Continuing in a series of posts that incorporate two separate conversations I had with David Bowie’s stalwart keyboardist, Mike Garson, this second part of the series focuses on Garson’s return to recording with Bowie in 1993 and comes from a phone interview in June of 2004. This series appears in tandem with Garson’s release of his new album, the Bowie Variations For Piano (pick up a signed copy of the CD by ordering direct from Garson’s website), where Garson interprets several Bowie tunes on solo piano. Read more here: Mike Garson talks about ‘David Bowie Variations’: an Indie Ethos exclusive.

First, some historical context, as the era covered here takes off from the time in 1974 where Garson was just finishing recording Young Americans (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). As Bowie went on to fuse the soul sound of Young Americans with Krautrock influences on Station To Station, he and Garson parted ways. Many biographers have noted Garson’s membership in the Church of Scientology as a divisive factor. In a 1997 article in “Q Magazine,” Bowie admitted, “it did cause us one or two problems. I was thinking about having him back in the band [in the nineties] and the thing that really clinched it was hearing that he was no longer a Scientologist.”

Garson told me he left Scientology way before even considering a return to working with Bowie, in 1982 (more on that further down). Also, one should not confuse these facts as factors in the collaboration of Bowie and Garson as musicians. Since Bowie left the soulful sound of Young Americans behind, where Garson admitted to playing pretty straight in comparison to the earlier Bowie albums (see part 1 of this interview), Bowie went on to do some of his most experimental (see Low) and, by contrast, popular (i.e. Let’s Dance) work of his career. It would not be until Bowie had already worked with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop in the late seventies, become a stadium-level artist with 1983’s Let’s Dance, fallen from grace with too many attempts at recreating the pop success of that album, re-invented himself as a member of a rock group called Tin Machine, and rebooted his solo career with a return to soul with 1992’s Black Tie White Noise, the sessions for which Garson would return to working with Bowie. Garson would henceforth appear as a regular on all of Bowie’s albums and tours until Bowie’s last public appearance on TV in 2006.

During my most recent conversation with Garson, I asked him how his playing with Bowie had changed over the years, going all the way back to Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs. “That’s a really good question,” he said, “and no one has really asked me that one, that way. Let’s start off by saying, those two albums, when I did them, one in ’73, I think, and early ‘74 for the second one, in that period of time, when I did them, I didn’t think much about them. I knew I did a good job, and everyone in the studio liked it, including David and the producers and [guitarist] Mick Ronson, but I didn’t hear those albums in 20, 25 years.”

It would be other band members, mostly younger than he and Bowie who would get him thinking about those early recording sessions, though he (and most likely Bowie, as well) just wanted to look forward. “When I started touring with David again in 1992/93, we had different bands. Different guys in the bands in that 10-year period where I was touring from, from ’93 to 2003, who would say, ‘Do you know, what you played on “Sweet Thing/Candidate,” on Diamond Dogs, was as good as what you did …’ and I said, ‘What song is that?'” Garson recalled with a laugh. “When I did ‘em, I played the best I could play, they were very honest. I didn’t think a lot about them. I went back into the jazz world for the next 20 years. I didn’t know if I would ever work with David again. I then came back in ’92 for a pretty solid 10 years, a lot of records and a lot of tours [followed], not that everybody saw them, and different bands and different things, and I started actually getting more interested in his music and liking him as an artist more. I was a bit of a late bloomer to the essence of David Bowie. I mean, obviously when I joined him I knew there was a true genius there, but in terms of really getting into it, I didn’t fully get all of him until I got through some of my fixed ideas and beliefs.”

I followed up by asking him if he hadn’t thought Bowie a little “aloof” back in the years of the early to mid seventies. Garson responded, “Well, that could have been part of it also. Who knows? I’m not sure. I know to answer that question a little more specifically is that I played great then. I don’t think that I could play with that same fire, as I played on Aladdin Sane at that moment in time, as someone who was 27 years old. I think my playing is a little more mature now. I think it’s a little deeper … It’s more refined, but in terms of fire. It was at its peak at that point in time. The other thing that under-rides that is that I’m the same person all that time.”

