1974 – part two

David Bowie’s first live album, David Live, was released in October 1974. It was mostly recorded in Philadelphia in July, and mixed by Tony Visconti with further overdubs in New York.

David Live was mixed by Bowie and Visconti at Electric Lady Studios. They were joined 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…

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.

Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy

The album’s starkly lit cover photography gave little indication of the scale and complexity of the Diamond Dogs Tour set, and each captured a gaunt-looking Bowie against a black background.

And that photo. On the cover. My God, it looks as if I’ve just stepped out of that grave.

That’s actually how I felt. That record should have been called ‘David Bowie is alive and well and living only in theory’.

David Bowie

Bowie appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in November 1974, where he performed ‘1984’, ‘Young Americans’, a medley of ‘Footstomping’ and ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’, and ‘Can You Hear Me’. He was also interviewed by Cavett.

It was horrendous. I had no idea where I was, I couldn’t hear the questions. To this day, I don’t know if I bothered answering them, I was so out of my gourd.
David Bowie, 1994

The performance of ‘Young Americans’ was shown on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on 6 March 1975, which caused consternation in the UK music press.

His physical deterioration was sad to behold. His corpse-like appearance only made more grotesque by a severe Fifties-style haircut and ill-fitting suit. His voice too was in appalling shape and it was almost pitiful to watch him aiming hoarsely at notes he could once reach with ease.
Record Mirror

A second set of Young Americans sessions took place on 20-24 November 1974. Among the visitors to Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia was Bruce Springsteen. According to Bowie, “I was in another universe at the time. I’ve got this extraordinarily strange photograph of us all – I look like I’m made out of wax.”

I was out of my wig. I just couldn’t relate to him at all. It was a bad time for us to have met. I could see that he was thinking, ‘Who is this weird guy?’ And I was thinking, ‘What do I say to normal people?’
David Bowie
Musician, August 1987

Among the new songs recorded during this time was ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’, which contained a clear reference to cocaine: “Jumping John, the great goose is gone/Got a lion in my hand, a Charlie on my back.”

It was pretty obvious that David was taking coke. He became very skeletal in his appearance and began rattling off speeches that sounded meaningless to the rest of us – strange things about witchcraft, demons, and sexual prostitution in ancient times, the Holy Prostitutes of Tyre and Sex Temples, weird things that made everyone nervous. He began to get paranoid… accusing people of ripping him off and stealing his drugs. H was always ranging about people’s teeth and dental bills! One might at Max’s he went into a rage that Marc Bolan was stealing songs from him. Finally, people began to be scared of him… He had to have cartilage removed from one part of his body and put into his nose because the coke had eaten his nose cartilage away.
Jayne County
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Embed from Getty Images

The Soul Tour ended on 1 December 1974 with a show at Atlanta’s Omni Coliseum. Afterwards a party was held for the musicians and crew at the Continental Hyatt House hotel, during which Bowie was almost busted for drug possession.

When I tried to book a room for the party I was told that everything was full because of the Thanksgiving weekend. I should have known right then that something was weird. They said we could have the party in a suite instead. We had every room on the floor, we had this extra suite in the corner, and David was in a suite on another floor. The only room we didn’t have was a suite right next to the one I had hired. I got a call from the front desk asking us to turn the music down, even though we only had a boom box. Soon there was a knock on the door, and all these vice squad cops burst out of the suite next to us. Everyone threw their drugs on the floor, and David even tried to get them to arrest him, but it was me they took, for possession of cocaine and six other charges. The charges were eventually dropped, but this was the last time I worked for MainMan.
Tony Zanetta
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones