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Bowie up the Amazon

Disc • 7 December 1974


Bowie and entourage were ensconced in old-world Philadelphia elegance at the Barclay Hotel. I arrive at the hotel, the entrance littered with the usual array of Bowie fans – in fact, one girl I recognised from a similarly endowed New York hotel, in short Bowie precipitates the sort of fanaticism only afforded to a true star.

I had previously arranged to meet Mike Garson - pianist extraordinary - in order to accompany him to the sound check for the night's show at Philly's answer to Madison Square Garden, the Spectrum.

This show was the second in Philadelphia - the first having been November 18 and was added due to the immediate sell-out of the first show. (The show of the 25th wasn't a sell-out but Bowie felt more comfortable with the audience due to their now mutual familiarity, and it was therefore felt to be, overall, more successful).

Anyway, on to the soundcheck with Garson and some of the other musicians. As the Spectrum is a vast arena accustomed to holding audiences of 20,000 for sporting events and the like, the necessity for an accurate sound check and rehearsal was imperative even though Bowie himself did not attend. These preliminaries were supervised by Mr. Garson and the line-up of musicians in The Mike Garson Band - who were all in attendance apart from one of the women singers, Ava Cherry (a close Bowie cohort) is as follows: One sax player, one rhythm guitarist, one lead guitarist, bass guitarist, two women singers, three men singers, one drummer, one percussionist.

The full line-up comes to thirteen players - and the only holdovers from the Diamond Dogs tour are Mike Garson, Geoff (a longtime close Bowie associate, one of the male singers), Earl Slick the lead guitarist, and Pablo the percussionist. (It's interesting that all the singers aside from Geoff are black, trained in a very funky rhythm and blues vein, as are all the musicians aside from Slick (the guitarist) the sax player, and Garson.

After the soundcheck, at the dinner provided for the band backstage, I had a chance to have a few words with Mike Garson. As The Garson Band open the show and Mike is doing all the musical arrangements for Bowie as well as playing on stage in addition to piano – string ensemble (an electronic piano adapted to sound like strings) moog, electric piano, organ and clavinet – it's obvious that his importance to the Bowie production has never been greater.

I asked him why it was that he's been with Bowie longer than any other musician. He said he felt it was "because of the 'stability'. In the music world, this quality is a bit rare. Also, I'm efficient, I do my job, I can take the responsibility. In addition I have changeability – this is important because Bowie doesn't stop! I can go with it, and play it. I'm adaptable."

This ability to change, I felt was a reference to Mike's musical expertise – there's no limit to the styles of playing he can use to develop and create a new style of song. Mike also felt that his 'stability' was important in handling the rigours of being on the road and leading with thirteen other musicians.

"Most people don't fall short on the bandstand, I keep the peace." If at times, he feels estranged from the others – music is their common ground, and he says, "I'm never lonely on the road because I'm always thinking about arrangements, practising and talking to Bowie about any musical ideas we should think of developing."

Well, it was literally five minutes before the show, Mike had to rush as Bowie was just running in with Ava Cherry.

After Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta (December 1) this tour will be completed. Bowie will be leaving for a month tour of the Amazon villages taking a boat to Curacas via car with singer and friend, Geoff. A singing tour of Brazil will begin on January 10 and will last for three weeks. Plans have been made for a tour of Europe beginning in April, and a tour of England in May. The format for these upcoming tours, including the English tour, will be very similar to the current tour - the same soul/rhythm and blues orientation and line-up of musicians.

The new album has just been finished. It was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, and Bowie was delighted at working there ("no hassles", he said). The title of the new album is Fascination and the names of the songs on it are: John, I'm Only Dancing, Young American, Fascination, Right, Win, It's Gonna Be Me, Can You Hear Me. The singing, on Win in particular, has a real soul flavour, a bit reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield. The words to Fascination perhaps a little patronising – "Fascination Sho' Nuff is a part of me!"

As a postscript, it could be noted that offstage Bowie was wearing a brown one piece jumpsuit, very bright orange hair, with blonde in the front of the hairline.


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this page updated June 30, 2020