In order to create a more authentically soulful sound, David brought in musicians from the funk and soul community, including Andy Newmark, drummer of Sly and the Family Stone, and an early-career Luther Vandross. Luther brought along two of his backing singers, Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, who together with Ava Cherry joined David during the sessions.
“I'm putting a very good new band together. There'll be three people from the 'Diamond Dogs' album, Mike Garson on piano again, Herbie Flowers on bass, yeah I managed to persuade Herbie to tour with me, and y'know he's got to be the best bassist in the country, and there's Tony Newman who used to drum in the old Jeff Beck Group.
"I've also been looking for guitars, and I've found a really incredible black guy called Carlos, just Carlos! and there's another black guy I want to get to play guitar in the band. I want a really funky sound."
"Ever since I got to New York I've been going down to the Apollo in Harlem. Most New Yorkers seem scared to go there if they're white, but the music's incredible. I saw the Temptations and the Spinners together on the same bill there, and next week it's Marvin Gaye, incredible! I mean I love that kind of thing!
"Have you heard Ann Peebles? Yeah, well Lennon's right, ain't he, best record in years. I mean that's what I'd like to do producing Lulu, take to Memphis and get a really good band like Willie Mitchell's and do a whole album with her, which I will do.
"Lulu's got this terrific voice, and it's been misdirected all this time, all these years. People laugh now, but they won't in two years time, you see! I produced a single with her — 'Can You Hear Me' — and that's more the way she's going. She's got a real soul voice, she can get the feel of Aretha, but it's been so misdirected."English singers do all this 'Oh yeah', 'Alright now' on soul songs, and it's wrong, but when she doesn't do that she just has the feel naturally."
CARLOS ALOMAR: "I met him at RCA, when he was producing some tracks for Lulu. He was so thin, about 100 pounds, and one of the first things I said to him was, 'Man, you look like shit. You've gotta come to my house and eat some decent food.' And he did. Next thing I know a limousine rolls up to my house in Queen’s in New York. There was David coming up the stairs. He was funny, kind and so curious about R’n’B and he invited me to play with him. It started off just as little fragments, ideas and riffs that he'd bang out on the piano or on his acoustic guitar. I would work with those ideas, supplying him with signature guitar lines so he could choose - one from column A, one from column B and so on."
TONY VISCONTI: "I could hear the problem. In those days in America, engineers recorded 'dry' and 'flat,' waiting for the mix to add the equalization, reverbs and special effects. But the British often recorded with the special effects right on the session. I was British-trained, and David was used to this sound. So I rolled up my sleeves and got right into it."
It was agreed early on to record as much of the material as possible live, with the full band playing together, including David's vocals, as a single continuous take for each song. This presented a big problem because the instruments were much louder than David's voice.
TONY VISCONTI: "I had to rig up a special microphone technique which cancelled the band but recorded his voice. This required two identical microphones placed electronically out of phase. In other words, the diaphragm of one mike is pushing when the other is pulling. The band's sound is picked up by the two mikes, but is out of phase and consequently cancelled! David was told to sing only into the top mike so that his voice was not cancelled! For the non-technically-minded this probably doesn't make any sense, but it saved the day, and what you hear on the recordings is about 85% 'live' David Bowie".
Sigma Sound Studios was only the second studio in the United States to offer 24-track recording and the very first in the country to use console automation. The mixing desk itself had been custom-built by Sigma Sound's own technicians.
- SIGMA SOUND STUDIO'S CONTROL ROOM -
The musicians would learn their parts and then David would come in and sing his vocals, often working right through the night until sunrise. As an example, 'Young Americans' (which was the first song to be recorded) took just 2 days to record, finishing at 2am on the 2nd day! Such was the frenzied pace at which material was being recorded.
FOR EVALUATION AND STUDY PURPOSES ONLY, YOU CAN LISTEN TO SAMPLES OF SOME OF THE TRACKS RECORDED DURING THE YOUNG AMERICANS SESSIONS BY CLICKING ON THE BLUE TITLES BELOW
S I G M A S O U N D S E S S I O N S
ENGINEER CARL PARUOLO TAPE OPERATOR MIKE HUTCHINSON
CARLOS ALOMAR: "It was only about four hours into the first session. We got to the guitar breakdown, and we knew we had something. We had a bit of a drum problem. If you listen to it, you'll hear that the drums feel slow in the middle of the track, so David got me to keep playing the guitar breakdown until the drums got back in time. Robin and Luther really thought Ava couldn't sing. Her lack of technique caused problems."
