Bowie performed at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia for six consecutive nights from 8-13 July 1974, a month before the first Young American sessions. The recordings for David Live were made on all but the final night. They were recorded by Keith Harwood, who had previously worked with Bowie on Diamond Dogs.
In the summer David recorded his shows at the Philadelphia Tower Theater; I was not able to attend. It was reported at the time that my car broke down travelling from New York, but I don’t recall that ever happening. David just took it upon himself to record the show for posterity, and then liked what he heard and decided to mix it into his first live album. There was one problem with this idea in that it was recorded very poorly, not that the performances were anything less than excellent on most of the songs.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
The original release claimed that “This Live album was culled from performances on the 14th and 15th July 1974 at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia.” This was incorrect – Bowie was performing in Connecticut on those dates – and was corrected in later reissues.
The live recordings almost never happened, however. Defries failed to tell the musicians that their performances were to be recorded. When bass guitarist Herbie Flowers saw the additional on-stage microphones he realised what was planned and told the other musicians. A threatened strike was only averted after Defries grudgingly agreed to pay an increased rate of $5,000 per musician; the cheques later bounced.
Bowie was furious during the exchange, reportedly kicking a chair and shouting at Flowers: “I’ve bloody well got to go on in ten minutes. I don’t need this shit!” Nonetheless, the show went on, with just a 30-minute delay, and may even have benefited from the backstage tension.
I can claim to be a genius for setting up the tension before we did the show, because when we went on stage, the feeling of liberation in the band was glorious.
Bowie, Jerry Hopkins
The elaborate staging of the Diamond Dogs Tour included a performance of ‘Space Oddity’ in which Bowie was suspended above the audience in a cherry picker, singing into a microphone disguised as a telephone. The song was not included on the initial release of David Live, but was included on later versions.
Recording it live, David had to have eight microphones all around the set because he’d be singing ‘Ground Control to Major Tom’ on top of this cherry picker seat. He’d be about six rows out over the audience and he’d be singing into a telephone handpiece. That was the microphone that recorded his vocal on that.
Changes: The David Bowie Story, BBC Radio 1, May 1976
Mixing and overdubbing
RCA wished to release Bowie’s live album in time for the second leg of the Diamond Dogs Tour, and Tony Visconti was flown to New York to work on the recordings. At this stage the album had the working title Wham Bam! Thank You Mam!
Visconti soon discovered that the music lacked depth and clarity, and at times some of the musicians’ parts were inaudible. Geoff MacCormack (Warren Peace) and Gui Andrisano re-recorded their backing vocals. Some saxophone parts were also redone, as was Mike Garson’s piano solo on ‘Aladdin Sane’.
David Live was mixed by Bowie and Visconti at Electric Lady Studios. They were met by the in-house engineer, Eddie Kramer, who insisted he should man the mixing desk.
Since the console and the studio were alien to me, I felt Kramer should play an active role.
First we had to fix a few backing vocals and the backing singers were brought in to re-sing their parts; poor stage monitoring was the cause of this as the singers had a great deal of difficulty hearing themselves and the other performers. This took a day. Kramer proceeded to engineer the mixes the next day. This was a tough album to mix and Kramer’s habit of throwing back his head as he ‘played’ the mixing console like a concert pianist was a little overdone. The ’70s was a crazy decade, and ‘Cocaine is a hell of a drug’, as funkmaster Rick James said.
One day during the mixing of David Live, David and I stood side by side at urinals having a pee. The men’s room was crowded with a Latin American band recording in the next studio, taking a break. They were a really friendly bunch of guys, and recognized David instantly. As we were peeing two band members held a spoon of cocaine under our noses and insisted that we each have a toot before we finished peeing. Very decadent… very ’70s.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy