THE SOUL TOUR

SEPTEMBER 2nd - DECEMBER 1st 1974

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica

  • Earl Slick: Guitar

  • Carlos Alomar: Guitar

  • Mike Garson: Piano, Mellotron

  • David Sanborn: Alto Sax, Flute

  • Richard Grando: Baritone Sax, Flute

  • Pablo Rosario: Percussion

  • Warren Peace/Anthony Hinton/Luther Vandross/Ava Cherry/Diane Sumler: Backing Vocals

PLUS - SEPTEMBER ONLY:

  • Michael Kamen: Musical Director, Electric Piano, Moog, Oboe

  • Gui Andrisano: Backing Vocals

  • Doug Raunch: Bass

  • Greg Enrico: Drums

PLUS - OCTOBER-DECEMBER ONLY:

  • Emir Ksasan: Bass

  • Dennis Davis: Drums

  • Robin Clark: Backing Vocals

Repertoire included:

1984 | Rebel Rebel | Moonage Daydream | Sweet Thing | Candidate | Changes | Suffragette City | Aladdin Sane | All The Young Dudes | Cracked Actor | Rock'n'Roll With Me | Knock On Wood | Young Americans | It's Gonna Be Me | Space Oddity | Future Legend | Diamond Dogs | Big Brother | Time | The Jean Genie | Rock'n'Roll Suicide | John, I'm Only Dancing (Again) | Sorrow | Can You Hear Me | Somebody Up There Likes Me | Foot Stomping | Panic In Detroit | Win

Bowie's autumn 1974 dates were officially a continuation of the Diamond Dogs show, but the staging, personnel and set-list were so altered as to become a different entity altogether. The resulting hybrid of the Diamond Dogs concerts with David's new Philadelphia-inspired sound is sometimes referred to as the "Philly Dogs" tour, but the "Soul" tour has become the more usual epithet.

Having recorded much of Young Americans at Sigma Sound in August 1974, David was impatient to perform the new work on stage. Although the elaborate Diamond Dogs stage effects were still in evidence for the opening shows at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on September 2nd - 8th, this was no more than an unwilling concession to Tony Defries, who had insisted that West Coast audiences be given a chance to witness the production. There was also the question of pulling out the stops for the BBC crew trailing David for Alan Yentob's documentary Cracked Actor, whose in-concert sequences were shot at the Los Angeles dates. Already, however, there were changes to the repertoire. The big production numbers remained intact, but gone were the more loosely choreographed "Watch That Man", "Drive-In Saturday", "The Width Of A Circle" and "Panic In Detroit". In their place came three of the new compositions recorded in Philadelphia: "Young Americans", "It's Gonna Be Me" and "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)".

There were also line-up changes, brought about by the influx of new blood from the Young Americans sessions and the casualties of the Diamond Dogs tour. By the end of June, bass player Herbie Flowers had had his fill and returned to Britain. "If I'd have done the second half of the tour, I'd have died," he told Jerry Hopkins. "I got home in one piece and my wife said, 'If you ever do that again, I'm leaving you'." Tony Newman had left to work with George Harrison, and the pair were temporarily replaced by bassist Doug Raunch, on loan from Santana, and percussionist Greg Enrico, formerly of Sly & The Family Stone. Young Americans guitarist Carlos Alomar now made his live debut with Bowie (leaving a vacancy in the Harlem Apollo's house band which, in a pleasing twist of fate, was filled by an unknown young guitarist called Nile Rodgers). Diamond Dogs tour players Earl Slick and Michael Kamen, neither of whom had played at the Sigma sessions, returned to handle lead guitar and keyboards respectively. Swelling the ranks of backing singers were Anthony Hinton, Luther Vandross, Ava Cherry and Diane Sumler.

Promo poster for the opening shows of The Soul Tour at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on September 2nd - 8th
David Bowie - on stage The Soul Tour 1974

The Los Angeles concerts were a major showbiz draw, attended by Diana Ross, Bette Midler, The Jackson Five, Iggy Pop, Tatum O'Neal, Raquel Welch (then apparently considering a MainMan management offer which included plans to record an album produced by Dana Gillespie, which tragically never happened) and Elizabeth Taylor, who would befriend David during his Californian interlude. It was at Taylor's Beverly Hills house in September 1974 that David was first introduced to John Lennon, who would add his talents to the Young Americans album a few months later. Also present in Los Angeles was David's old friend Marc Bolan, his star already in the descendant. The 16-year-old Michael Jackson attended several of the Amphitheatre performances and was reportedly fascinated by the mime elements of the show: bearing this in mind it's certainly difficult to see Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" routine, as captured in Cracked Actor, as anything other than a direct ancestor of Jackson's famous moonwalk.

