Black Tie White Noise album coverWritten by: Pete Brown, Jack Bruce
Recorded: June-September 1992
Producers: David Bowie, Nile Rodgers

Released: 5 April 1993

Available on:
Black Tie White Noise

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, saxophone
Mick Ronson, Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Barry Campbell/John Regan: bass guitar
Richard Hilton, Dave Richards, Philippe Saisse, Richard Tee: keyboards
Poogie Bell/Sterling Campbell: drums
Fonzi Thornton, Tawatha Agee, Curtis King Jr, Dennis Collins, Brenda White-King, Maryl Epps: backing vocals

David Bowie recorded a version of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ for his 18th studio album Black Tie White Noise.

The song featured Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, following his reunion with Bowie in April 1992 at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium.

It was very touching and I’m glad they reconciled. I am regretful I didn’t see Mick over the years more, but it was pretty painful when he left because I played on his two albums and then toured with him, and I continued on with David and he went off with other people and I never really saw him. You’re left with a perception of someone who’s passed and he was, number one, a gentleman, number two, a wonderful support singer and lead guitarist for David like nobody else. Nobody else collaborated better with him.
Mike Garson
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Cream recorded the song in September 1966, and it was released as the band’s second single in December that year. It peaked at number 11 on the UK singles chart.

Bowie recorded a home demo of ‘When I’m Five’ in 1968, the introduction of which contained a snippet from ‘I Feel Free’. He also attempted to record a version of Cream’s song in 1980 for Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, yet it was incomplete and left unreleased.

Black Tie White Noise was one of Bowie’s most personal albums. ‘I Feel Free’ was connected in his mind to his half-brother Terry Burns, who died by suicide in 1985.

‘Jump They Say’ is semi-based on my impression of my step-brother and probably, for the first time, trying to write about how I felt about him committing suicide. It’s also connected to my feeling that sometimes I’ve jumped metaphysically into the unknown and wondering whether I really believed there was something out there to support me, whatever you wanna call it; a God or a life-force? It’s an impressionist piece – it doesn’t have an obvious, cohesive narrative storyline to it, apart from the fact that the protagonist in the song scales a spire and leaps off.

There’s also a personal reason why I cover Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ on the album. One of the times I actually went out with my step-brother, I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through – and I’d like to think it was during ‘I Feel Free’ – he started feeling very, very bad… He used to see visions a lot. And I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him – he was swaying… He’d never heard anything so loud; he was ten years older then me and he’d never been to a rock club, because jazz was his thing when he was young. He turned me on to Eric Dolphy…

Anyway, we got out into the street and he collapsed on the ground and he said the ground was opening up and there was fire and stuff pouring out the pavement, and I could almost see it for him, because he was explaining it so articulately. So the two songs are close together on the album for very personal reasons.

David Bowie
NME, 27 March 1993

The 1993 recording featured Mick Ronson, Bowie’s former guitarist with the Spiders From Mars. The band had performed ‘I Feel Free’ during their early Ziggy Stardust Tour shows in 1972. The song was shortlisted for Pin Ups but never recorded.

Bowie also sang lines from ‘I Feel Free’ during Tin Machine’s performances of ‘Heaven’s In Here’ on their It’s My Life Tour.

We had started doing ‘I Feel Free’ with Tin Machine. We would open up ‘Heaven’s In Here’ to do ‘April In Paris’ into ‘I’m A King Bee’ into ‘I Feel Free’ and back into ‘Heaven’s In Here’ – but it wasn’t always those songs. They had tracked it, and David wanted me to do a solo, a rhythm guitar and a wah track. He called on another occasion and said, ‘I want Mick Ronson on this, so I’m going to wipe your part.’ I said, ‘Great!’ – because it meant I was going to be on a track with Mick Ronson. He took my solo off there. The only track I’m credited on, though, is ‘You’ve Been Around’ because Nile didn’t check the tracking sheets. For posterity that has now been corrected and I am now on a track with Mick Ronson!
Reeves Gabrels
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Ronson and Bowie had collaborated closely on the latter’s breakthrough albums in the early 1970s, with Ronson proving invaluable as a skilful multi-instrumentalist and arranger.

The two men parted company after the recording of Pin Ups in 1973, although Ronson guested on a performance of ‘The Jean Genie’ during a Toronto show in Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour a decade later.

Most recently we lost, tragically, to the illness of cancer, the great friend Mick Ronson, who was the lead guitar player with my first successful band Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders.

I was fortunate enough to know Mick right until the end of his life. And in the last year of that life I’d gotten back very closely with him. One of the reasons for that, I think, was the Freddie Mercury concert that we did together. I brought him and Ian Hunter in to do an interpretation of ‘All The Young Dudes’, and some other early Seventies material.

When Mick and I first worked with the Spiders one of our songs that we’d do as an encore was the Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’. We didn’t think we did it very well. In fact we only did it once, from my recollection. And I do remember that occasion: it was at a pub or a bar called the Greyhound in Croydon. Bastion of grey walls, Croydon. Dear Croydon.

Our support band for the evening was Roxy Music, and during the interval the synthesizer player, Brian Eno, came up to me and said: ‘That’s a really interesting concept you’ve got there, with the red hair and everything. Have you ever thought of not appearing at all one night, and putting another band up there, in entirely different clothes, and see if anybody would notice the difference?’ I knew instantly that I was going to get on with this man, and that we’d probably work together one day. Which indeed we did.

So Mick Ronson and I decided to do, after twenty years, actually put ‘I Feel Free’ onto tape, and that’s the version that we did on Black Tie White Noise.

David Bowie
Black Tie White Noise film

Ronson was receiving treatment for cancer during the making of Black Tie White Noise. He died on 29 April 1993 at the age of 46, shortly after Black Tie White Noise was released.

I worked the last session with Bowie and Mick, six feet away from them. Having listened to Hunky Dory and …Spiders as a kid, I was agog to meet Mick, but the sad story was that he was terminally ill. So there was a bittersweet aspect to it. David talked about it, and Mick came and we had a session – it was fun to watch them interacting and to see the love between them.
Richard Hilton, keyboards
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
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