It might be time for a 'Greatest Hits'. Earl Slick scoffs, he is having none of it. Onwards and sideways is the theme. What other direction would one of the world's most lionised sidemen take? Long content to back Bowie, elevate Lennon and lend his thrashing brilliance to the sounds and vision of the greats, including Ian Hunter, John Waite and David Coverdale, the Brooklyn boy born Frank Madeloni swaggers on with all the menace of a graveyard with vacancies. You know his classic guitar riffs, his salt, his sass - from 'Young Americans', 'Station to Station', 'Heathen', 'Reality', 'The Next Day'; from 'Double Fantasy', 'Milk and Honey' and from Yoko's 'Season of Glass', released after John's murder and her highest-charting album ever. That's what a little Slick magic can do for you. But what of his own creations, his secret licks and tricks? I'd bet money he coined and saved a few. So he did, as it happens, tucking them away for posterity, storing them safely behind bundled guitar cases and stashing them on the top shelves of his mind. Waiting.
Slicky's relaxed. He is the kind to bide time until the moment. How about now? The lockdowns afforded the perfect opportunity to revisit and reinvent. Ancient tapes have been trawled, lapsed memories jogged. Now here he comes again, all tattoo-you's, sunny g's, sawn-off elbows and a great slash of winsome smile. 'Don't take it all so seriously,' is the unspoken refrain. He chews his own medicine.
'A Fist Full of Devils', his solo instrumental celebration of blues-based rock laced with the gurgle of moonshine and JD, is an eleven-track double masterpiece conceived some seven years back. Paused during the frantic global touring, make-everybody-else-sound-good years, and perfected while the world was on hold, it will at last be unleashed on 2nd July this year. Far from bleeding with histrionics, regret and longing, it is a kick in the heart and the balls. One minute scarred and wanting, heaving with twelve-bar torment and regurgitated guts, the next it is bitingly elegant and wincingly cool. Slick brings it all to bear here. It's a bit of blues, a bundle of rock, a smash of punk, a dash of glam, a meander through rockabilly. It's a one-man guitarfest, all right. Sit down, there's more. It is, too, a whole lot of new. It reverberates with personal hellraising as part of Phantom, Rocker and Slick and all those other bands, those endless other guys. Jim Diamond, you listening over there? It is, because why wouldn't it be, both Beatled and Stoned. Come on, everybody.
What brought this on? A night out in Chicago, at Buddy Guy's Legends, the shared-tables supper club and live blues venue in the downtown Loop, on S. Wabash, that heaves with blues memorabilia and where music-loving punters feast on home cooking and sink gallons of Buddy Brew. When Buddy promised Muddy to keep the blues alive, he put the shirt on and has been wearing it ever since. Edgar 'Frankenstein' Winter was wowing the crowds that shift, and Slicky got up and sat in for a bit of a jam. 'Buddy wasn't supposed to be there,' recalls Slick, 'and I was a little disappointed. Then Buddy walks in while I was playing. And he invited me to play.'
When he says it was one of the greatest moments of his cast-iron forty-year career, you know it must have been something. 'That first night with Buddy Guy. Wow. Buddy's where it comes from,' he says of the ripe octogenarian who inspired Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. 'Someone like him thinking I was good enough to get on stage with him ... ' Slicky reaches for the profound. For once, it eludes him. 'That was a trip,' he mutters.