The hardest-working man in show biz”
is a time-honored cliché, but damned if it
doesn’t nail the restless, Type-A productivity
of Earl Slick. As with any long-term
career, Slick has certainly ridden ups and
downs and periods of inactivity, but you
can’t ignore the miracle of a sideman/solo
artist remaining relevant and vital after four
decades in the f***ed-up and fickle music
business. And if you have as many simultaneous
projects going as Slick is juggling,
then you should also apply for superhuman
status, because both of you are likely alien
life forms with three times the drive—if not
the wealth—of Donald Trump and Richard
Let’s take a brief inventory…
 He recently got off the road with the
New York Dolls.  He joined the October
27 American Music Masters Series celebrity
concert for Chuck Berry at the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame.  He’s set to launch an “Earl
Slick and Friends” tour where audiences are
invited to intimate venues to see Slick perform
and share rock and roll stories with various
guest stars.  He started the company
Slick Straps with guitarfetish.com’s Jay Abend.
 He worked with the folks at Framus to
design the German manufacturer’s Artist
Series Earl Slick Signature Models.  He
manages endorsement relationships with
Framus, D’Addario, GHS, Orange, Source
Audio, TonePros, DiMarzio, and Bigsby. 
He’s wrapping up a “Delta blues on steroids”
project called Outliars at Clubhouse Studios
(Rhinebeck, New York) with Reeves Gabrels
(guitar), Sterling Campell (drums), Michael
Houghton (vocals), and his son, Lee Madeloni
(drums).  He’s producing drummer/
singer/songwriter Jen Schwartz’s Me of
a Kind band.  His 2000 solo album, Zig
Zag, is being readied for re-release and will
be available on iTunes next year.
That’s just the major stuff, of course—
only Slick knows about future projects
being envisioned, as well as all the songwriting,
producing, and practicing he
does on a near-daily basis to keep himself
ready for action at any time. Because,
after all, it’s the Slick Factor that has kept
him employable throughout the cultural
trends of classic rock, punk, shred, grunge,
pop punk, dance, electronica, industrial,
pop, and “Gangnam Style.” But it’s obviously
more than that, because part of the equation is that Slick has never wavered
from his blues-rock roots, while a lot of
players who also stayed true to themselves
have not enjoyed his success or longevity.
In addition, this is a player who doesn’t
totally embrace saturation—instead preferring
organic grit—and who typically
works the controls of his guitar and uses
dynamics to conjure tonal variations before
he’ll consider stomping on a pedal. In an
industry where the latest new technology,
stolen lick, and lo-fi tones are lionized as
the Grail of Cool, Slick’s steadfast adherence
to old-school methods seems like it
would trip up any attempt at walking tall
in the modern world.
But to hijack the wisdom of The Big Lebowski,
“the dude abides.” To get some insight
as to how Slick abides—and actually flourishes—
let’s study a few echoes from the
guitarist’s past and present, and also review
some of his approaches to technique, tone,
and style. Not all of us can be one of rock’s
ultimate sidemen, or design signature guitars,
but there are multiple lessons we can
learn from Slick’s career that can fire up and
inspire our own music making.
IN THE BEGINNING
So how did you go from just another guitarist
on the scene to being a player people took
serious note of?
When I was about 17 years old, I had
a band called Mack Truck. We originally
played gigs around Staten Island, but I
started making a name for myself as soon
as we began getting gigs in New York City.
Eventually, I got hired on as a backing musician
for a show called Peace Parade, which
included some of the original members of
the cast of Hair, as well as a lot of wellknown
New York players. I was like the
youngest guy in there. As a result, the first
professional recording session I did was
with Heather McRae and Oatis Stephens
from the Hair cast. They recorded “Easy
to Be Hard” before Three Dog Night did.
Now, a lot of guys do a cool session or two
and then disappear back into club land. What
kept your star on the rise, so to speak?
Well, I didn’t do another session for a few
years after that. In the meantime, though,
my band kept playing five nights a week, 52
weeks a year, all over New York City and
the surrounding area. This was back when there were enough gigs available to keep
you working that much. I was constantly
keeping myself out there. Then, one of my
friends, Frank DeVito—a pedal-steel player
from Staten Island of all places—introduced
me to Michael Kamen, who was in a band
called the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble.
Michael took me under his wing, put
me in his band, produced my demos, and
when he got the gig as musical director for
David Bowie, he made the introduction. I
was barely 22 years old when I made the
cut for David’s Diamond Dogs tour in 1974,
but I was ready. It was a big deal to be in
David Bowie’s band, but I already had like
six years of constant stage playing under my
belt. Being in the New York scene at that
time was the springboard to everything.