I found some nice testaments to these two different periods in the Bowie/Garson relationship on YouTube. Both videos below feature “My Death,” a song written by Jacques Brel that Bowie was fond of covering while on tour. The spare, yet powerful song mostly only features Garson providing accompaniment on piano as Bowie belts out such vivid lines like: “My death waits there between your thighs/Your cool fingers will close my eyes.”

First is a version shot by D.A. Pennebaker for his historic concert film Ziggy Startdust the Motion Picture, which captured the final Ziggy Stardust show in 1973:

This second version was filmed during the GQ Awards in November 1997:

When I first met Garson in May of 2004, during his warm up for a performance with Bowie while on the Reality Tour, we mostly bonded over his jazz history but also what a musician’s relationship is to music, and that conversation will appear on this blog after this continued glance at Garson’s career with Bowie in the later years and in Garson’s own words. The following phone interview is continued from my last post (From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie [Part 1]) and was recorded in June of 2004. It was never printed until now…

Hans Morgenstern: So why the long departure? There were like 20 years between then and the next collaboration you guys had?

Mike Garson: It was probably 19, and, you have to understand I was hired for eight weeks in ’72. The fact that I stayed for the next two years was amazing. I think part of what I was meant to do was keep developing my jazz playing and my classical compositions and all that kind of stuff and find my own voice, and I’m able to express a certain part of myself with David on some of the tunes, the ones you know about, obviously, but there’s a lot of the tunes that don’t require much piano, you know, maybe a little synth, a little organ, so it was only pulling a little part of me, and I had more to say as an artist, so I played solo concerts, trio concerts. I worked with Stanley Clarke for a few years.  I played with Freddie Hubbard. I had my own trio. I traveled to Israel. I went to Japan, and then I actually started to miss it, which showed me that there was a spiritual and musical connection, and he told me to come to Black Tie White Noise, which I played on a few tracks. Then I did the Buddha of Suburbia, which has a lot of piano. That was for a TV miniseries in London, and he composed the music, but he brought the tapes to L.A, where I was living, in 1993 or 4, whatever that was, and I spent a few hours in the studio and I played tons of piano and a lot of it ended up on Buddha of Suburbia and then he said, “We’re going to do this album next year called Outside,” and we did that, and that was a very improvised kind of album, then we did Earthling, and then, you know, I didn’t work on Hours… but I worked on some bonus tracks on it, and Heathen, I worked on some bonus tracks. There’s a gorgeous song called “Conversations” [“Conversation Piece”] which was just so beautiful. He wrote it in the late sixties, then we re-recorded it.

Oh, yeah! That was never released (actually the song would see release on a limited edition bonus disc for 2002’s Heathen).

Yeah, that was phenomenal.

So Bowie was going to release Toy [for which the song was originally recorded] right after he did Hours…, but the label wouldn’t back it. That goes back to the thousands of music pieces that you write* and how the music industry machine can’t really appreciate that kind of constant output by artists. 

And Toy was a great album, and I played on tons of tracks, but they didn’t want to release it, so we ended up putting out lots of bonus singles over the next few years, and “Conversations” was a gorgeous piece, beautiful piano part, very simple, different Mike Garson, but the very, very sparse Mike Garson kind of thing, and then he did Hours…, and I didn’t play on that, although there was a song that got used for the American Psycho movie called “Something In the Air,” and he sent that to me in California, and I recorded a piano part on top of it for that movie. So I did get to play on [Hours…] in a bizarre sort of way. Then I played on these tracks, [including] “Never Grow Old” [“Never Get Old”] on the Reality album and of course “Disco King,” which is just me and him and a little drum loop and then “Loneliest Guy,” and that basically should bring you up to the present time.

Beyond “Something In the Air” from the American Psycho soundtrack, isn’t there a remix of “Survive” that you also play on?

