1976: Isolar in North America

In January 1976 David Bowie assembled his live band in Jamaica, to begin rehearsals for the Isolar 1976 World Tour.

Edged out of the line-up was guitarist Earl Slick, who wouldn’t play with Bowie again until 1983’s Serious Moonlight Tour.

Between all the drug trips going down and the assholes he has surrounded himself with, I just wanted to get myself out. As an artist, David is very talented. I just started losing contact with him as a person.
Earl Slick
Rolling Stone, 26 February 1976

Bowie was, however, emerging from the fog of his deepest period of drug abuse. Among his visitors in Jamaica was former schoolfriend Geoff MacCormack, who had sung on Bowie’s albums and tours since 1973’s Aladdin Sane.

MacCormack noted a clear improvement in Bowie’s physical health. According to the singer’s publicist Barbara DeWitt, he had put on ten pounds while staying on the island, and had begun karate lessons with bodyguard Dwain Vaughns.

One catalyst for getting clean – or, at least, cleaner – was Bowie’s love for his son Zowie (later known as Joe, now Duncan Jones). The desire to detox and reconnect had begun the previous year.

I didn’t give him enough time until about 1975. Then I took over from that point as father and parent. Up until that point his nanny had been his mother. His real mother was in and out of his life. And it was a pretty rotten childhood, I think. Probably one of the major regrets of my life is that I didn’t spend enough time with him when he was really young. But hopefully I have been making up for that over the last ten years or so.
David Bowie
Arena, May/June 1993

The Isolar Tour kicked off in Vancouver on 2 February 1976, to widespread critical acclaim and healthy ticket sales.

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On 11 February Bowie met the writer Christopher Isherwood backstage at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Isherwood had lived in Berlin during the early 1930s, and the city became the backdrop to his works including Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye To Berlin – which became the basis of the 1972 film Cabaret. Bowie was fascinated by Isherwood’s memories of Berlin, and began considering the city for his next destination.

Berlin appealed to me because of German Expressionism. It was the artistic and cultural gateway of Europe in the Twenties and virtually anything important that happened in the arts happened there. And I wanted to plug into that instead of LA and their seedy magic shops.
David Bowie
Arena, May/June 1993

Bowie knew at the very least that he had to leave Los Angeles. He was guided to make the decision by his assistant Coco Schwab, who recognised the US city’s corrosive effect.

I [had] thought, Well, I’ve come to America, the land of Little Richard and Neal Cassady and all these people: I’ll now live in America, and maybe I’ll become an American. And I got there, and then I found drugs, and that took me off somewhere I hadn’t ever planned on going. And that took me for a really rough ride, right through to about ’76-’77…

Two or three times I got to the point of OD: I was really getting very cold and my breathing was stopping, and I was walked out of it, and I got in hot baths to bring me back again. I am so amazed I came out of that alive and didn’t end up a casualty. It wasn’t all terrible. A few years ago I would have kidded myself, Oh, it was all dreadful, I should never have done it. But it’s not actually true. I had a great time. I had a ball! Toward the very end, though, my assistant Coco said, ‘One thing you’ve got to do is leave the city’ – I was living in Los Angeles.

David Bowie
Interview magazine, February 1993

Another impetus came from his accountants, who informed Bowie that he could not remain in the USA or return to the UK without avoiding huge income tax bills.

Bowie’s income had dropped considerably since his split with MainMan, and he struggled to find ready cash.

I’m doing it [touring] for the money. I’m only really playing to about 3,000 people. I wouldn’t know if the rest of the place was empty. I mean it sounds loud, but I can only see about 3,000 people. It would have been nice to do it at the [Philadelphia] Tower and places like that, but then I wouldn’t have made any money.
David Bowie
NME, 7 March 1976

Angie Bowie suggested they relocate to Switzerland, and in February 1976, during a break in the tour, Bowie returned to his Bel Air home to pack his possessions and have them shipped to Europe.

Life in LA had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. I had approached the brink of drug induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some kind of positive action.
David Bowie
Uncut, 1999