Earl Slick

  • David Bowie, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Robert Smith

About Earl Slick

Famed for his fretwork with David Bowie, John Lennon and Robert Smith, Earl Slick has seen and done more than most in his forty-plus years in the music business. Now, in 2018, the Brooklyn-born sideman is the newest addition to the burgeoning Supro stable. We caught up with Earl in the bowels of Liverpool's Cavern Club, to talk about his recollections of a remarkable career and his brand new relationship with Supro amplifiers.

Earl Slick

Earl, you recently became an endorser of Supro amplifiers; how did that come about?

ES: I had forgotten about Supro because they had gone, y'know, kind of disappeared...but then one day I was in Chicago Music Exchange, the greatest guitar store in the United States, and they had this bunch of amps just sitting there and I said 'Supro? Let me try these.' And then it was like 'Holy s**t, I love these!'

So I got home and we had this tour coming up, and I thought 'Y'know those Supros would be perfect.' I bought the Statesman head with the 2x12 cab and then I talked to the guy I bought it from and got the number for Dave Koltai. I called him up and he was like 'Earl Slick?! Jeez, we've been looking for you for weeks! I heard you were going out and we wanted you to take one of our amps,' and I said 'Well I just bought one!' and that's kind of how it started. 

Your live rig is built around two Supro Statesman heads and a pair of 2x12 cabs. Do you find it hard to replicate your live sound in a studio situation that may require the use of smaller amps and lower volume?

ES: Hell no! Live I'm using two Statesmans 'cos I love the headroom and I like to play loud. I still use those in the studio most of the time, but take this week for instance, I've been recording at Abbey Road and I asked the Supro guys 'Are you set up in London?' and they said 'Absolutely we are.' They've sent me three Supro amps to use; a Statesman, a Trem-Verb which is a medium-sized amp with the tremolo built in, and a little baby Reverb that I can carry around. I'll be using that tonight at the meet and greet. That's what a good company does, takes care of you. The amps are great and the guys are great.

David Bowie – Supro Guitar

Let's talk about the Supro Dual Tone David Bowie signature guitar.

ES: I have one!

That was going to be the next question! 'Are you one of the lucky 300 people in the world to own one?'

ES: I have one and it's great. I had it with me for about three or four days, and then I started to get nervous...

Why?

ES: I just thought 'What if something happens to it?' And the guitar I have is a prototype too...so I sent it home. I just thought 'If anything happens...' because s**t happens, man! I've done enough touring to know that stuff breaks, gets stolen, gets lost, so I said 'I'm sending this thing home.'

So the Dual Tone is home in the vault now, or hung on the wall?

ES: It's at home with my 150lb dog watching it, so nobody's going to touch it.

Let's talk about a little bit about playing with David Bowie. What was the dynamic between the two of you when you were recording and touring together?

ES: David and I had a very unique relationship. We worked together, y'know – I never felt like I was a worker bee. When we were recording together, we would sit down and bounce ideas off each other, it wasn't just him sitting there and saying 'play this, play that,'...in fact the thing about David that is smart, and which is rare, is that if he brings you in to do something, he let's you do what you do. He doesn't try to change an apple into an orange. I get called to play sessions because of my association with David, but then I show up and play and people don't get it. David wanted me to do what I did. He would have an idea for a song sometimes that he couldn't actually play, so he'd pull the song out of me. Or he'd go 'I have this song,' and he'd play it acoustically and say 'I need a sound or I need a line or a riff,' and we'd sit together and bang it around, so it was a collaboration like that, in the studio. That's why the work came out as well as it did.

That sounds like an ideal artistic relationship.

ES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And outside of work we just had our separate lives. We were great friends while we were working, and otherwise, maybe once in a blue moon we would meet up, but we were both really private guys, so there were no obligations to get together. 

You're also known for your work with John Lennon, particularly on the Double Fantasy record. What's the reaction like from people here in England when you visit places like the Cavern Club?

ES: I haven't really done a lot in terms of playing those John songs live, y'know? Here I did, when I last played in Liverpool – and the reaction was...intense!

What are your memories of playing on Double Fantasy, particularly as it turned out to be the final record of John's career.

ES: John worked in a similar way to David, in that he brought in people that did certain things and that's what he needed them to do. My relationship with John was a little bit different, because I'm not a professional session player; I don't read music and I don't want to. I just play what I play, and that's what John wanted. Everyone else in those sessions was a professional session guy, and I was referred to as 'the Wildcard'. Also John and I came from similar backgrounds, Brooklyn and Liverpool are not all that different. And we were both kind of...irreverent...loudmouth...

Did you ever rub each other the wrong way?

ES: Hell no! We got along great.

Finally, let's talk about your musical plans for the rest of the year.

ES: The record I'm making right now at Abbey Road, I'm doing it with a new artist. And that's something that I like to do; if I hear a new artist that needs a hand, I'll help them out. Because, y'know, if I didn't get a helping hand I wouldn't have had a career. So it's good to be able to give back something which was given to me. Lately it's 'Every man for himself,' but I say 'F**k that noise,' because how are you going to get anywhere? I'm not saying I'm going to help every Joe Blow that calls me up but I know when someone deserves my help. It's a pleasure to be able to give that back. After I'm finished at Abbey Road this weekend I'm headed back to the States to play with Buddy Guy. I've been sitting in with him a lot these last four years. He's 81 now! We're going to be playing at BB King's club, and then I think he's going to be playing closer to where I live, so I'll just throw a Supro in the back of the car and drive down there!'

You can keep up to date with Earl's latest activities in the social media links below. In addition to representing Supro across the globe, Earl told Gear that 2018 will see the emergence of a number of unreleased David Bowie tracks, that he had a hand in writing and producing. After 44 years in the fast lane, it doesn't look like life will be slowing down for Earl Slick any time soon.