DAVID SANBORN: "He didn't have a vocal melody or a complete lyric at that point. It was pretty much rhythm guitar, bass and drums, but Bowie didn't try to direct me. I was free to just respond to whatever the backing track inspired in me. They were very loose sessions, with Bowie usually up in the control booth directing us rather than playing. Several of us were pretty stoned during those sessions but whatever problems David was having with drugs, they didn't affect his control of the session. Those sessions had been so loose that I was shocked by how coherent it all seemed when I heard the finished track."
Young Americans (stripped-down mix): Same as previous track (above) but this version is a stripped-down mix, without some backing vocals and other overdubs.
After Today (version 2): Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Completion of this track was abandoned. Two versions of this song were recorded during the Young Americans sessions. The 1st version had faster tempo. The version that appears here is the 2nd of the two, which is more slow in tempo.
John, I'm Only Dancing (Again) (outtake): Original working title: 'I'm Only Dancin (She Turns me On)', this is a complete reworking of David's own 'John, I'm Only Dancing'. Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Recording was later completed at Sigma Sound sometime between 20th - 25th November 1974, including the addition of overdubs. Mixed at Sound House, London. This track is a completed outtake and was a high contender for the final running order of the album, but which would later be cut.
Never No Turnin' Back (demo): Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Mixed at Record Plant, New York.
ROBIN CLARK: "We had ‘Takin’ it all the right way, keepin’ it in the back. Takin’ it all the right way, never no turnin’ back. Never need no'. And then that section comes in, ‘Wishing, wishing, sometimes. Doing it, up there. Nobody, nobody doin it. Getting it up’. That was so hard! David had like a puzzle. He brought this paper to us and he said ‘This is how I want you to sing this. It wasn’t just a straight sing it linearly and melodically. It was ‘I want it to jump in here and I want you to jump out there, and jump back in here’. That too was the first time I had seen anything like that in my life, but it was brilliant because he knew exactly what he wanted.”
AVA CHERRY: “Oh Lord it was too much! It was like ‘Man I’ll be glad when we’ve finished with this song!’."
Two versions of this song were recorded during the Young Americans sessions. This is the 1st version (now regarded as a demo, although it was a completed track in it's own right) recorded during initial sessions. However, a second version (which made it onto the album) was then recorded at Sigma later in 1974, and would be re-titled 'Right'.
Right: This is the complete and finished 1975 album cut, and the 2nd of the two versions, recorded in 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia. Recording was later completed at Sigma Sound sometime between 20th - 25th November 1974, including the addition of overdubs.
It's Gonna' Be Me (outtake, without strings): Original working title: 'Come Back My Baby'. Recorded at Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Recording was later completed at Sigma Sound sometime between 20th - 25th November 1974, including the addition of overdubs. This is an unfinished mix and without the string section, which would later be added in January 1975.
It's Gonna' Be Me (outtake, with strings): Same as previous track (above), but including string section which would later be added by Toni Visconti at Air Studios, London, on 12th January 1975. Mixed at Looking Glass Studios, New York. This track is a completed outtake and was a high contender for the final running order of the album, but which would later be cut.
Who Can I Be Now (outtake): Recorded during initial sessions at Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Mixed at Sound House, London. Tony Visconti later booked into Air Studios, London, on 12th January 1975, at which point string arrangements were written and added to this and a number of other tracks. The version that appears here does not include the string section.
Somebody Up There (Likes Me) (unfinished mix): Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. Mixed at Record Plant, New York. This track is a different mix and before final overdubs are added later in the year. This song is a progression from an earlier David Bowie composition 'I Am Divine', which was originally written for his aborted Nineteen Eighty-Four stage musical and recorded in December 1973 by The Astronettes.
Somebody Up There (Likes Me): Same as previous track (above), but this mix is the completed and original 1975 album cut.
Take It In, Right (demo): Recorded at Sigma Sound, Philadelphia, sometime between 8th - 23rd August 1974. This is the 1st version of the song to be recorded during these initial sessions, but later regarded as a finished demo (although a completed track in it's own right) in favour of a 2nd version which would be recorded in November of the same year and re-titled 'Can You Hear Me?' for the Young Americans album. 'Take It In, Right' was first written in December 1973 by David and offered to Lulu. Although the track was recorded with Lulu during the Diamond Dogs sessions, that version still remains unreleased. (See also: Diamond Dogs Sessions)
Can You Hear Me?: This is the complete and finished 1975 album cut, and the 2nd of the two versions, recorded in 1974 at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia. Recording was later completed at Sigma Sound sometime between 20th - 25th November 1974, including the addition of overdubs. Strings recorded and added at Air Studios, London on 12th January 1975. Mixed at Record Plant, New York.
