Ricky Gardiner, guitarist for David Bowie and Iggy Pop, dies aged 73

Ricky Gardiner, the guitarist who played classic riffs for albums such as David Bowie’s Low and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, has died aged 73.

Producer Tony Visconti announced the news on social media, saying Gardiner’s wife had informed him. He described Gardiner, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, as a “guitar genius.”

Born in Edinburgh in 1948, his first major band was the prog rock group Beggars Opera, which formed in 1969. Beginning with Act One the following year, he recorded six albums with the band, which became a cult favorite across Europe, particularly in Germany.

He was invited to play guitar on Tony Visconti’s solo album Inventory, and Visconti suggested playing on David Bowie’s Low. Gardiner played lead guitar throughout the first half of the album, including the upbeat, erratic lead line on Sound and Vision, the marching band-esque riff for opening track Speed ​​of Life, and the cosmic solo on Always Crashing in the Same Car.

Performance with Iggy Pop and David Bowie in San Francisco, 1978.
Performance with Iggy Pop and David Bowie in San Francisco, 1978. Photo: Richard McCaffrey/Getty Images

The Bowie shots put him in the orbit of another star, Iggy Pop, and he toured with Bowie and Pop for their album The Idiot, with Bowie on keyboards. On this famously riotous tour, Gardiner preferred to take early morning walks – “If Others Used It” [drugs], they must have been discreet. I enjoy the occasional drink, but I would be very happy if alcohol was put back in its rightful place in the lab,” he later said.

He then played guitar and co-wrote the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Lust for Life later in 1977, describing the writing and recording sessions as “a pleasure”.

One of Gardiner’s contributions is a riff considered to be one of the simplest and best of all time: the rousing three-note motif for The Passenger, which came to him in a rural setting not usually associated with pop. “The apple trees were in bloom and I was drawing on the guitar while I stared at the trees,” Gardiner said later. “I wasn’t paying attention to what I was playing. I was in a light dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At one point my ear caught the chord sequence.”

He also co-wrote the songs Success and Neighborhood Threat and played drums on the closing jam Fall in Love With Me. “Lust for Life took advantage of a lot of spontaneity and was largely absorbed as the moon grew fuller,” he later explained. “The track Success embodies this jubilant energy and the album generally displays imaginative qualities consistent with this rising lunar energy.”

Paying tribute to Gardiner, Iggy Pop wrote, “Dearest Ricky, beautiful, sweet man, shirtless in your overalls, nicest man who ever played the guitar.”

Gardiner became a father and did not continue to tour with Bowie and Pop. He set up his own studio and began exploring the possibilities of digital production, occasionally releasing albums with collaborators – including his wife Virginia Scott – such as the ambient project Kumara. In 1995 he released Auschwitz, an instrumental work on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, which he considered his most important solo work.

In 1998 he was diagnosed with electrosensitivity, which made him feel unwell when around electronic devices – he had to adjust his home studio to cope with the illness. In addition to recording his own versions of The Passenger, he returned to the Beggars Opera project in his later years and released seven more albums.

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