Tin Machine

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Tin Machine
Tin machine (band) 1988 promo photo.jpg
Tin Machine, 1991
Left to right: Reeves Gabrels (guitar), Tony Fox Sales (bass), Hunt Sales (drums), David Bowie (vocals; guitar)
Background information
Genres
Years active1988–92
Labels
  • EMI
  • Victory Music
Past members

Tin Machine were an Anglo-American hard rock group formed in 1988, notable for being fronted by English singer-songwriter David Bowie. The band consisted of Bowie on lead vocals, sax and guitar, Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Tony Fox Sales on bass, and Hunt Sales on drums. Tony and Hunt are the sons of American comedian Soupy Sales. Additional musicians (who were not band members) included English guitarist Kevin Armstrong who played on the band's first studio album and first tour, and American guitarist Eric Schermerhorn who played on the second tour (and live album).

Drummer Hunt Sales said that the band's name "reflects the sound of the band," and Bowie stated that he and his band members joined up "to make the kind of music that we enjoyed listening to"[1] and to rejuvenate himself artistically.[2]

The band recorded two studio albums and one live album before dissolving in 1992, when Bowie returned to his solo career. By the end of 2012, they had sold two million albums.[3] Bowie would later credit his time with Tin Machine as instrumental in revitalising his career in the 1990s.[2][4][5]

History[edit]

1987–88: Band genesis[edit]

The album Never Let Me Down (1987) and subsequent Glass Spider Tour had left critics unimpressed,[6] and Bowie was aware of his low standing. Eager to return to making music for himself rather than the mainstream audience he had acquired following the Let's Dance album,[7] Bowie began collaborating with Reeves Gabrels, who pushed the singer to rediscover his experimental side.[4]

Bowie and Gabrels had initially met through Gabrels' then-wife Sara Terry, who was part of the press staff for the North American leg of Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider world tour. The two men had struck up a friendship when Gabrels visited at several tour venues. Notably, their relationship began as a social one, as Gabrels didn't mention that he himself was a musician. Common interests in popular culture and the visual arts provided more than enough to talk about, Gabrels explained in later interviews, and also because he was in his wife's workplace, he felt it wasn't appropriate to bring up his own music. [8] At the tour's end, Bowie kindly asked Terry if he could do anything for her. In response, Terry gave Bowie a tape of Gabrels' guitar playing. Some months later, after listening to the tape, Bowie phoned Gabrels to invite him to get together to play and write. Bowie told him that he felt he had "lost his vision" and was looking for ways to get it back.[9] After a month working together, Gabrels asked Bowie what he wanted of him, and, according to Gabrels, Bowie said "Basically, I need somebody that can do a combination of Beck, Hendrix, Belew and Fripp, with a little Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King thrown in. Then, when I’m not singing, you take the ball and do something with it, and when you hand the ball back to me, it might not even be the same ball."[10]

The first public fruits of Bowie and Gabrels working together came with a new arrangement by Gabrels of the song "Look Back in Anger" which Bowie had written with Brian Eno in 1979 for the album Lodger. The occasion was a benefit show at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on 1 July 1988 at which Bowie had been invited to perform with the avant-garde dance troupe La La La Human Steps. Bowie sang, played and danced with troupe members while in lighted grottoes upstage three musicians (Gabrels on guitar, Kevin Armstrong on guitar, and Erdal Kızılçay on bass) played the new 7-1/2 minute score that Gabrels created from the 3-minute song; the new material included drums programmed by Kızılçay. "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."[11]

"Their attitude was kind of, 'He's David Bowie, we're the Sales brothers, who the fuck are you?'"