Can You Hear Me? (striped-down mix): Same as previous track (above), but this version is a stripped-down mix which doesn’t contain the backing vocals, string arrangement or other overdubs.
It's Hard To be A Saint In The City: Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, in November 1974. This is David's cover of the Bruce Springsteen song. Tony Visconti arranged with top radio DJ Ed Sciaky at Philadelphia's WMMR station for Springsteen to visit the studio in the very early hours of 25th November. David was initially keen for him to contribute to this track, but decided not to play it to Bruce at the last moment. The track remained unfinished until it was finally mixed and first issued by Ryko in 1989.
Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me): This is Luther Vandross' own original version. The backing singers are Anthony Hinton, Diane Sumler, Theresa V. Reed, Christine Wiltshire and Luther himself. It was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in August 1974 and was the very same track which Bowie heard before re-writing it as 'Fascination' with Luther (see further down this page).
In an interview first published in February 1982 in The Black Collegian magazine, Luther recalls:
"Okay it was ’74. My friend Carlos, whom I had grown up with, got a job playing guitar for David Bowie. Carlos invited me to the studio. He and his wife, Robin, had gotten married a couple of years before and he is also a singer. As a matter of fact, Robin is one of the girls with whom I used to sing in the hallway. I started making little vocal arrangements and showing them to Robin. I didn’t know that Bowie had overheard all this. He was sitting right behind me at the board, and he said, "That’s a great idea. Put that down." So I put it down and next thing you know one thing led to another, and I was doing the vocal arrangements for the whole album. I wrote one of the songs on the album. Bowie overheard it and said, "I want to record that. Do you mind?" As a matter of fact, Bowie went back in the studio to add this song. The album was finished."
WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE SONG: 'Fascination', aka 'Funky Music'. When I did it, it was called 'Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me)'. Bowie changed it to 'Fascination'. He said he didn’t want to be so presumptuous as to say "funky music" since he was a rock artist."
DID DAVID BOWIE TAKE YOU ON THE ROAD WITH HIM?: "The whole background unit. I had had a little group at that time and I brought two of the singers with me. It was the group that ended up being "Luther" on Atlantic Records and it was a guy and a girl and I told Bowie I wouldn’t leave my group at home to go on the road, so he said, "Well bring them ‘cause I really want you." On certain levels it was amazing. Bowie made me go out and do an opening forty-five minute act for him every night with my own material. I remember the first night I went on stage and did my thing. Some of the people, it was scattered, were shouting "Bowie, Bowie." That was very disconcerting to me that night. Bowie said, "Please. Later for these people. Later for them. You go out there and get your art together."AFTER THE TOUR, WHAT HAPPENED?: "When the tour ended life was wonderful. Bowie introduced me to Bette Midler and Bette had me sing background for her on her album "Songs Are An Expression of Things In The Night." Then word of mouth started getting around - there’s this guy named Luther who does that number. But now one of the contexts you have to understand that the background singing has always been a female dominated area. I was bringing stuff of my own to the sessions that was kind of unique in terms of how to do background vocals."
One other song recorded sometime between 20th - 25th November 1974 at Sigma Sound was a cover of The Flares 1961 song 'Footstompin'. It was regularly performed live during David's Soul Tour, but it's studio recording during the sessions wasn't successful and so work on the track was aborted and it remains unreleased. However, it did provide the basis for 'Fame' which David would go on to develop with Carlos Alomar and record a few weeks later at New York's Electric Lady Studios.
- TONY VISCONTI WITH SIGMA SOUND ENGINEER CARL PARULOW -
View more photos HERE taken at Sigma Sound Studios during the sessions.
THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY: "The Sigma Kids didn't just meet David Bowie. For one night they were his confidantes, his buds -underage kids for whom he bought wine and champagne! And fresh corned beef sandwiches! Sandwiches they were too nervous to eat! And he played Young Americans for them- straight from the master tape -before RCA's label execs heard it and certainly before you heard it. You who weren't there to hear Bowie debut his version of the Philly Soul sound. At the party, he sat down in the back of the studio and bit his nails. No one spoke while the album played. But after the last note sounded one of the Kids yelled, "Play it again!" That broke the ice. The Kids got up and danced. Bowie did the bump."
