Mike Garson auditions for David Bowie

18 September 1972 was the likely date that Mike Garson auditioned to play piano in David Bowie’s band, the Spiders From Mars.

Bowie had arrived in New York City the previous day, with the rest of his entourage joining him on this date. It included stylist Suzi Fussey, road manager Will Palin, photographer and filmmaker Mick Rock, publicist Dai Davies, and security men Stuey George and Tony Frost.

Initially, Annette Peacock was invited to play synths in the band. She declined, but suggested Garson instead. He had recently performed on Peacock’s debut album I’m The One.

Garson was, at the time, a gigging musician and piano teacher, practising for eight hours a day, and had never heard of Bowie.

The day he took the call, Garson was offered two other jobs: one to tour with jazz bandleader Woody Herman; and another from trumpeter Bill Chase. Jazz shows weren’t paying the bills, and the pianist needed money. He was living in a Brooklyn apartment costing $150 a month, with a wife and young daughter. The previous night he had told his wife Susan: “I think I want to go out and tour with some big rock band, play to larger audiences.”

Garson was giving a piano lesson when Bowie’s manager Tony Defries called. Remarkably, he left his daughter Jennifer with the pupil and he drove straight to RCA Studios at 155 East 24th Street for the audition.

So that day I went from Brooklyn into New York City, walked into RCA Studios, and these guys were wild. Red hair, funny clothes. In the booth were David, Trevor, and Woody. At the piano, greeting me very warmly, was Mick Ronson. The sheet music was ‘Changes’, which meant nothing to me, but having played a thousand weddings and bar mitzvahs in New York I could read anything. So I played it. And I swear within seven seconds Mick said, ‘You have the gig.’ Everyone else was smiling. They hired me for eight weeks and they couldn’t get rid of me. In the first two years David must have fired five bands and I was the only one who stayed. He kept changing styles, but because I had a fairly broad spectrum, having played so much classic and jazz and pop and gospel, I could play with anyone. He was the best casting director there ever was, better even than Miles Davis. Everyone he ever chose had a purpose. He got everything out of me that I’d ever learned. He would open up to me late at night because I had nothing to do with his world. He loved that I knew nothing about rock. I still don’t. He was just fascinated with my lifestyle as a jazz musician, and I was fascinated with his brilliance.
Mike Garson
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Having been offered the job, Garson was shown the US tour itinerary. It meant leaving two days later for rehearsals in Cleveland, Ohio, prior to a first show there on 22 September.

Garson was initially offered an eight-week stint with Bowie’s band, but it proved a much longer partnership. In addition to his career-defining work on 1973’s Aladdin Sane, he became Bowie’s longest-serving band member and occasional musical director. He appeared on the studio albums Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha Of Suburbia, 1.Outside, Earthling, Heathen, and Reality.

Last updated: 28 April 2023
Travel: Southampton to New York
David Bowie sees the New York Dolls live
Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the David Bowie history section.

Leave a Reply