In the studio

The sessions for Station To Station began at Cherokee Studios on 21 September, and continued until November or early December. Cherokee was based at 751 North Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood, Los Angeles.

David was managed at this point by Michael Lippman, and one day I got a call from Michael saying that David would like me to work on the next album. I was surprised and happy and shocked and said sure. I was still in New York at the time, so I flew out to California just to scout out studios, and wound up at Cherokee Recording Studios. Cherokee was a very new studio at the time. They hadn’t had any big hits to my knowledge, and were still trying to figure out who they were. But I chose it because it was quiet and because it was new. I felt we would get less paparazzi and less glamour from the media and I think I was right.

So after selecting Cherokee, we planned some instrumental rehearsal time, and David and I ran through the tracks just to get the basics down, just getting the feels together. Most of the lyrics hadn’t been written yet. Some of the music hadn’t been written yet either. It was kind of expected that David would come through by the time we got in the recording studio. Which he did.

Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Although some of the songs had been written, there was much collaboration, arrangement and development as the sessions continued.

There are not that many songs on Station to Station, and the intro to ‘Station To Station’ itself is over three minutes long. We mashed all these songs together. It’s not really a rock and roll record. ‘Golden Years’ was kind of David’s version of ‘On Broadway’, but I told him he had to be careful, so I came up with a new riff for it. Earl Slick and I work in different ways, and while I would record something and just put a holding part in, he would then come in and make it all his own. My line was the inspirational line, his was the real line. His sound was very close to Mick Ronson, which David loved, and he was able to create a link. Sure, ‘Station To Station’ and ‘Stay’ are experimental records, but the rest of the album is medium poppy. David was on it. If you need to have fifteen cups of coffee, or whether you want to buzz around on coke, people do what they have to do. I do not condone being so out of it that you don’t remember anything, but the fact that you are able to rise to the challenge at the moment, that’s the challenge.
Carlos Alomar
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Due to his severe addiction to cocaine and amphetamines, David Bowie himself remembered little of the recording sessions.

I can only think of one incident on Station To Station – it’s the only thing I can remember and that was trying to get Earl Slick… I remember working with Earl on the guitar sounds out in the studio itself and screaming the feedback sound that I wanted at him! I remember doing that! I also remember telling him to take a Chuck Berry riff and just play it all the way through the solo – don’t deviate, just play that whole riff over and over again, even though the chords are changing underneath, just keep it going. He said ‘what, man?’, I said, ‘It’ll work! It’ll work!’ That’s about all I remember. I can’t even remember the studio. I know it was in LA because I’ve read it was in LA…
David Bowie
Planet Rock Profiles, November 1998

Ever the workaholic, Bowie’s drug consumption meant the sessions often lasted beyond their allotted time. On one occasion a session began at 7am and continued for 26 hours, only ending because another artist had booked the studio. Undeterred, Bowie booked space at Record Plant West and continued until midnight.

There were times though when he was doing so much cocaine that he would come into the control room, and he’d have a bottle of pharmaceutical coke with him, and he’d pour out a pile on my side of the console, then he would pour out a pile on his side of the console, then he would go out to the piano and pour out a pile, then he would go to the music stand where the vocal mike was hanging and pour out a pile so he never had to move to take another bump or another hit of cocaine. And we’re talking piles, we’re not talking lines. And again I was very, very careful not to do what he was doing because I had to be in charge. The only time I would do some was when I had to literally keep up with him in the sense that I didn’t want to go to sleep. That’s how crazy it was. But we made a great, great record, and one that I am enormously proud of.

When David wasn’t there I did a little bit of everything. Working with Slick or working with Carlos or doing the percussion stuff that I wanted to do. But David was involved pretty much on a daily basis. It was rare that he wasn’t there. We worked together in collaboration. ‘TVC 15’ has the both of us playing saxophone on it; he played tenor and I played baritone.

Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

The album’s producer, Harry Maslin, had to deal with Bowie at times when the singer was incapable of working.

