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Guitarist Ricky Gardiner, whose riff opened Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger,’ dies at 73

Scottish musician also played with David Bowie; in 1995 he composed a piece of music he said marked the liberation of Auschwitz, which he considered his most important solo work

Ricky Gardiner plays with Beggar's Opera in 1971 (Screen grab/YouTube)
Ricky Gardiner plays with Beggar's Opera in 1971 (Screen grab/YouTube)

Ricky Gardiner, the guitarist who played some of rock music’s most memorable riffs, but regarded a piece he wrote about Auschwitz as his most important solo work, has died at the age of 73.

Producer Tony Visconti announced the death of the “guitar genius,” and a later statement on Gardiner’s website said the musician had died in his sleep on May 13 after suffering from a form of Parkinson’s for a number of years.

Iggy Pop wrote a tribute on Twitter upon hearing of Gardiner’s death.

“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,” he said.

Gardiner was born in 1948 in Scotland’s Edinburgh and joined his first band while at school, before forming progressive rock band Beggar’s Opera in 1969 and recording four albums.

However, after he contributed to Visconti’s solo album, the producer and musician suggested Gardiner play with David Bowie.

The famed British singer then invited the guitarist to a chateau near Paris in 1977 to make the “Low” album before they moved to a recording studio in Berlin to complete the work.

Gardiner played lead guitar on a number of tracks, including “Sound and Vision,” “Speed of Life” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car.”

According to The Guardian, “the Bowie recordings brought him into the orbit of another star,” and Gardiner then toured with Iggy Pop for his “The Idiot” album — with Bowie on keyboards.

Bowie went on to produce Pop’s “Lust for Life” album, with Gardiner making a number of seminal contributions including the iconic guitar intro to “The Passenger.”

Gardiner later said that he came up with the riff in an unlikely setting.

“The apple trees were in bloom and I was doodling on the guitar as I gazed at the trees,” Gardiner explained, according to The Guardian. “I was not paying any attention to what I was playing. I was in a light dream enjoying the glorious spring morning. At a certain point my ear caught the chord sequence.”

Eventually Gardiner, who never really bought into the debauched rock and roll lifestyle, stopped touring with the icons of rock and instead settled down with his wife and children.

In 1995, he a wrote an instrumental piece titled “Auschwitz,” which he said marked the 50th anniversary of the Nazi concentration camp’s liberation.

According to the Guardian, he regarded that piece as his most important solo work.

In 2000, Gardiner told a Canadian rock website that he had grown up with many Jewish friends in Scotland, and that influenced him to write the piece.

“The 20th Century was host to the severest agony the world has ever known and the Holocaust was a major part of that,” Gardiner said. “My teenage years were spent in the suburbs of Glasgow which was also the home for a considerable number of Glaswegian Jewish families. At my school around a third of the pupils were from Jewish homes. Therefore, I grew up with many Jewish friends and was familiar with many of their customs, humor and stories that made up Jewish life.

“Later, when Beggar’s Opera first travelled Europe, I was driving into Germany with my longtime Jewish friend and when the Autobahn entered the forest, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. All the stories we had heard about the Second World war took on a vivid meaning,” he said.

Gardiner explained that he was working on a piece of music one day and had a vision of people gathering together. He then went downstairs and heard on the news that commemorations were beginning to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I realized that the piece of music must be called Auschwitz,” he said.

Gardiner is survived by his wife Virginia and three children.

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