Earl Slick has announced a twelve date tour of the UK in November. The guitarist, who for decades worked with rock royalty, including David Bowie and John Lennon, released his recent album Fist Full Of Devils in July 2021.
Fist Full of Devils is an eleven-track instrumental album, which properly demonstrates the virtuoso skills Slick has developed over a 40-year career as one of the most sought after touring musicians.
Slick describes the album as acrobatics without a net and says he would have it no other way. From the moment he first picked up a guitar, he has “never wanted to do anything else.”
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1951 as Frank Madeloni, Slick was one of the 73 million Americans who tuned into the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, which caused Slick to pester his father for a guitar.
A $30 Danelectro guitar was bought. “I began noodling with the guitar,” Slick says, “but that wasn’t going anywhere, so my mom got me lessons.”
Three lessons followed, but Slick “was playing along with these silly, nursery rhyme kind of things like ‘Oh Susanna’ or whatever the fuck.”
Slick quit the lessons and spent all the money he could earn on blues records, sitting at the record player for hours. “It’s all I did,” he says, “all I thought about.”
The Rolling Stones and their harder-edged blues were a big influence. “Your parents might accept the Beatles,” Slick says, “but they would never accept the Stones. So I loved them. It’s like the world went from black and white to technicolour.”
From the Stones, Slick discovered Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Buddy Guy. Eventually, Slick and a couple of friends “got good enough to get out of the bedroom with an amp.”
Basement parties followed. “We only knew bits and pieces of songs,” he says. “If you wanted to graduate to high school dances, you needed to memorize 15 songs. This meant you’d play your setlist through several times a night.”
New York relaxed alcohol laws, and fake ID’s helped with his big break. “When I started playing the guitar, and where I started playing the 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.”
The Golden Disc in Staten Island, open only one night a week, Sonny’s Lounge. Eleanor Rigby’s and The Swiss Chalet were early venues they played. In most places, bands played five sets a night, 9 PM to 4 AM.
Michael Kamen, the creator of the New York Rock’ n’ Roll Ensemble, spotted Earl and brought him in the studio to work with established pros. “Michael took me under his wing,” Slick says, “and eventually he put me in his band.”
Kamen arranged an audition with a “really big artist.” Mick Ronson had left David Bowie, and Slick was invited to a Manhattan studio and handed an amp and some headphones. “I thought there was going to be a whole band there,” Earl says, but the 22-year-old Slick was asked to play along to unmixed songs from the Diamond Dogs album.
“Then David walked in,” he remembers. “I didn’t know he was there. He had been listening from another room. He picked up a guitar, and we noodled around for about an hour, and we talked.”
Slick played with Bowie for two years, on tours and two album releases. After the Station To Station album, he left the band, formed the Earl Slick Band, and collaborated with Ian Hunter and John and Yoko Lennon.
Slick would work again with Bowie as a last-minute replacement for Stevie Ray Vaughan on the ’83 Serious Moonlight Tour, three albums in the early 2000s, and Bowie’s second to last album The Next Day in 2015.
Through the decades and the performances, the studio sessions and the many bands, Slick kept feeling the tug of the blues, the music that first opened his mind and then every door thereafter. Fistful of Devils represents that return home.
He says he never had a plan B. “If you have a backup plan,” he says, “then eventually you become the backup plan.”
“I am,” Slick says, “exactly where I should be.”