Lucas epitomized cool onstage in the early ’70s, during his years with Miles Davis. He played on Davis’ classic albums Pangaea and Agharta, among others. Later, he penned Madonna’s “Borderline.” Courtesy of reggielucas.com
Guitarist Reggie Lucas, who had a wildly varied career—from backing soul vocalists Billy Paul and Roberta Flack to playing in Miles Davis’ groundbreaking early ’70s electric bands to performing on Olatunji’s world-music classic Soul Makossa to producing the majority of Madonna’s debut album—died on Saturday, May 19, due to complications from heart disease. He was 65.
The New York City native began playing with Davis at age 19, in 1972, and appeared on that year’s Miles Davis In Concert. While guitarists like Pete Cosey and John McLaughlin took the role of 6-string soloist in Davis’ ensembles of the era, Lucas played a more foundational part. His rhythm work helped define the music’s sturdy spine. Nonetheless, Lucas was a strong blues-based lead guitarist, as his first solo album, 1976’s Survival Themes, displays on tunes like “Slewfoot,” on which he trades between gutty single-notes lines and a classic wah-wah scratch.
Lucas’ greatest successes were as a songwriter and producer. He wrote and produced hits for the Spinners, Robert Flack, Lou Rawls, and Stephanie Mills, and shared a Best R&B Song Grammy with writing partner James Mtume in 1981 for Mills’ hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” Two years later, he produced and played guitar on six songs for Madonna’s first album, and co-wrote her first top-10 hit “Borderline.” Lucas went on to build and operate Jersey City’s Quantum Sound studio, where Jeff Buckley, the Pet Shop Boys, and Sepultura have all made albums. In 1991, Lucas had a heart attack that left him with the coronary issues that ultimately caused his death.
Get an earful of Reggie Lucas’ churning wah-fueled rhythm playing and raw blues-based lead guitar on “Slewfoot,” from his 1975 solo album Survival Themes.