David Bowie | Artist Biography

David Bowie

January 23, 2018

 

 

The singer that we know as David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in the Brixton area of London on January 8, 1947, the son of a working class family. He began playing music at age 12 when his parents bought him a saxophone and he performed in a series of small-time groups while still in high school. After graduating from technical school with a degree in art in 1963, Jones formed his first serious group, Davie Jones And The King Bees. Their first and only single failed to gain much attention and Jones quickly moved on to The Manish Boys, but they didn't find any commercial success either.

By late 1965, Jones had adopted the stage name David Bowie to avoid confusion with London theatre star Davy Jones, who later became a member of the made-for-TV band, The Monkees. David said he chose the name because he had always admired "that American, bear hunting knife." The newly christened Bowie joined a Who-influenced R&B/Rock group called The Lower Third, who managed to release one single before splitting up. Bowie then moved on to The Buzz, a post-mod band that packed it in at the end of 1966. By this time, Bowie was a fairly well-known musician and songwriter on the London music scene and he was offered a solo deal with Deram Records. Deram released Bowie's debut album of Folk-influenced Pop in late 1967, which led to his signing as the opening act for the popular Psychedelic band, Tyrannosaurus Rex. When his career failed to flourish, Bowie decided to take some time off and spent several weeks in a Scottish Buddhist monastery. When he left, he studied with Lindsay Kemp's mime troupe, forming his own mime company called The Feathers in 1969. The Feathers were short-lived and later the same year, he formed the experimental art group, Beckenham Arts Lab. Bowie needed to finance the Arts Lab, so he signed with Mercury Records that year and released "Man of Words, Man of Music", a trippy singer/songwriter album featuring a song called "Space Oddity", the saga of a stranded astronaut, inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song was released as a single and became a Top Ten hit in the U.K., convincing Bowie to concentrate on music. Hooking up with his old friend Marc Bolan, he began miming at some of Bolan's T. Rex concerts, eventually touring with Bolan, bassist/producer Tony Visconti, and guitarist Mick Ronson as a group called Hype. Meanwhile, Bowie married Angela Barnett, with whom he had a son, Zowie, the following year.

On his next release, 1971's "The Man Who Sold the World", Bowie came into his own stylistically, but the album's proto-glam guitars and over-the-top lyrics failed to win a wide audience, prompting Mercury to part ways with Bowie. RCA Records, confident of Bowie's star potential, quickly signed the 24-year-old artist and released his next album, "Hunky Dory" in 1972. "Hunky Dory" featured a more refined Glam sound copied from T. Rex and lyrics inspired by Bowie's wild time in New York City's underground art scene, where he partied with Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, and other cult figures. Thanks to the U.S. and U.K. Top 10 success of "Changes", Bowie became an international star, as famous for his campy cross-dressing and different colored eyes (the result of a school yard fight that left one pupil permanently enlarged) as for his dramatic sound. Capitalizing on his sudden stardom, Bowie sealed his fame with 1972's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", a sci-fi concept album about a band from outer space. Backed by the Spiders from Mars, guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey, Bowie, as Ziggy, launched a now-legendary world tour, complete with outrageous costumes and outlandish sets. The tour propelled "Ziggy Stardust" (as well as his earlier albums) to the top of the charts. "Ziggy Stardust" was widely hailed by critics as one of the best, most influential albums of the decade. The title track became an international hit, while "John, I'm Only Dancing" reached #1 in the U.K. (It was not released as a single in the U.S. due to its suggestive lyrics.)

To cap off his most productive year ever, Bowie produced Lou Reed's 1972 hit "Transformer" and Mott The Hoople's "All the Young Dudes", whose title track was written by Bowie. He also shocked the international music press by announcing that he was gay (Bowie was actually bisexual), becoming the first major Rock star to openly discuss his homosexuality. In 1973, Bowie released his next opus, the punning "Aladdin Sane", then toured again as Ziggy Stardust. At a London concert in July 1973, Bowie shocked his fans, and his own band, by suddenly announcing that "Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do." With that, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders from Mars were no more. Later that year, Bowie distanced himself from his Ziggy Stardust character by releasing "Pin-Ups", a collection of covers of mid-'60s British hits meant as a tribute to his earliest years as an aspiring London musician.

After re-mixing Iggy Pop's 1973 classic "Raw Power", Bowie returned to his own work, recruiting a new backing band for 1974's "Diamond Dogs". The album featured a controversial shot of Bowie as a half-man/half-dog and presented a dark, theatrical vision of the future, loosely inspired by George Orwell's book, 1984. Thanks to the radio hit "Rebel Rebel", Diamond Dogs reached #5 in the United States. Bowie launched a massive tour, even more elaborate than the Ziggy Stardust outing, however, due to enormous production expenses, the tour lost money even though every night sold out. To commemorate the spectacle, Bowie recorded the double album, "David Live" at their Philadelphia performance.

Though some cuts on Diamond Dogs indicated that Bowie was drifting toward American Soul, it was a Continental imitation of that genre, dubbed "plastic soul", which defined 1975's effort, "Young Americans". Its standout single, "Fame", an impromptu duet with John Lennon, became Bowie's first and only U.S. #1 hit. Shortly after the release of "Young Americans", Bowie starred in the science-fiction movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, recalling his Ziggy Stardust era persona, as well as his long-time fascination with outer space.

The constantly evolving Bowie changed his image yet again in 1976, dressing in a clean-cut, formal fashion and announcing that he admired Hitler and Nietzsche. In his elegant yet creepy Thin White Duke character, Bowie issued 1976's dark "Station to Station", which spawned the Top 10 single "Golden Years" and was supported by world tour with an odd 1930s German theatre motif. Taking his obsession with Germany one step further, Bowie moved to the Neukoeln section of Berlin, where he began collaborating with aspiring producer Brian Eno, formerly the keyboard player for Roxy Music. Under the creative guidance of Eno, now famous for his unusual studio techniques and innovative production style, Bowie recorded 1977's "Low", an experimental mixture of standard Rock and synthesizer-driven ambient music. Now widely praised by critics, "Low" was truly ahead of its time, confusing audiences who were expecting concise Pop singles.

After helping Iggy Pop with his album "The Idiot" and playing piano for Pop on the supporting tour, Bowie returned to Berlin and recorded 1978's "Heroes" with Eno and former