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Exclusive Interview with Eric Schermerhorn

November 6th, 2022 | by Nick
Exclusive Interview with Eric Schermerhorn
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Eric Schermerhorn has had a unique and comprehensive career in which he has collaborated with the likes of Iggy Pop, Lucinda Williams, The The, Paula Cole, They Might be Giants, Pink and several others. He is an accomplished session musician as well as a touring player. From August 1991 to February 1992, he toured the world with David Bowie as part of Tin Machine. This is his story.

-Hi Eric. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. You attended the Berklee College of Music and then moved to NYC. Can you elaborate on your beginnings in music and how your career took off? 

I, like most kids in the late 60s and early 70s heard the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin and Hendrix. I was lucky that I had an older sister who had an amazing record collection and that’s where I got a lot of my education. Going to Berklee was a real eye-opener. I think 1,500 guitar players were there in the fall of 1979 and when I went by the second semester it was Halved! 

Boston in the 80s was an incredibly fertile and creative time. You had the music schools and the art schools and an incredible club scene that on weekends was packed for all the local bands. I was in a band called Ooh Ah Ah! then a band called adventure set, then in the late 80s a band called East of Eden where we got a record deal with Capitol records. We made a record with Roy Thomas Baker in England. 

We toured with The Psychedelic Furs But got dropped before we could make a second record. That’s why I moved to New York City in 1990.

Boston in the 80s was great in that there was no real music industry so there’s just a lot of bands coming up with great ideas without the influence of trying to fit in to the music biz machinery. I also worked in a used record store near Berklee and every day the music on the turntable rotated from jazz bebop avant-garde classical the latest British bands and Howlin’ Wolf!

Above, Eric with David, Reeves Gabrels & Tony Sales.

-The list of bands and artists you’ve worked with is extremely interesting, which experience was the most enjoyable for you as a player? 

I think living in New York all through the 90s allowed me to hang out and play with so many great artists who were in New York City at the time. I think the recordings I’m most proud of are the ones where I could play like I wanted to play and wrote what I wanted to write. An example that comes to mind is the Naked Self record with Matt Johnson of The The. Matt is really open to new ideas especially for the Guitar. That record took years and was recorded at Dessau Studios in downtown Manhattan. I had all my echoplexes running hot and out of control! Thankfully I’ve played with artists that allowed me to write with them like Iggy, Seal and Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Another High Point was playing with Jeff Buckley every now and then as well as Robert Quine, but those were the fertile East Village days of the 90s.

-Can you elaborate on how you got acquainted with Bowie and got invited to the It’s My Life tour? 

I got the Tin Machine audition in the spring of 1991 from my good friend Reeves Gabrels. We were buddies in Boston and played in bands together and actually worked at a music store together in the early days. I was working in a studio in New York having just moved there and he called me to fly to LA for an audition which of course was absolutely life-changing. After the audition with the band Reeves told me to play some solo guitar so I did some Hendrix stuff little wing type things which was a gas to do. And at the end David came up to me and said “I’m really looking forward to working with you “which was mind blowing to say the least.  

And from that day forward it was like being strapped into the best ride at the amusement park! Reeves was looking out for me when he got me the audition.

 

Above, Hunt Sales. Bowie, Reeves & Eric.

-What was your impression of Bowie’s music prior to your professional relationship, did you have any favorite songs or albums? 

My sister bought Young Americans and I loved that record and then I bought Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust because of course, Mick Ronson was amazing on those records and it appealed to the teenage rocker in me. It wasn’t until late high school when Low and “Heroes” came out that my idea of what music is really changed. Low in “Heroes” are my favorite Bowie records for sure. The whole Berlin/Paris period  With Iggy and Eno. 

I remember telling David those two records changed my life and he responded that they changed his life too. So I was a fan for sure before I played with him. You always have to look at stuff in context and that’s what people fail to do. He was so far ahead of the game and so fearless and ever changing. He changed the world. He changed history and definitely made life more beautiful for a lot of people. 

Low and “Heroes” are an example of that as no one had yet tapped into the Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! sensibility and put it into an Anglo context. I love those records and constantly go back to them along with Eno’s another green world and before and after science. 

I really think that’s the true David as well. Not a put-on, not a new persona, not a new actor but those two records are an honest expression of who he was at the time, with no regard for commercial viability.

 

Above, Bowie, Eric & Tony.

-Can you share some memories you have of the tour? 

Some memories of the tour…What I learned pretty quickly with David was wherever he went interesting people would follow.

The tour started in Europe and all the major cities we played in would generally have actors, musicians, painters and filmmakers coming backstage to say ‘hi’ to him and that was pretty mind blowing. I have to say two highlights for me was going to see Kraftwerk with him in Hamburg, Germany and going backstage. And the minute he entered the Dressing room they all stood up in unison in black turtlenecks  like the German Beatles!

Another memorable moment was going to see Mick Ronson play with his band in Stockholm, Sweden and meeting him after the show. He was such a nice guy. Such an integral part of David’s history and what a great player.

It’s funny we all rode on the same bus. The five of us plus the tour manager. My bunk was right below David’s so his cigarettes and books fell through the crack every day so I could always check out what he was reading, he was a voracious reader.