 —Reeves Gabrels, on how the group bonded when they first came together[12]

Gabrels recalled that early on, they weren't sure who they'd work with. They discussed working with Terry Bozzio on drums and Percy Jones on bass.[13] But Bowie, who had run into Tony Sales in Los Angeles at a wrap party for his Glass Spider Tour, convinced Tony to call his brother Hunt so they could work together again, as Tony and Hunt had performed with David Bowie in support of Iggy Pop in the late 1970s. Tony recalled that Bowie was "thinking about getting a band together — something together. He didn't know exactly what he wanted to do, but he wanted Hunt and I to meet Reeves and maybe we could all write together, come up with something."[9]

Bowie himself was surprised with how things came together with the band, saying, "I'd never wanted to be in a band until we got together. And as we were getting together, it wasn't really occurring to me that this is what I wanted to do. It took a week or so of actually being in the studio and working, and then I think we fully realized the potential, musically, for what we were doing and wanted to stick with it. I was quite happy to go off and make a solo album. I was quite excited about a couple of things I was doing, which I brought into the band and which were irrevocably changed. But that's the nature of the band."[14]

Bowie was pleased that the band members clicked, calling the ease at which the personalities came together "inspired guesswork".[12] Hunt and Tony, the two sons of comic Soupy Sales, kept the mood jovial during recording sessions and interviews.[15] Bowie later rejected the idea that Reeves, Hunt and Tony were backing members of his band. "The Sales brothers would never accept having another boss. They are far too stubborn and aware of their own needs. They're not in the market to be anybody's backing band, either of them. You do not fuck with the Sales brothers, or Reeves Gabrels."[2] Gabrels said that Bowie came in one day while the group was first forming and said, "I think this has got to be a band. Everybody's got input. Everybody's writing. You guys don't listen to me anyway."[16] The band split profits four ways, no one was on a salary and each member paid for his own expenses. Bowie also clarified that "the band will cease to exist the moment it ceases to be a musical experience for any of us. None of us wanted to get into the kind of situation where you find yourself making albums because you're contracted to."[16]

The Sales brothers moved the tone of the sessions away from art-rock and more towards hard rock, and Bowie looked to one of his favorite bands at the time, the Pixies, for inspiration. The Sales brothers heckled Bowie into greater spontaneity, with most songs recorded in one take, and lyrics left unpolished, thus giving the band a ragged, punk rock edge.[17]

In contemporary interviews, the band claimed their musical influences were Gene Krupa, Charlie Mingus, Jimi Hendrix, Glenn Branca, Mountain,[1] Cream, and the Jeff Beck Group.[9]

The group chose the name Tin Machine after one of the songs they had written.[7][9] Tony Sales joked that, as all four members were divorced when the band formed, originally the band was going to be called "The Four Divorcés" or "Alimony Inc."[12] Gabrels suggested calling the band "White Noise", but Bowie dismissed it as too "racist".[13] Gabrels later elaborated on the real name choice, saying the band's name "worked on a number of levels for us. The archaic — the idea of tin, which is still everywhere: tin cans, when you go to the supermarket; when you walk down the street you find rusting tin. It's such a supposedly archaic material, but it's everywhere. Sort of like the idea of us playing this music and not using drum machines and sequencers and things like that. There's a point at which it connects. At least for us. And the final thing, for lack of a better name."[7]

The group set up allowed Bowie a certain level of anonymity, and to that end Bowie stipulated that all four members divide interviews equally between them and that in the cases where he was interviewed, that another member of the band be present as well. He made a point to clarify that he didn't invite the others to join "his" band, rather, "the band literally came together."[14] Also according to Bowie, the group decided when they formed that they'd play from album to album, and that "if we were still getting on with each other — which was the priority — that we'd continue."[18]

1988–89: First album and tour[edit]

Tin Machine album cover, featuring the four band members, in suits, standing in front of a white background
The Tin Machine vinyl release album cover, 1989

The band’s self-titled first album was recorded in late 1988 and early 1989. It produced mixed but generally positive reviews[6] upon release in May 1989, picking up favourable comparisons with Bowie’s two more recent solo albums. Commercially, the album initially sold well, reaching No. 3 in the UK Albums Chart, but sales quickly tailed off. Gabrels claimed in 1991 that album sales from the first album were "ten times better" than he had anticipated.[19] At the time of the release of the album, Bowie was enthusiastic about the band and the work they'd done, and felt that band had in them "another two albums at least."[15]