He was doing a lot of drugs at that time. As he said himself, he was very much dependent on cocaine at the time. And at times, it was difficult to deal with it. Not that he lost his charm or his ability to be gracious or polite, but being so out there on another planet sometimes, it was a job to bring him back down. It was also my job to keep up with him, so I’m in a very precarious situation here; I’ve got to do a little cocaine just to stay up with him. If you’re working with somebody who wants to work eighteen hours a day, there’s not much else you can do other than caffeine pills to keep yourself up. David was in a situation at that time because of who he was; he didn’t have to seek the drugs, he would have people who would come over and want to be part of the crew. Some of whom were doctors or dentists. And he would be supplied lots of pharmaceutical cocaine: pure, crystal, in a bottle, sealed. Which probably was the best thing he could be doing if he was going to do cocaine. At least he knew that it wasn’t cut with anything that was dangerous. And I felt the same way about that.

On the other hand, it was so readily available that he overindulged. And there would be times where he would not show up, and I would get very irritated. Mostly because it was my responsibility to [control] the budget. So if I had a studio that I was paying maybe a couple grand a day for, and my artist didn’t show up, it went against me. So I had talks with David about being responsible and showing up. There was one time where he didn’t show up for about a day and a half, and I actually went up to Stone Canyon and started banging on the door. I was worried about him too and wanted to wake him up and make sure he was OK. He opened the door and he was a little out of it and tired more than anything else. I said this can’t go on. I can’t be responsible for this situation. And of course David being David, we agreed, but while it carried on to a certain extent, I don’t think I ever had to go up to the house again.

There remained times in the studio however where he’d be so out he’d be seeing colours and talking about his son and how his son also sees colours and talks in colours and he was just really out there. He was very frail, he had been up for a couple days, Angie was in the outer studio, and I remember going up to her and saying, ‘You have to get him out of here. He is completely dependent, he is somebody else, he is so out [of it].’ I was very worried that we might lose him, to be completely honest with you. I certainly didn’t want to be the one that was responsible or held responsible for the situation, and I was a little forceful with Angie because she was basically scared of him. Angie didn’t know how to handle him either. I forced her to take him out of the studio, and they called a car and got him out.

Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
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Bowie was far from alone in his drug abuse, although his was the most severe. According to backing singer Geoff MacCormack: “Everyone was wandering around with chains round their necks with little coke spoons.”

On that record I spent a lot of time with David. We were really out of it, but for some reason communicating really well, probably because we were both in exactly the same mind space. He was able to drag some stuff out of me. He was in a worse state than he was on the Diamond Dogs tour, and I don’t know how he was functioning, but he was. I don’t know how any of us were. Maybe it’s because we were in our twenties, I don’t know. Don’t try this at home, kids, but I think had we not been in that state of mind, that record would have never sounded like that. Staying up for two days at a time, and half out of our minds, just loosened us up to the point that we would do or try anything. We were focused as shit. I love that record. There were things that I could do that I didn’t know I could do that David knew I could do, and he figured out how to drag that out of me. It took over two months to record, which was a long time in those days.
Earl Slick
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

In October 1975 the band was joined by pianist Roy Bittan, who was touring with Bruce Springsteen. Bittan had previously played with Earl Slick in the band Tracks.

I was staying at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles when we were on the Born To Run tour in 1975. David’s guitar player, Earl Slick, was a friend of mine. I bumped into him at the hotel and he said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here. We were just talking about you.’ David knew we were coming to town and he wanted a keyboard player.

When I arrived the next day at the studio David said to me, ‘Do you know who Professor Longhair is?’ I said, ‘Know him? I saw him play at a little roadhouse in Houston about three weeks ago!’ I wound up doing an imitation of Professor Longhair interpreting a David Bowie song. We began with ‘TVC 15’ and I wound up playing on every song besides ‘Wild Is The Wind’. It must have only been about three days. It’s one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on.

Roy Bittan
Rolling Stone, 2015

The first Station To Station song to be completed was ‘Golden Years’. Bowie recorded his vocals on 27 September in a single take.

He was famous for going into the corner or going into the men’s room and writing some lyrics, which is what he did on ‘Golden Years’. He literally went to the bathroom and came back with the lyric, went to the mike, and did the song in one take. I was blown away. He told me that he didn’t consider himself to be a vocalist, but I told him that that was one of the most amazing performances I had ever seen.
Harry Maslin
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Various guests visited the studio sessions, among them Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt, and Frank Sinatra, with whom Bowie had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Other visitors included Ronnie Wood and Bobby Womack, who joined Bowie and his band for a studio jam.