Gerry Leonard is a renowned guitarist and musical director who has worked with a host of greats, including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Suzanne Vega, Rufus Wainwright, Laurie Anderson and, extensively, with the late great David Bowie.
Gerry played on two Bowie studio albums, Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003), joining him as guitarist on the subsequent tours. For the year-long Reality tour, Gerry was also the musical director. A decade on, the pair would work together again on Bowie’s comeback album, The Next Day, released in 2013 to critical acclaim. Two album tracks were co-written by David and Gerry.
Gerry also makes music with his project, Spookyghost, whose album The Light Machine Bowie described as, ‘Quite the most beautiful and moving pieces of work I have possessed in a long time.’
Gerry is a Dubliner and returned to his hometown to deliver a BIMM Dublin Masterclass, sharing stories of his musical upbringing and some poignant and inspiring memories of his work and friendship with David Bowie.
On his early musical life:
“When I was 14 I built my own electric guitar with my Dad from an electronics magazine. At 19 I started learning classical guitar and it was just like learning guitar all over again. Music theory is something you definitely need if you’re a musician for hire. I went to New York and I had 15 songs I played with my band, then I’d get a job as a guitarist and I’d have to learn 15 songs in one day!”
On his musical influences:
“I had to figure out my strengths and stop trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughan because I wasn’t Stevie Ray Vaughan! If your strengths lie elsewhere it’s better to define those strengths. I had a broad range of influences. Jimmy Page writes rock riffs that are carved out of stone, and he layers guitars. I like the way Brian Eno approaches a sonic space and writes certain moods.”
On working as a professional session player:
“Life as a musician is a long journey full of twists and turns and highs and lows and it’s going to be like that for anybody in the arts… I found out that a lot of gigs come from other musicians when you do good work. You get asked back when you show up on time, are ready and available.”
On first meeting and working with David Bowie:
“I walked down to meet David after I’d played on his track and the door opens and he said my track was great and I said something stupid and I kicked myself and then left! We played on a bunch of things together. We’d just play and have a few laughs, then we’d go for lunch. It was really nice. He’d be cackling away paying for lunch, handing over a credit card with his face on to the waitress.”
Gerry also recalled how he ended up touring with Bowie:
“They were trying to put the band together and when my name came up David asked, ‘Can Gerry rock?’ He came to a show where I was playing my own stuff. He sat in a backless wicker chair in this coffeehouse and got right in on the act and was heckling me! He didn’t want me to be nervous and wanted me to just be myself. After the show he asked me to join the band.”
On Bowie’s legacy and influence:
“It changed my life meeting David and working with him. We all know he was iconic but he was such a unique person and a force of art. Being creative and in the studio with him was always an exciting rollercoaster ride… Learning to play rock guitar on stage with David was amazing. I learned about the creative process. No one can really teach you to be an artist and you see that in some people’s careers. They can be really successful then it can fall apart and it’s hard to realise you don’t own that success and you’re just passing through it. Learning to maintain that is hard and David was really a master of that.”
Evelyn Finery, BA3 Vocals student was in the audience, “One thing I definitely learned is the importance of preparation before any rehearsal, auditions, etc. He told that Cyndi Lauper story and how he knew the whole thing back to front and got the job and toured the world because of it.”
It was a real honour for BIMM Dublin to host Gerry. As both an accomplished session player and a talented recording artist, Gerry left our students with so much to think about and plenty to aspire to, and that’s more essential than ever at such a sad time in the music world. Thank you Gerry.