As a guitarist, Reeves Gabrels is recognized for his virtuosity and versatility, able to "explore sonic extremes with a great, adaptive intuition for what each song needs most." He has also been characterized as "one of the most daring rock-guitar improvisers since Jimi Hendrix."
As a songwriter and composer, Gabrels spanned genres. The songs on Ulysses, an album from 2000, range from "hard-hitting blues rock to 21st century electronica," as Guitar World reviewer Gary Graff put it.
Reeves Gabrels was born in Staten Island, New York in June 1956. His mother, Claire, was a typist, and his father, Carl Winston Gabrels, worked as a deck hand on tugboats in New York Harbor. Reeves started playing guitar at age 13, and the following year (1971) his father arranged for lessons with the father's friend and contemporary Turk Van Lake, who lived in the neighborhood. Van Lake was a professional musician who had played with Benny Goodman and others.
After high school, Gabrels attended the Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York City but continued to play guitar. He met jazz guitarist John Scofield, from whom he took several lessons. Encouraged by Scofield's example and advice, Gabrels moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. He left without a degree in 1981, valuing nonetheless his experience at Berklee.
Gabrels began his musical career in earnest in Boston, building on performance experience starting in high school. During the 1980s and early 1990s he was a member of bands including The Dark, Life on Earth, The Atom Said, Rubber Rodeo, The Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer (Gabrels, Jamie Rubin, David Hull, and Billy Beard) issued an album of original rock songs, Hard Row to Hoe, on Victory/Universal in 1993.
David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels met in 1987 during a Bowie tour for which Sara Terry, Gabrels' then-wife, worked as publicist. The first project on which Gabrels worked with Bowie was a re-imagining and rearrangement of the song "Look Back in Anger" and its live performance combining dance, music and projection as part of a benefit for London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1988. The resulting score was 7-1/2 minutes long, whereas the song originally ran 3 minutes as written by David Bowie & Brian Eno and recorded on Lodger (1979). Bowie sang, played and danced with members of the avant-garde troupe La La La Human Steps; Gabrels and two other musicians played onstage throughout. "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."
Gabrels subsequently (1989–1993) joined forces with Bowie and the Sales brothers (drummer Hunt Sales and bass player Tony Sales) in the rock band Tin Machine. Gabrels carried on working with Bowie, becoming an essential part of Bowie's nineties sound, most notably on Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), and Hours (1999), the latter two of which he co-produced. "Dead Man Walking," a Bowie/Gabrels song from Earthling, was nominated for a Grammy award. Gabrels and Bowie also created the soundtrack to the computer game Omikron: The Nomad Soul in 1999 for the game's French publisher. Gabrels ended his professional association with Bowie in late 1999. His last stage appearance with Bowie was a performance recorded in New York City for VH1 Storytellers.
Robert Smith of The Cure and Reeves Gabrels first met during rehearsals for David Bowie's 50th Birthday Concert held on January 9, 1997 at Madison Square Garden in New York. David Bowie had invited Smith to sing as one of a select group of guest performers at this event, for which Gabrels served as musical director. A friendship ensued, leading to further collaborations within the year. Gabrels and Smith co-wrote a song, "Yesterday's Gone" and recorded it, with Smith guesting on vocals, for the Reeves Gabrels album Ulysses (Della Notte). Gabrels recorded lead guitar as a guest on The Cure's single "Wrong Number" and he also appeared onstage with The Cure for several songs (Wrong Number included) on selected nights of a fall U.S. tour in 1997. Further, Gabrels, Smith and The Cure's drummer Jason Cooper (as COGASM) wrote and recorded "Sign From God" for Orgazmo, a film directed by Trey Parker.
Smith and Gabrels stayed in touch, leading some 15 years later to a phone conversation that brought Gabrels on board as guitarist for The Cure, initially as a guest for a run of summer festivals in 2012, after which he became a member of the band.
For his own band, Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends, Gabrels is the vocalist, guitarist, and principal songwriter.
