Collecting autographs requires patience. Sometimes extreme patience. But getting David Bowie and his 1970 band The Hype to sign my UK dress cover copy of The Man Who Sold The World took me 42 years. That’s got to be one for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Here’s the somewhat short version. I was and remain a huge fan of David Bowie’s 60’s and 70’s work. In 1973 I saw him and the Spiders From Mars at the Long Beach Arena and the Hollywood Palladium. Still among the top 5 concerts I’ve ever seen–and I’ve seen many. Back then I spent a lot of time trying to meet the musicians I admired and get their autographs. So Bowie and his band were at the top of my list.
David Bowie: As I wrote in an earlier post, in 1974 my friend Harvey Kubernik, who wrote for Melody Maker, called to tell me Bowie and his new band were rehearsing at that very moment at Studio Instrument Rentals in Hollywood. I rushed there and sat outside for five or six hours until Bowie’s bodyguard, Stuart George, emerged. I shyly asked him to sign a photo I had of him with Bowie, and we began to talk. I showed him the dress cover Man Who Sold The World, which he’d never seen, and he invited me inside. He brought David out to meet me, and he graciously signed it “For Jeff, with my very best wishes, Bowie ’74.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d met my hero.
Mick Ronson: Two years later the call came from Harvey again: my guitar hero Mick Ronson was staying at the Sunset Marquee Hotel in Hollywood. Same drill–I hightailed it to the hotel with my album, parked outside, and sat for 5 or 6 hours, waiting for Ronson–with no sign of him. I came back the next day and sat another three or four hours before doing something I’ve never done, before or since. I called his room, explained my mission, and much to my surprise he invited me to his room. I spent half an hour with the exceedingly nice Ronson, who signed my album and some 45’s by his band The Rats. When his Rolling Thunder Review bandmates Joan Baez and I believe Ronnie Blakley came by to visit, he introduced me as if we knew each other. Again, I couldn’t believe it. Mick Ronson! In the 80’s, I worked for A&M Records and met him a number of other times when he produced our band The Payolas. He was always wonderful, and I never got used to being in his presence.
Tony Visconti: Fast forward to 2000. I learned the album’s producer and bass player, the great Tony Visconti was giving a talk at the National Association of Music Merchants convention in Los Angeles. I wasn’t registered for the convention, but somehow I talked my way in and when his talk was over, I rushed onstage and accosted him. He signed my album, barely looking at it or me. But I was very happy just to have met him for a second.
I figured getting the autograph of Woody Woodmansey, the fourth and final member of The Hype, would be near impossible. Woody lived in the UK, and to my knowledge his touring days were long behind him. Years passed. And then…
In 2014 Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey formed a band, Holy Holy, to play the music of David Bowie. Particularly The Man Who Sold The World. They toured the UK in 2014, Japan and the UK in 2015, and the East Coast of the US in 2016. But not Los Angeles, where I live. And then it happened–they booked an LA show, in April.
Woody Woodmansey: At breakfast one day, my old friend David Leaf happened to mention that he was friendly with Tony Visconti’s manager, Joe D’Ambrosio. I told him of my mission and he promised his friend would make it happen. A flurry of phone calls and emails later it was arranged. Joe told me to knock on the stage door at The Wiltern Theatre just before the soundcheck, identify myself and ask for Woody’s wife. I did as instructed, and was ushered into his dressing room. Woody and his wife couldn’t have been nicer. I thanked him profusely, he signed the album, took a few photos with me, and my project was complete. 42 years later, a fully signed Man Who Sold The World.
It was hard to believe. I’d begun my quest as an 18 year old college student and record store clerk, and ended it as a 60 year old former executive vice president of Warner Bros. Records, married 30 years with two grown kids! But I still love music, record collecting hasn’t eased its grip, and The Man Who Sold The World is still one of my all-time favorite albums. And I do like a good project to sink my teeth into.
So thanks Harvey, David, Joe, David, Mick, Tony and Woody. I owe you. Phew.
PS: Yeah, I know, Mercury Records executive Ralph Mace played synthesizer on a few songs. But he wasn’t a band member, so I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
More about my adventures with Bowie are here.