Musician who wrote classic riffs for songs including The Passenger had Parkinson’s disease
Ricky Gardiner, the guitarist who performed classic riffs for albums including 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, who formed in 1969. Beginning with Act One the following year, he recorded six albums with the band, who became a cult favourite across Europe, particularly in Germany.
He was invited to play guitar on Tony Visconti’s solo album Inventory, and Visconti suggested that he perform on David Bowie’s Low – Bowie then invited him to join the recording sessions at a chateau near Paris, in 1977, later moving to Hansa studios in Berlin. Gardiner played lead guitar on the album’s first half, including the cheerful, whimsical lead line on Sound and Vision, the fanfare-like riff for opening track Speed of Life, and the cosmic solo on Always Crashing in the Same Car.
The Bowie 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 this famously debauched tour, Gardiner preferred to take early morning walks – “If others used [drugs], they must have been discreet. I enjoy the occasional drink but I would be quite happy if alcohol was returned to its rightful place in the laboratory,” he later said.
He then played guitar and contributed songwriting on the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Lust for Life later in 1977, describing the writing and recording sessions as “a joy”.
Among Gardiner’s contributions is a riff regarded to be one of the simplest and greatest of all time: the swaggering three-note motif for The Passenger, which came to him in bucolic surroundings not usually associated with Pop. “The apple trees were in bloom and I was doodling on the guitar as I gazed at the trees,” Gardiner later said. “I was not paying any attention to what I was playing. I was in a light dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At a certain point my ear caught the chord sequence.”
He also co-wrote the songs Success and Neighbourhood Threat, and played drums on the closing jam Fall in Love With Me. “Lust for Life benefited from a lot of spontaneity and was largely recorded as the moon was waxing towards full,” he later explained. “The song Success epitomises this jubilant energy and the album on the whole shows imaginative qualities consistent with this rising lunar energy.”
Iggy Pop paid tribute to Gardiner, writing: “Dearest Ricky, lovely, lovely man, shirtless in your coveralls, nicest guy who ever played guitar.”
Gardiner became a father and didn’t 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 marking the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation that he regarded as his most important solo work.
He was diagnosed with electrosensitivity in 1998, which made him feel unwell when in proximity to electronic devices – he had to adapt his home studio to accommodate the illness. As well as recording his own versions of The Passenger, in his later years he returned to the Beggars Opera project, releasing seven further albums.