the whole experience.
- As for my contribution, John would often play through songs and then ask for input--it was a collaborative process, but John ran the show. I had and still have a huge amount of respect for John. I learned a lot from John, both as a person and as a guitar player. People oftentimes don’t realize this, but John Lennon is a great guitar player--one of the best guitar players I’ve ever played with in my life. Getting to play with John was an intense and surreal experience. We had a ball and made great music.
-A funny story: when I arrived in the studio on my very first day, John actually said “Nice to see you again.” I had no recollection of ever meeting him. It become a running joke between us. I never did figure out whether I actually met him....
You also played with John Waite one of my favorite singers; please elaborate and, what other note worthy people have you played with, other than Bowie and Lennon?
- I’ve been very fortunate, so there have been many. Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Richards, Mike Jagger, Ian Hunter, David Coverdale, Robert Smith, Joe Elliott.
You have made contributions to one of the many camps held for children, which one was it and what was it like mentoring the youth of today?
- Paul Green’s School of Rock - I love working with them. I really enjoy watching the kids smile when they start actually playing in front of me, and being able to give them the direction to be able to do that. And, the kids like me because I dress cooler than their dads.
You have some signature guitars, tell us the specs of them and how much input did you have?
- I have 100% input with Framus. Those guitars came right out of my head. Here are some of the specs, and we’ve got a new one that’s going to be making its debut at NAMM in January:
Rosewood fingerboard, maple neck, and DiMarzio humbuckers
Also available with DiMarzio P90
Bigsby tremolo system and TonePros hardware
Guitar straps, lets face it they need to be comfortable, how did you achieve this with the ones that you designed, and what makes yours special?
It started as a way for me to use some creative energy during a tour break, but once I did a couple, I realized I could do a whole line of them. The ones on guitarfetish.com are hand-made with top-grain leather. When first I started making them, I chose bold colors (red, turquoise, etc.) and put a lot of time into distressing the leather and adding interesting designs, like skulls and japanese characters. The straps continue to be made with great color and design elements, and the hand-made quality remains.
You spent most of 2011 touring with the New York Doll’s, what brought about this collaboration?
- I was referred to the Dolls by a friend of mine, Keith Roth, who said they were looking for a guitarist. The idea of working with David Johansen was more than appealing to me, so I looked into the gig. Of all the people I’ve worked with, David Johansen is right up there with my favorite people in the world to be onstage with. I’ve got a little side project David and I are cooking up right now, along with Mick Mars. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it, but I love being in the studio with those two. I recently switched to using Orange Amps and the Dolls tour gave me the chance to really put them through their paces - and, I absolutely love them.
What are some of the tunes that you are really enjoying now from new music, and what is your favorite classic tune?
- I love anything Jack White does and Lady Gaga, too; I’d work with either of them in a heartbeat! There’s a new artist Me Of A Kind who I think is great. After hearing the album, I said I’d like to work with her on something in the future. And, we’re working on a little something right now, actually - which we expect to release in early December. Maybe now that I’ve said the Jack White or Gaga thing, those will work out, too.
- It’s impossible to pick a favorite classic tune. It would definitely be something by the Stones. Maybe Downtown Suzie? Or, I’m Going Down, or Mercy Mercy, or Child of the Moon.
You and the other guys from the New York Dolls just finished up a short tour in the UK and US, and are going to do another solo tour in the UK, will it be followed a solo tour of the US? (if so please include a show in Atlanta.) After this tour, what does the future hold for you, and will it include anymore solo projects?
- Keep your eyes open, I’ve got big surprises coming in the next year. Solo projects, new groups, special appearances - you never know!
If you could make your dream band, who would be in it playing what instruments?
- I don’t know about a dream band. There are people I know I want to work with again in the future - Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Mick Mars. I’d love to score a film for someone like David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino - something dark and edgy. I’d love to jam with Johnny Depp sometime. And, I’m a huge Mary Louise Parker fan, so if one of my songs were on Weeds, that would just about make my year.
SoundCheck Magazine would like to thank Earl for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat to us, and to the people that made it happen, Jennifer Kennedy and Cyndi Ford.
Photo Credits : Nikki Sixx, Madeloni Photography, Chris Röckson
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