Reeves Gabrels (b.1956) is an American guitarist, currently touring internationally with The Cure (since summer 2012), one of Britain’s best-known alternative rock bands. Gabrels is known for his long partnership with British singer David Bowie, with whom he worked regularly as guitarist, bandmate, co-writer and co-producer from 1987 to 1999. Before, during and since Gabrels has also independently pursued an active and wide-ranging international music career from bases in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and London. Since 2006, he has lived in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gabrels was born in Staten Island, New York in June 1956. His mother was a typist and his father worked on tugboats in New York Harbor. Gabrels started playing guitar at age 13, and the following year (1971) his father arranged for lessons with the father’s friend and contemporary Turk Van Lake, who lived in the neighborhood. Van Lake (1918-2002) was a professional musician who had played with Benny Goodman and others.
After high school, Gabrels attended the Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York City but continued to play guitar. In New York, he met noted jazz guitarist John Scofield, from whom he took a lesson or two. Gabrels moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music, which he left several credits short of a degree in 1980-81.
During the 1980s and early 1990s Gabrels was a member of Boston bands such as The Dark, Life on Earth, Rubber Rodeo, The Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer (Gabrels, Jamie Rubin, David Hull, and Billy Beard) issued a self-titled record on Victory/Universal in 1993.
Gabrels met David Bowie during a Bowie tour in 1987 for which Gabrels’ then-wife, Sara Terry, worked as publicist. Gabrels later (1989-1993) joined forces with Bowie and the Sales brothers (drummer Hunt Sales and bass player Tony Sales) in the rock band Tin Machine. Later, Gabrels became an essential part of Bowie’s nineties sound, most notably on Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), and ‘hours…’ (1999), the latter two of which he co-produced. Gabrels and Bowie also created the soundtrack to the computer game Omikron: The Nomad Soul in 1999 for the game’s French publisher. Gabrels ended his professional association with Bowie in late 1999.
Gabrels is an accomplished composer/songwriter, musical collaborator, and solo performer/producer with varied credits.
He previously worked with Robert Smith of The Cure during the late 1990s, collaborating on The Cure’s track “Wrong Number,” and “A Sign From God” (with Jason Cooper and Robert Smith as COGASM), as well as the song “Yesterday’s Gone,” which Smith sings on Gabrels’ album Ulysses (Della Notte).
Gabrels and slide guitarist David Tronzo joined forces on a virtuoso instrumental album, “Night in Amnesia,” issued by Rounder in 1995. Gabrels continues to play periodically, as does Tronzo, with Club D’Elf, a jazz-dub-Moroccan group led by Mike Rivard with a diverse roster of musicians and an improvisational approach.
Gabrels has written soundtracks for films including David Sutherland’s “The Farmer’s Wife” (Frontline, 1997) and for PBS productions, and collaborated with Public Enemy on the song “Go Cat Go” for the Spike Lee film “He Got Game” (soundtrack, Def Jam, 1998). He wrote the “club music” portions of the soundtrack for the video game Deus Ex.
Solo records by Gabrels include The Sacred Squall of Now (Rounder/Upstart, 1995); Ulysses (Della Notte) (Emagine, 2000); Live, Late, Loud (Myth Music, 2003); and Rockonica (Myth Music/Favored Nations/Sony, 2005).
Gabrels can also be heard on “New Universal Order,” a Heavy metal album released by German label AFM in June 2008 for X-World/5 with drummer Big Swede, bass player Magnus Rosén, vocalist Nils K. Rue, and guitarist Andy LaRocque.
In Nashville, Gabrels often performs locally, including at the Family Wash, a restaurant/music venue. His lead guitar playing is featured on a 2011 album by The Magnificent Others, a band fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist James H. (Jamie) Rubin, who owns the Family Wash.
Sonic Mining Company, an eponymous album by an improvisational trio made up of Gabrels, bass player Frank Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff, was produced by Rob Stennett and issued in 2012 by Ropeadope Records.