The band came together as a trio in Nashville in 2007, shortly after Gabrels moved from Los Angeles. The main players for seven years were Reeves Gabrels (guitar, vocals) with Kevin Hornback (bass) and Jeff Brown (drums). In 2015, drummer Marc Pisapia, who had substituted when schedule conflicts arose for Brown, became the principal drummer (and harmony vocalist).
Gabrels and band performed often at Nashville's Family Wash venue and toured regionally, including a ten-gig outing on a shoestring in 2009 about which the guitarist blogged for an Internet forum run by Guitar Player magazine.
In 2010 without any real plan, Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends began recording songs they'd worked out through performance, even though mixing, mastering, manufacture and release were beyond their means at the time. Then Gabrels joined The Cure, which helped with budget but complicated schedules. In a 2014 interview with the British magazine Guitarist (Nov 2014), Gabrels described the recording process and the unexpected ways the hiatus before release had contributed to the creative process. The album finally came out in January 2015.
Meanwhile, the trio of Gabrels, Hornback and Brown played a series of dates in small venues and pubs in England during October 2014. They toured the U.S. in the summer of 2015, now with Pisapia on drums and new CDs in hand, then made a second tour of England in the fall, marking the occasion with a digital-download-only single titled "Try."
Reeves Gabrels has produced five albums as principal songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and bandleader. As Reeves Gabrels, he released The Sacred Squall of Now (Rounder/Upstart, 1995); Ulysses (Della Notte) (Emagine, 2000); live...late...loud (Myth Music, 2003); and Rockonica (Myth Music/Favored Nations/Sony, 2005). Ulysses was nominated for a Yahoo! Internet Award in 1999 as a then-pathbreaking Internet release, before becoming available the following year on CD. One Ulysses song, "Jewel," features vocal and instrumental performances by David Bowie, Dave Grohl and Frank Black. Gabrels made both Rockonica and live...late...loud in Los Angeles with musical friends there including Paul Ill (bass), Brock Avery (drums) and Greg McMullen (pedal steel guitar).
A fifth album, with Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends as artist name and title, came out digitally in January, 2015 at Bandcamp and on CD (plus more digital distributors) on Friday, July 17, 2015. Reeves Gabrels & Rob Stennett were co-producers. The songs include originals and covers, with Gabrels singing, playing guitar and leading the band, a power trio with Kevin Hornback on bass and Jeff Brown on drums. Guest musicians also appear, including the band's current drummer Marc Pisapia singing background vocals. Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends received a first print review in the American monthly Vintage Guitar (June 2015).
Gabrels has written soundtracks for films including David Sutherland's The Farmer's Wife (premiered on PBS September, 1998) and for PBS productions, and collaborated with Public Enemy on the song "Go Cat Go" for the Spike Lee film He Got Game (soundtrack, Def Jam, 1998). He wrote the "club music" portions of the soundtrack for the video game Deus Ex.
Gabrels from time to time toured as a guitarist in a supporting role, for example in late 1993/early 1994 as guitarist for solo performances by singer Paul Rodgers, and outings in 2009 with New York-based punk band Jeebus.
Galore, a 1998 album by singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines features Reeves Gabrels on guitar alongside Bowie bandmates Gail Ann Dorsey and Zachary Alford.
In Los Angeles from 2000 to 2005, beyond work on his own music live and recorded, Gabrels collaborated with Southern California musicians in varied genres. For the soulful, funky blues-rock of singer and keyboard player Gerard "Gerry" Duran, Gabrels recorded guitar on several albums by the band Los Duran. Gabrels and drummer/producer Big Swede, as a duo dubbed Protecto, put out an electronica album titled Sonicnauts.
Another recording project into which Los Angeles-based drummer Big Swede brought Gabrels was X-World/5, a Heavy metal supergroup made up of guitarist Andy LaRocque, vocalist Nils K. Rue, bass player Magnus Rosén, and Big Swede on drums. They made one album, New Universal Order, originally put out in 2008 by German label AFM Records. It was re-released by the band/Big Swede in 2015.
