Fame At Last For Soulful Bowie
Harvey Kubernik • Melody Maker • October 25 1975
Interviewed at the taping of the Cher show, Los Angeles
“I adored working with him and was delighted to have him on the show,” explained Cher behind a toothy smile.
The occasion was a closed set taping of her weekly television show scheduled for November 9 broadcast. There were only 20 people present when David Bowie appeared, blazing red hair slicked back like the boys in West Side Story.
This was an unannounced performance by David Bowie, who was making his American TV debut. The surprise was that the evening was marred by Cher’s marginal singing talent, which leaves much to be desired.
But Bowie is another story. “How’s the paper?” he asked during a union break. “I’ve been away for a while,“ he smiled, still suffering from a touch of the flu.
Wearing high-cuffed yellow pants with sports shirt and blue jacket, he seemed perfectly dressed for a Miami vacation. However, he still takes his work seriously and his face was rigid and working with nervous energy. No bodyguards or hangers-on this time around.
At 29, David Bowie has finally conquered the United States. ‘Fame’ has been number one for four weeks on most of the charts, and a grin crosses his lips when told of the song’s progress on the R&B charts.
“I know!” he beams.
Bowie sang ‘Fame’ to a pre-recorded backtrack, and then Cher joined in on a duet of Can You Hear Me from Young Americans.
However his song medley with Cher was never more than amusing. Again, Bowie refuses to be defined along traditional rock lines. His new R&B fans will ask “what’s happening?” when this show airs.
The rehearsal is OK, and in between takes Bo and Cher engage in some nifty bump and grind while the band tunes up. They are two of the slimmest bodies in show business. Cher weighs in at about 100lb, while Bowie has added just a few since his massive tour of the US last summer.
The opening bars of Young Americans begins and just has the groove is established, the band (made up of a Bowie people and Cher regulars) swings into Neil Diamond’s Song Sung Blue.
It’s apparent that the medley is tongue-in-cheek, but at times it seemed absurd. One, the Harry Nilsson tune, gives the performance some conviction, and is topped when Cher rips into a sizzling version of Da Doo Ron Ron, the Spector classic on which she first earned her first paycheque singing along on the chorus. An unexpected bonus was the fabulous voice of Darlene Love and two friends singing the backing vocals. This quickly segued into ‘Wedding Bell Blues’. Then ‘Maybe’ and ‘Day Tripper’.
Cher seemed to need direction, but Bowie proved to have a tight grip on the proceedings. ‘Temptation’, done à la Romeo and Juliet, was impressive and was followed by an aggressively soulful Bowie performance of the Bill Withers tune, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, which swung into the Coasters’ ‘Youngblood’ and then returned to the opening notes of ‘Young Americans’.
Dinner time for the crew and a chat with David and advisor/attorney Michael Lippman. We talked about ‘Fame’ and the song’s current breakout on soul stations. This was his new music and perhaps a logical evolution.
Elton’s success in the rhythm and blues chart was helped greatly by an appearance on Soul Train, a syndicated black dance show. Did Bowie entertain any thoughts of a Soul Train spot?
“Don’t you think that would be pushing it a bit?” he replied. He was happy at his current single’s success but added, “I had a lot of other singles here that didn’t do anything.”
The talk turned to the recently completed filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth. Bowie was greatly pleased that the film was chosen as this month’s cover subject of Films And Filming.
“The difference between film acting and stage acting is enormous. I think a stage performance is more of a ceremony and one plays the high priest. But in a film you are evoking a spirit within yourself.
“You feel a tremendous responsibility of having the power to bring something to life. On stage you are in total control whereas in a film the actors are instruments of the director.
The central character of the film is a fellow named Newton, with whom Bowie feels a lot of empathy.
“I can sympathise very strongly with him because most of my characters have that feel: for example, Major Tom in ‘Space Oddity’.”
Bowie revealed that there will be lots of work next year, and this implies a concert tour. Lippman mentions an October announcement. And the lawsuit between Bowie and former manager, Tony Defries, has been settled.
“This won’t be a situation like the Stones where the market will be flooded with greatest hit packages. All product must have David’s consent,” explains Lippman.
Bowie is now relaxed and independent. A nice LA day will usually find him driving around in his blue four-door Mercedes, listening to the local soul station. He thought the Diamond Dogs tour was a success.
‘Fascination’ will probably be culled from Young Americans as his next single.
‘Fame’s gold record success in America has brought him a dual landslide of renewed musical critical acclaim plus the attention from movie tabloids who apparently insist on asking about his bisexuality in the early days.
The night before, he was laying down some demos at a Hollywood studio where we listened to a playback of John I’m Only Dancing. This reworking has a refined disco beat.
He’s a self-confessed R&B freak now and further proof of black awareness can be found in the back seat of his car where the latest Isley Brothers album lies.
To those who have followed his career, it is apparent that his personality is chameleon-like. “I might look like Zsa Zsa Gabor next month, or Marlon Brando, you can never tell, because I don’t know what I will feel like then.”
Back to the action, where Cher is re-cutting some vocals, and David returns to his dressing room. The final run-through is played back and everyone’s delighted. Tomorrow night David goes to Cherokee Studio, where he’s doing another LP, The Golden Years, and will start the soundtrack of the movie.