It’s a fact. Only three white male artists have ever appeared on Soul Train, but more on that later.
2016 has started off shaky for music fans with the shocking loss of our great songstress, Natalie Cole. Cole was an awesome talent who was considered hard competition to Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin in the early 70’s.
We lost Glenn Frey a founding member of the Eagles and strong contributor to the hits-filled catalogue of that enduring band. And lastly, more pointedly, the great loss of the Thin White Duke hisself, David Bowie. Arguably the most dynamic and creative Rock musician of all times.
Bowie’s contribution to music cannot be overstated. In the hearts and minds of music lovers everywhere, he was one of the baddest. What is especially shocking is that he died mere days after his 69th birthday and on the week he gave the music world his newest release, Blackstar, The 27th studio album of his prodigious career.
To say he was one the most creative and prolific talents around really does no justice. The man always remained connected to what is current in his music. When live Rock performances began to meld with Theatre, Bowie was there. When Glam Rock was the lick, Bowie was that. When Soul met Brit-Rock, Bowie was there, and when Drum n’ Bass met the mainstream, Bowie. Thin White Duke could easily have assumed the moniker Thin White Chameleon because he evolved at a pace that often left some fans scratching their heads and others feeling alienated for a spell before hopping back onto the bandwagon.
Always staying in the today, always creating something brand new, always reaching for the what’s happening now. David Bowie never stayed in his lane nor stayed playing his position. Two words say it best. Ground-breaking talent. Ask a David Bowie devotee which of his eras do you dig the most? It’s a very interesting and thoughtful question that has well over 7 possible answers to it.
As I reflected on this huge loss to millions of music fans, my soul stays impressed by one special thing about David Bowie. Not the craftsmanship of his songwriting, It’s not the multi-layered approach to various images he created for himself, It’s not even the longevity of his career which spanned 5 decades. The thing that leaves me overwhelmingly impressed is the level of talent that he surrounded himself with throughout. Bowie through his many collaborations virtually ensured top-notch results. In street parlance, game recognizes game. You owe it to yourself to seek out and celebrate the individual work of this short list of greats that created and built arm-in-arm with David Bowie:
Carlos Alomar, Guitarist
Bowie’s ace. His co-writer and collaborator. Carlos Alomar has worked on more Bowie albums than anyone else. Carlos Alomar is the straw that stirs the drink on most Bowie tunes, holding it down, as it were, with his deft finger work and incessant rhythmic guitar playing style. Close your eyes the next time you listen to “Fame” and thank your stars for this iconic groove put down by Ponce, Puerto Rico’s own. Alomar trained under Chuck Berry and JB Godfather and went on to soar with David Bowie. This Latino-American musician’s place in music history is rock solid, and not least is the inimitable contribution to Bowie’s catalogue.
Gail Ann Dorsey, Bassist
Casual fans may have wondered who that diminutive long skirted, bare-footed bass wielding-dervish is live on stage with Bowie. Her serious playing anchoring each song heavy as a Chevy. It’s West Philadelphia’s own Gail Ann Dorsey. Her onstage chemistry with Bowie in addition to her honest sound has been a cornerstone of the groove since the late 80’s when she was first heard on the album Sound + Vision. Take time out to view the many Bowie shows archived on Youtube and get a real sense of what I’m saying about this super talent. She’s all killer, no filler.
Tony Thompson, Drummer
Throughout 1983’s Let’s Dance album and the accompanying “Serious Moonlight ” concert tour, the late Tony Thompson was that man “in the pocket.” Chic’s own Thompson provided that necessary foot on the funk that permeates that entire album. His meticulous timing, subtle cymbal syncopations and ample muscle developed both Disco and Hip-hop throughout his too short career. Is it a coincidence that this hard-hitter paired up with fellow Chic teammate Nile Rodgers on this groove-filled, funktionally-charged album? No.
Nile Rodgers, Producer/Writer/Musician/Badman
He is a co-founding member of Chic. He’s the musical brain behind Sister Sledge and Power Station. He is the maker behind hits by Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Duran Duran, but I digress. Nile Rodgers needs his own 1,000 -word piece. Legend has it that in 1982, Rogers was approached by Bowie for the sole purpose of procuring a “hit” from the super duper producer.
Rodgers put together 3 songs that became the funky crux of 1983’s “Let’s Dance” and the rest is music history. No one enabled Bowie to funk out like Nile Rodgers did.
Luther Vandross, Vocalist Extraordinaire,
Check the material on the 1975 album “Young Americans”. Luther’s signature sweet sounding back-up vocals are all over the record. Although his voice was most coveted in the 80’s, Luther got his big break with David Bowie as a session singer in 1974. As music folklore has it, Bowie had sought out Luther’s talent after first hearing him perform in clubs in and around NYC. The harmonies on “Young Americans.” It has been said that the backing vocal arrangement were suggested by Luther Vandross — perhaps the reason we all sing along to it. Give “Fascination” a listen as well. It was also co-written by Luther. It’s another devastating track off that album and one where he shines bright. Bowie had a good thing going, Luther Vandross made it a better thing going.
As I stated up top, only 3 white male artists have ever graced the Soul Train stage. Elton John’s enormously successful career is bolstered by dozens of number-one hits. He’s no slouch and worthy of a Soul Train appearance. Similarly, Gino Vannelli gets mad respect for his particular brand of blue-eyed Soul stretching out, obliterating the lines between Rock and Jazz. He too was Soul Train worthy. But there was something too cool and undeniably special about David Bowie funkin’ it on up on that Soul Train stage that December Saturday in 1975.
May he rest knowing that we will remain grooving on and on to the break of dawn.