With me playing on it?  I’ll have to listen to let you know because I heard some guy do a remix of “Survive” a few years ago, and he was a big fan of mine, and he tried imitating my style, so it could be his version. I’ll have to get back to you on that. (he later got back to me and heard it, it’s not him. It is most likely remixer Marius de Vries).

I read an article once that said the reason you and David parted ways back in ’75 was that you got into Scientology.

I actually got into Scientology, I’m thinking it would have been around 1970, so I was in Scientology all during that time. It caused some dissension among the band and him with the Spiders in that first year or two, but I don’t think… I left Scientology in 1982… but I don’t think that’s really why it ended. It used to perplex me why it sort of ended, and people probably drew a lot of conclusions, including myself. At one time in 1978 I had this epiphany: What had happened is when I was hired for eight weeks, at the end of the eighth week I made a decision I’d like to stay with David for two years cause I was enjoying it, and after two years it was over, so which came first? There might have been some mechanical reasons because of Scientology and whatever, but I think the real truth was my desire was to do two years and that’s exactly what I did, and then I went back to my world, and now I’ve been with him for the last 12 years. It’s kind of interesting how the whole thing went down.

Last we spoke you said you left Scientology in 1982 and “people may wonder why.” Can you give a reason why you left?

You know, Scientology has a lot of good basic tenants. I have no problem about a lot of the things it talks about. Organizationally, I was just feeling I needed a little more freedom. And organizations and their religions, something happens to them and some of the purity gets lost, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s still working, so I didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Whatever I know from the subject I can still think with, and it works. It’s like if someone showed me a C chord and an F chord, and I can use it to compose with, and then someone plays a bad C and F chord, I might not hang with that person who plays a bad C and F chord, but I would still use C and F chords, so it’s kind of like that. I just was feeling that I couldn’t be the full me that I wanted to be. Maybe they [the Church of Scientology] would feel differently, but I had to go by own integrity.

I needed to follow up because people are going to be curious.

Personally, I would rather not have it in there at all, but if you feel it’s part of the picture as a journalist, I can’t insist you don’t do it. I just try not to bring it up because sometimes I’ll actually get calls from them or you can get attacked or sued for saying something, and I have no time for that kind of a thing. It gets a little ugly.

It’s good to get you on the record with that.

I myself thought [Scientology] was the reason, but, when it hit me five years later… What’s really the truth here? Because, in some ways, we really control our own destinies. It’s like you decided you wanted to do an interview with me, so you created that. Then you didn’t finish, and you called me, and then I said I couldn’t hear you, so I called you. These are things that we manifest by our own doings by communicating and creating, and that’s essentially what happened there. I made a decision I wanted to be there two years because eight weeks didn’t seem like enough, and I was.

Now, you mean eight weeks from 1972?

I was initially supposed to do that American, short tour, that Spiders tour, and then it extended to a European thing, and then we did another album and this thing led to another tour and then the Diamond Dogs tour and then the Young Americans tour, but I wasn’t supposed to do any of that because I was hired for eight weeks. You’ve got to understand, the night before I auditioned I had come from a jazz gig, and I was fed up playing these clubs with great jazz musicians with five people in the audience and making five dollars a night, so I said, ‘Jesus, what would it be like to play with a rock artist?’ And I made that decision to see what that would be like, and the next day I got a call from David Bowie, but I didn’t know who he was (laughs). So, what I’m trying to say is, while we don’t always get what we wish for, some of the things that we want we do get.

You don’t live in New York?

I moved to L.A. in ’78. I still feel like a New Yorker, that’s the funny part.

You still sound like one.

I still sound like one. I never lost my accent, and I’m there several months a year because David lives in New York, so I rehearse in New York a lot.

“Bring Me The Disco King” originally came about in 1992, right?

