After 32 International gold and platinum records, Carlos Alomar’s place in music history is secure. The legendary guitarist burst upon the rock scene with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, when he, Bowie, and John Lennon co-wrote the hit song “Fame.” Over the course of the next 30 years, Alomar would record and tour the world as Bowie’s music director. His ability to play R&B, Philly soul, hard rock, and ambient music meant that he was always in demand – and able to keep up with Bowie’s quicksilver changes of musical persona. He also co-wrote Mick Jagger’s first solo effort, “She’s The Boss,” Iggy Pop’s comeback hit “Sister Midnight,” and played guitar for a Who’s Who of pop/rock royalty –some notables…Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Simple Minds, Yoko Ono, Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, Graham Parker, Mark Ronson “featuring Bruno Mars”, Mystikal, Duran Duran, …(see discography for more).
As a rare Latino musician in the rock scene, Alomar also occupies a singular place in Latin music history. Over the years, as a producer, co-founder of the National Rock Movement of Puerto Rico, and advisor to the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (LARAS, the organization that does the Latin Grammy Awards), he has championed Latino rock musicians.
As a producer Alomar maintained an involvement with the Latin music scene, producing the Argentine band Soda Stereo’s Doble Vida (in which he plays guitar – and raps). And as part of the National Rock Movement of Puerto Rico, he traveled throughout the island, producing and recording local rock bands. “Everyone just expected Puerto Rican musicians to play salsa,” he recalls. “So I came back with these incredible Rock tapes, and I brought them to the various record labels. And the response was amazing: NO.” Puerto Rican music, he was told, was salsa. Not rock. The irony of telling this to rock’s most successful Puerto Rican musician seems to have been lost on the label chiefs.
This may seem like a surprising detour from a road that began with David Bowie’s Young Americans, but the whole of Carlos Alomar’s career has been a surprise. It’s the story of a Puerto Rican-born minister’s son who became the music director of some of the world’s most lavish and legendary rock tours; it’s the story of a musician who has stubbornly refused to be put in a box. “a box?…..Musicians don’t think that way,” Alomar says. “We have been impacted by everything we hear; we don’t put music in a box.”
Alomar grew up mostly in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, hearing R&B and religious music in his father’s church. He began playing guitar in church at age 10, but was soon sneaking out to play in rock bands with his friends. “My father died when I was 14,” he recalls, “but he told my mom, the boy has a gift, don’t stand in the way of his talent.” So at 17, he became the youngest guitarist in the history of the Apollo Theater, walking on stage and winning over a dubious crowd with solo versions of Motown hits by the Supremes and Junior Walker. Alomar became a guitarist in the Apollo’s house band, performed with James Brown, and by the early 70s was a sought-after session musician for RCA Recording Studios in New York.
It was there that Alomar met Bowie in 1974. When recordings began for what would become Young Americans in 1975, Alomar brought much of the band, including the singers Luther Vandross and Robin Clark. “Luther was my best friend when we were fifteen, sixteen,” Alomar says, “and I met Robin through him.” Carlos Alomar and Robin Clark have maintained a long professional relationship – and a long personal one. They are married, and the parents of the R&B/dance-music singer/songwriter Lea Lorien. Robin Clark is perhaps best known as the lead female vocalist for the band Simple Minds, helping them to their greatest global success with the 1985 album Once Upon A Time – an album that also featured Carlos Alomar.
Past and future have come together for Carlos Alomar. His resumé means the phone still rings (most recently it was Mark Ronson on the other end), and both he and his wife, Robin Clark, are still performing. Their daughter, singer Lea Lorien has also found a place for herself in the music world: she hit the top of the Hot Dance Music charts with David Morales’ hit “How Would U Feel” and is working on a solo album.
Alomar’s relationships tend to be long-term: the musical relationship with Bowie would span, with a few breaks, more than three decades. You can put it down to Alomar’s versatility – and his ability to keep a level head when surrounded by what we might euphemistically call the “rock n roll lifestyle.” He led Bowie’s rhythm section for much of the 70s and into the late 80s; he directed the Station To Station, Serious Moonlight, and Glass Spider world tours; and over the years would co-author songs like “DJ,” “Dancing With The Big Boys,” and “Never Let Me Down.” “I suited the music and was respected early on as a guitarist,” Alomar explains. “When Bowie wanted to do blue-eyed soul, I was doing the Philly sound, so it fit. Then, when he wanted to change to rock, or to ambient, I just did it.”
And "did it" he did. Alomar was heavily influenced by the work he did on the Trilogy collaborations of David Bowie and Brian Eno. "Low", "Heroes" and "Lodger".As is perhaps appropriate to a former sideman of the eclectic David Bowie, Alomar immediately went to work on a solo album of music for the new guitar synthesizer. Dream Generator - Carlos Alomar's debut album, is brimming with different musical styles, taking its listener from delicate Japanese-sounding music to guitar rock in a stroke, moving from loud, rhythmic sounds to ambient ones. This is one of the first instrumental album ever played on a guitar synthesizer, and was Alomar's bid into the new age of ambient music.
“But Carlos Alomar is not about history; he’s about the future. While remaining active on the music scene, working with contemporary artists like the Scissor Sisters and Alicia Keys as well as playing guitar on the hit song “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, Alomar has also become a cutting-edge figure in the worlds of music education and music technology. Now, as the Distinguished Artist in Residence at Stevens Institute of Technology, Alomar is pioneering the use of digital technology as a means of giving young musicians the tools to change the way music is made….as well as finally realizing his dream of performing “Dream Generator”.