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Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist Ricky Gardiner dies aged 73

Iggy Pop, Ricky Gardiner and David Bowie onstage in 1978
Iggy Pop, Ricky Gardiner and David Bowie onstage in 1978 (Image credit: Richard McCaffrey / Getty)

Scottish guitarist Ricky Gardiner, best known for his work with Iggy Pop and David Bowie during their Berlin-era records – Lust For Life and Low, respectively – has died at the age of 73.

Gardiner was born in Edinburgh in 1948, before his first major band, a progressive rock act named Beggars Opera, signed to Vertigo in 1970. They toured Europe throughout the early part of the decade, recording six albums in the process.

In the wake of Beggars Opera’s demise, Gardiner soon gained work as a session player. A contribution to producer Tony Visconti’s solo record Inventory would prove fateful, leading to an invitation to play on David Bowie’s album Low at the Château d’Hérouville in France. 

While working on Low, Gardiner met Iggy Pop and was recruited to the latter’s band in time to tour in support of Iggy’s 1976 album The Idiot and record 1977’s Lust For Life. During the sessions, Gardiner provided the iconic riff for one of Iggy’s biggest hits, The Passenger

Talking to Paul Trynka for his 2007 book Iggy Pop: Open Up And Bleed, Gardiner reported he’d thought it up on a countryside walk, “in the field beside an orchard, on one of those glorious spring days with the trees in full blossom.”

Later he told The Independent (opens in new tab) that he carried the riff around with him for a while, before Bowie and Pop made a surprise request for ideas during the Lust For Life writing sessions in Berlin. 

“I did not realise that they needed material, so I was unprepared when they asked me if I had anything,” recalled Gardiner. “My surprise was effectively covered when I recalled the aforementioned chord sequence and promptly played it to them on my unplugged Strat

“David immediately liked it, Iggy was open and receptive at the time but I suspect it did not have quite the same impact as a screaming chain saw which is his natural preference, I think. 

“None the less, he appeared the next morning with the completed lyrics and after we recorded it, he seemed very pleased. I must also mention the fine contribution that Carlos Alomar made to the recording – a very nice man and a good musician.”

Although the song failed to chart when it was initially released (as the B-side to Success in 1977), it enjoyed a revival in the late-’90s following its use in a car commercial and has since gone down as one of Pop’s biggest hits. 

In the following years, Gardiner would open his own studio, work on computer music techniques and record several solo albums. He became ill in 1995, developing electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which limited his ability to interact with music tech.

Iggy Pop has led tributes to the late guitarist, referencing Gardiner’s notable late-’70s stage wear, writing: “Dearest Ricky, lovely, lovely man, shirtless in your coveralls, nicest guy who ever played guitar. Thanks for the memories and the songs, rest eternal in peace.”

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Tony Visconti also confirmed Gardiner’s passing (opens in new tab), praising his contributions to both Bowie and Pop’s recorded output and hailing him as a “guitar genius”. 

Gardiner is survived by his wife, the composer and artist Virginia Scott. 

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Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk (opens in new tab), which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.