He calls the rock icon, a ‘genius’
By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
LONDON, UK (ANS – Jan. 16, 2016) — The shock news of David Bowie’s death has led to a raft of touching tributes across the British media, including one from keyboard legend, Rick Wakeman, who played on several of Bowie’s early hits including Space Oddity, Changes, and Life on Mars, which he recently performed live on a BBC radio show.
Bowie died peacefully on Sunday, January 10, 2016, in New York, surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer.
His death came two days after the release of his critically acclaimed 25th album, Blackstar. His long-term producer and friend, Tony Visconti, posted a statement that the record was Bowie’s “parting gift”, confirming what many critics and fans later realized about the timing of its release. Blackstar is already top the UK album chaters, as Bowie’s older records are quickly reappearing in the US and UK charts.
Keyboard legend, Rick Wakeman, first became involved with Bowie while he was still a teenage student the Royal College of Music in London, and Bowie asked him come to his home in Beckenham in the London Borough of Bromley, which Wakeman jokingly dubbed “Beckenham Palace” [after the Queen’s residence, Buckingham Palace], and was astonished when Bowie began sharing with him a whole raft of new songs he had just written.
Rick was “astonished” with the incredible talent that Bowie displayed, and agreed to help arrange and play on a number of the late singer’s early tracks,
But later, after a time with The Strawbs [and its talented front-man, Dave Cousins], Rick was invited by Chris Squire, the Yes bass player and co-founder, to join the British supergroup, which he did and immediately he went into the studio to start playing on their many hit albums, including Going for the One and Fragile, and also on a whole succession of others.
But Wakeman has revealed that he could have also joined David Bowie on the road. You see, in 1972, Bowie relaunched his career with his on stage alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, alongside his new backing troupe, the Spiders From Mars, and asked Rick if he would like to join them and tour with the Life on Mars icon, but by then he had opted to join Yes. [He also hasn’t done too badly as a solo artist, having produced over 100 solo albums that have sold more than 50 million copies].
At the time, Rick felt that, by joining Yes, he could express his own musical style better with the prog group. However, Rick now says that, on reflection, he has had “some regrets” about not joining David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, and he always wonders how his career would have turned out if he had continued working with Bowie and if he had any regrets about it.
Asked in a media interview about this, he said: “I probably did in some respects. I was asked to join Yes and Spiders from Mars with Mick Ronson and David on the same day and I talked to David and the problem was that if I joined Spiders from Mars, I would be playing all of David’s music, which I loved dearly, and working with David, who was the best person I ever worked with, but if you’re part of a band, you get a chance to actually contribute a lot more of your own style and what you want to do.
“And I spoke with David about it and he said, ‘Absolutely that’s the right decision’… but I often wonder what might have been.”
In an interview with Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Wakeman said of Bowie: “Yes I would [call him a genius], but it is a word that’s bandied around a lot and it is misused a lot.
“David was unbelievable, he had great musicality. You can quite honestly say he changed fashion, he changed art, he changed musical styles and he certainly changed my life.”
He was also asked on the Good Morning Britain show if he regretted not joining forces with Bowie and the Spiders From Mars, and he told hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, “I probably did in some respects”.
When I first heard of Bowie’s death, I immediately e-mailed Rick about it and he replied that he had been “gutted” with the news.
In his TV interview, he explained: “I got up yesterday morning and came down the stairs and I noticed there were 40 text messages; so you know something’s up. I just sat for about 30 or 40 minutes unable to speak.”
Wakeman also said, “I think he played bigger part to where we stand now musically, fashion and art wise than anyone else of my generation.”
Bowie’s early life and religious views
Born David Robert Jones on Jan. 8, 1947 in Brixton, a mixed-race area of inner London, he was raised in what could be considered a normal middle class family. Early in life he was introduced to music and theater, which later led him to enroll in art school where he studied the arts—design and music.
