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Even though he’s worked with David Bowie since 1974, guitarist Earl Slick was as much in the dark as the rest of the world that the Thin White Duke was making his first album in 10 years.
“Unbeknownst to me, David had been recording for a while,” Slick says. “He’d been working for a period of about a year before I even got involved. Nobody, even the other band members who I talk to often, ever said anything to me. But it was just an oddball thing: I did a gig in New Jersey and I stayed with a friend. We went for a ride in his Cobra, and the car caught on fire. One of the guys from the newspaper that came to cover the thing recognized me, so there was some press about it.
The next day, Slick received an e-mail from Bowie, asking the guitarist if he was OK. This was followed by another e-mail in which Bowie inquired about Slick's schedule. "And then, over the period of the next 24 hours, we put together the schedule for me to come into the studio," says Slick. "So I have my buddy's Shelby Cobra blowing up to thank for that one. Sucks for him, but that’s how it happened.”
On 12 March, Bowie's The Next Day will be released, and early reviews are already heralding it as a return to form for the mercurial singer-songwriter. It should also serve as a solid reminder of Slick's guitar prowess, idiosyncratic talents that have made him Bowie's go-to guy for nearly 40 years. John Lennon, too, counted on Slick to add street-rock guitar crunch to his last recordings, and no doubt their relationship would have continued had the events of 8 December 1980 turned out differently.
On the following pages, Slick looks back at some of the key recording sessions that he's been a part of, songs and albums that are at the very fabric of classic rock.