Reeves Gabrels (born June 4, 1956) is an American guitarist, songwriter and record producer. A member of British band The Cure since 2012, Gabrels also worked with David Bowie from 1987 to 1999, and was a member of the band Tin Machine. He has lived in New York, Boston, London and Los Angeles, and since 2006 he has been based in Nashville, Tennessee.
As a guitarist, Reeves Gabrels is recognized for his virtuosity and versatility, able to "explore sonic extremes with a great, adaptive intuition for what each song needs most." He has also been characterized as "one of the most daring rock-guitar improvisers since Jimi Hendrix."
As a songwriter and composer, Gabrels spanned genres. The songs on Ulysses, an album from 2000, range from "hard-hitting blues rock to 21st century electronica," as Guitar World reviewer Gary Graff put it.
Describing Rockonica, in 2005 Guitar Player's Andy Ellis wrote online, "Reeves Gabrels walks the line between song structure and wiggy sonics like no one else... His tunes on Rockonica have familiar verse/chorus construction (and are often maddeningly catchy), and his riffs and solos typically possess the contours that define classic rock. But bubbling and roiling under and around this foundation are layers of eerie, broken sounds and oddball textures. And Gabrels isn’t shy about juxtaposing genres. For example, 'Underneath' ends with a trippy mélange of Wheels of Fire-era Clapton licks, acoustic Delta blues riffs, and fluttering, guitar-generated helicopter sounds."
Early life and education
Reeves Gabrels was born in Staten Island, New York in June 1956. His mother, Claire, was a typist, and his father, Carl Winston Gabrels, worked on tugboats in New York Harbor. Reeves 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 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. He met jazz guitarist John Scofield, from whom he took several lessons. Encouraged by Scofield's example and advice, Gabrels moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. He left without a degree in 1981, valuing nonetheless his experience at Berklee.
Gabrels began his musical career in earnest in Boston, building on performance experience starting in high school. During the 1980s and early 1990s he was a member of bands including The Dark, Life on Earth, The Atom Said, Rubber Rodeo, The Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer (Gabrels, Jamie Rubin, David Hull, and Billy Beard) issued an album of original rock songs, Hard Row to Hoe, on Victory/Universal in 1993.
David Bowie and Tin Machine
David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels met in 1987 during a Bowie tour for which Sara Terry, Gabrels' then-wife, worked as publicist. The first project on which Gabrels worked with Bowie was a re-imagining and rearrangement of the song "Look Back in Anger" and its live performance combining dance, music and projection as part of a benefit for London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1988. The resulting score was 7-1/2 minutes long, whereas the song originally ran 3 minutes as written by David Bowie & Brian Eno and recorded on Lodger (1979). Bowie sang, played and danced with members of the avant-garde troupe La La La Human Steps; Gabrels and two other musicians played onstage throughout. "We went into the studio to rearrange it," said Bowie in a filmed interview; "I like the hard-edged wall of guitar sound that we put into it."
Gabrels subsequently (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. "Dead Man Walking," a Bowie/Gabrels song from Earthling, was nominated for a Grammy award. 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. His last stage appearance with Bowie was a performance recorded in New York City for VH1 Storytellers.
Reeves Gabrels produced four albums between 1995 and 2005 for which he is principal songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and bandleader: 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). Ulysses was nominated for a Yahoo! Internet Award in 1999 as a then-pathbreaking Internet release, before becoming available the following year on CD. One Ulysses song, "Jewel," features vocal and instrumental performances by David Bowie, Dave Grohl and Frank Black.
A fifth album, Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends, was released digitally in January, 2015 at Bandcamp and was released on CD (plus more digital distributors) on Friday, July 17, 2015. Reeves Gabrels & Rob Stennett were co-producers. The songs include originals and covers, with Gabrels singing, playing guitar and leading the band, also called Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends: a Nashville-based power trio with Kevin Hornback on bass and Jeff Brown on drums. Guest musicians also appear. An interview by the British magazine Guitarist (Nov 2014) described the recording process, and Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends received a first print review in the American monthly Vintage Guitar (June 2015).
Robert Smith of The Cure guested on Gabrels' Ulysses as co-writer and vocalist for the song "Yesterday's Gone." Smith and Gabrels first met during rehearsals for David Bowie's 50th Birthday Concert held on January 9, 1997 at Madison Square Garden in New York. David Bowie had invited Smith to sing as one of a select group of guest performers at this event, for which Gabrels served as musical director. A friendship ensued, leading to further collaborations within the year: Gabrels returned the "Yesterday's Gone" favor by recording lead guitar on The Cure's single "Wrong Number"; Gabrels joined The Cure onstage for several songs (Wrong Number included) on selected nights of a fall U.S. tour; Gabrels, Smith and The Cure's drummer Jason Cooper (as COGASM) wrote and recorded "Sign From God" for Orgazmo, a film directed by Trey Parker.
Smith and Gabrels stayed in touch, leading some 15 years later to a phone conversation that brought Gabrels on board as guitarist for The Cure, initially as a guest for a run of summer festivals in 2012, after which he became a member of the band.
Gabrels has written soundtracks for films including David Sutherland's The Farmer's Wife (premiered on PBS September, 1998) 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.
In Los Angeles from 2000 to 2005, Gabrels focused on his own music, writing songs and performing live at West Coast venues. These efforts led to two solo recordings, one live and one studio, with band members including Paul Ill (bass), Brock Avery (drums) and Greg McMullen (pedal steel guitar). He collaborated as well with Southern California musicians in varied genres. For the soulful, funky blues-rock of singer and keyboard player Gerard "Gerry" Duran, Gabrels recorded guitar on several albums by the band Los Duran. Gabrels and drummer/producer Big Swede, as a duo dubbed Protecto, put out an electronica album titled Sonicnauts.
