I Pity The Fool single – United KingdomWritten by: Joe Medwick/Don Robey
Recorded: 15 January 1965
Producer: Shel Talmy

Released: 5 March 1965


David Bowie: vocals, alto saxophone
Jimmy Page, Johnny Flux: guitar
John Watson: bass guitar
Bob Solly: organ
Paul Rodriguez: tenor saxophone, trumpet
Woolf Byrne: baritone saxophone
Mick White: drums

‘I Pity The Fool’ was David Bowie’s second single, credited to The Manish Boys. It was released by Parlophone in March 1965.

The song was first recorded in 1961 by American blues singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. The songwriter is unclear – it was originally credited to Duke record label owner Don Robey under the pseudonym Deadric Malone, although it is more likely to have been written by R&B singer-songwriter Joe Medwick, who often sold songs to Robey along with composition credits.

‘I Pity The Fool’ was Bowie’s last cover version until ‘Fill Your Heart’ on the Hunky Dory album.

In the studio

The Manish Boys recorded ‘I Pity The Fool’ on 15 January 1965 at IBC Studios on Portland Place, London.

It was produced by Shel Talmy, who had also worked with the Kinks, the Who, Manfred Mann, and the Bachelors.

Bowie was unquestionably the leader, but I worked with them in terms of rehearsing the band so that we knew what we were doing. It’s always 90 per cent rehearsal and 10 per cent hoping for something spectacular to happen in the studio, and occasionally it does. But I wanted to know what we were doing and that studio was a place to work. I didn’t want to do anything else there except work.

IBC I used a lot because it was ahead of most of the other studios except perhaps Olympic in terms of the gear they had, and they had a couple of very good people working in there. They’d built some of their own equipment, including parts of the console. The lead guitarist of the band was good but wasn’t a solo type. I found Jimmy Page early in my arrival to London and started using him. Bowie always liked really good musicians, and that’s my memory of that.

Shel Talmy
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

On lead guitar was Jimmy Page, later to find fame with Led Zeppelin.

I played on his records, did you know that? His very early records, when he was Davy Jones & The Lower Third. The Shel Talmy records. I can think of two individual sessions that I did with him. He said in some interview that on one of those sessions I showed him these chords, which he used in ‘Space Oddity’ – but he said, “Don’t tell Jim, he might sue me.” Ha ha!
Jimmy Page
Uncut, March 2008

The band also recorded two versions of the single’s b-side, ‘Take My Tip’, during the session.

We met Shel Talmy in the 2i’s coffee bar on January 15 1965 – by this time we were rehearsing ‘I Pity The Fool’ and ‘Take My Tip’. I think Jimmy Page was probably there, and then on January 15 in the evening we went to IBC studios for two hours, and recorded two songs, twice. That included Jimmy Page and his famous fuzz box, which he was using for the first time ever.

We just went downstairs into a cellar, just above the BBC on Upper Regent Street. A two-hour slot, unheard of nowadays. Shel seemed like a nice guy. It was a release, which was the important thing, which in theory should have got us a lot more work but all it really got us was one TV programme that wasn’t recorded. That was Gadzooks! It was quite an amusing show. There’s a series of photographs – of all of us having our hair done, looking really neat. Barrie Langford was the producer – he and Leslie Conn thought up a story about Davie’s hair being too long for TV.

Woolf Byrne
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

During the session Page taught Bowie a riff which was later incorporated into ‘The Supermen’ on The Man Who Sold The World.

When I was a baby, I did a rock session with one of the bands, one of the millions of bands that I had in the ’60s – it was the Manish Boys, that’s what it was – and the session guitar player doing the solo was this young kid who’d just come out of art school and was already a top session man, Jimmy Page. And he just got a fuzz box and he used that for the solo. He was wildly excited about it and he was quite generous that day and he said, ‘Look, I’ve got this riff but I’m not using it for anything, so why don’t you learn it and see if you can do anything with it?’ So I had his riff, and I’ve used it ever since! [laughs]. It’s never let me down.
David Bowie
ChangesNowBowie, BBC Radio 1, 8 January 1997

Page was just 21 years old at the time of the Manish Boys session, but was already making a name for himself as a formidable session guitarist.

He was this kid who just left art school and was the youngest session man in the world, fifteen or sixteen. He was a fresh faced kid who had a real joy for playing. The Led Zeppelin thing … it’s hard to put the two together. He taught me a wonderful riff which became ‘The Supermen’.
David Bowie
Seconds magazine, August/September 1995

The release

‘I Pity The Fool’ was originally to have been released by Decca, but Shel Talmy eventually offered it to the Beatles’ label Parlophone.

The Manish Boys’ only single, it was issued on 5 March 1965 as Parlophone R 5250.

As with Bowie’s other early releases, ‘I Pity The Fool’ was not a success, despite a promotional appearance on 8 March on the BBC’s Gadzooks! It’s All Happening.

We did a session for Decca, and then somehow the Decca contract – whether it was through Leslie Conn or the Musicians’ Union – was annulled. It was through Leslie Conn that we were seen by Shel Talmy and how we came up with the record for him. I think it was his idea that we do this Bobby Bland number. We didn’t play many Davie Jones originals until he came up with what became the b-side of the record, ‘Take My Tip’ – we played that a few times.
Woolf Byrne
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The lack of a commercial breakthrough, and Bowie’s failure to get top billing on the release, meant that he left the band soon after and moved on to another band, the Lower Third.

‘I Pity The Fool’ was later reissued on the compilation The Manish Boys/Davy Jones And The Lower Third. Another version from the 15 January session was included on the 1991 compilation Early On (1964-1966).

Previous song: ‘Louie, Louie Go Home’
Next song: ‘Take My Tip’
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