Contrary to common reports, the band's first live performance together wasn't at the International Rock Awards Show on 31 May 1989.[20] Prior to that show, the band played an unannounced show in Nassau. Bowie recalled "We showed up at a club in Nassau where we were recording and did four or five songs. We went down to the club and just did 'em." Added Gabrels, "We just walked up on stage and you could hear all these voices whispering, 'That's David Bowie! No, it can't be David Bowie, he's got a beard!'"[15]

The band recognized that some fans and critics didn't like Bowie's new role in the band. Said Tony Sales, "Mainly, people are pissed off because David's not doing 'David Bowie.'"[9] Bowie confirmed that Tin Machine live shows would be "non-theatrical" in contrast to his most recent tour.[15]

The band undertook a low-key tour in small venues between 14 June and 3 July 1989,[9] before further recording sessions in Sydney, Australia. During these sessions Tin Machine contributed to a surfing compilation album, Beyond the Beach, with a new instrumental song titled "Needles on the Beach".

1990–91: Second album and tour[edit]

Tin Machine II album cover, featuring four identical naked stone Kouroi statues
The Tin Machine II unedited European album cover, 1991

The group then went on hiatus while Bowie conducted his solo Sound+Vision Tour. In December 1990, Bowie split from EMI. Hunt Sales said that EMI "kind of freaked out a little bit at the strident, single-less Tin Machine debut", which partially explained why Bowie switched music labels.[16] In March 1991, the band signed to Victory Music,[14] a new label launched by JVC and distributed worldwide by London Records and Polygram, and recorded more new material. This was combined with tracks from the Sydney sessions to form the Tin Machine II album. The album was described as "just as impure and twisted [as their first album], but more R&B and less abrasive."[21] Gabrels explained the change between the first and second album was because by the second album, "we knew one another as musicians. ... It wasn't as dense. And we actually left more room, I think for David to come up with some interesting melodies. There was more room for vocals on this record."[16]

In late 1991 Bowie reiterated that he was still happy being in the band during that time, stating "I'm content. ... I'm deriving a great deal of fulfillment from working with Tin Machine",[21] and band-mate Gabrels agreed, saying "we're doing exactly what we wanted to do."[19] During press performances for songs on the album, Gabrels played his guitar with a vibrator and for a performance on BBC's "Top of the Pops", who banned the use of the vibrator, he mimed playing his guitar with a chocolate éclair.[22]

From 5 October 1991 to 17 February 1992, the group undertook a larger tour, known as the It's My Life Tour. The band was joined on this tour by guitarist Eric Schermerhorn.[23] On 23 November 1991, the band was the musical guest during Saturday Night Live's 17th season.

1992: Live album and dissolution[edit]

Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby album cover, with colorful but oddly stretched pictures of each of the four band members in concert
Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby album cover, 1992

Tracks from the "It's My Life" tour were released on the July 1992 album Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby. The album did not sell well and there was speculation that the failure of this album to achieve commercial success was among the reasons that the band ultimately broke up.[24] As early as 1990, Bowie knew he'd be going back to solo work, although not because he disliked working with the band. He said "I have very definite ideas of what I want to do as a solo artist, which I'll be starting on probably late next year [1991], again completely different, hopefully, from what I've done before."[25] Shortly after the release of Oy Vey, Baby, Bowie returned to solo recording with his single "Real Cool World", but he maintained intentions to return to the studio with Tin Machine in 1993 for a third album.[26] These plans would fail to come to fruition, however, and the band shortly thereafter dissolved. There were allegations that Hunt Sales' growing drug addiction were responsible for the band's end, but of Tin Machine's dissolution, Bowie merely said "personal problems within the band became the reason for its demise. It’s not for me to talk about them, but it became physically impossible for us to carry on. And that was pretty sad really."[27]

Band legacy[edit]

