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|Hunky Dory Hall: David Bowie in 1971 outside the Beckenham home where he started work on his seminal album
'He weighed about 98lb for Young Americans and was the whitest white man I'd ever seen': David Bowie's biggest fans reveal all
By Andrew Preston
PUBLISHED: 21:00 GMT, 25 May 2013 | UPDATED: 21:00 GMT, 18 May 2013
Five unique people, five remarkable encounters with Ziggy Stardust are revealed for the first time in a new TV film
'David was one of the first people I met who had
an aura about them,' said Rick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman: 1971
He was to hit the big time with prog rock legends Yes. But in 1971 the classically trained keyboard player was still a relative unknown, despite having played with Bowie on the Space Oddity album in 1969. Then came the call to join him on Hunky Dory...
I was living in a tiny terraced house in Harrow when David called me.
He said: ‘I want you to hear some songs I’ve got, can you come over to the house, have dinner and I’ll play them to you.’
So I went to this enormous house in Beckenham which I nicknamed Beckenham Palace.
It had a minstrels’ gallery and this beautiful walnut grand piano. He took out a battered 12-string guitar and played Changes and Life On Mars, one after the other, and they were amazing.
I stopped him and asked: ‘Why are you playing them on this battered guitar?’
And he said: ‘I write everything on this because if I can make it sound good on this, then I know when I add other musicians and the music progresses it can only get better.’
I remember driving back from the house that night with all my notes. It must have been two in the morning and I started playing on my old upright piano.
The neighbours were banging on the wall. I couldn’t wait to get into the studio.
Life On Mars stood out. I played it in the studio, I think in the morning. That was the only time I really played it, and that’s 40 years ago.
It’s a piano player’s joy – in fact, I must learn it again because it’s such a great piece of music with a wonderful chord structure.
David was one of the first people I met who had an aura about them.
People listened when he spoke, certainly in the studio about musical ideas and the things he wanted to do. He had a vision and those sessions will rank as the most memorable of the 2,000-plus I ever did.
I think Hunky Dory was such a commercial success that it gave David the basis to move on to do everything he wanted to do. The management and record companies trusted him, whether they understood him or not was another matter. They let him get on with it. That made Hunky Dory the most important album he ever did.
Every colour, race, creed and religion can relate to David because he is not one person. He is many things to many people. I don’t think anyone really knows who he is.
I love the man to bits, he’s been a massive influence in my life, but if I asked him who he is, I don’t think he could give the answer either.
'He was very personable. He asked me if he could take his jacket off, it was almost schoolboyish,
like a well-mannered young lad who had been taught not to embarrass Mum and Dad,' said Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett: 1974
When the U.S. chat show host whose fame rivalled that of Johnny Carson interviewed Bowie in late 1974, the star was at the peak of his drug mania. Cavett was understandably anxious...
I didn’t know what to expect when he came on. I’d gone out there braced for anything.
For all I knew, he might come in flying from the ceiling in a Peter Pan rig, or explode out of a giant seashell.
In fact, he came on in a suit and carrying a cane, and I think he got it just right. The interview was difficult at the beginning.
He sniffed a good bit and he was shy and awkward, and I thought: ‘Am I making him uncomfortable or upsetting him?’ I didn’t want it to be unpleasant for him but it was somewhat stiff for a while.
Then he turned a question on me and asked: ‘What do you think I’m like?’ I said I thought he was ‘like a working actor’.
He laughed and said: ‘That’s right, I think that’s very good.’
There was a change in the temperature and he seemed more comfortable.
Until then I’d had a slight feeling – that I’ve had more extremely with other guests – that I was about to witness a live nervous breakdown.
But he didn’t seem to be that troubled, just very nervous. And performers know that nerves can hit you and stay there but usually if you’re out there a while it abates and it did with him.
He was very personable. He asked me if he could take his jacket off, it was almost schoolboyish, like a well-mannered young lad who had been taught not to embarrass Mum and Dad.
But, oh God, he’s a shockingly good performer. He knows what he’s doing and he does it so well.
'I did know this was the whitest man I've ever seen - translucent white. And he had orange hair.
