Remembering the time David Bowie and John Cale got wasted and jammed, 1978
We’re digging deep into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a special moment between two of the most influential artists to have ever walked planet earth; David Bowie and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
Bowie made no secret of his huge admiration for The Velvet Underground throughout his glittering career, living his life entirely obsessed by the New York street culture, that was so perfectly defined in their records. It’s a fascination that began after his then-manager, Ken Pitt, had visited iconic artist Andy Warhol’s Factory studio and returned to London with an acetate copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The rumour goes that Bowie began performing songs from the album almost immediately after receiving the record. In fact, he was the first artist to perform the VU’s songs in Britain. So, when Bowie eventually became friends with Lou Reed, John Cale and the rest of the band, it’s little surprise that he would end up collaborating musically with a lot of them.
In 1978, during a long, frivolous and somewhat debauched session in New York City, Cale and Bowie put some infamous jam sessions to tape. The results are a sparkling reminder of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle they all led.
On the back cover of one recording of a bootleg single, the 45 rpm 7” description read: “On October 5, 1978, David Bowie and John Cale went into the Ciarbis Studio, which is located on top of a house or apartment complex in the city of New York. They recorded some songs there. Here are some results of these unique rehearsals!”
According to Cale’s own words, his artistic relationship with Bowie was so strong that he could never sit at the mixing desk and produce his work, as Bowie had done for Lou Reed. Instead, the duo preferred to have fun with music together, playing a few live shows and secretly jamming together. “David and I didn’t actually meet until I first went back to New York, after I’d done Patti [Smith]. When we did that bootleg, it was like the good old bad old days. We were partying very hard. It was exciting working with him, as there were a lot of possibilities and everything, but we were our own worst enemies at that point,” Cale has previously said.
The Velvet Underground man added: “We also played that show for Steve Reich and Philip Glass. That was a lot of fun. That was when we were hanging out, so I asked David if he’d like to come and play Sabotage with me. I ended up teaching him the viola part, which he had a whack at and then ended up playing on stage for the first time.”
Acknowledging both Bowie’s and his own ability to fall headfirst into a pool of hedonism, Cale would prefer to keep the session between them purely fun, “Did I ever want to produce Bowie? After spending time with him, I realised the answer was no. The way we were then would have made it too dangerous.” Cale, is, of course, referring to the duo’s penchant for debauchery and there’s a good case for seeing why working with one another would be too much to bear.
Cale continued: “He could improvise songs very well, which was what that bootleg was all about. The great thing about when we met and then started hanging out in the ’70s was that he would say [puts on thick Welsh accent] ‘That’s Dai Jones from Wales, isn’t it?’ He loved all that. That set us off. We got along really well, but most of what we were doing was just partying.”
They may well have been partying a lot and drinking far too much but judging by the sessions below there was most definitely a Cale-produced album in there somewhere. It may have produced the same quality of work as the last Velvet Underground/Bowie crossover, Transformer.
Alas, we will never have the chance to see or hear such a thing. That said, we do have these candid moments between not only two of the most influential artists of modern music, but two good mates, David and John.