Ricky Gardiner, the guitarist who performed classic riffs on albums such as David Bowie’s Low and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, has died aged 73.
Producer Tony Visconti broke the news on social media, saying Gardiner’s wife tipped him off. 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 progressive rock band 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, especially in Germany. .
He was invited to play guitar on Tony Visconti’s solo album Inventory, and Visconti suggested he play on David Bowie’s Low – Bowie then invited him to join the recording sessions at a castle near Paris, in 1977, before moving to the Hansa studios in Berlin. Gardiner played lead guitar on the first half of the album, including the cheerful, whimsical lead line on Sound and Vision, the fanfare riff for the opening track Speed of Life, and the cosmic solo on Always. Crashing in the Same Car.
Bowie’s recordings brought him into the orbit of another star, Iggy Pop, and he toured with Bowie and Pop for the latter’s album The Idiot, with Bowie on keyboards. On that famous bawdy tour, Gardiner preferred to take early morning walks – “If others used [drugs], they had to be discreet. I enjoy the occasional drink, but I would be very happy if alcohol returned to its rightful place in the laboratory,” he later said.
He then played guitar and contributed songwriting on the Bowie-produced album Iggy Pop Lust for Life later in 1977, describing the writing and recording sessions as “a joy”.
Among Gardiner’s contributions is a riff considered one of the simplest and greatest of all time: the three-note swagger motif of The Passenger, which came to him in a bucolic environment that is not not usually associated with pop. “The apple trees were in bloom and I was doodling on the guitar looking at the trees,” Gardiner later said. “I didn’t pay attention to what I was playing. I was in a light dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At some point, my ear picked up 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. was heading towards the full,” he later explained. “The song Success embodies this jubilant energy and the album as a whole shows imaginative qualities consistent with this rising lunar energy.”
Iggy Pop paid tribute to Gardiner, writing, “Dear Ricky, lovely, lovely man, shirtless in your overalls, nicest guy who ever played guitar.”
Gardiner became a father and did not continue touring with Bowie and Pop. He established his own studio and began exploring the possibilities of digital production, occasionally releasing albums with collaborators – including his wife Virginia Scott – such as ambient project Kumara. In 1995 he released Auschwitz, an instrumental work marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp which he considers his most important solo work.
He was diagnosed with electrosensitivity in 1998, which made him uncomfortable around electronic devices – he had to adapt his home studio to accommodate the condition. As well as recording his own versions of The Passenger, in his later years he returned to the Beggars Opera project, releasing seven more albums.