But, before David Bowie became recognized as one of the most influential musicians of his era, he was known as David Jones, a young London singer in a local band who was infatuated with U.S. culture and Hollywood movies, but he then changed his name when he was 18 to avoid confusion with another British musician of the same name, Davy Jones, who later became the front man for The Monkees.
“As with any public figure that has passed, one wonders of his religious belief,” said Brian Nixon, one of ANS correspondents. “Other than references to Buddhism and Eastern thought found in some of his music, David considered himself agnostic, saying, he was ‘not quite an atheist’. But Bowie said he was ‘in awe of the universe’, and had a passion for ‘religious ritual’. Some news reports claim an interest in Christianity as well. Of course one could interpret his music from the existential vantage point of seeking God, but this is something that Mr. Bowie himself didn’t gives clues.
“Though David didn’t believe in God [for] most of his life, the fact of the matter is that God believed in David Bowie, gifting him with immense talent and intelligence. Let’s hope David returned the gift in his final days; seeing his life not as a lost astronaut or alien, but a found prodigal, secure in the arms of His maker.”
I first met Rick Wakeman back in the early 1970s when I was working as a reporter on the Middlesex County Times, and actually wrote the first story about this fledgling star, and during our interview, he shared how he played Mellotron on Space Oddity and, also, as we became close friends, shared about his Christian faith, having been baptized at the South Harrow Baptist Church.
After I had moved to Southern California back in 1982, with my wife, Norma, and our two boys, Andrew and Peter, Rick kindly did two US tours as benefits for ASSIST and we have remained friends after all these years.
How I met David Bowie
I once had a rather bizarre meeting with David Bowie. It took place in the late 1970s outside the London recording studio run by Tony Visconti, Bowie’s record producer.
I had just co-authored a book called King Squealer with a London gangster called Maurice O’Mahoney, for which Rick Wakeman wrote the foreword. “Mo”, as I called him, had somehow got a security job with Bowie and he called me one day at my newspaper office, and said, “Dan, how would you like to meet David Bowie?” “Of course I would”, I replied.
We arranged to meet a few hours later outside the Soho studio and soon Bowie arrived, got out of his limousine, and waved to the crowds waiting to go into the studio for a special event with him. “Mo” rushed over to the star, put his hand on his shoulder and guided him towards me, saying, “David, I’d like you to meet my friend, Dan Wooding from the Sunday People. Say hello to him”.
A bemused Bowie shook my hand and said simply, “Hello.” But that wasn’t enough for “Mo” who then reprimanded him and said, “David, say more than that!”, to which Bowie again said “Hello”, and then disappeared into the studio, followed by his fans. It certainly was a bizarre and extremely short meeting with the man who made such an impact on the music world.
It was what I later called a “Mo Oddity”.
O’Mahoney has since also passed away, but my King Squealer book has been re-released by Gonzo Media in London, and can be obtained at: http://www.amazon.com/King-Squealer-A-True-Story/dp/1908728353. Also, the official biography I wrote about Wakeman, which is now called Caped Crusader: Rick Wakeman in the 1970s (forward by Sir Elton John), has been re-published also by Gonzo Media, and contains quite a bit of material about David Bowie, and can be obtained at http://www.amazon.com/Caped-Crusader-Rick-Wakeman-1970s/dp/1908728302.
To see Rick Wakeman playing his extraordinary version of Life on Mars on BBC radio, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jogv7tD18gs.
Photo captions: 1) David Bowie with Rick Wakeman (inset) — (Getty/ITV). 2) Rick Wakeman playing with his bank of keyboards during a recording session with Yes. 3) Rick Wakeman playing Life on Mars recently at BBC radio studio. 4) Dan Wooding and Rick Wakeman handcuffed to Maurice O’Mahoney after attending a Wakeman concert in London. 5) Caped Crusader book cover. 6) Rick Wakeman with Norma and Dan Wooding pictured in Southern California with a copy of Dan’s book.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books and has two TV programs and one radio show in Southern California, and has reported widely for ANS from all over the world and he wrote Rick Wakeman’s official biography, which carries a foreword by Sir Elton John.
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