The band earned mixed reviews during their short career.[6][28][29][30] In later years, critics have reappraised the band more warmly and Tin Machine have been found "unjustly" harshly reviewed.[4][5][31] One critic suggested that part of the reason for its poor reception was that Tin Machine's music was somewhat ahead of its time, and that the band "explored alternative and grunge before the styles were even widely known to exist."[32] Another critic agreed,[33] with yet another suggesting that Tin Machine and Bowie were "merely ahead of the curve. A prophet, a voice in the desert predicting the coming of Nirvana. At the time, Nirvana was toiling in Seattle obscurity, pushing its debut Bleach on Sub Pop at every dive it played."[34] Tim Palmer, after producing Tin Machine's two studio albums, would go on to mix Pearl Jam's grunge album Ten in 1991, [35] and later recalled to Gabrels that he had come into the studio one day to find Pearl Jam listening to Tin Machine's "Heaven's in Here".[13]

In 1996, Bowie reflected on his time with Tin Machine: "For better or worse it helped me to pin down what I did and didn’t enjoy about being an artist. It helped me, I feel, to recover as an artist. And I do feel that for the past few years I’ve been absolutely in charge of my artistic path again. I’m working to my own criteria. I’m not doing anything I would feel ashamed of in the future, or that I would look back on and say my heart wasn’t in that."[36]

In 1997, when asked if he thought the band was still underrated, Bowie said, "It's going to be interesting, isn't it? As the songs creep out in different forms over the years, I assume that eventually it'll be evaluated in a different way. I'm not sure people will ever be sympathetic to it entirely. But as the years go by, I think they'll be less hostile. I think it was quite a brave band and I think there were some extremely good pieces of work done. And I think they'll kind of show themselves over time."[37]

By the end of the 20th century, Bowie looked back at his time with the band as invaluable, saying "I had to kick-start my engine again in music. There’d been a wobbly moment where I could quite easily have gone reclusive and just worked on visual stuff, paint and sculpt and all that. I had made a lot of money: I thought, well, I could just bugger off and do my Gauguin in Tahiti bit now. But then what do you do — re-emerge at 60 somewhere? So I look back on the Tin Machine years with great fondness. They charged me up. I can’t tell you how much."[27]

Despite some reports that Bowie was unhappy working in the band,[38] Bowie stated several times over his years with Tin Machine that he was happy working in the band.[14][21][26] Bowie used his time with the band as a way to revitalize himself and his career[4] (which he would later in March 1997 call a "lifeline"),[5] citing Reeves Gabrels as a source of his new-found energy and direction:

Reeves took me aside and spent many hours explaining it in very simple terms. 'Stop doing it' was, I think, the key phrase he used. 'Stop doing it.' 'But you know, I've got all these shows I've got to do, and I hate having to do these hits, and ...' 'Stop doing it.' That was essentially the reasoning, which I found extremely complicated to understand at first. And then it dawned on me—he meant stop...doing...it. And I did.[4]

Personnel[edit]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Singles[edit]

Year Title Chart positions Album
UK Singles Chart[39] US Modern Rock US Mainstream Rock
1989 "Heaven's in Here" (promo only) 12 47 Tin Machine
"Under the God" 51 4 8
"Tin Machine"/"Maggie's Farm (live)" 48
"Prisoner of Love" 78
1991 "You Belong in Rock n' Roll" 33 Tin Machine II
"Baby Universal" 48 21
"One Shot" 3 17

References[edit]

