50 Years Ago: David Bowie Conquers America


David Bowie performed his first concert within the U.S. on Sept. 22, 1972. As his new pianist, Mike Garson, would quickly uncover, the joy for Bowie’s debut had been increase over an extended interval.

The truth that his preliminary efficiency happened in Cleveland was fairly acceptable. Bowie had been receiving early radio support from WMMS, the eventual rock powerhouse that was additionally nonetheless fairly younger in its growth. Brian Sands, a Cleveland-based musician, had additionally established the primary U.S. fan membership for Bowie and his music.

WMMS’ Billy Bass mentioned he lastly “noticed the sunshine” when fellow DJ Denny Sanders shared Bowie’s breakout single with him, figuring out that there was one thing there. “We began taking part in ‘Space Oddity,’” Bass advised Cleveland Scene in 2018. “Virtually the subsequent day, or so it appeared, Hunky Dory got here out. Now, we had extra to play of that type of music. After which, Ziggy Stardust comes out. We additionally had Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople and T. Rex. The extra we performed it, the extra standard we received.”

Bowie would proceed to develop into extra standard too, however these triumphs have been nonetheless on the horizon. On this beforehand unpublished interview, Garson regarded again on the inaugural go to to America with Bowie, his audition to affix the Spiders from Mars and the way every thing modified in a brief interval.

Watch Silent Footage of David Bowie’s First Live performance in America

What are your recollections of taking part in that first present with David Bowie in Cleveland?
I had simply joined the band and since it was the primary present, I didn’t know the ropes. Already, David had stirred up a whole lot of pleasure in America, despite the fact that it was the primary tour. So after we completed the final encore, they hadn’t stuffed me in on what goes on. The band took off down an elevator out by way of some car parking zone they usually ran off stage. I’m amassing my music on the piano and taking my time as a result of I’m used to taking part in jazz golf equipment and the entire sudden, there’s 1000’s of individuals storming the stage. [Laughs.] So, that’s the expertise that I keep in mind.

The band, earlier than you arrived, they’d been touring for near a 12 months at that time. What did the opposite band members let you know as issues progressed so far as the evolution of issues and what they’d been by way of as they have been going by way of that?
They have been all worker-type individuals. I feel the drummer [Woody Woodmansey] was doing plumbing and somebody was doing one thing else – very, very blue-collar work. I feel they have been all shocked that the entire sudden, the Spiders from Mars took off. I used to be considerably of a wrench within the tire as a result of I used to be bringing an entire different factor. In some methods, it disrupted their vibe, but it surely additionally added to it, so it was a double-edged sword. It added a whole lot of nice parts. However to reply your query, they have been very humble about it. Mick Ronson is without doubt one of the nicest males I’ve ever labored with, and he’s actually an unsung hero. I did two of his solo albums and toured with him. He by no means received his full recognition – though, you already know, anybody who actually is aware of David is aware of that his contribution was extraordinarily sturdy.

You auditioned for the gig with Mick Ronson. What did you finally come to know so far as what Ronson liked about you as a participant?
Effectively, to start with, he was a pianist himself, proper?

Proper, yeah.
He additionally was an excellent orchestrator. Lots of these string elements you hear on these albums have been him. “Life on Mars” and “Starman,” they have been his preparations. After I performed the tune “Modifications,” having a whole lot of expertise within the piano world with virtuosity and really superior jazz harmonies and improvisational talents which might be often exterior the vary of a rock musician, that every one occurred within the first eight seconds of taking part in that tune. He knew instantly, “That is going to assist this music.” That was how briskly the audition was: It was eight seconds.

Watch David Bowie Carry out ‘Starman’ in 1972

You went on to do two of Ronson’s solo data and two of his excursions. What’s the bond that you simply noticed develop between you and Ronson as gamers?
I’ve performed with tons of of guitar gamers, actually. There’s the jazz guitar gamers and there’s the fusion guitar gamers – let’s put them in a separate class. Let’s say that I performed with 100 rock guitar gamers. There’s Mick Ronson after which the entire relaxation come beneath him. That’s how good he was as a result of he simply wasn’t a loud shredder. He was only a man who was very musical as a result of he thought like an orchestra. He discovered stunning melodies and he had an exquisite tone. He was nice at developing with hooks. He was music. You already know, we’d simply exit to dinner within the evenings and he was a heat particular person. He even warned me to not do an excessive amount of studio work after the excursions have been over and all of that. He mentioned, “You’ll flip into white toast in case you’re simply taking part in on all people’s album and also you don’t really feel it. Do solely those that you simply like.” Ninety p.c of the time, I’ve been capable of comply with these phrases.

What kind of data did you may have about Bowie going into that audition? I’m curious how nervous you have been or weren’t primarily based in your consciousness of what you have been going for.
The notice was zero as a result of I’d by no means heard of the man. So I wasn’t nervous in any respect. I didn’t even know what I used to be even going to audition for. [Laughs.] I had no Google or YouTube to analysis him, you already know? I see these wild characters they usually’re all totally different hair colours and the totally different outfits they’re sporting and I’m there in denims and a T-shirt and I’m considering, “That is loopy, however I prefer it.” That’s what occurred. However I used to be solely employed for eight weeks, and I ended up being the longest-standing musician.

It looks like fairly the spectacle that you simply walked into.
Let’s put it this fashion. We have been rehearsing and there have been these massive audio system dealing with me. I’m used to taking part in jazz gigs acoustic with nothing. I mentioned, “Guys, the PA system is in my face and pointing proper at me.” All of them laughed they usually pointed to the actual PA system, which was 20 ft larger than what was dealing with me. What was dealing with me have been simply my screens, so it was a cultural shock. The excellent news was that David took benefit of no matter my jazz, classical and avant-garde skills have been, and he would kind of add it to his recipe. I used to be possibly the whipped cream on the cake or one thing.

Yeah, you talked about the disruption that you simply brought about with the opposite band members. Was it your improv tendencies and stuff like that which shook issues up?
I feel so. It’s nonetheless that approach, even with the bands I’ve been traveling with for the previous 4 years, I’m a unfastened cannon and I feel that’s what he preferred about me. You already know, I do know when I’ve to play the introductions and the endings and sure elements, however I’m in all probability improvising between 50 and 70 p.c each single evening. Out of all of these 1,000 concert events I did with him, it was at all times totally different. I performed “Life on Mars?” in all probability 200 instances, but it surely was at all times totally different.

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