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