Guitar Techniques APRIL 2016 - by Jon Bishop


Jon Bishop pays homage to the truly extraordinary career of David Bowie, celebrating the styles of some of his most influential, guitar-toting sidemen, along with licks from the great man himself.

The music world was shocked and saddened to hear of the recent passing of a true cultural icon, David Bowie. Born David Robert Jones, Bowie was a bona fide musical innovator with a career that spanned an impressive six decades. Always at the cutting edge of culture - often leading the Zeitgeist - his first hit, Space Oddity, charted in 1969 and coincided with the first moon landing.

In the early '70s when macho rock ruled the airwaves, Bowie provided an androgynous alternative and his constant reinvention through a cast of characters beginning with Ziggy Stardust, kept him at the vanguard of creativity. He was a musical innovator, bringing elements of fine art, fashion and the avant-garde successfully into pop music. He sought out the best musicians, thrived off collaboration and had a nose for sniffing out great six-string talent.

Our GT Bowie tribute track features a pastiche of the most popular Bowie eras. Bowie himself was a solid player, performing acoustic and twelve-strings parts as well as some electric work - most notably the cracking riff in Rebel Rebel. He played twelve-string on hit songs such as Starman, The Man Who Sold The World and Space Oddity, with great timing and fantastic groove.

The second guitarist to be featured is Mick Ronson, who played guitar on many of the early Bowie records, including Ziggy Stardust. Ronson had a great Les Paul-style rock tone and also a flamboyant dress style, which fitted in perfectly with Bowie's glam rock aesthetic and outlandish stage persona.

The third guitarist in our curated list is Mick Wayne of the band Junior's Eyes, who was drafted in to play lead on Bowie's breakthrough hit Space Oddity. Wayne's perfect Pentatonic licks in this iconic track added some appropriately 'far out' flavour.

The fourth guitarist in our Top 6 is Robert Fripp - the original guitarist from King Crimson. He was asked by producer Brian Eno to play guitar on the album "Heroes" and Fripp added experimental lead tones to the title track.

Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers produced Bowie's biggest-selling album to date: Let's Dance. It's littered with some great guest licks from Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played Albert King-style lead on several tracks and was invited to go on tour; he declined in order to concentrate on his solo album, Texas Flood.

For David's Young Americanss album the guitarist was Carlos Alomar; as an example of his contribution to the record we have a desperately cool 'phasey' idea - perfectly appropriate for the album's 1975 release.

The track contains eight riffs and licks in the style of our chosen of players. Each example has a two-bar drum break so you can change settings, while the backing track removes the transcribed guitar parts so you can play along.

Bowie was a one-off talent who brought us superb songs, fabulous albums, plus some unforgettable guitar playing - and players.


Playing for the song: Musically, Bowie never stood still. Album to album there was always something new; he was constantly at the vanguard of change, never hanging onto its coat-tails. Players such as the then undiscovered Stevie Ray Vaughan sat alongside session or prog rock legends from whom David always extracted fresh and exciting ideas. But the key to every Bowie guitarist's success was the ability to play for the song. From Mick Wayne's perfect Pentatonics in Space Oddity, Mick Ronson's impeccable licks in Life On Mars?, Nile Rodgers's infectious rhythm in Let's Dance, or Robert Fripp's off-the-wall approach on "Heroes", the song was always king. Bowie knew that a killer song with the perfect guitar part is a wondrous thing to behold!


David Bowie released twenty-five studio albums in a career spanning over forty years. Bowie's best-selling album to date is the 1983 release entitled Let's Dance, which features the guitar skills of Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughan and is essential listening. For a career overview, it is hard to ignore Nothing Has Changed, which is a Bowie 'best-of' covering 1964 to 2014... extensive!