I recorded it with him on Black Tie White Noise as a disco tune. It was great, and I played a different kind of piano solo. I was with a whole band, and then, something that a lot of people don’t know, we recorded it again on Earthling—a whole new arrangement with a different band, and that was good too, but he didn’t use that either. Then, when he did Reality, he recorded it once or twice before I got to the studio with the guys, and it still didn’t do anything for him, so when I came into the studio to record my parts for “the Loneliest Guy” he said, “Let’s strip ‘Disco King’ down to just a little drum loop and you and me,” and then I improvised that eight-minute thing, and then I had it printed out in Finale, and then I play it on stage with him when we do it. We don’t do it that much anymore, but we were doing it during the beginning part of the tour.

I had heard he tried to record it over and over again after Black Tie White Noise. It was like his Moby Dick, his great white whale that always seemed to elude him.

[Watch a rare promo clip for the track below. Do note that the sound fades in very gradually, so there’s no need to adjust your volume]:

He knew it was a good song, but he just couldn’t get it, and then I hit this piano part, and it was little jazzy, believe it or not, which he doesn’t usually like from me. He likes when I play a little more abstract classical or abstract jazz. It had a feeling of Shearing or Brubeck or Bill Evans. It had that fifties sort of jazz vibe, but I kind of did it my own way because the time feel was not like a jazz feel. It was coming more from a sort of rock world. I played it a little bit different, but it has a little jazz feel. I played a chord solo rather than a single line solo that jazz pianists play at. I play a chordal solo at the end, which is the last two minutes. It’s kind of interesting, and it is notated.

What keeps you coming back to work with David, album after album?

Good question. I’ll tell you, we’re very different when you look at both of us, and when you hear his music, and when you hear my music separate, but on a spiritual level I think we’re very similar. I don’t know what all those points are, but I know there’s something—for me to be the longest person playing with him and still be doing it, and you’re living totally different lives and lifestyles. There must be some sort of spiritual and aesthetic connection, and I think we both like living on the edge with our art. I always view my music as the whip cream on the cake, in terms of his music. Because the guitars and drums and bass, those are the foundation, and I sort of sit on top playing my stuff.

That’s why I was attracted to the idea of your story as a collaborator with David Bowie. You can hear that on the Aladdin Sane album and how much of the character of the record comes from your playing. 

You know, sometimes music and life is bigger than us, and we think we’re running the show, but we’re not (laughs), and we were brought together for some reason that’s bigger than what I even know, to this day. My training was classical, then I went into jazz, and his training was rock ‘n’ roll and guitar and Chuck Berry and Velvet Underground and mine was Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Art Tatum. The specifics seem very different, our lifestyles seem different, but I think on a creative and aesthetic and a spiritual level there’s something that’s matching. It’s still unfolding, so I don’t know fully.

No word on the next album?

It’s quiet. It’s quiet. I’m sure there will be one, but there is no word. We’re really into this tour. We’re on the tenth month now. The longest tour I ever did in my life.

And you’re not coming down to Miami again after that terrible accident?

It’s a shame. I was hoping we could get back there, but it just seemed like there was no space.

It’s not an easy place to tour because you have to go all the way down there [to Miami].

Well, there was just no time because we’re going right straight to Europe, and then the tour ends in Europe. I was hoping we were doing a make-up because we’re doing a make-up in Atlantic City and some other places where he got sick six months ago. We made those up, but he couldn’t seem to find a space for that. I was disappointed cuz I have family there, relatives, and I wanted you to hear it that night. It was a terrible thing.

Here’s to hoping the next tour comes down here because the last time I saw you was during the Earthling tour.

Right! Fort Lauderdale. I remember that.

Historic show.

Historic show.

It goes down in legend. It was the longest he has played in his history. He played every song rehearsed for that tour (Read my review/recollection of that show on the Bowie fansite Teenage Wildlife).

I know (laughs). He keeps talking about doing one show before we end this tour that’s even longer than that. It hasn’t happened yet.

* * *

Then Garson and I spoke one more time in June ’04, a few days after Bowie was hospitalized. Here’s what Garson recalled happening on the tour after Bowie had to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of a set, June 25, 2004, in Germany. It would later be revealed Bowie had a heart attack (read that BBC article here). “The funny part of it is, as close as I was to this whole thing when this all went down, I’m no closer than you,” Garson said on the phone. “It was probably really one of these life calls you have to reevaluate everything.”