The Los Angeles Times hailed the opening concert as "marvellously entertaining" and David himself as "stunning - a performer of immense style and ability". Following a week's residency at the Universal Amphitheatre and a handful of concerts in San Diego, Tucson and Phoenix, there was a three-week break caused by a promoter's refusal to meet Tony Defries's financial demands (which by 1974 were often a staggering ninety-ten in MainMan's favour). David now leapt at the opportunity to refashion the show from top to bottom. The Diamond Dogs stage set was scrapped, given away to a school in Philadelphia to obviate storage costs, and at rehearsals in Los Angeles Bowie realigned the show as a straightforward stand-and-deliver performance with the band in full view. The only concession to theatricality was a white backcloth onto which simple patterns of light and colour were flashed. In the larger venues a live relay of the show itself was projected onto the backdrop. David, who now shouldered his acoustic guitar for a greater proportion of the numbers, performed on a sparkling stainless steel platform; the backing singers were confined to another. The clothes had changed to, as the Diamond Dogs costumes developed into a succession of tapering zoot-suits and jodhpurs, again designed by Freddie Burretti and based on the combined wardrobes of James Dean and Frank Sinatra. The Soul tour stage outfits would mark Bowie's final collaboration with his friend Burretti, who sadly died in Paris in May 2001 at the early age of 49.

With the abandoning of the scenery came sweeping changes to the repertoire, as set-reliant numbers like "Sweet Thing", "Aladdin Sane", "All The Young Dudes", "Cracked Actor", "Big Brother" and "Time" were all dropped. "Space Oddity" remained and "Panic In Detroit" returned, both stripped of their elaborate routines. Among the new additions were "Sorrow", "Can You Hear Me", "Somebody Up There Likes Me", and an energetic cover of The Flares' "Foot Stomping". The still unfinished composition "Win" would be added to the repertoire towards the end of the tour.

The reasoning behind all the changes was twofold. In the first place the staging of the Diamond Dogs tour had placed an almost unbearable strain on all concerned, and David had come to regard the scenery as a creative as well as a financial millstone. Secondly and more compellingly, he was bored with Diamond Dogs and in love with his new music. "I was supposed to go all over America with it," he recalled in 1978, "and I only got to Los Angeles and I was bored stiff with it, and I threw the set away and came back with a completely different show...they were supposed to be selling the entire show on this spectacular set, and the kids would come and there was no set, no nothing, and there I was singing soul music!"

After filling in for the September dates, Doug Raunch and Greg Enrico had now departed, as had keyboardist Michael Kamen, who was supplanted as musical director by Mike Garson. Backing vocalist Gui Andrisano stepped down from performing, but remained on the tour as choreographer and master of ceremonies. In their place came new blood: bassist Emir Ksasan from Carlos Alomar's band The Main Ingredient, Young Americans backing vocalist (and Alomar's wife) Robin Clark, and a figure who was to be a mainstay of Bowie's rhythm section for the remainder of the decade, New York drummer Dennis Davis. Considering that he would play on three tours and seven albums (including Low, renowned in rock history for its revolutionary percussion experiments), Davis remains one of the most under-appreciated of all Bowie's collaborators. "Dennis was so open," said David many years later. "He was almost orgiastic in his approach to trying out new stuff...I told him about a Charlie Mingus gig that I saw where the drummer had polythene tubes that would go into the drums, and he would suck and blow to change the pressure as he played. Dennis was out the next day buying that stuff. Dennis is crazy, an absolute loony man, but he had a lot of his own thoughts on things, and he would throw us all kinds of curve-balls."

The Mike Garson Band, as it was now called, opened each show with a series of soul numbers, with lead vocals supplied by the backing singers. The set included "Love Train", "You Keep Me Hangin' On", "I'm In The Mood For Love" (sung by Ava Cherry), "Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me)" (sung by Luther Vandross, "Stormy Monday" (sung by Warren Peace perching on Garson's piano), and finally a souled-up rendition of Bowie's own "Memory Of A Free Festival". The main set now usually began with either "Rebel Rebel" or "Space Oddity".

The Soul Tour: Radio City Music Hall November 1,2 & 3 Novemeber 1974
David Bowie performing live in 1974 with his cane
David Bowie 1974 Rehearsals in New York
David Bowie 1974 Rehearsals in New York

The new show opened at the St Paul Civic Center on October 5th, moving through middle America for the next four weeks before descending on New York's Radio City Music Hall for seven dates. The first two were added by Defries at a late stage after the others had sold out, but unfortunately the extra concerts did poorly at the box office (another instance of MainMan's overweening self-belief: few artists could hope to sell out seven consecutive nights at Radio City). As a result Bowie was forced to open before the New York press in a half-empty house, and the critical reaction was frosty. The New York Times found David "self-consciously uncomfortable without routines to act out, and he was in hoarse voice". The New York Post likened the experience to a gaudy birthday cake "made out of cardboard, with a hollow centre", while Zoo World condemned the show as "a disaster...something like a bad night in Las Vegas...totally mediocre". In Creem, Lester Bangs epitomised American critics' attitude to Bowie during the 1970s, mistrusting the credentials of an artist who changes direction. Pleasantly referring to David as a "pastyfaced snaggletoothed little jitterbug", Bangs considered the show "a parody of a parody" which was "as full of ersatz sincerity as Jerry Lewis...Bowie has just changed his props: last tour it was boxing gloves, skulls and giant hands, this tour it's Black folk."

