Read the rest of David Bowie Tribute Week here.
Chris Daly put on his red shoes and smoked a blunt.
The greater the man, the greater his reach. While most folks are reminiscing about David Bowie’s most obvious legacies, from his phenomenal songs and albums to his ability to morph and transcend genres, the Thin White Duke impacted me on an entirely different level. It was 1983, and stepping further and further away from his Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie released a pop-heavy gem, “Let’s Dance.” Produced by Niles Rogers, the album would go onto yield some of DB’s biggest hits with the titular track (No. 1 on the US, UK and other charts), “China Girl,” and “Modern Love” (the latter two topping out at No. 2 in the UK). A lot of folks, critics and fans, lamented that the album was too far a departure from Bowie’s catalog, a volley lobbed so many times against the man it’s hard to remember half his appeal is his mercurial ability to transform.
So what was it that made this album hit so hard in the face of such opposition? Enter one, Stevie Ray Vaughan, then a name you might have heard if you were REALLY into the blues scene (which I was, am, and will forever be). SRV was just coming into his own with his band, Double Trouble. Bowie caught Stevie Ray at the ’82 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, an event he recalled as such: “[He] completely floored me. I probably hadn’t been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck with his band the Tridents.” For his part, SRV was charitable, if not as effusive: “David Bowie is real easy to work with. He knows what he’s doing in the studio, and he doesn’t mess around. He comes right in and goes to work. Most of the time, David did the vocals, and then I played my parts. A lot of the time, he just wanted me to cut loose. He’d give his opinion on the stuff he liked and the stuff that needed work. Almost everything was cut in one or two takes. I think there was only one thing that needed three takes.”
Stevie ended up on six of the albums tracks, and the results are an amalgam of early 80s synth-pop and Albert King-style guitar licks baked by one of disco’s architects. If you’re familiar with his sound, Stevie’s presence is as obvious as a slap on the ass, but back in ’83, very few knew about the Dallas Wunderkid. While “Let’s Dance” effectively served as SRV’s coming out party to the greater world-at-large, it had the opposite effect on me, taking me instead into the world of alien superstars who may or may not have shagged Mick Jagger.
David Bowie will be missed for many things, and rightfully so. For some, it was the invention of Glam Rock. For others, it was an oversized cod piece in a Muppets movie. But for a kid who dug the blues, David Bowie was the guy who helped bring the underdog to the world stage. While Stevie Ray Vaughan would pass far too early in a helicopter accident just a short few years later, it’s reasonable to assume he may never have risen as high as he did without the ear and appreciation of David Bowie. That is reason enough to dance for all eternity.