Asked if he knew how Bowie was doing now, Garson told me, “He’s just repairing himself. It’s just not what he’s doing. He’s probably really scared. I just think he’s in another world or part of his life … the tour ended in the plane, and we didn’t get to say good-bye to anybody.” Though, as covered earlier, Garson would go on to work with Bowie for some random, brief live appearances.

* * *

Before Bowie’s health issue, he had certainly been on a roll creatively with his last two albums: Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003). I personally believe they feature some the most creative work of his career. Here’s a Reality Tour performance of the epic closer to Heathen, “Heathen (the Rays),” which was professionally shot in November of 2003 in Berlin (and also released as a digital-only audio single on Napster). It’s an ominous song that is not your typical verse-chorus-verse pop ditty— a creative diversion I feel Bowie has always excelled in, despite his celebration as a pop artist. It features a few simple, yet divergent guitar lines too epic to move off into noodling solos and synths that only seem to throb and exhale over the music, juxtaposed with perky hand claps. I seem to recall Bowie stating it was inspired by the fall of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, or at least that its genesis corresponded with those events:

This archival interview series continues here: From the Archives: Mike Garson goes from jazz to Bowie (Part 3 of 5)

*More on this to come as this interview series with Garson continues.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

As promised in my exclusive interview with keyboardist Mike Garson posted last week (Mike Garson talks about ‘David Bowie Variations’: an Indie Ethos exclusive), I now offer more insight into the man who is probably not only David Bowie’s longest-running and most consistent sideman but also brings a unique style of piano playing to the classical and jazz world.

To start with the obvious, here is a transcription of part of my never-before-published interview with Garson from June 2004. It was my second interview with him and covers his early years with Bowie, from his start in the Spiders From Mars and into the recording of Young Americans (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). He and Bowie would then part ways for close to 20 years, before Bowie invited him to the sessions that produced 1993’s Black Tie White Noise (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon).

This conversation happened after I first sat down with Garson face-to-face, backstage at the James L. Knight Center in Miami, just hours before Bowie and the band was supposed to take the stage on May 4, 2004, during the Reality Tour’s stop in Miami. As detailed in the earlier post, the show never happened as well as a meeting with Bowie due to the death of a local stage hand, right before Bowie was set to take the stage.

However, I had a great and in-depth conversation with Garson about his musical stylings and his jazz history. I had to catch up on his background with Bowie via phone, the following month. This is the first half of that second conversation, covering the years of 1972 – 1975.

As this post from the archives corresponds with Garson’s release of his new album, the Bowie Variations For Piano (Garson will sign a copy of the CD for anyone that orders directly from his website), it seems appropriate to kick it off with Garson remembering his work with Bowie. So let’s start from the beginning, in part 1 of this series…

Hans Morgenstern: How does David Bowie direct you in the studio, when you’re recording?

Mike Garson: He’s the best producer for me of anyone I’ve ever had. He seems to pull out what’s the best in me. I never fully have understood it, but he’s just great at that. He has a gift, kind of like Miles Davis in jazz. He knows who to choose to be in a band, and he knows how to pull from them in the studio. I do things for him in the studio that are very different than I would do for somebody else in the studio, so he’s got a very good gift for that and then my particular gift is to play the piano like I think he might play if he could play the piano really well, so I’m sort of in his head.

So, how does his method in working with you and other members in the band, how has it changed from the Ziggy days, like way back in ’72?

His actual creative process is the same.

So he hasn’t changed at all from back then? You were you just as impressed in ’72 as you are now?