Tour Support and Recording with Others
Gabrels from time to time toured as a guitarist in a supporting role, for example in late 1993/early 1994 as guitarist for solo performances by singer Paul Rodgers, and outings in 2009 with New York-based punk band Jeebus.
He added guitar parts to selected recordings by other musicians over the years, including songs by Jed Davis as well as compositions by Jenn Vix, a bass player and vocalist from Providence, Rhode Island. Past recordings with Reeves Gabrels guitar tracks include albums or singles by The Mission (U.K.), Deaf School/Sandie Shaw, The Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne and more.
Another recording project into which Los Angeles-based drummer Big Swede brought Gabrels was X-World/5, a Heavy metal supergroup made up of guitarist Andy LaRocque, vocalist Nils K. Rue, bass player Magnus Rosén, and Big Swede on drums. They made one album, New Universal Order, originally put out in 2008 by German label AFM Records. It was re-released by the band/Big Swede in 2015.
Club D'Elf and Improvisation
Gabrels performs periodically with Club D'Elf, a Boston-based underground dub/jazz/Moroccan/trance/electronica group led by bassist Mike Rivard, and appears on Now I Understand, (Accurate Records, 2006), their first studio recording; the album also features John Medeski & Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin & Wood), DJ Logic, Mat Maneri, Duke Levine, Alain Mallet, Mister Rourke, and more. Improvising in long form, as Club D'Elf does, gives Gabrels "the time to meander and harmonically poke at things, make the music interesting," he said in a Berklee College of Music interview in 2012, going on to explain that free improvisation contributes to his ability in different settings, such as on stage with The Cure, "to refine that down to opportunities where I can hit that one note that throws the world off its axis for two bars," yet to do so fully within the context of the song and its lyrics.
Instrumental guitar collaborations
American slide guitarist David Tronzo, a fellow participant in Club D'Elf performances, and Gabrels made an instrumental album, Night in Amnesia, issued by Rounder Records in 1995. The innovative British guitarist Bill Nelson (Be-Bop Deluxe, Bill Nelson's Red Noise) and Gabrels released a quite different experimental guitar-duo album, Fantastic Guitars, independently in 2014.
Since 2006, Gabrels has called Nashville, Tennessee home. He plays often locally, especially at The Family Wash, an East Nashville restaurant/music venue owned by longtime musical associate Jamie Rubin. He was also regular guitarist for Brandon Giles & the Tricky Two playing bars and clubs on the Nashville Strip. In 2010 and 2011 he participated in "From Nashville to Norway" festivals in Gjøvik, Norway, organized by friends from both locales. In 2014 he began sitting in when possible with guitarist Tim Carroll's band including bass player Bones Hillman and drummer Steve Latanation.
Several collaborative recordings have grown out of these Nashville activities. The Magnificent Others features Jamie Rubin's songs and lead vocals, with Gabrels on lead guitar. Sonic Mining Company, a Ropeadope Records 2012 release, is made up of improvisations by Reeves Gabrels (guitar), Frank Swart (bass) and Adam Abrashoff (drums).
Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Fr13nds
Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Fr13nds is the name Gabrels gave to a trio he formed in Nashville after moving there. The main players have been Reeves Gabrels (guitar, vocals) with Kevin Hornback (bass) and Jeff Brown (drums). These three performed often at Nashville's Family Wash and toured regionally, including a ten-gig outing on a shoestring in 2009 about which the guitarist blogged for an Internet forum run by Guitar Player magazine. In 2010 without a budget or plan, they began recording songs they'd worked out live, resulting in the self-titled album Gabrels released in 2015. The trio played a series of dates in small venues and pubs in England during October 2014.
Guitars: Gabrels has used different guitars at varied phases in his musical career, selecting instruments to suit the music. He has favored Steinberger guitars, the Parker Fly, and Fernandes Guitars, but also plays Gibson Guitars such as the Les Paul and the Flying V, as well as Fender's Stratocaster.
He has often chosen less well known makers, explaining in interviews that he prefers a guitar without a set history and with which he is free to create sounds of his own imagination.
In 2008, Gabrels began playing Reverend guitars, designed by Reverend Musical Instruments of Livonia, Michigan. Gabrels and Reverend have since collaborated to develop a series of Reverend Reeves Gabrels signature model guitars. The first featured at the winter 2010 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. An update, the Reverend Reeves Gabrels II (RG2) was released at NAMM in Nashville in 2012. The Reeves Gabrels Spacehawk, made its debut at NAMM, winter 2014.
During The Cure's summer tour in 2012, Robert Smith gave Gabrels his Fender Bass VI, used to play songs such as Primary, InBetween Days, and Push. In response to questions about his guitars, Gabrels wrote several Notes posted to his Facebook Musician page describing the guitars played with The Cure and explaining how he uses them to suit the music of the songs for which he chooses them.
- Tin Machine (1989)
- Tin Machine II (1991)
- Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby (1992)
- Black Tie White Noise (1993)
- 1. Outside (1995)
- Earthling (1997)
- Earthling in the City (1997)
- Hours (1999)
- LiveAndWell.com (1999)
- VH1 Storytellers (2009)
- The Sacred Squall of Now (1995)
- Ulysses (Della Notte) (1999/2000)
- live...late...loud (2003)
- Rockonica (2005)
- Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends (2015)
- Night In Amnesia (1995) with David Tronzo
- Fantastic Guitars (2014) with Bill Nelson