BUSTING OUT WITH BOWIE
Performance-wise, what was it like going from
your own club band to a huge international
tour for a superstar? Did you suddenly have
to follow a ton of rules and play to the charts?
Oh, no. Things were a lot looser back
then. I see what you mean, because for the
past 20 years or so, a lot of pop bands have
mimicked their records, played to backing
tracks, and learned choreography matched
to video and/or lighting cues. But in 1974,
Bowie and Kamen wanted a stage attitude,
as opposed to a recording-studio attitude.
There were certain parameters you had to stay within, of course, but solos and
bits like that were up for grabs. One thing
Bowie didn’t want me to do was to try to
copy [former Bowie collaborator/guitarist
in the Spiders from Mars] Mick Ronson.
We had a conversation before the rehearsals
even started for the Diamond Dogs tour,
and he said, “Look, interpret the songs the
way you want to interpret them.” I let out
a big sigh of relief after hearing that.
So, as you were the young kid on his first
big tour, no one said, “Hey, don’t step away
from your amp while Bowie is singing” or anything
|Pre-show soundchecking—Slick dials in his sound with the New York Dolls while David Johansen checks his lyrics.|
There was no direction—it was unspoken.
You were just expected to know your
stuff, know how to perform, and know what
was appropriate. It helped that the other
guys on the tour—Kamen, Mike Garson,
Herbie Flowers, and Tony Newman—were
older than me, and had been around the
block. I just watched what they were doing.
And I tried to keep up [laughs].
David Live—the live album of that tour— was the first time I experienced your playing,
and, to this day, I remain amazed at your soaring,
sustained solos and bends. One note seemed to
hang in the air forever.
At that point in my life, my approach was
very bluesy, but based in British blues. I loved
how Clapton and Beck twisted the blues. I loved
the sustain—you didn’t hear that from Hubert
Sumlin! So much of the long, sustain-y things
on the live album were from that place. I had
to bring in a bit more melody to fit David’s
songs, but I don’t think my solos were terribly
melodic. The roots are the blues.
Moving on to Station to Station in 1976, I
never thought that you and co-guitarist Carlos
Alomar got enough credit for forging that wonderful
rock/funk hybrid with your guitars. So
great—overdriven crazy rock guy on one speaker,
clean-toned and smooth funky guy on the other
speaker. Did you and Carlos consciously talk
about that concept, did Bowie devise it, or did it
just happen by osmosis?
David got Carlos involved because he
wanted to incorporate soul and R&B styling’s
into his music—which is what happened
on Young Americans. But when we got
to Station to Station, we’re suddenly doing
what is kind of Bowie’s first really experimental
record—a hybrid as you called it.
David is great at putting musicians together who bring a certain thing to the table, and
here he had two very different guitar players.
But we didn’t discuss who was going to
do what, it was simply Carlos doing Carlos,
and Slick doing Slick.
Still, it’s interesting—and very lucky—that
someone didn’t freak out and say, “We can’t have
two totally different guitar styles on a rock album!
Someone has to go!”
A lot of other guys would have done
exactly that. They would have had each
of us bring our playing more towards the
middle. But that’s not the way Bowie operates—
he wants people to do what they do.
In this case, he had polar opposites, and he
allowed those differences to shape the guitar
sound on the album.
THE LENNON SESSIONS
Besides the obvious joy of recording with a
Beatle, what surprised you the most when you
stepped into the studio to track Double Fantasy
with John and Yoko?
The funny thing about the Lennon sessions
was that I was the only guy who wasn’t
an active New York City session player. I
was a band guy. Jack Douglas [Double Fantasy
album producer] referred to me as the
“wild card” because everybody else could
read charts. My stuff was coming a lot more
from a street level.
That’s interesting. Lennon is doing what is
obviously an important record for him, Jack Douglas
puts a top session team together—as was the
norm for big records back then—and then someone
says, “Wait a minute—we need a crazy guy in
here to mess stuff up.” Where do you think that
strategy came from?
I’m thinking it was a conversation that
was probably started by John, and then he
and Jack put their heads together and figured
it out. I knew Jack, and Lennon was on the
Young Americans record, but how I actually
got in the studio with John in the first place
is still a bit of a mystery. Why I was there
was very obvious. They wanted a rock and
roll guitar player in there because John was
a rock and roller.
Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick once told
me that John’s guitar amp was always way louder
than George’s in the studio. So much so, that balancing
the two guitars was a real challenge. Was
John still playing so aggressively at that time?
He was a very aggressive rhythm guitar
player. He just beat the crap out of his guitar—
which was very compatible with me, because
that’s the way I play. I have to say that I was
astounded at how good of a guitarist John
was. Hearing him play on a Beatles album,
or on an earlier John Lennon record is one
thing. Being in a room with him when it was
actually happening was a different ballgame.
It was like, “Oh, my God!”
Did you guys track old school—all together
bashing it out?
We tracked as a band. The rhythm section
was in the same room, and John was in
a vocal booth with his guitar. He played and
sang simultaneously on every single song, and
those guitar takes were kept. We didn’t go back
on the rhythm guitars and nitpick everything.
Hugh [McCracken, co-lead guitarist] and John
and I played rhythm at the same time on all of
those songs, and that’s what you hear on the
record. Although most of the solos were done
as overdubs, a couple of mine were done live
with the main track. John would just scream
over the mic for me to take a solo, and some
of those ended up on the record.
GLAMMING WITH THE NEW YORK DOLLS
We’ve seen you most recently onstage with the
New York Dolls. Did fitting into their repertoire
necessitate any adjustments to your style?
I didn’t change anything specifically for
them—we’re a pretty good fit. But as I’ve
continued to mature as a musician, I’ve
really been concentrating on deepening my
rock and roll and blues playing. So what has
happened is that I’ve gone back to square one—the blues era before the British guys—
and with the Dolls, I’m playing with a more
traditional blues style. Of course, no matter
how you cut the cake, it still has my twist on it.
What gear did you use on the 2011-2012 New
York Dolls tour?
The main guitars were my Framus signature
model and a Framus Mayfield. I strung
the guitars with D’Addario XL ProSteels,
gauged .010-.046. I actually use D’Addario
strings on everything—even my acoustics. My
picks were Planet Waves Celluloid Mediums,
70mm. For amps, I was using four Orange
AD30 heads all at once. They were all on all
the time, and each one went through its own
cabinet. Two heads were plugged into 4x12
Orange cabs loaded with Celestion Vintage
30 speakers, and two were routed to Orange
2x12 cabinets with Celestion Golds in them.
The 2x12 cabs sat on top of the 4x12s.
That’s a lot of heads and speakers. What did
that rig give you that a single Orange and one
cabinet couldn’t deliver?
First, it’s louder, and let’s be honest—
I like to play real loud. The other thing is
you push a hell of a lot of air. That’s a lot of
What is it that you like about the AD30s?
I like that they do not get over-saturated.
You crank them up, and it just adds a little
growl. I’d set the Master Volume on the AD30s
pretty high, and then bring in the Gain for
a bit of volume and drive. That way, I could
really manipulate the amps with my guitar,
and get a whole bunch of different sounds.
If I opened up the guitar Volume, I got this
giant sound. If I backed off the Volume control,
I got more of a crunchy sound, and if
I backed it off some more, the sound was
really clean. So I could do a whole lot without
using any pedals.
Did you set the amp EQ differently on each
head to layer tonal textures?
The settings were identical on all four
amps. The only way any tonal textures were
being blended was that two of the heads were
going through 4x12s that had speakers with
ceramic magnets, and two of the heads were
going through speakers with alnico magnets.
Those speakers do have a distinctively
different sound from each other. The 4x12s
with the Vintage 30s have more midrange
punch, whereas the Celestion Golds in the
2x12s have more bell-like highs and really
push out the lows.
What about pedals?
I had a GFS Brownie Classic, a GFS Pro
Delay Classic, and a Visual Sound H20 Liquid
Chorus & Echo. I also used a Source Audio
Soundblox Multiwave Distortion, but mostly
as a fuzz tone—not for its overdrive and distortion
effects. I brought that in during certain
solos where I wanted to drastically change the
tone of the guitar. The way I look at distortion
and overdrive pedals is that you basically
end up with a little bit of a volume boost and
a lot of saturated mids. On the other hand,
a fuzz pedal is pretty ratty and nasty sounding—
a complete departure from what I’d get
just turning up my guitar.
THE SLICK STYLE
What do you think it is about your style and approach
that keeps getting you hired?
I’m guessing I have some kind of distinctive
style at this point. It’s a hodgepodge of
stuff that comes from when I first learned
how to play guitar, but it’s all relatively rock
and roll and blues based, and you can fit that
style into almost anything. I also never stray
too far from what comes naturally to me—
which is what artists like Bowie and Lennon
wanted in the first place. I end up sounding
like me no matter what happens. But
perhaps guys in my era got lucky that way.