So many great memories. I’m glad I had a journal and documented every day. A lot of museum visits with him and late dinners with the band in these incredible restaurants all over Europe. It was my first world tour and definitely the most memorable.

 -Each band member had a “solo spot” during the concerts, via cover tunes or instrumental performances. In your case, you always had a superb improv to introduce the song “Betty Wrong”. Did you pick this track as your spot or was it Bowie’s suggestion to see what you could do with it? 

The intro to Betty Wrong came about pretty haphazardly. During rehearsals in France they were doing a lot of interviews and rotated: sometimes Reeves and Hunt, sometimes David and Tony, but it always revolved and was never the same. At one soundcheck I started messing around with the chords while the boys were being interviewed. David heard it and grabbed his sax and started playing along and that’s how the intro became a thing. It was so nice of him to let me do that. That’s when I learned a big lesson in how David works with musicians.

He hears what you do naturally and hears what you’re good at and incorporates that into the show instead of trying to make you play something preconceived. Iggy was kind of the opposite. 

They were actually opposite in a lot of ways maybe that’s why they were such good friends and productive collaborators.

Watch a performance of ‘Betty Wrong’ here

 

Above, Bowie, London 1991, by George Chin.

-Do you have any recollection as to why Hunt’s drum kit had metal masks glued beneath it on a platform? This has remained a mystery until now. 

I believe all the stage props came from the twisted mind of Jos Grain, the bodyguard/king roadie for David and Iggy as well as Siouxsie and The Banshees and probably many more down and dirty bands.

Jos was the one who put the Hitler mustache on Elvis which cracked David up. I think all those puppets, dolls and tidbits scattered across the stage during the tour came from Jos. And this goes back to what a lot of people say who knew David, he had a great sense of humor and was constantly joking, doing skits and bits. He was thoroughly entertained by Hunt and Tony as they were the sons of Soupy Sales, so it was kind of nonstop laughter and dark humor the whole way.

-As the tour was coming to an end, did you perceive any desire from the band to carry on with another album or continue touring? 

As far as the band carrying on I do remember many band meetings in the back of the bus and that’s when they came up with putting out the live album as the third record. 

I also recall David saying he had a lot more things he wanted to do so I got the feeling that the Tin Machine chapter was coming to a close at the end of the tour.

This was definitely an interesting situation for David as he was truly a band member sharing responsibilities with the singing and songwriting etc… People either loved the band or hated the band and it became really obvious as we toured around the world. David was still coming off the Let’s Dance success of hit song after hit song. 

Tin Machine was a blitz on stage. I do have to mention how nice he was to me at the end of the tour after we played the Budokan in Tokyo he asked me what I wanted to do in the future. I heard Chrissie Hynde was looking for a guitar player so I just mentioned that to him. A week after I got back to New York I got a call saying “Chrissie wants to meet you in London next week.” That was so nice of him to do that. He didn’t have to do any of that but he was genuinely looking out for me. I had already lined up the Iggy gig but I did meet Chrissie and she was so cool. I told her I thought I might be playing with Iggy as I was living in New York. She wanted a London-based band so she really pushed me to do the iggy gig instead.

Above, Tony, Eric & Bowie.

-Besides music you are also a very successful voice actor, with credits including Family Guy, American Dad, Doctor Phil, Crime Watch Daily, Star Wars Rebel and Spike TV. How did you get into this line of business and why did you pick it as a creative outlet? 

That’s a funny one. My whole life people told me I had a radio voice which meant nothing to me because all I wanted to do was play music. Then in 2009 after 20 years touring, writing and recording my two boys were growing up and I didn’t wanna miss middle School and high school. I wanted to be around after seeing how much wreckage musicians leave in their personal lives. When I got back to LA I made a demo tape and a friend of mine who is an editor for daytime TV passed the tape on to the producers and they hired me. I ended up doing three daytime TV series which was nonstop reading all day long every day in my home studio.

The real fun jobs were the animation gigs like American dad and family guy. For once I got health insurance and I managed to pay for both my kids college educations through those gigs. Music is a calling; it can be rellay heartbreaking and really exhilarating at the same time but I had to step back for a few years and take care of business. Thank God I married such an amazing woman!

-What will be your next foray in terms of music in the near future?

I’m making a solo album right now with my good friend Pete Min here in Los Angeles. He’s an old friend from New York where we used to play together in the 90s. He’s got a label called Colorfield Records and he’s doing beautiful new music like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Very much of the Brian Eno school. Some improvised but mostly composed pieces, sonically always stellar. I’m really excited about it. His whole label is a collection of great musicians and writers bringing back the days of labels that push the boundaries like CTI or ECM.

We’re also in the middle of a record that’s jumping off point. It is more of the 70s German music like Neu! That also involves the drummer Brian Mcleod and Jebin Bruni.  This is a great time to be creating music as there are no more boundaries. The average person can handle a lot more dissonance and find the beauty in the dissonance. Maybe that’s the metaphor for our times!

Many thanks to Eric Schermerhorn.

Make sure to visit his website:

https://www.ericschermerhorn.com/ 

Interview by Francisco Beristain, exclusively for David Bowie News. © 2022.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

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