Guitarist Ricky Gardiner, whose riff opened Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’, dies at 73
Ricky Gardiner, the guitarist who played some of rock music’s most memorable riffs but considered a piece he wrote about Auschwitz his most important solo work, has died aged 73.
Producer Tony Visconti announced the death of the “guitar genius”, and later statement on Gardiner’s website said the musician died in his sleep on May 13 after suffering from a form of Parkinson’s disease for several years.
Iggy Pop wrote a tribute on Twitter after learning of Gardiner’s death.
“Dear Ricky, lovely, lovely man, shirtless in your overalls, nicest guy who ever played guitar. Thank you for the memories and the songs, rest forever in peace,” he said.
Gardiner was born in 1948 in Edinburgh, Scotland and joined his first band at school, before forming the progressive rock band Beggar’s Opera in 1969 and recording four albums.
However, after contributing to Visconti’s solo album, the producer and musician suggested Gardiner play with David Bowie.
Sad to hear that the guitarist of David Bowie’s album Low and Iggy pop’s The Idiot, Ricky Gardiner, passed away last night. TO TEAR. pic.twitter.com/f0SDhi7kcB
— David Bowie News (@davidbowie_news) May 15, 2022
The famous British singer then invited the guitarist to a castle near Paris in 1977 to make the album “Low” before moving to a recording studio in Berlin to finish the job.
Gardiner played lead guitar on a number of tracks, including “Sound and Vision”, “Speed of Life”, and “Always Crashing in the Same Car”.
According to The Guardian, “Bowie’s recordings brought him into another star’s orbit”, and Gardiner later toured with Iggy Pop for his album ‘The Idiot’ – with Bowie on keyboards.
Bowie went on to produce Pop’s “Lust for Life” album, with Gardiner making a number of foundational contributions, including the iconic guitar intro to “The Passenger.”
Gardiner later said he came up with the riff in an unlikely setting.
“The apple trees were in bloom and I was doodling on the guitar looking at the trees,” Gardiner explained, according to to the Guardian. “I wasn’t paying attention to what I was playing. I was in a faint dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At some point, my ear picked up the chord sequence.
Eventually, Gardiner, who never really bought into the debauched rock and roll lifestyle, stopped touring with the rock icons and instead settled down with his wife and children.
In 1995 he wrote an instrumental piece called “Auschwitz”, which he said marked the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp.
According to the Guardian, he considered this piece to be his most important solo work.
In 2000, Gardiner told a Canadian rock site that he had grown up with many Jewish friends in Scotland, and this influenced him to write the play.
“The 20th century was host to the most severe agony the world has ever seen and the Holocaust was a significant part of that,” Gardiner said. “My teenage years were spent in the suburbs of Glasgow, which was also home to a considerable number of Glasgow Jewish families. In my school, about a third of the students came from Jewish homes. Therefore, I grew up with many Jewish friends and knew many of their customs, humor and stories that made up Jewish life.
“Later, when Beggar’s Opera first traveled to Europe, I was driving in Germany with my longtime Jewish friend and when the highway entered the forest, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. All the stories we had heard about World War II took on living meaning,” he said.
Gardiner explained that he was working on a piece of music one day and had a vision of people coming together. He then came downstairs and heard on the news that commemorations were beginning to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“I realized the piece of music had to be called Auschwitz,” he said.
Gardiner is survived by his wife Virginia and three children.