Article 1974-11-25 Philadelpia, PA

Spending The Night With David Bowie

We arrived at Sigma Sound a little after eight. Producer Tony Visconti was arched over a mammoth sound board, pressing buttons, being generally pleasant to the half-dozen engineers and musicians in the control room, and peering into the large windowed studio directly in front.

The album was practically finished. The first rough mix had been accomplished since Bowie recorded the basic tracks some weeks ago, and this week had been devoted to clean-ups and overdubs. This was the final night in the studio for the album - the final touches would now be made.

I'm Only Dancing (She turns me on) was being played back. Pablo was in the studio, overdubbing a cowbell and some chimes onto an already lushly produced cut. Visconti easily shows his pleasure with the final product as Pablo finishes up. The cut is full and rich, almost a Phil Spector R&B wall of sound - Bowie's voice mixed way into the background.

10:30: and the jokes disintegrate into bad puns and poor taste; Tony explains palmistry to a member of the band - says that the late Bruce Lee's lifeline (gleaned from a gigantic close-up of his open fist) showed that he should've lived till 90.

11:30: Out of the corner of the studio comes an old, small brown guitar amp. Tony proudly announced that it belonged to Chubby Checker and was used to record the original version of The Twist. He sings, "Got a new dance and it goes like this…" The amps specialty is a fine dirty sound that you can't get from an amp unless it was made well about twenty years ago. After hearing a few licks played through, every guitar player in the room plots its theft.

Seven minutes to midnight: The door opens and in saunter Ed and Judy Sciaky, escorting the night's special guest star, a road weary Bruce Springsteen, fresh off the bus from Asbury Park, New Jersey. Bruce is stylishly attired in a stained brown leather jacket with about seventeen zippers and a pair of hoodlum jeans. He looked like he just fell out of a bus station, which he had.

It seems that one of the tracks Bowie load down was Bruce's It's Hard to be a Saint in the City. Tony Visconti called ed at WMMR and asked him if he could get Bruce into the studio. Contacted finally on noon Sunday, Bruce hitched into Asbury Park, then via the nine o'clock Trailways to Philly, where Ed met him "hanging with the bums in the station."

Said Bruce of his Odyssey: "That ride had a real cast of characters… every bus has a serviceman, an old lady in a brown coat with one of these little black things on her head, and the drunk who falls out next to you."

An hour later, the time passing with some more overdubs and a few improvised vocals by Luther of the Garson band (who sings a fine lead and whose vocal power adds a lot of strength to an already powerful album), enter david Bowie and Ava Cherry, white haired soul singer for the band.

David breezes in, takes account of the night's progress, lets his piercing eyes cast across the room a few times, listens to a tape and then leaves Tony to his work so as to chat with Bruce.

Five people hunched up in a far corner of the lobby, looking more like the fans (half a dozen of whom were still standing outside, savoring the vibrations) than the stars themselves.

David reminisces on the first time he saw Bruce - two years ago at Max's Kansas City - and that he was knocked out by the show and wanted to do one of his songs ever since. When pressed for another American artist whose songs he would like to record (as he did for British artists on the Pin-Ups album), david thinks a while and replies that there are none. A tired but interested Bruce lets a grin escape.

The conversation turns to a common problem: Stage jumpers.

Bowie: It doesn't bother me so much that they do it; I just wonder: What are they gonna do when they get there?

Bruce: Once I was onstage sweating so hard I was soaked with it. Really soaking wet. And this guy jumps up on stage and throws his arms around me; and I get this tremendous electric shock from the guitar. This guy doesn't even feel it! I'm in agony and he doesn't feel a thing; he wasn't feeling anything anyway; but I'm getting this shock and the guy won't let go. Finally, my drummer, Mad Dog, comes over and beats the guy off.

Bowie: And the guy went back to his friends saying, "Hey man, Bruce was really wired"… The worst was when a guy jumped up on stage and I saw the look in his eyes - all luded out - he was gone. Real scarey look in his eyes, and all I could think was 'I been waitin' for you. Four years and I been waitin' for one like you to jump on stage.' And I just smiled at him, and his eyes got okay again; then I looked closer and saw he was holding a brick in his hand…

Bowie is a tall skeletal leprechaun. Red beret tipped extremely to one side, the other revealing a loose patch of orange hair, leaning away from ears that uncannily resemble a Vulcan's up close. Intense hawk eyes; if they fix on you friendly it warms the room; unfriendly or even questioningly you're forced to turn away from them. Red velvet suspenders over high waisted black pants and a white pullover sweater complete the bizarre outfit, which, like any other, grows on you as the hours pass.

In fact, Bowie grows and fleshes out as the hours pass. From the secluded, mysterious figure portrayed by the press into a man of odd habits, but more personable as some time passes between you.

After an hour, I couldn't understand how Mike Garson could say he was easy and friendly to work with; very short and direct in his instructions to the band as he stand with Visconti at the board, overseeing some back-up vocals. After a few hours, a break, and some chatter about flying saucers, the erson seeps through. A real person.

The studio is a warm, fur covered cavern at three a.m. Heads and bodies sway in time to a slow one. Yellows, blues, reds, and greens dimmed as low as possible light the control room and studio. The control room is a starship with endless banks of futuristic controls; punch panel, mixing decks, tape decks, blinking lights. A starship manned by a motley bunch of pirates. Obviously hijacked.

The talk turns towar the sound last Monday at the Spectrum. (Bowie: "It's the pits. The absolute pits.") Visconti is assigned to work on its improvement. A five o'clock sound check will be of little use since it's brought up that the acoustics change tremendously when the place fills with fourteen thousand sound absorbing bodies.

If anyone can look tired and energetic at the same time, it's David. Part the curtains in the studio and the silent sentinels below come to life and wave frantically; their big moment - contact with the event.

Bowie tried to record a vocal solo. It sounds terrible, the voice is hoarse and tired. "It's much too early yet - I'm not quite awake… I won't be able to record anything till about half past five."

He re-enters the studio and wraps a set of incredibly long, slender fingers around a cold steak sandwich (never having encountered one before, he was taught the correct hold and given seven different explanations as to what a hoagie was).

More on the Spectrum: "I was dreading it really. Everybody whoever played there warned me how terrible it was. I don't think you can get good sound there, but we'll try."

After a promise to meet again and talk further in New York, Bruce heads off with Ed and Judy for a five a.m. visit to the Broad Street diner. Max's Kansas City had been his first professional gig. Bowie was in from the start. Bruce leaves without having heard his version of Saint. The feeling is that it's not ready yet.

The Drummer, November 26th 1974. Courtesy of BowieWonderWorld.
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