Well, absolutely because in 1972, when I did the Aladdin Sane album, he pulled that piano solo out of me, he pulled “Loneliest Guy” on the new album [Reality] out of me and “Disco King,” he pulled “Battle for Britain” out of me on Earthling, and he pulled all the stuff out of me on Outside: “Small Plot of Land,” “I’m Deranged,” those kind of things, so I don’t think the essence of who a creative artist is really changes. I think people change maybe personality traits that they don’t like or maybe people get a little mellow as they get older and then maybe they expand as an artist from listening to a lot of music, studying music, but I think the essence of your creative thing is kind of always the same.  I mean, the “Aladdin Sane” solo, if you were to listen to that without the band playing sounds like one of my Now classical pieces*, so, you know, it’s kind of like who you are is who you are.

I must say that the “Lady Grinning Soul” piano solo is also amazing.

I was just talking about that one yesterday. I went to visit Billy Corgan at the recording studio, he was making an album. I worked with his band Smashing Pumpkins on a couple of their tours and one of their albums, and I did the movie soundtrack for Stigmata with him. We’re good friends. So I went to see him the other day, and he said, “Oh, I love that last track on Aladdin Sane.” He thought it was called “The Prettiest Star,” and he sang it to me, and it was “Lady Grinning Soul.”

I just wrote a reissue review of that album for “Goldmine,” and I came to realize you’re piano playing was such an important part of that album.

To be honest with you, from all the albums that I’ve worked with him, which I think is 14, that’s without the bootlegs. The 14 real ones, the one that my contribution is the greatest in terms of the whole album would be Aladdin Sane. You have “Time” on there for which I play a really interesting piano part. You have “Let’s Spend the Night Together” in which I play a crazy piano part.  You have “Aladdin Sane” itself, so there’s a lot. There’s a lot on Outside, but that album didn’t get too well known because it’s so out there, you know?  Have you heard that one?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Again, I covered that as a reissue for “Goldmine,” and again it was very interesting for me because the first time I reviewed it I was so-so about it, but now it’s just grown on me immensely.

The album grows on you.  I told a lot of people on interviews over the years that I didn’t think people would fully get that album until about 2010. I didn’t get it initially, either.  I enjoyed playing on it, but I didn’t get it for a few months.  Even the music has a way of building and getting under your skin.

And, also about the same time wasn’t there another album finished called Contamination?

Not that I’m aware of. Well, maybe what you’re talking about is we recorded a lot of improvised music over those weeks, and that’s probably what you’re talking about that hasn’t been released.

Because, originally, wasn’t Outside supposed to be part of a trilogy of albums?

It was supposed to be a trilogy, and all that other stuff hasn’t been released, but there’s at least 25, 30 hours sitting in the vaults. Somebody put out some bootleg of it that they somehow got a copy from the studio, so they’re actually good quality, and there are some of the things we played. They’re kind of improvised. They’re not complete songs, but the quality is good. Somebody has sent me a bootleg of that, and it’s actually tremendous.

So, going back to the history… When you first met David Bowie after you were playing with jazz artists for the most part, then you meet this wacky sort of glitter rock star, what were your early impressions of him?

I went into shock when I went into RCA Recording Studios to audition because I see this one guy with red hair, one guy with this blonde hair, one guy with the silver-black hair with this kind of weird beard. You know, each member of the Spiders From Mars had a look, and they were in full apparel that day, for some reason, and David had his look and Mick Ronson had his look and Trevor [Bolder] had his look and Woody [Woodmansey] had his look, and I come in wearing Dungarees and a T-shirt from giving a piano lesson in Brooklyn. I actually left the piano student to babysit my 1-year-old daughter because my wife wasn’t home, and I had to go right then and there to audition. I went in there and I thought, “What the hell is this?” But I liked them. Mick Ronson was the guy who conducted the audition and David was listening in the studio. I only played about eight seconds on the song called “Changes” and Mick said, “You got it.”  I hadn’t even started.  He obviously was a good enough musician to figure out that I could play from whatever I played in those first eight bars or eight seconds.

So, did you talk for a while before that?

No (laughs).

So…

(He laughs again).  I said: “Mr. David Bowie, I’m sorry that I don’t know who you are, but I certainly will play my best,” and I played and then, a week later I’m in Cleveland, Ohio for the first show of the Spiders from Mars– the first David Bowie tour of America.

