UNDER a sweep of jet-black spiky hair and sunglasses, Earl Slick is discussing Mick Ronson, the much-loved David Bowie side-man, arranger and guitarist who Slick would replace in 1974. “In all honesty, Mick was the best guitar player that David ever had”.

His admiration is as tangible as the cigarette smoke that disappears into the cold winter air. It’s now 45 years since Slick appeared on David Live released in October 1974. On the grooves of Bowie’s first official live long-player, he dispenses the kind of raw, emotional intensity you would expect from a streetwise 21-year-old master of his craft, particularly on the likes of Moonage Daydream and Sweet Thing.

“I loved Mick’s playing so much, it didn’t dawn on me until later that I’d have to learn all his parts. I don’t know how to copy, I can emulate but I can’t do note for note and it scared me. I asked David what he wanted and he said, ‘do what you did at the audition, do what you do’. In the end, it was something of a hybrid of myself and Mick’s playing.”

The Italian-American guitar player, born Frank Madeloni in Brooklyn in New York, admits his strongest connection has been with British musicians, something he will address during three In Conversation events across Scotland later this month.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a major American act in my life,” he says. “One thing leads to another, when I was working with Bowie on Young Americans [1975] we did Fame, and Across The Universe with John Lennon. I played on both of those tracks, I know that because both David and John said I was on it. I was chemically compromised as we all were – I don’t know how we made records in that condition.”

So 'compromised' was Slick that he didn’t remember meeting Lennon after being asked to work on Double Fantasy (1980). “It was fine until the first morning I was due to go to work on the album, I was having an anxiety attack.” To contend with his nerves the guitarist arrived at the studio hours before recording was due to begin.

“There was nobody there, no gear or anyone around apart from a guy with long hair playing the guitar. I hadn’t seen John for a while, he had been out of the media for five years and become kind of invisible so I didn’t know what he looked like…the guy was him. He said ‘Nice to see you again’, he was referring to the session with David on Fame but I honestly didn’t remember it. Most people remember meeting a Beatle; I thought this guy is going to f****** hate me! I’m going to be out the door before I play a note. There would be silence between takes and he would say: “You remember me now?” I would respond by playing a McCartney song; John had a great sense of humour.” Despite the inauspicious start, the pair developed a friendship during the sessions with Slick spending time at Lennon’s Dakota apartment across from Central Park. He admits that working with the man who, “first got me going in this thing” is still sinking in almost 40 years later.

“The night before John died I called the studio to speak to the engineer about something on the record. He said someone here wants to say ‘Hi’, it was John. We talked about the tour that was being planned and what became Milk and Honey [1984]. At the time they were mixing Walking On Thin Ice, 24 hours later I had a call from a friend saying something happened to John and then they made the announcement.

“I still carry the good things from John, I learned a lot about life and it was a great experience. To this day I feel more than fortunate to have spent that short period of time with him.”

Slick’s first flush with Bowie ended abruptly after recording Station to Station (1976). While that first meeting with Lennon has been brain-wiped he suggests a forthcoming memoir will detail more about the recording of Bowie’s most enigmatic album. “David wasn’t in the best shape [in the throes of cocaine addiction]. We’d be in the studio and three days later he would be doing the same thing but somehow we got the album done. It’s up there with his best, the fans tell me it’s one of their favourites and that really does make me happy.”

While Slick expected to take the six-track RCA record on the road after completion, he was ghosted by Bowie who severed contact. “We said some nasty things about each other in the press and let the whole world find out our problems when we should have done it over a dinner table. When I eventually talked with David we found out that we both got played by other people [in the business]. They needed to separate us for their agenda. The names of those two people will be in my book; they won’t like it but they can’t sue me because it’s true and one of them is in jail.”

Misinformation dispensed to The Thin White Duke might have derailed Slick’s desire to play on the 1976 Isolar Tour but the guitarist would be eventually summoned back after Stevie Ray Vaughan pulled out of Serious Moonlight before the tour launched in May 1983. Slick adds that it took it some time to, “figure out the ugly, horrible and tragic thing that happened to John” (Lennon). He suggested they work on a tribute for the third anniversary of Lennon’s death. Bowie closed his set with an affecting stand-alone performance of Imagine at the Hong-Kong Coliseum on the last night of the tour.

The 67-year-old guitarist suggests a final run with Bowie during A Reality Tour (2003/4) was his “fondest memory of playing live” with the singer. “That was the first time he was happy on the road. David hated touring and that’s why you had the Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke characters. He just stripped everything right down and put a great band together, we all had a good time. He made it enjoyable for everyone.”

While the pair’s on/off working relationship had lengthy gaps Slick enjoyed a significant alliance with Bowie that continued until his penultimate album The Next Day (2013). “In some ways, we were very similar, both kind of private. We’d keep a wall up with people and we did it with each other at times. He would forget he had friends and band members and that was something that happened from the beginning; you had to accept that because it wasn’t personal.”

After retiring from live performance and the studio, aside from occasional and sporadic appearances, Bowie returned to release his highest-charting single since Absolute Beginners (1986) on his 66th birthday in January 2013. The beautifully fragile Where Are We Now? was a reflective cut with no shortage of whimsy on the much mythologised Berlin period. While recording The Next Day, Bowie would switch on the television to discover his former guitarist had been involved in a car accident. “It was unbeknown to me that David was recording again. I had a friend who was a surgeon, he owned a Cobra sports car which I took out for a run, it had a bad fuel line and I ended up blowing this thing up in an affluent area of New Jersey. So I get an email from David saying “Are you OK?” and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, nice to talk’ kind of thing. A little while later I get another email asking if I’m busy. I knew he was going somewhere, David did nothing by mistake. He told me he was making a record and he could use me on some tracks. Had I not blown up the car; I probably wouldn't have been on the record.”

Slick soon got to work on the single Valentine’s Day, its misleading title and upbeat melody took as its subject an American high-school massacre. Dirty Boys could have sat comfortably on the likes of Diamond Dogs (1974) or Low (1977). On hearing the name of the track he told Bowie: “If you’re going to have a title like that; I have to be on it.”

It’s on the fleeting solo for (You Will) Set The World On Fire that the guitarist called upon the same untamed energy that graced David Live. “The engineer was having some difficulties with me and vice-versa. I was trying to get the solo and it just wasn’t coming to me. David gets on the intercom and he’s p***** off with what’s going on. I blew a gasket, I said: ‘Look if everybody leaves me alone – including you, this is a one-take deal!’ It’ll be done and you’ll be home in time for dinner’. He just threw his hands up in the air and sat down. I said 'roll the tape' and after one take, David pops up like a puppet and says, ‘that was great!’.

Before we left I asked him: ‘Did you p*** me off on purpose?’ He had this big smirk on his face. David got what he needed but he was allowed…he was paying the bills!'”

Earl Slick In Conversation is at Selkirk Victoria Hall November 10, Glasgow Oran Mor November 12 and Aberdeen Arts Centre on November 29