In memoriam: Rare photo unlocks lost moment in David Bowie's career
In honor and celebration of the life and work of the innovative David Bowie, who died Sunday at age 69, we reprise – and update – this 2012 story about a photo that captured him while he was recording film overdubs at a Milwaukee studio in the mid-'70s.
Lately Facebook has been bringing together dozens of Milwaukee rock and roll scenesters in a group called "Lest We Forget – Deceased Milwaukee Scene."
Mike L. Podolak – of the band Sacred Order – started the group as a place to remember fallen scenesters, but in a brief spurt – nay tornado – of activity, the group has become a place for old friends to remember the Milwaukee scene – especially from the late '70s and early '80s – and to reconnect, as well as memorialize lost friends.
Now the group has grown to thousands-strong (2,731 at last count) and there's all sorts of amazing stuff being posted, including the photo of David Bowie above. It was taken at Milwaukee's Star Studio on 37th and National Avenue.
Dean Halonen, who posted the photo, worked at the studio, from when it opened in summer 1974. He left Bay View High to take the job and never went back.
His caption for the photo reads: "David Bowie at Star Studio on 37th and National circa 1974, recording overdubs for the film of the last concert with The Spiders from Mars ("Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars"). This studio is now the Exchange. With Mike Garson, Robert Sage, David Bowie and Sam Halonen."
My guess is that the date of the photo was taken on or about Oct. 12, 1974, because Bowie and company played the Dane County Coliseum in Madison on Oct. 11 and at the MECCA Arena (now the UWM Panther Arena) on Oct. 13. (The tour had off days Oct. 9-10 and Oct. 14, too, though the 9th and 14th were like travel days.)
"It had to be 7 or 8 in the morning," Halonen posted. "We'd been there three nights out of four and this was the last of it, after 16 hours. Bob in the back there is asleep standing up.
"The worst moment of the sessions was when we recorded Earl Slick playing a riff over Jeff Beck's original track! Beck, having been a hero of ours forever, Bowie didn't like the riff so he had Earl play over it. You can tell in the video, too."
One commenter suggested that Bowie recorded the original version of "Young Americans" at Star, but Halonen says no.
"I'll dispute the story about 'Young Americans' tracks being recorded at Star. At no point was there ever more than one track being recorded simultaneously. We recorded absolutely no drums whatsoever. Everything committed was to existing tracks.
"It wasn't done at Star, I'm sorry to say. There was never any new material committed to tracks then. Like I said, Main Man had been pushing Bowie to get the overdubs for his last concert as the Spiders for a television special that everyone has seen by now! No new material, never anything (recorded) but one person doing a single overdub at one time."
Halonen goes on to tell more of the story:
"He was touring and ignoring the demands of his production company. They were running out of time for the television presentation of the show and would use the tape recordings as they were if he didn't get the overdubs done. We were selected merely because his tour schedule allowed a few days in town during a concert date and we were the newest and best equipped shop in town, at the time.
"Bowie requested a Martin 12-string acoustic the day before he showed up. We didn't have one and couldn't get one from the normal channels, so we had Paul Greene from ZMF, I think, run a quick spot requesting anybody with that guitar to call him. He screened several callers, never telling anyone the what for. We rented one from some guy for a couple hundred dollars – a tidy sum at the time – for four days! When he came by to pick it up we told him what it was used for, which was only the 'Space Oddity' track. (Note: The clip below is from the film.)
"We ran to George Webb's on the corner of 39th. I think it was every couple hours for bags of cheeseburgers with bacon and mustard. We maintained buckets, literally, of vodka and OJ. The Coca-Cola machine had to be filled each day. Bowie entertained himself which ever way he liked. I'll post a sort of portrait shot from the session for a better look at him. He was extremely slight!"
As for the gig at the Arena on Oct. 13, here are some excerpts from Ron Legro's review the following day in the Milwaukee Sentinel:
"In a mod-ified zoot coat with iridescent slacks, Bowie displayed a stare that could melt titanium, a moody set of postures that that sometimes were remindful of a kung fu position and at other times of a page out of a mail order catalog, and a creative tension that grew as the concert moved on.
"Thanks to a well oiled, 13 piece backup group, ably directed by pianist Michael Garson, Bowie's program is as iridescent as his pants.
"His songs were about time, particularly the future. Bowie sang about 1984, about ray guns and astronauts trapped in tin cans beyond the moon. The material suited Bowie well, for his physical appearance and mannerisms remind one of a kind of marionette who has burst free of his strings."
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