Sometimes, I think that it’s getting harder
and harder for today’s players to develop a
unique sound and style. There are probably
a lot of reasons for that. The guitar is certainly
being approached a lot differently than
it was in the past, and how people use their
equipment is a factor, as well.
Can you be a little more specific about that?
Well, if you listen to David Live, I had a
100-watt Marshall half-stack, a Gibson SG,
and an MXR Phase 90 pedal. That was my rig.
My fingers had to interact with my guitar and
my amp to play rhythm and lead and get the
job done. As technology has moved forward,
you now have six million different pedals
and multi-channel amps with three or four
stages of gain and tons of EQ options. To my
ear, what happens is that the amp and signal
processsors are making the sound happen, as
opposed to the guitar. When you plug into all
these super-processed, over-saturated tonal
options, suddenly a Les Paul almost doesn’t
sound any different than a Strat.
Think about it—we didn’t have a lot of different gear available to us in the ’60s
and early ’70s. We had maybe four brands
of amps that everyone used, and they were
simple amplifiers. Fender, Marshall, and
Vox had specific sounds, but at the end of
the day, there wasn’t much else. The great
thing, though, was that those were very reactive
amps that gave you different sounds
depending on what guitar you used, how
hard or soft you played, and where you set
your guitar’s Volume and Tone controls.
Do you play with both a pick and your
Yes, but not necessarily to get more
notes. It’s primarily a tone thing. I go to
the fingers to get more of a plucky sound.
There’s a theme developing here around
your constant manipulation of tone.
It’s all about that. I never play the exact
same tone from the beginning to the end of
a song. My fingers are continuously interacting
with my guitar and amp—that’s always
the first way I approach changing sounds.
Isn’t it easier to negotiate different tones
in a rock-band setting by stepping on a pedal?
I’d think it would be extremely difficult to have
to put on a show for the audience while simultaneously
adjusting the controls on your guitar
over and over.
I don’t even think about that, because
that’s how I learned how to play. I’ve always
used dynamics and adjusted the guitar’s
controls. It’s like walking. Also, I’ve never
used pedals the way a lot of guitar players
use them. You know—every time they do
a solo, they hit a pedal. For me, a pedal is
just for color. It’s a way to bring a different
feel and vibe into a performance.
I’m assuming your hands-on approach is
evident in the studio, as well. No fixing things
with digital editing?
No way. That’s what I call “reverse engineering”—
creating performances with Pro
Tools or other digital-audio tools, rather
than documenting a great performance,
warts and all. Nitpicking is almost an
obsession these days. For example, I’ll
track a performance that feels good, and
the engineer will go, “Well, let’s clean
up this one note here.” I always say, “No
you don’t! If you replace that note with a
new or different note, the whole vibe of
the solo will be compromised.” I hate it
when people take my guitar solos and cut
them up into nine pieces in order to construct
something that’s probably going
to eradicate all evidence of me reacting
to the song. What’s the point? I’m playing
rock and roll, not dance music, so the
funk is essential. Groove-wise, I’ll purposely
play a bit off the drummer to get
some push and pull in a track. In rock
and roll, there has to be the rock, and
there has to be the roll. Listen to an old
Chuck Berry or Rolling Stones record, and
you’re going to hear two tempos almost
going on at the same time. They’re rubbing
against each other, and that’s what
makes it exciting. Otherwise, you have a
marching band [laughs].
FRAMUS ARTIST SERIES EARL SLICK SIGNATURE MODELS
It’s obvious from his image that Earl Slick loves the clothes, tattoos, and
design schemes that evoke the dangerous cool of classic rock and roll. So
it’s no surprise his Framus signature guitar fits seamlessly into his streetthug
style mix. With its old-school vibe, funky control knobs and 3-way
rotary pickup selector, satin finish (black or red), vintage machine heads,
and a choice of DiMarzio PAF humbuckers or P90s, his Framus Earl Slick
model seems primed to set off the sonic equivalent of a back-alley rumble.
The only irony is the guitar’s thoroughly uptown pricing of $3,299 retail for
the TonePros stop-tailpiece model, and $3,499 retail for the Bigbsy B500-
equipped version. However, Framus is well-known for exquisite craftsmanship,
and the German-made Slicks are absolutely fine instruments. I found
zero imperfections in the finish, hardware, fret dressing (for all 22 jumbo
frets), and overall build quality.