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Year in Review", Rolling Stone Magazine (567–568): 61, 96, 14–28 December 1989
  2. ^ a b c Sinclair, David (1993), "Station to Station", Rolling Stone magazine, retrieved 24 May 2013
  3. ^ David Bowie Bio, archived from the original on 11 January 2013, retrieved 7 January 2013
  4. ^ a b c d e Pond, Steve (March 1997), "Beyond Bowie", Live! Magazine: 38–41, 93
  5. ^ a b c Sprague, David (February 1997), "After a decade of missteps, David Bowie reinvents himself again ... and this time he's on target", Pulse! (156): 34–37, 72–73
  6. ^ a b c Barton, David (8 June 1989), "David Bowie puts career on the line", Journal-American, p. D5
  7. ^ a b c Levy, Joe (July 1989), "I'm with the Band", Spin Magazine, 5 (4): 35–36
  8. ^ Ross, Michael (August 2016). "The Ultimate Reeves Gabrels Interview". guitar moderne: The Zine for Adventurous Guitarists. Nashville, Tennessee.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Derringer, Liz (August 1989), "Tin Machine - Bowie's Latest Vehicle", The Music Paper, Manhasset, New York, 22 (1), pp. 16–17
  10. ^ Boss, Joe (2 November 2018). "Beat of His Drum". GuitarPlayer.com. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  11. ^ "1988 David Bowie with La La La Human Steps - Intruders At The Palace". YouTube. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  12. ^ a b c Murray, Charles Shaar (October 1991), "And the Singer's Called Dave...", Q magazine, no. 61, pp. 56–64
  13. ^ a b c Ives, Brian (20 February 2017). "David Bowie: A Look Back at His '90s Era – When He Got Weird Again". Archived from the original on 28 March 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d Varga, George (1–7 January 1992), "David Bowie Music Interview", The Star Entertainment Weekly, Lynnwood, WA, 2 (5), p. 2,10
  15. ^ a b c d "Boys Keep Swinging", Q magazine, June 1989, archived from the original on 2001-07-16
  16. ^ a b c d di Perna, Alan (1991), "Ballad of the Tin Men", Creem, 2 (1): 50–59
  17. ^ Pegg, Nicholas. The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2004, ISBN 1-903111-73-0
  18. ^ "David Bowie Interview", Q Magazine: 60–70, April 1990
  19. ^ a b "Rock 'n Roll notes", Rolling Stone Magazine, 1991
  20. ^ Fantino, Lisa (August 1989), "International Rock Awards", The Music Paper, Manhasset, NY, 22 (1), p. 14
  21. ^ a b c Cohen, Scott (September 1991), "From Ziggy Stardust to Tin Machine: David Bowie Comes Clean", Details magazine: 86–97
  22. ^ Stout, Gene (20 December 1991), "In Tin Machine, David Bowie is just one of the boys in the band", Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  23. ^ Smith, Cary (December 1991), "Bowie, Tin Machine offer what may be rock's new frontier", Journal-American
  24. ^ Allender, Mark, Oy Vey Baby, Review, retrieved 29 July 2013
  25. ^ Clarke, Tina (March 1990), "Watch That Man", Music Express Magazine: 12
  26. ^ a b Wild, David (21 January 1993), "Bowie's Wedding Album", Rolling Stone magazine: 14
  27. ^ a b Roberts, Chris (2013), David Bowie: "I'm hungry for reality!" part 3 (originally published October 1999), retrieved 26 July 2013
  28. ^ Tin Machine at AllMusic
  29. ^ Tin Machine II[dead link] at Blender.com
  30. ^ Deevoy, Adrian (October 1991), "Tin Machine II Album Review", Q Magazine: 105
  31. ^ Johnson, Tom (22 June 2011), Forgotten series: Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby, retrieved 29 July 2013
  32. ^ Perone, James (2007), The Words and Music of David Bowie, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 9780275992453, retrieved 10 June 2013
  33. ^ Hendrickson, Mark (November 1995), David Bowie: Outside Looking in, archived from the original on 2002-03-28, retrieved 1 August 2013
  34. ^ Flucke, Mojo (2 March 2009), Popdose Flashback: Tin Machine, "Tin Machine", retrieved 26 July 2013
  35. ^ "Can the Real David Bowie Rise, Please?", HUMO, 5 December 1995, archived from the original on 16 June 2013, retrieved 6 June 2013
  36. ^ Brown, Mick (2016-01-08), "David Bowie interview from 1996: 'I have done just about everything that it's possible to do'", The Telegraph, retrieved 11 January 2016
  37. ^ Brown, Mark (1997), The Thin White Earthling, archived from the original on 13 October 1999, retrieved 5 August 2013
  38. ^ Sandford, Christopher (1997) [First published 1996]. Bowie: Loving the Alien. Time Warner. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-306-80854-8.
  39. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 560. ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7.

External links[edit]