Earl Slick is one of rock’s most renowned guitarists. Over a career that spans five decades, he’s performed with everyone from David Bowie to John Lennon, Carl Perkins to The Cure. This year, he proved he’s more than just a sideman on Fistful of Devils, his first solo album in over 18 years. Find out more about the legendary guitarist and long-time David Bowie collaborator with these 10 things you didn’t know about Earl Slick.
1. His real name isn’t Earl Slick
Slick was born in Brooklyn, New York in October 1952. For the first 19 years of his life, he was Frank Madeloni. Then, while he was playing with a covers band, the band’s lead singer Jack O’Neil decided to start making up names for the rest of the band when he introduced them. One night, he introduced Madeloni as Earl Slick. The name stuck, and he’s been using it as his stage name ever since.
2. He wasn’t a fan of David Bowie at first
Slick and David Bowie’s on-off collaboration would last from 1974 to 2013. But when Bowie first plucked Slick from obscurity and invited him to join his band as Mick Ronson’s replacement, Slick wasn’t a fan, and had only ever heard one of his albums before auditioning. “ I owned one of his albums, Aladdin Sane, which I bought for Mick Ronson’s guitar,” he told ultimateclassicrock.com. ‘”Jean Genie’ was in that Chicago blues mode… ‘Panic In Detroit’ was completely Bo Diddley, so that’s why I bought it. But it was the only Bowie record I had, so I went in (to the audition) pretty blind.”
3. He’s lived the rock and roll lifestyle
When David Bowie invited Slick to join his band, it changed his life… and his lifestyle. Bowie was at the peak of his popularity. With his elevation from the minor to the major leagues, Slick experienced what he’s since described as a “mini-Beatlemania.” “While I wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t done before, suddenly it was on a whole different level,” he added. What he was doing, it turned out, was vast amounts of cocaine, something he’s since attributed the experimental nature of Young Americans and Station to Station to. “I’m not suggesting you do mountains of cocaine to make a good record,” the guitarist cautioned, “because it doesn’t normally work out very well, but for that record, it did.”
4. The Beatles inspired him to play
Slick was 11 years old when he saw the Beatles for the first time on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it changed his life. From that moment on, Slick was lost to rock and roll. In the end, though, it was the Rolling Stones’ mix of R&B, blues, and soul that inspired the direction he took. “I was too young to get bit by the Elvis bug, but when The Beatles really hit a nerve,” he told Louder Sound. “Within a few months, I got my first guitar. The Beatles got me playing, but what kept me playing was the Rolling Stones.”
5. He formed his own band in the ’70s
By 1976, David Bowie was living it up in Berlin with Brian Eno and Slick was surplus to requirements. To give himself something to do, he formed his own band, the Earl Slick Band, and fired off a round of solo albums. None of them hit the spot, either commercially or critically. “I was suffering entitlement issues, and didn’t appreciate what I had,” he’s since confessed. “There were a lot of mistakes made based on inexperience. I goofed up.”
6. Phil Spector scared him
Having established himself as a major player with Bowie in the ’70s, Slick was in huge demand by the time John Lennon recruited him as a session player on Double Fantasy and Milk And Honey. Following Lennon’s death, Slick reunited with Ono on Season of Glass, which was recorded just three months after Lennon’s assassination with the same band, same studio, and same engineer as previous. The only thing different this time around, apart from Lennon’s absence, was the presence of Phil Spector… although the infamous producer didn’t stick around for long. Even though Ono was still reeling from her husband’s shooting, Spector felt it appropriate to walk around with a .44 Magnum, blackout the control room, and speak to everyone in the third person. After two weeks, and much to Slick’s relief, Ono gave him his marching orders.
7. He’s never considered singing
Slick has been immersed in the world of rock and roll for over five decades, but he’s never had any ambition to exchange his guitar for a mic. “It’s not me,” he’s said “I was talked into it a few times in the ’80s, but those tapes are buried deep.”
8. He’s a multi-millionaire
Slick is nothing if not a road hog, so when Covid came along, his income from touring took a dip. Fortunately, he’s not short of a dollar or two to fall back on. According to Celebrity Net Worth, the guitarist is worth the considerable fortune of $6 million.
9. He spent lockdown with a Sex Pistol
When the fist lockdown hit last year, Slick was playing in the UK with former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Unable to get back to his home in New York, Slick ended up bunking in the spare room of Matlock’s home in London. Speaking to The Guardian, he likened the experience to the 1968 comedy “The Odd Couple,” with Matlock in the role of the uptight Jack Lemmon character and Slick the laid back Walter Matthau figure. With not a lot else to do, they released a string of slightly shambolic Facebook live performances in which they spent most of the time discussing whether the camera was switched on.
10. He spent four years as a timeshare salesman
Despite his previous success, the early ’90s was a tough time for Slick. After a series of failed projects, he decided to retire his guitar, move to Lake Tahoe, and get a ‘normal’ job. He ended up spending the next four years as a timeshare salesman. It didn’t work out, and after realizing that selling holiday homes didn’t compare to selling records, he teamed up with fellow Tahoe resident, Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale, to write an album. Shortly after, he got a call from Bowie inviting him to rejoin the band. He hasn’t looked back since.