He was thin and weighed about 98lb,' said Carlos Alomar
Carlos Alomar: 1975
He’s the guitarist who helped give Bowie his first U.S. No 1 single, Fame, and played on more of his albums than anyone. But his first thought on meeting him was that he desperately needed fattening up...
I met David when I got the call for the Young Americans album. I didn’t know who Bowie was.
But I did know this was the whitest man I’ve ever seen – translucent white. And he had orange hair.
He was thin and weighed about 98lb. At one point I said he looked like s*** and needed some food.
‘You need to let my wife make you some chicken, rice and beans and fatten you up.’ Next thing I know a limousine rolls up to my house in Queen’s in New York.
There was David coming up the stairs. He was funny, kind and so curious about R’n’B and he invited me to play with him.
David always does the music first. He’ll listen for a while then if he gets a little idea the session stops and he writes something down and we continue.
But later on, when the music is established, he’ll go home and the next day the lyrics are written. I’d finish the sessions and be sent home and I never heard words and overdubs until the record was released.
'I was in Berlin for a week. We were three men in their early 30s, in a city on the front line.
We had fun and let rip, to see where it went,' said Robert Fripp (standing)
Robert Fripp: 1977
The King Crimson guitarist - and Toyah Wilcox’s husband - is famous for his improvised playing on Heroes (1977) and Scary Monsters (1980). He recalls how Bowie made him an offer he couldn’t refuse...
I had left the music industry in 1974 and retreated to Gloucestershire and then went to live in New York.
But while I was in the U.S., the telephone went at my Lower East Side apartment: ‘It’s Brian, hello! I’m here with David. We’re in Berlin. Hang on, I’ll pass you over.’
So Brian Eno passed the phone to David Bowie and he said: ‘Hello, we’re here in blah, blah, blah, Can you play some hairy rock and roll guitar?’
And I said: ‘Well, I don’t know because I haven’t played for three years, but if you’re prepared to take a risk, then so am I.’
At that point I had no intention of ever returning to the music industry but, hey, this was Brian calling.
I’d done two albums with him, and this was Bowie, the magnificent live act who’d written some of my favourite songs, so yeah! Why not.
What is hairy rock and roll? It has danger. I arrived at Berlin’s Hansa studios right by the Wall at about quarter to six in the evening.
I was jet-lagged, pretty sleepless and said to David and Brian: ‘Well, would you like to play me some of the things you’ve been doing?’ and Eno said: ‘Well, why don’t you plug in?’
So I plugged in and we went straight into Beauty And The Beast and what you hear on the record, the first track of Heroes, is the first note I played on the session, first take. That was going in at the deep end.
I was in Berlin for a week. We were three men in their early 30s, in a city on the front line. We had fun and let rip, to see where it went.
David was charismatic, charming, and working with him was very, very spontaneous, with a lot of humour, some of it – probably my contribution – a little coarse and vulgar.
'David is very bold. When we were doing the record he didn't have a record deal. He financed Let's Dance himself,
so we didn't have to answer to anyone except each other,' said Nile Rodgers (left)
NILE RODGERS: 1983
When Bowie decided to make a dance album, who would produce it? It was obvious... the man behind disco giants Chic and Sister Sledge.
He came to my apartment and said that he wanted me to produce a record with him and to do what I do best.
When I asked what he meant, he said: ‘You make hits.’
I was really taken aback.
‘I make hits? You want me to make a hit with David Bowie?’
David is very bold. When we were doing the record he didn’t have a record deal. He financed Let’s Dance himself, so we didn’t have to answer to anyone except each other – him and me against the world.
We did some pre-production in Switzerland. Then one morning he walked into my bedroom with his 12-string guitar with only six strings on it, and said: ‘Nile darling, I think I have a song which feels like it’s a hit.’
It was a little folksy to me, but he showed me the basic chords and then I started fooling around with it. Let’s Dance ended up as a smash hit.
Five Years: David Bowie will be shown on BBC2 at 9.25pm on Saturday.
Bowie performing Let's Dance live in concert in Winnipeg in 1983