From Bowie to The Cure: Reeves Gabrels

29th March 2015

Reeves Gabrels York

Reeves Gabrels York

Reeves Gabrels is an American guitarist, songwriter/composer and music producer. Gabrels is known for his creative partnership with David Bowie with whom he worked regularly from 1987 to 1999. Since 2012 he has also been a member of The Cure.

Reeves Gabrels is an inventive guitar player, an explorer of sonic extremes with prodigious adaptive intuition and legerdemain technique. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Reeves before his gig at Fibbers - he popped along to the One&Other HQ in the afternoon where we both spoke at tangents and laughed a lot!

Gabrels was born and brought up on Staten Island, New York – He is an only child and self-confessed mutt: - Mother’s family from old European Italian/German stock. His Father being of Cherokee, Scots, and Irish descent was brought up in Georgia, South Carolina. After serving in the US forces during WWII he settled in New York. Reeves started playing guitar aged thirteen and later took guitar lessons from the masterful jazz improviser John Scofield (before Scofield’s days with Miles Davis) He influenced Reeves to leave art school and go to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Reeves is currently a permanent member of The Cure and he finds himself having to fulfil his work permit criteria by working so many dates throughout the year in the UK. Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends complete a ten night tour around the UK. It represents the first tour he has done under his own name. Previously visits to Yorkshire had been with Bowie, Tin Machine, Nile Rogers and more recently with The Cure in 2012.

Gabrels is no stranger to York, having made an instrumental record called Fantastic Guitars with Yorkshire based musician Bill Nelson. Reeves likes visiting York and finds the city supportive of a stimulating arts community – he believes London and New York are basically out pricing themselves, being too expensive for artists to live in. Reeves felt it not a bad idea if New York took a tip or two from his ancient forefather Old York!


Bill Nelson’s Be Bop Deluxe and Red Noise had been a great influence on Reeves. Originally he invited Bill to a Tin Machine gig in Leeds about 24 years ago. They hit it off instantly and stayed in touch. Over the years they discussed the idea of recording together and in 2014 their resultant collaboration was released. Reeves revealed the challenges of playing guitar in front of one of his heroes but soon realised they were both in the same boat, it being a level playing field for all musicians!

“There was one thing where Bill had an idea for something that he claimed he couldn’t play. So he played me the idea slower and I had to play it up tempo and it was like seven beats over one – very Frank Zappa! It was quite difficult to execute but I did it, then he asked if I could play a harmony, an octave up then an octave down – I was sweating doing it., it being purely a technical challenge, even if I were by myself I would have been sweating but in front of someone I admired – I really wanted to get it right – and besides Bill said he couldn’t do it - I really wanted to help him achieve his vision!

When the album was completed – Bill having done the final mixes, I discovered another new guitar harmony in there – I said I don’t remember playing those harmonies and he said “No, I did it when you left.” I said to Bill, why did you make me sweat like that and he just laughed! There was none of that ego stuff that sometimes happens when you get two guitarists in the room together. Bill and I had a lot of fun making Fantastic Guitars.”


Reeves met David Bowie when his ex-wife had a job working for Bowie’s press office. Reeves had an all access pass that enabled him to chat freely with Bowie. It wasn’t long before Reeves and Bowie found common ground, both being ex-art-school boys. However, Reeves initially didn’t reveal to Bowie he was a guitarist. They both enjoyed good conversation, hanging out together, watching re-runs of Fantasy Island (imagining their own bizarre story lines, performed with hilarious voices).

When his wife finished working for Bowie she passed on a cassette tape of Reeves’ band, containing extracts from eight songs in ten minutes! A few months later he received a phone call from Bowie, believing it was a friend winding him up! Reeves found himself being discovered at the age of thirty, working with the creative force that is David Bowie. Reeves went on to co-write songs with Bowie both as solo artist and in Tin Machine.

When I asked about the prospects of them working together again Reeves said “Who knows!”


Reeves met Robert Smith in 1997 at Bowie’s fiftieth birthday bash. As band leader and musical director he taught the other guest performers songs they were to play that evening. Robert Smith and Reeves bonded over this and consequently ended up playing on one and others subsequent recordings including The Cure’s single Wrong Number released in 1998. In 2012 Smith asked Reeves to join The Cure for a tour over that summer. After a few gigs he officially joined the band.

A new album entitled Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends is available from Bandcamp. There are also various projects coming to fruition with The Cure.

Asked about future plans he replied “I’m not a big planner – I’m more a reactor – Whatever!”

Reeves Gabrels – ‘REACTOR’ – Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

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