Gabrels was born in Staten Island, New
York in June 1956. His mother was a typist and his father worked on
tugboats in New York Harbor. Gabrels 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 (1918-2002) 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. In
New York, he met noted jazz guitarist John Scofield, from whom he took a
lesson or two. Gabrels moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of
Music, which he left several credits short of a degree in 1980-81.
During the 1980s and early 1990s Gabrels was a member of Boston bands
such as The Dark, Life on Earth, Rubber Rodeo, The Bentmen and Modern
Farmer. Modern Farmer (Gabrels, Jamie Rubin, David Hull, and Billy
Beard) issued a self-titled record on Victory/Universal in 1993.
Gabrels met David Bowie during a Bowie tour in 1987 for which Gabrels'
then-wife, Sara Terry, worked as publicist. Gabrels later (1989-1993)
joined forces with Bowie and the Sales brothers (drummer Hunt Sales and
bass player Tony Sales) in the rock band Tin Machine. Later, Gabrels
became an essential part of Bowie's nineties sound, most notably on
1. Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), and 'hours...' (1999), the latter two
of which he co-produced. 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.
Gabrels is an accomplished composer/songwriter, musical collaborator,
and solo performer/producer with varied credits.
He previously worked with Robert Smith of The Cure during the late
1990s, collaborating on The Cure's track "Wrong Number," and "A Sign
From God" (with Jason Cooper and Robert Smith as COGASM), as well as the
song "Yesterday's Gone," which Smith sings on Gabrels' album
Gabrels and slide guitarist David Tronzo joined forces on a virtuoso
instrumental album, "Night in Amnesia," issued by Rounder in 1995.
Gabrels continues to play periodically, as does Tronzo, with Club D'Elf,
a jazz-dub-Moroccan group led by Mike Rivard with a diverse roster of
musicians and an improvisational approach.
Gabrels has written soundtracks for films including David Sutherland's
"The Farmer's Wife" (Frontline, 1997) 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.
Solo records by Gabrels include The Sacred Squall of Now
(Rounder/Upstart, 1995); Ulysses (Della Notte) (Emagine, 2000);
Late, Loud (Myth Music, 2003); Rockonica (Myth Music/Favored
Nations/Sony, 2005), and Reeves Gabrels & His Imaginary Friends
Gabrels can also be heard on New Universal Order, a Heavy metal album
released by German label AFM in June 2008 for X-World/5 with drummer Big
Swede, bass player Magnus RosÚn, vocalist Nils K. Rue, and guitarist
In Nashville, Gabrels often performs locally, including at the Family
Wash, a restaurant/music venue. His lead guitar playing is featured on a
2011 album by The Magnificent Others, a band fronted by
singer/songwriter/guitarist James H. (Jamie) Rubin, who owns the Family
Sonic Mining Company, an eponymous album by an improvisational trio made
up of Gabrels, bass player Frank Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff, was
produced by Rob Stennett and issued in 2012 by Ropeadope Records.
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.