Happy 67th Birthday, David Bowie.
Philly has always had a special place in its rock and roll heart for The Thin White Duke. His first (and best) live album, David Live, was recorded at the Tower Theater in July 1974 during his Diamond Dogs tour. That same summer, during breaks from the tour, he set off on a recording course that would become one of his best albums, Young Americans.
Partially recorded in Philly at Sigma Sound Studios, Bowie gathered a band that included Carlos Alomar on guitar, the rhythm section of bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Andy Newmark, David Sanborn on saxophone, backup singers including Luther Vandross, engineer Tony Visconti and others in August 1974. From an October 1974 article in Rolling Stone, Philly Stopover: Fans and Funk by Matt Damsker writes:
La Bowie and his entourage made elegant camp here for two weeks before the start of the West Coast swing of his current tour.
Pitching tents amid the staid and somewhat geriatric prestige of Rittenhouse Square’s Hotel Barclay, the Bowie mob had come from its New York headquarters after booking some 120 hours of recording time at Sigma Sound Studios, home of the Gamble-Huff-Bell R&B empire and one of the busiest hitmaking studios in the country.
Bowie’s intention had been to record with the rhythm section from MFSB, Sigma’s resident body whose TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) had recently pinned Philly Funk to the top of the charts for an extended reign. However, some confusion over commitments left Bowie with only MFSB conga player Larry Washington.
In addition to the Rolling Stone article about the sessions, there’s an absolutely great account of the recording sessions along with outtakes and songs and additional photos here. Below, via The Young American SoundCloud are some outtakes from the sessions and a radio promotional spot for the album. Be sure to check out the alternative version of “Fame” with flute.
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