Personas, he's had a few. David Bowie was the Man Who Sold the World, and the Man Who Fell to Earth. He was the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. And during his Scary Monsters incarnation, he was a white-faced Pierrot. These were attention-grabbing guises, but there was always a musical depth and range of influences behind them.
On Bowie's new album Blackstar, he worked with a jazz quartet led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin that has been burning up clubs for the last few years in the singer's adopted hometown of New York. McCaslin's band gives the album a dark, open-ended atmosphere that loosens Bowie's ties to rock until sometimes they vanish completely. It was an audacious move for the artist as he turned 69, but hardly uncharacteristic. He had a long history of championing and borrowing from relatively unknown artists and building bridges between distant genres.
Who were these unexpected or underrated influences, and how did Bowie acknowledge them in his music? The list has to begin with the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, a Texas psychobilly pioneer whose '60s single Paralyzed has come up in many Bowie interviews. The singer accurately described the track as "the most awful cacophony," but he admired the utter commitment behind the performance. He later adopted part of this rock oddity's name for his own creation, Ziggy Stardust.
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