I tested both the black-satin/P90/Bigsby and red-satin/PAF/stop tailpiece
models at various live performances and studio sessions during a sixmonth
evaluation period. The guitars performed the same on day one as they
did on day 184. Being banged around throughout tons of load-ups, load-ins,
and breakdowns had no ill effect on the cosmetics, electronics, or playability.
The 7.9 lb swamp ash body is a comfy load on your shoulder—even for threeset
gigs—and the 24.75”-scale bolt-on neck and action is fast and inviting.
This is one of those guitars that feels almost connected to your body. Everything
you do seems natural and almost freakishly effortless.
For no reason other than personal preference, I found myself using the
P90 model for most live shows, and the humbucker model for studio sessions.
Both guitars deliver very articulate sounds—you can hear all the notes
in complex chords unless you go overboard on high-gain saturation—and are
extremely dynamic. Volume-knob manipulations on the guitar and backing
off on your pick attack result in instant and varied tonal shifts—a hallmark
of the Slick technique. The P90s possess all the airiness and midrange snap
that you’d expect, but there’s also a very nice aggressiveness to the low-midrange
frequencies that adds some gronk and punch. The humbuckers uncork
some delightful roar when you rev up the amp gain—think Paul Kossoff tone,
or any one of your fave ’70s blues rockers—and yet they clean up to shimmering,
open mids and highs when you go for something more subtle. Framus
and Earl Slick have definitely served up a guitar that not only works for Slick,
but that gives rockers everywhere a cool, powerful, and vibey tone machine.
KUDOS Excellent craftsmanship. Varied tones. Easy playability. Looks
CONCERNS A tad expensive.
SLICK ON HIS SLICK SIGNATURE GUITARS
Earl Slick is very particular about his guitars,
and he has loved and left quite a few in the time
I have known him. So it was hardly a surprise the
guitarist presented Framus with a list of specs
when the company gave him the opportunity to
design a signature model.
“I actually sent them a comprehensive spec
sheet right down to the pots, the neck measurements,
the thickness of the body—everything,”
explains Slick. “I based my guitar on a
’60s Framus Hollywood model that I saw in
an old catalog. The original Hollywoods were
hollow inside and a bit too big for my taste, so I
adapted the design to be a solidbody that was
a little smaller and thinner. DiMarzio P90 pickups
were important to me, as was a Bigsby and
a TonePros Roller Series bridge. For the body,
I wanted a lightweight wood that would really
ring, so I asked for swamp ash. Framus has a huge
supply of aged woods, so a big benefit was that
I was able to tap into a supply of older, drier, and
more seasoned swamp ash for my guitar. Why
do you think people gravitate to these really
old guitars? The older the wood, the better the
sound. I had a neck on another guitar—I won’t
name it—that I just loved, so I had Framus replicate
that neck for this model.
“On the cosmetic side, I didn’t want a lot of
clear coat on the guitar. I wanted a flat finish. I
also like binding, and those vintage-style, plastic-
looking tuners. I was really going for a classic,
old-school vintage look, rather than zebra-striped
flame-maple tops and all that stuff.
“Amazingly, the first prototypes were about
90-percent there. I think I changed the pickguard
cover from black to cream on the red model—I
thought the cream looked better—and had some
intonation adjustments made. It made my life a
lot easier, because I didn’t have to make a lot of
WHAT KIND OF NUT STARTS A STRAP COMPANY?
Establishing an artist-driven guitar-strap company in a crowded
market wasn’t exactly a move bolstered by a comprehensive business
plan. But when Earl Slick unpacked from the last Bowie tour
in 2004, he found a dozen plain, black leather straps of unknown
origin still in their wrappers.
“I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do with these things?’ I
don’t know what impelled me to do it, but I started to distress the
leather. Then, I put artwork on them—using stencils of skulls, Kanji,
and other images I liked—and started using them myself. My buddies
thought the straps looked cool, and when I told them that I made them, I’d always get
talked into making them for friends. Eventually, I put a few up on eBay for the heck of it, and
they sold in about three seconds. I figured, ‘Hmm, maybe there’s something to this.’ So I showed
the straps to Jay Abend of guitarfetish.com—he and I go back many years—and he liked them
enough to offer to manufacture and distribute them. So Slick Straps was born. The cool thing
is that while they’re now made overseas, they’re still handmade—just like the way I did them.
The whole thing was a happy accident, but it worked out well for me and for Jay.”