Even some of the band were unhappy with the new show. Earl Slick later complained that "David had gone completely in a direction I didn't like," while the ousted musical director Michael Kamen was in the audience for a show which he described to the Gillmans as "horrific - a sort of third-rate gospel revivalist meeting. The stage was full of large black people going "Hallelujah" and shaking tambourines, and poor David was very thin and very white and completely out of his element."

Kamen's comment reveals one of the more disturbing aspects of the Soul tour phase. Bowie was now gravely debilitated by cocaine abuse, and his appearance by the end of 1974 was alarming. He looked emaciated, his voice was often hoarse and he required glasses of water lined up on Mike Garson's piano to re-hydrate himself during the shows. "When he grimaced his lips adhered to his gums," the Gillmans were told by David's cousin Kristina, who watched one of the New York concerts from the wings. "He would turn his back on the audience to run his finger around his mouth to free them." According to percussionist Pablo Rosario, "David was really wired. He was doing too much cocaine. He looked like a tiger in a cage going from side to side of the stage." Most distressing of all was the gold-topped walking cane that now became part of David's stage act. He gave the impression that it was nothing more than his latest prop, but the truth was that at times he couldn't keep himself upright without it. "Trust me, I prayed for him - I was very concerned," Mike Garson said in 1999, adding that Bowie was lucky to have survived the period.

At the same time, signs began to appear that David's imagination was expanding in ever more eccentric directions. It was during the Soul tour that he began peppering his interview patter with references to ghosts, UFOs, government conspiracy theories, the Kabbalah and, increasingly, Adolf Hitler. Creem's Bruno Stein transcribed a post-show conversation in a Chicago hotel bar in which Bowie rambled disconcertingly about these and other topics, including the sinister agendas of advertising agencies and the "cultural manipulation" practised by the ancient Mayans. Looking back on the period twenty years later, Bowie observed that he was losing his grip on the division between his own personality and those of his stage characters: "As drugs started to take a more severe hold on my life, the ability within your conscious mind to actually deliver yourself into two separate parts disappear, and the lines blur, and it's only this one formless mutant that's left behind...it gets very messy in there..."

All things considered, one of the more incongruous sidelines of the period can be found in the unintentionally hilarious version of events still being peddled by Cherry Vanilla to readers of the teenage magazine Mirabelle. "I must admit that I'm getting rather attached to just getting anything I want from room service," reveals "David" in one entry, while another includes the innocent recollection that "Mick Jagger and Bette Midler arrived, and very soon I was in a relaxed state". "I've lost so much weight on this tour that I'm going to have to start getting back in shape," he reports cheerily on January 4th. "Angie is trying to fatten me up again with her home cooking!"

Indeed, while the Soul tour unwound MainMan continued to project a business-as-usual air to the outside world, despite massive debts on both sides of the Atlantic and further extravagances on the part of Tony Defries, whose dislike of Bowie's soul music was no secret and whose relationship with his errant client was now in terminal decline. Defries was attempting to groom Dana Gillespie and Wayne County for pop stardom (neither found it), and while David brought in the dollars MainMan announced that it was to produce a Broadway spectacular called Fame, written by Pork veteran Tony Ingrassia and based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The show opened and closed on November 18th 1974 at a cost to MainMan of $250,000.

Despite the chaotic management situation, the physical self-destruction, the mental torment and an artistic direction many critics regraded as questionable, late 1974 represents one of the most fascinating and certainly one of the most poorly documented of all Bowie's live incarnations. Bootleg recordings which survive from the tour reveal a vital and gutsy show already transformed by the rhythm skills of Carlos Alomar and Dennis Davis into the prototype for what was coming next.

The Soul tour closed in Atlanta on December 1st 1974, a planned concert in Tuscaloosa the following day having been cancelled. Three days later, The Dick Cavett Show screened an appearance that had been taped in New York on November 2nd during the Radio City residency. There were excellent live performances of "Young Americans", "1984" and "Foot Stomping", but David himself was looking terrible. At his most waxen and monosyllabic, he fended of Cavett's enquiries with vague, almost inarticulate answers, sniffing obsessively and jabbing at the carpet with his walking-stick. "It was horrendous," he recalled twenty years later. "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." As ever, the Mirabelle diary offered a different view to UK readers: "Dick Cavett and I got on very well," it claimed desperately, "and it was almost like sitting in my living room and talking to a friend." It was an inglorious conclusion to 1974, a year in which Bowie's increasingly fascinating musical transformations threatened to be eclipsed by his painfully visible physical and mental ones.

On December 7th Disc & Music Echo reported that the tour was to continue in Brazil in January 1975, after which Bowie would bring his soul show to mainland Europe and Britain. A fortnight later the Mirabelle diary stated that "Some of the dates for my European tour have been set. As it stands now, I'll be starting in the Scandinavian countries in March." By the New Year, however, plans for a European tour had evaporated amid the concluding sessions for Young Americans and the final meltdown of Bowie's relationship with his manager.

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

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