Martin Cooper goes ‘al­ter­na­tive’ as he checks out the un­usual but ex­cit­ing blend of styles in David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels’ band, Tin Ma­chine.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Martin Cooper un­veils the play­ing of Reeves Gabrels in Bowie’s unique Tin Ma­chine.

This month we’ll look at a great band from the late 80s and early 90s: Tin Ma­chine. The group was formed by David Bowie, with gui­tarist Reeves Gabrels and mu­si­cal broth­ers Tony and Hunt Sales on bass and drums re­spec­tively. Gabrels now plays with The Cure but has also ap­peared on sev­eral of Bowie’s solo al­bums. The Bowie-Gabrels penned Dead Man Walk­ing, from Bowie’s Earth­ling al­bum, was nom­i­nated for a Grammy, so re­ally Reeves fits into the Bowie-Ron­son, or Bono-Edge cat­e­gory of be­ing half of a part­ner­ship, rather than merely a hired gun for al­bums and tours.

Al­though Tin Ma­chine may not be the first band name that one thinks of while dis­cussing Bowie’s out­put, they did sell over two mil­lion al­bums; and Bowie has gone on record as say­ing that it helped to re­vi­talise his solo ca­reer in the 90s. In fact, Tin Ma­chine was formed af­ter Bowie’s un­der­achiev­ing Never Let Me Down al­bum and Glass Spi­der tour had ended, with Bowie telling Gabrels that he needed to get his mu­si­cal vi­sion back.

The epony­mous de­but al­bum was recorded dur­ing 1988 and 1989 and it reached num­ber 3 on the UK charts, with Gabrels say­ing that the band took their in­flu­ences from clas­sic artists in­clud­ing Cream and Jimi Hen­drix. They played some of the songs live in clubs with­out re­ally an­nounc­ing who they were, but rather leav­ing the au­di­ences to re­alise that the group was in fact be­ing fronted by David Bowie!

Af­ter one more stu­dio al­bum and a live record­ing, Tin Ma­chine called it quits in 1992, and have since been de­scribed as sim­ply ar­riv­ing too early for people to re­ally

Reeves Gabrels’ play­ing is an in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of punk at­ti­tude and Van Halen style gui­tar histri­on­ics.

un­der­stand what they were all about. While they didn’t en­tirely set the world alight at the time, they have since been re-as­sessed as be­ing more im­por­tant than first thought.

Gabrels’ play­ing is an in­ter­est­ing blend of punk at­ti­tude and Van Halen style gui­tar histri­on­ics. His al­ter­nate pick­ing is up there with the best of them and there was a fair smat­ter­ing of whammy bar abuse and two-handed tap­ping in Tin Ma­chine’s reper­toire. This month’s piece be­gins with a punky chord type riff, not dis­sim­i­lar to last month’s Blondie style track, and is writ­ten in the key of E ma­jor (E F# G# A B C# D#). The ‘home’ of the track is the E ma­jor chord, al­though there are a lot of non-di­a­tonic chords such as C ma­jor, Bb ma­jor and G# ma­jor. The solo uses E mi­nor pen­ta­tonic (E G A B D) al­though rather than be­ing the usual blues based play­ing, it’s more avant-garde in phras­ing and ap­proach. The speedy al­ter­nate picked line uses the notes of E Do­rian (E F# G A B C# D). Have fun!

Reeves Gabrels: Tin Ma­chine’s man on the Fly!

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