It’s no secret that David Bowie was something of a phenomenon. The unique ability for relentless creative metamorphosis allowed the Starman to sculpt a legacy that remains largely unparalleled in popular music.
Bowie’s rise to fame wasn’t as fast as he might have hoped, and it would take a couple of albums before he managed to finetune his formula for popular acclaim. The early glimmer of fame was welcomed with the release of Space Oddity in 1969. It was buoyed by the international success of its title track, timed to perfection with the Apollo 11 Moon landings.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s, with the release of Hunky Dory in 1971 and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars a year thereafter, that Bowie became a global sensation. By this point, the amiable artist had made friends with most who were lucky enough to cross his path.
Bowie had a very interesting personality; he was neither introverted nor extroverted. When asked about the motivation behind his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, he said: “I’m not particularly a gregarious person. I had an unbearable shyness; it was much easier for me to keep on with the Ziggy thing, off stage as well as on. Who was David Bowie? And who was Ziggy Stardust? It was motivated by shyness.”
His shy vulnerability made Bowie approachable and easy to get on with, yet the confident Ziggy Stardust side of his personality allowed him the space to exhibit his creative will. With this winning formula, Bowie had a positive impact on many of the peers he worked alongside.
Bowie’s glam era portrayed him as an alien, or ‘Starman’, who gives his outsider’s view on the plight of Earth. In reality, too, Bowie was a superhero of sorts. Throughout his career, there were several examples of Bowie’s enduring compassion and selflessness as he looked to share any success and good fortune amongst his peers. Today, we list five artists whose careers likely would have fizzled out if not for Bowie’s helping hand.
Five artists that David Bowie saved from destitution:
In the mid-1970s, Bowie and Iggy Pop agreed to geographically distance themselves from their drug addictions and unsustainable rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles. They travelled first to Château d’Hérouville, the same French location where Bowie recorded his covers album, Pin-Ups, in 1973. It was here where Bowie began recording his 1977 masterpiece Low, which would become the first instalment of his famed experimental Berlin trilogy. Meanwhile, Bowie helped Iggy with his debut solo record, The Idiot.
Iggy once told The New York Times: “The friendship was basically that [Bowie] salvaged me from certain professional and maybe personal annihilation — simple as that. A lot of people were curious about me, but only he was the one who had enough truly in common with me, and who actually really liked what I did and could get on board with it, and who also had decent enough intentions to help me out. He did a good thing. He resurrected me. He was more of a benefactor than a friend in a way most people think of friendship. He went a bit out of his way to bestow some good karma on me.”
In the mid-1960s, before his years of fame, Bowie was among very few Brits to have come across the first album of The Velvet Underground. The trailblazing record had a huge impact on Bowie as a creative artist, and more directly, the song ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ influenced Bowie’s Hunky Dory classic, ‘Queen Bitch’. While Lou Reed’s work with The Velvet Underground gave Bowie a helping hand, in 1971, Bowie’s helped save Reed’s moribund solo career by offering to help produce his seminal second studio album, Transformer, 1972.
Reed commented: “How can I remember my first impression of David Bowie? That’s really… [smiles] Okay… I mean, David and I are friends to this day. He’s very smart and very, very talented, and I met him in New York and thought, ‘This guy would be a fun guy to work with; we could really bring something to the dance.’”
Later, Reed added, “David is no slouch. We were rehearsing for our little show, and we’re doing ‘Satellite Of Love’ and we were doing the real background part at the end, and the guys were really admiring David and going, ‘Holy shit, what a part that is.’ He outdid himself.”
Mott the Hoople
In 1972, Herefordshire glam rock group Mott the Hoople were close to calling it a day following four albums and dwindling commercial and critical success. Keen to help the struggling group, Bowie sent them an early demo of ‘Suffragette City’ in hopes that they would record it. Unfortunately, the band jammed to it and felt it wasn’t fitting for their style. In his polite letter of declination, the group’s bassist Pete Watts explained to Bowie that the band had broken up. Determined, Bowie got back in contact with Watts and showed him an early incarnation of ‘All the Young Dudes’. According to David Buckley’s book, Strange Fascination, Watts later recalled, “He hadn’t got all the words but the song just blew me away, especially when he hit the chorus.”
Excited about the single, Watts arranged for Bowie to meet the other band members to pitch the track. They were immediately on board. Frontman Ian Hunter recalled the moment, “He just played it on an acoustic guitar. I knew straight away it was a hit. There were chills going down my spine. It’s only happened to me a few times in my life, when you know that this is a biggie.” While drummer Dale Griffin said, “We couldn’t believe it. In the office at Regent Street, he’s strumming it on his guitar and I’m thinking, he wants to give us that? He must be crazy! We broke our necks to say yes! You couldn’t fail to see it was a great song.”
Mott the Hoople recorded ‘All the Young Dudes’ and it became an instant hit reaching number three on the UK charts. The quintessential glam-anthem reunited Mott the Hoople and defined their career, cementing the band in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Before joining prog-rock group Yes, Rick Wakeman was a session musician scraping by on the criminally low rates for studio contributions. His early work was highlighted by his piano collaborations with Bowie on Space Oddity (1969) and Hunky Dory (1971). Through Bowie, Wakeman became acquainted with Tony Visconti, Lou Reed and Marc Bolan, with whom he also collaborated. These early opportunities gave his early career the exposure it needed to ensure future success as a musician.
Rick Wakeman: “[Bowie and I] became good friends, and shortly after that, he asked me over to his house. He lived in Beckenham – everyone called it Beckenham Palace, way before Posh and Becks. I remember sitting in this room, while he took out this battered 12-string and played me the songs that ended up on Hunky Dory. I’d been doing sessions for years, but I’d never heard so many songs that were such winners.”
Pop icon Tina Turner was down on her luck in the early 1980s and believed her days as a chart-topping phenomenon were numbered when she was dropped from Capitol Records at the end of her contract. At the time, Turner had just returned to music following the breakup of her abusive relationship with her ex-husband Ike. Fortunately, everyone’s favourite superhero was Tina’s labelmate, and he decided to offer her a helping hand.
According to Nicholas Pegg’s book, The Complete Bowie, Turner later said of Bowie’s involvement, “In 1983, David Bowie did something very special and significant for me. We were on the same label, but the decision had been taken not to re-sign me. David, however, had just had his contract renewed by Capitol, who wanted to take him out to dinner that night in New York to celebrate. ‘I’m sorry,’ he told them, ‘but I’m going to the Ritz to see my favourite singer perform.’ And that was me.”
Turner said proudly, “The bigwigs tagged along and luckily, it was a great show. Seeing it and the crowd’s reaction turned round how Capitol viewed me. It was because of David that I got another deal, and everything else followed. I’ll be ever thankful to him.”