When David Bowie first called on Carlos Alomar in 1973, the American guitarist wasn't exactly familiar with the flamboyant English rocker.
"No way!" exclaimed Alomar, who was then working with soul group the Main Ingredient. "I was strictly R&B.; I didn't know anything about Bowie except that he was producing Lulu."
Since that Bowie-produced session with the pop songstress, Alomar has gotten to know Bowie a lot better: He's served as his rhythm guitarist, band leader, sometime co-writer and all-around musical right-hand man.
In fact, Alomar has been the one true constant in Bowie's music in the time that rock's most noted changeling has donned and shed the skins of the "Young Americans" funkster, the Thin White Duke, the German experimentalist, the debonair dancemeister and, most recently, your average Joe Rocker.
Starting with the chunky guitar riff he contributed to "Fame" (which he co-wrote with Bowie and John Lennon), it's clear that Alomar has been one of the main ingredients in Bowie's music.
"I definitely take a lot of credit for the David Bowie sound," the soft-spoken, bespectacled guitarist said by phone from New York this week. (He and his boss will be at Anaheim Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.) "There's got to be some nice guitar hooks there to make it funky," he said of his contributions. "David always likes to have that funky stuff there with the rock 'n' roll on top of it."
Though only 22 when Bowie hired him, Alomar came with a long list of credentials. The Puerto Rico-born New York resident became a professional musician at 15 as a member of the Apollo Theatre's children's workshop band Listen My Brother. Other members included Luther Vandross (now a major soul star) and Robin Clark (now the backup singer for Simple Minds--as well as Alomar's wife of 17 years). The group first attracted attention as featured performers on "Sesame Street" and on a related concert tour.
"The first tour I ever did was with 'Sesame Street' in Hawaii and California," Alomar said, laughing. "That was kind of fun. I also was the voice of little Cookie Monster for a while. A great thing to have on my resume: Carlos Alomar, alias Cookie Monster."
Though working with Muppets may have helped prepare him for Bowie's multifaceted persona, it's likely that it was Alomar's experience backing the likes of James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Chuck Berry that impressed Bowie most. Originally, Bowie asked Alomar to work on the "Diamond Dogs" album and tour, but schedule conflicts prevented it. When Bowie abruptly changed his style from sci-fi rock to Philadelphia soul in the middle of that tour, Alomar was brought in.
Despite his role in shaping Bowie's music (as well as playing with Iggy Pop, Graham Parker and many others), Alomar has spent the last 14 years working in the shadows--and not just Bowie's. While Alomar has labored steadily, most of the guitar-watchers' attention has been drawn by the stream of hot-shot lead players Bowie has employed, among them Earl Slick, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Stevie Ray Vaughn and, currently, Peter Frampton.
"Isn't that sad?" Alomar said half-jokingly. "But it doesn't bother my ego. It doesn't matter. (The other guitarists) all come in and take their shots and pass on by. It's not that frustrating. I'm the rhythm guitarist, I'm the band leader, I'm the co-writer. If someone else comes in to do what they do, I'm supportive of that situation."
Now, however, Alomar is stepping out of the shadows. His debut solo album, "Dream Generator," has just been released by the new- age-oriented Private Music label.
Alomar says that the music--in which his guitar was run through a wide array of high-tech computer devices to make music that is much more dramatic than most labeled new-age--relates conceptually to the three experimental albums Bowie made with Brian Eno in the late '70s. But anyone expecting it to sound like a Bowie album will be in for a big surprise.
"I wanted to throw a curve," he said. "I didn't want to do a Bowie-esque album or a typical Carlos Alomar funk thing or a 'lead guitarist on the top of a hill with the wind blowing in his hair' kind of thing."
With the heavily rhythmic "Insomniac" getting a lot of play in dance clubs, Alomar is finding that for the first time in his career people are recognizing him for his own work, rather than for his role in Bowie's show.
"It's nice when (fans) come and want autographs and have your record instead of having old Bowie records to sign," he said. "It's a real nice feeling."
Still, Alomar knows that many fans and interviewers will still just want to hear what he has to say about Bowie rather than himself, but he is unconcerned.
"Those are the breaks," he said. "It comes with the gig. I wouldn't change anything."