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From Lou Reed to Brian Eno: David Bowie’s greatest collaborators

One of the greatest aspects of David Bowie’s celestial stardom was that despite being discreetly singular, he welcomed so many people into his oeuvre that he created his own little bohemian world. It is, without doubt, one of his greatest attributes as an artist that he wasn’t unhinged by his own sense of individualism and was happy to celebrate the artistic vision of others.

As a painter, he could’ve crafted all of his own album covers. As a producer, he could have locked himself away in a studio. As a highly unique writer, he could’ve kept his influences to himself, but instead, he relished in a world of creativity and left the door open for his fans. As one of those fans, I can’t begin to think of all the artists and works that I have discovered via his curated mausoleum to gilded inspirations.

Below, we’re looking at the artists who made Bowie into the man he was and contributed significantly to his artistic tapestry. With his awe-inspiring alumni of Mike Garson, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, Carmine Rojas, and Mark Plati already etched into his artistic tapestry as the band members he spent the most time with, we’re focusing on those who nipped in and out of his journey, leaving a seismic contribution in their wake.

David Bowie’s greatest collaborators:

Lou Reed

In a PBS interview, David Bowie recalled the first time he ever heard the Velvet Underground. His manager handed him a plastic demo in “1965-ish” and announced: “‘I don’t know why [Andy Warhol is producing] music, this music is as bad as his painting’ and I thought, ‘I’m gonna like this.’ I’d never heard anything quite like it, it was a revelation to me.” Later adding, “It was [Bob] Dylan who brought a new kind of intelligence to pop songwriting but then it was Lou [Reed] who had taken it even further and into the avant-garde.”

That revelation proved to have a huge impact on Bowie as he found his feet in the music industry. Years later, his uncompromising will to remain avant-garde in his own sui generis way led him to produce Lou Reed’s solo masterpiece Transformer. The album captures the feel of the bohemian studio in such a way that the listener is placed at that moment in time with the creative coterie in attendance. 

Mick Ronson

David Bowie was an artist who recognised the vital necessity of having an image. This was a notion that Frank Zappa would give words to when he declared: “Rock ‘n’ roll was about half image, half music.” Thus, it stands to reason, that if you’re taking to the stage dressed as an intergalactic rock star, then it’s no good having an accountant in grey slacks on lead guitar.

However, Mick Ronson not only helped Bowie to develop a succinct on-stage image, with his flowing locks and outrageous style, he also set about crafting his iconic sonic signature. With spikey proto-glam rock riffs, Ronson captured the sort of future sound that Bowie always had his eye on. In short, without Ronson, there is no Ziggy Stardust, and without Ziggy Stardust, Bowie would have been a reissue footnote, condemned to the depths of the great what could’ve been. 

Iggy Pop

David Bowie’s collaboration with Iggy Pop is not only a creatively fruitful one but one that also seemed absolutely vital for both their sakes in a more holistic sense. When the pair became friends, Iggy was in and out of a Californian mental institution and Bowie was snorting his way towards a fascination with fascism and the belief that his swimming pool was possessed by the devil. 

When they eventually eloped to the safety of Berlin, a trilogy of records would follow for Bowie, and in turn, he would produce Iggy’s career-saving epic The Idiot. The photographer, Masayoshi Sukita, who captured the lives of the duo in Berlin, once said: “I think they found something in each other that they didn’t have themselves. David found wildness in Iggy; Iggy found intelligence in David. It always seemed to me that this was the reason they worked very well with each other.”

Tony Visconti

Tony Visconti began his collaboration with David Bowie back in 1968 working on the production and arrangement of Bowie’s single ‘In the Heat of the Morning’ / ‘London Bye Ta-Ta’ during the shakey start of the singer’s career with Deram records. It was a musical partnership and lifelong friendship that ultimately culminated in Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, the record that earned Visconti a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Over the course of the iconic duo’s career, they would work together on fourteen records, twelve in the studio and two live albums. The main reason that their collaboration proved so fruitful, seemingly resides with the fact that they were great friends. Together the pair developed a shorthand and a visionary kinship that bickering strangers could never have summoned. 

Brian Eno

Bowie was an ever-evolving beast creatively. His mercurial artistic talents led him to cinema screens, playhouses and art galleries let alone studio experimentation. However, there is one particular music project that seemed to indicate the first seismic shift in his work: the revolutionary near-ambient album Low

In fact, a cynical critic could argue that Bowie essentially lifted the sound for Eno’s 1975 record, Discreet Music, and transposed it onto his own. The result was magnificent, if Bowie had been burnt out physically then this artistic infusion was salvation for the beleaguered bohemian.  

Nile Rodgers

When David Bowie wanted a hit, he simply made a call to Nile Rodgers. The trick of cultural history is that an icon’s legacy is remembered as one of evergreen success. In truth, Bowie was far from a leading commercial light in the 1970s, and when its curtain finally fell, and he had sobered up his act, he figured it was finally time to start making some money. 

The triumph of his ‘Let’s Dance’ collaboration with Nile Rodgers, was that it was a pop hit that did nothing to disavow the avant-garde image he had worked towards. It brought a slew of new fans to his show without ever really alienating the old faithful, and that is a sizable feat in and of itself.

Lindsay Kemp

In the mid-1960s, David Bowie was a young man with a burgeoning desire to make an impact. The only thing that matched this internal search for seemingly predestined stardom was an uncompromising artistic will. Granted, many of the great artists of the counterculture movement refused to compromise artistically in favour of commercialism, but very few also had to harangue a distinct stem of otherworldliness into their oeuvre. 

With this unique cacophony of paradoxical motives Bowie’s early attempts at making an impact were unmitigated failures. One of which was a mime multimedia project that he embarked on with Lindsay Kemp and the Feathers. Kemp may have lovingly branded him a lousy mime, but nevertheless, these supportive crutches on his otherworldly journey towards fame were essential. Kemp, along with his first love Hermione Farthingale and John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson comprising Feathers, were sages on his journey into a more ethereal realm that would later flower into something so synonymous we now call it Bowie-esque.