So you rehearsed with him for like a week before you started that tour?

Less! I think I had one day of rehearsal.

So, when you first met them there. didn’t you have some reservations like: “Um, do I really want to do this and work with these people?”

Well, you’ve got to understand, I had already played for Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Martha Reeves—Martha Reeves from Martha and the Vandellas. I had played for Gregory Hines. I had played for Elvin Jones, who just recently passed away—the jazz drummer for John Coltrane. I had played with all those people, so I was looking for something different and they seemed plenty different (chuckles).

So that was your first work with him: the Ziggy Stardust Tour in the US?

The Ziggy Stardust tour and the first album was the Aladdin Sane album. The album after that was Pin Ups.

Yeah, what was that album like? Because, after then the whole weight of being Ziggy was lifted off Bowie, wasn’t it?

Right. Well Pin Ups was a great album because we picked songs by English artists. We did some very nice arrangements like “Sorrow” and “Can’t Explain.” It’s a great album, very, very unpretentious.  It’s a lot of fun. And what did we do after that?  Diamond Dogs I think, right?

Yeah. Now, didn’t he play most of the instruments on that album?

Yeah. Except for the piano stuff that I played.**

Now, did you play with him on every song there?

Probably not. He probably even played some piano because he always plays a little piano on everything, you know? But anything that sounded like me was me. Especially “Sweet Thing,” which is one of my big contributions to him.

And I think it’s one of the highlights of that album.

Oh, it’s tremendous. I hadn’t heard it for 20-some odd years, and then somebody turned me on to it a few years ago because I didn’t even remember playing it.

And then next came Young Americans.

Well, there was David Live.

Oh, yeah, so you went on tour with him again.

Went on tour with him again.

Tell me about that tour because it seems to go down in history.

Well, it’s a very famous tour because it went from the East Coast to the West Coast as one band and came back from the West Coast to the East Coast as another band. I was in both of those bands and most of the people got fired in the Diamond Dogs band, which is the one we did David Live with, and then we came back with the Young Americans band, and I was made musical director, and I had Luther Vandross singing with me and David Sanborn playing and six back-up singers and two drummers.*** But the Diamond Dogs tour had the most elaborate set he’s ever had, and it was gorgeous. But then the problem that happened, I don’t remember what went down, but something changed for him, and we changed bands in California and came back with a whole different thing with the sort of soul vibe and the Young Americans vibe.

Then you went on and recorded that album and…

Then I recorded that album and then David went on to do The Man Who Fell To Earth movie and I went off back to the jazz world.

And on the Young Americans album, do you play on every song there?

Not every song but that piano part on “Young Americans” is me and “Can You Hear Me” is me, so I’m on quite a few things but not everything.

Because, it seems, when I hear that album, the piano parts seem much more straightforward than on any other Bowie album.

I was playing straighter because his music was not as weird as it was in the Aladdin Sane period, so I went with the flow, you know?

* * *

I’ll leave you with a performance of Bowie and the Young Americans band playing on the Dick Cavett show in 1974 (Garson appears for a second or two):

The interview continues in Part 2 with Garson’s departure from the Bowie world and return in 1992: From the Archives: Mike Garson on working with David Bowie, the later years (Part 2)

*More details on Garson’s Now Music to come as this series continues.

**Other credits on Diamond Dogs include: Herbie Flowers (bass), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), Alan Parker (guitar on “1984”).

***Up-date: Someone wrote for clarification whether Bowie had two drummers on stage at the same time. Here is Garson’s response via email:  “From east to west on the Diamond Dogs tour there was Tony Newman on drums and a percussionist, Pablo I think. From west to east it became the Young American tour, from La to NY, with Dennis Davis on drums and the same percussionist, Pablo Rosario. Michael Kamen, an excellent musician, was the MD on the Diamond Dogs. He was a very good keyboard player and played synths, and I played piano.”

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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