New musicians

Guitarist Earl Slick had been recruited by David Bowie for the early Diamond Dogs Tour. With a background in blues and rock, he was well suited to playing the album’s material in a live setting.

Being a blues player, and having to make a living in New York City, I was already doing Sam and Dave, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and all that shit, I was playing the real thing. So Young Americans wasn’t a stretch for me. But he’d brought Carlos Alomar in, who was more from the pop R&B area. I was more of the Memphis shit. So the album was more of a Carlos thing, rightfully so, for what David needed.
Earl Slick
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Slick did not perform on the initial Young Americans sessions, although he did play on the cover version of the Beatles‘Across The Universe’, recorded in New York in January 1975. He also remained in Bowie’s live band.

He was ruthless with people, especially musicians, and I was surprised I was kept. What happened was, when we finished Diamond Dogs, there was a break, and during that break, I was told that David had got another guitar player and that I was out of the picture. So I just went about my business. I was a little pissed off, because of the way it was done, and then out of nowhere I get a phone call: can you fly to LA, like, now? So I was back. That was when we did a kind of a hybrid of the end of the Diamond Dogs tour going into the next phase, so this is September 1974. But by then Carlos was the musical director so I was a guitar for hire. We went from doing a lot of stuff from Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs to doing versions that were less rock and roll, and went through a few different rhythm sections in the interim. We were also starting the Young Americans record, so it didn’t feel that great. I have to be honest with you, it really didn’t. Everything was disjointed. But Young Americans was a Carlos record and he did a great job.
Earl Slick
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
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Carlos Alomar was a session guitarist who had first met Bowie on 17 April 1974 in RCA Studios in New York, during an overdub session for Lulu’s version of ‘Can You Hear Me’.

He had a vast knowledge of African American music, R& B music. I cut the gig, my guitar playing was very good, and he was impressed with that. But then I told him, I said, ‘Man, you look terrible. You look like shit, you need to eat some fucking food.’ Those were my actual words. I was always very forward with David. I said he needed to eat, and so he came in his limousine to visit me and my wife Robin in our house in Queens.

I offered to take him to the Apollo Theater, where I was playing with the Main Ingredient. I also played in the house band there. He’d always wanted to go, and loved it. He had this orange hair and his big-rimmed fedora hat and he was not only the only white person there, he was whiter than white. He is probably the whitest white guy I have ever seen. Imagine stepping out of a limousine looking like that and walking into the Apollo Theater in front of a line of black people all lining up, waiting to come in. He just strolls right in and gets a front-row seat, he was in the lap of luxury. I introduced him to Richard Pryor that night, who couldn’t make him out at all. He said, ‘What’s this white dude doing in my dressing room?’ David was fearless, he didn’t care. I’m a Latin guy, Puerto Rican, although everyone thought I was black, so I took him to all the Latin clubs, and we hung out. He tried to hire me three times before he could afford me.

Carlos Alomar
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

Bowie tried to enlist Alomar to perform on the Diamond Dogs Tour, but the guitarist kept holding out for higher fees.

During the break in the Diamond Dogs Tour at the end of July 1974, Bowie began planning the studio sessions with the help of his new assistant Coco Schwab. He gave her a list of musicians he wished to work with, including MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother), the house band at Sigma Sound Studios. In the end, only percussionist Larry Washington was available.

The bulk of the musicians were from Bowie’s touring band. Bassist Herbie Flowers and drummer Tony Newman chose to move on, and were replaced with Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark respectively.

When Andy and Willie came to see me in the studio, they were very wary. They didn’t know what to expect. They came in looking for silver capes and all, I imagine. But once we started playing the songs, it worked itself out. It ended in a very, very solid friendship and a group that is going to work with me.
David Bowie
LA Times, 8 September 1974

A key piece in the puzzle was Alomar, whom Bowie assured would be paid his requested rate. The guitarist, who remained with Bowie until 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), was dismissive of claims that Bowie’s version of soul music was inauthentic.

That album, self-labelled in his own right as plastic soul. I defy that and say that it was a true, authentic soul record; he had the formula 100 per cent. You’ll hear a lot of people try and sing ‘Fame’ and ‘Young Americans’, but when it comes to the other songs on the record, they can’t touch him. He had falsetto on top, and massive bottom on the bottom. I had been working with the O’Jays, the Ohio Players, so I knew. He knew exactly when he heard what he wanted, that Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes thing that he knew. He knew when he heard the Wes Montgomery guitar sound that he wanted, and when Luther started singing those background vocals, this became a real album. We did one song a day. Boom. Sometimes we did two songs a day, and David didn’t even have the words written. He had to run home and stay up for four or five days just to match the moment.
Carlos Alomar
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones