In the year that the mu­sic world lost its most cre­ative force, Stuart Ryan ex­am­ines the acous­tic style of this much-missed ge­nius.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS - NEXT MONTH Stuart ex­am­ines the style of an­other great writer-gui­tarist, Sh­eryl Crow

David Bowie used his acous­tic gui­tar and a set of bril­liantly whacky chords to weave won­der­ful tunes that set our world to mu­sic.

When David Bowie passed away ear­lier this year the world lost not only one of its great­est song­writ­ers but also a gui­tarist with a unique, quirky style. While his ge­nius lay in his song­writ­ing, Bowie’s ab­stract chords and spiky, funk­in­flected acous­tic gui­tar rhythms un­der­pin many of his clas­sic tracks. It’s hard to imag­ine clas­sics like Star­man with­out the dis­so­nant, crash­ing open­ing acous­tic gui­tar chords; and re­move the clas­sic acous­tic break from Space Odd­ity and you’ve lost one of the most dis­tinc­tive fea­tures of that track.

David Bowie was born on Jan­uary 8, 1947 in south Lon­don. He formed his first band at age 15 and like many mu­si­cians of the time their fo­cus was on per­form­ing cov­ers of the mu­sic of the great Amer­i­can blues­man like Howlin’ Wolf and Wil­lie Dixon. Bowie’s tastes went be­yond this, how­ever, though he did cite his con­tem­po­rary Mick Jag­ger as an early idol. His scope widened in 1967 when he be­gan to study dra­matic arts and the David Bowie that came to dom­i­nate the world stage be­gan to blos­som as he took on­board ev­ery­thing from avant garde to folk in­flu­ences. Bowie’s late ‘60s and early ‘70s sound is prob­a­bly best char­ac­terised as a brand of acous­tic folk-rock, but with an edge that oth­ers in that genre of­ten missed. Early tracks like Space Odd­ity re­leased in 1969 fea­ture prom­i­nent acous­tic gui­tar parts with the folk-in­flu­enced strum­ming pat­terns of the time. How­ever, the fa­mous acous­tic gui­tar break in this track hints at a harder rock sound that was to come later.

Of­ten Bowie’s acous­tic parts are at the core of a track, bol­ster­ing the rhythm sec­tion with sim­ple, solid strum­ming – The Man Who Sold The World is a good ex­am­ple as is Soul Love where a steady, tightly-strummed part locks in with the bass and drums un­der­pin­ning the track. Bowie’s acous­tic style and song­writ­ing

bowie’s late ’60s, early ’70s sound is char­ac­terised as a blend of folk-rock but with an edge that oth­ers of­ten missed is very in­ter­est­ing around this era as you start to hear the tran­si­tion from a ’60s folk sound to the harder rock ma­te­rial that would come later. Tracks like Kooks from the Hunky Dory al­bum also hint at a Ray Davies-style Kinks in­flu­ence with the char­ac­ter­is­tic open chord strum­ming from that era.

There are no histrionics in Bowie’s gui­tar style – he had Mick Ron­son, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp and oth­ers for that – but lis­ten to his parts and you will hear some unique ideas from un­con­ven­tional chords to un­pre­dictable pro­gres­sions.

David Bowie’s gui­tar un­der­pinned very many great tracks

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