In Nashville, Tennessee, his home since 2006, Gabrels plays often locally, especially at The Family Wash, an East Nashville restaurant/music venue established by longtime musical associate Jamie Rubin. When Gabrels first arrived, he was a regular guitarist for Brandon Giles & the Tricky Two playing bars and clubs on Nashville's Lower Broadway and occasionally on tour. In 2010 and 2011 Gabrels participated in "From Nashville to Norway" festivals in Gjøvik, Norway, organized by friends from both locales. In 2014 he began sitting in when possible with guitarist Tim Carroll at the 5 Spot venue. At the time, Carroll's band included drummer Steve Latanation and bass player Bones Hillman (who since returned to working with his longtime band Midnight Oil).
Several collaborative recordings have grown out of these Nashville activities. The Magnificent Others features Jamie Rubin's songs and lead vocals, with Gabrels on lead guitar. Sonic Mining Company, a Ropeadope Records 2012 release, is made up of improvisations by Reeves Gabrels (guitar), Frank Swart (bass) and Adam Abrashoff (drums).
Gabrels added guitar parts to selected recordings by other musicians over the years, including including songs by gODHEAD, by Jed Davis, and by Jenn Vix, a bass player and vocalist from Providence, Rhode Island. Past recordings with Reeves Gabrels guitar tracks include albums or singles by The Mission (U.K.), Deaf School, Sandie Shaw, The Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne and more.
Gabrels performs periodically with Club D'Elf, a Boston-based underground dub/jazz/Moroccan/trance/electronica group led by bassist Mike Rivard, and appears on Now I Understand, (Accurate Records, 2006), their first studio recording; the album also features John Medeski & Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin & Wood), DJ Logic, Mat Maneri, Duke Levine, Alain Mallet, Mister Rourke, and more. Improvising in long form, as Club D'Elf does, gives Gabrels "the time to meander and harmonically poke at things, make the music interesting," he said in a Berklee College of Music interview in 2012, going on to explain that free improvisation contributes to his ability in different settings, such as on stage with The Cure, "to refine that down to opportunities where I can hit that one note that throws the world off its axis for two bars," yet to do so fully within the context of the song and its lyrics.
American slide guitarist David Tronzo, a fellow participant in Club D'Elf performances, and Gabrels made an instrumental album, Night in Amnesia, issued by Rounder Records in 1995. The innovative British guitarist Bill Nelson (Be-Bop Deluxe, Bill Nelson's Red Noise) and Gabrels released a quite different experimental guitar-duo album, Fantastic Guitars, independently in 2014.
Guitars: Gabrels has used different guitars at varied phases in his musical career, selecting instruments to suit the music. He has favored Steinberger guitars, the Parker Fly, and Fernandes Guitars, but also plays Gibson Guitars such as the Les Paul and the Flying V, as well as Fender's Stratocaster.
He has often chosen less well known makers, explaining in interviews that he prefers a guitar without a set history and with which he is free to create sounds of his own imagination.
In 2008, Gabrels began playing Reverend guitars, designed by Reverend Musical Instruments, now of Toledo, Ohio. Gabrels and Reverend have since collaborated to develop a series of Reverend Reeves Gabrels signature model guitars. The first featured at the winter 2010 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. An update, the Reverend Reeves Gabrels II (RG2) was released at NAMM in Nashville in 2012.
The Reeves Gabrels Spacehawk made its debut at NAMM, winter 2014.
The Reeves Gabrels Dirtbike, a single-pickup model, came out in July 2017.
During The Cure's summer tour in 2012, Robert Smith gave Gabrels his Fender Bass VI, used to play songs such as Primary, InBetween Days, and Push. In response to questions about his guitars, Gabrels wrote several Notes posted to his Facebook Musician page describing the guitars played with The Cure and explaining how he uses them to suit the music of the songs for which he chooses them.
Tin MachineTin Machine (1989)
Tin Machine II (1991)
Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby (1992)
David BowieBlack Tie White Noise (1993)
1. Outside (1995)
Earthling in the City (1997)
VH1 Storytellers (2009)
Reeves GabrelsThe Sacred Squall of Now (1995)
Ulysses (Della Notte) (1999/2000)
Reeves Gabrels and His Imaginary Friends (2015)
CollaborationsNight In Amnesia (1995) with David Tronzo
Fantastic Guitars (2014) with Bill Nelson