- (ABOVE) DAVID BOWIE WITH SIGMA KID MARLA FELDSTEIN, WITH LUTHER VANDROSS IN THE BACKGROUND -
- (ABOVE) THE SIGMA KIDS PRETEND TO SLEEP OUTSIDE THE MAIN ENTRANCE OF SIGMA SOUND STUDIOS -
Click HERE to view more photos with the Sigma Kids.
R E C O R D P L A N T S E S S I O N S
ENGINEER EDDIE KRAMER TAPE OPERATOR DAVID WHITMAN
DAVID BOWIE: "This song is about winning. David Sanborn is on sax. He was experimenting with sound effects at the time and I’d rather hoped he would push further into that area, but he chose to become rich and famous instead. So he did win really, didn’t he?"
RADIO DJ ED SCIAKY: "[WIN] He'd sing three lines, then have the engineer play them back, keeping the first line every time. It was spectacular, watching him work like a painter, hitting every line the way he wanted. Around 7 a.m., Bowie asked the engineer to play the whole track from start to finish, twice. After the second listen, he nodded and said quietly, 'That's it. It's done.'"
E L E C T R I C L A D Y S E S S I O N S
ENGINEER HARRY MASLIN TAPE OPERATORS KEVIN HERRON & DAVID THOENER
On 1st January 1975, work on the new album switched to New York's Electric Lady Studios where David booked some studio session time. While he was there David wrote, developed and recorded 'Fame' - a song that had been adapted from 'Footstompin' - with Carlos Alomar, and recorded the Beatles song 'Across The Universe'. David also invited John Lennon to play on both tracks. Both 'Fame' and 'Across The Universe' would later replace previously recorded Sigma Sound tracks 'Who Can I Be Now' and 'It's Gonna' Be Me', both of which had been on the album's final short-listing. It's also conjecturally reported that further unheard recordings were made during these sessions with John Lennon, including the American standard 'Too Fat To Polka' (or more commonly titled 'You Can Have Her, I Don’t Want Her, She’s Too Fat For Me') - the master tape of which is rumoured to have been ceremonially burned at the end of the session!
Across The Universe: Recorded at Electric Lady Studios, New York, in January 1975. Mixed at Record Plant, New York. This is the completed and original 1975 album cut.
Across The Universe (alternative and extended mix): Same as previous track (above), but this is an alternative and extended mix, which includes the full ending without fade, together with some studio background chat from John Lennon cutting off at the end.
Across The Universe (striped-down mix): Again, same as previous track (above), but this version is a stripped-down mix with just David's vocals, John Lennon's guitar track and Willy Weeks' bass.
Fame: Recorded at Electric Lady Studios, New York, in January 1975. Mixed at Record Plant, New York. This is the completed and original 1975 album cut.
Fame (instrumental backing track): Same as previous track (above), but this is the completed instrumental backing track without all vocals.
Fame (stripped-down mix): This is a stripped-down mix, leaving just some of the instrumental pieces and more prominent vocals.
Fame (stripped-down vocal only mix): This is a stripped-down mix, leaving just David's vocals.
Fame (alternative "flute" mix, with full ending): This alternative mix is thought by some to be a fake. However, this version is interesting because it includes a flute accompaniment throughout and David’s clearly-audible studio backchat at the very end, which is lacking from the album version and which a “fake” would not have. According to Toni Visconti, he reports: "I've heard about this flute recording before and someone asked me if John Lennon played it. Mary [Visconti's wife] informs me that John couldn't play flute. I don't know any more about this version".
Once Tony Visconti had completed mastering the tapes in London in January 1975, David then contacted Harry Maslin to mix the entire tapes again, including the newly-recorded Electric Lady tracks, but minus the now-titled 'Young Americans' track, which was by then in the hands of RCA and at the pressing plant ready for manufacture as a single. At the point were Harry Maslin took over, some extra recording of instruments and backing vocals were also made to some of the Sigma tracks later in January, with Maslin over-seeing production. It's likely that the flute version of 'Fame' was also done at this late stage and therefore without Visconti's knowledge.
- HARRY MASLIN -
In September 2009 a reel of tape was discovered for sale in a street market in Philadelphia. It appears to have come from one of David's earlier recording sessions (dated 13th August 1974) at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, although how it ended up in a street market may never be certain.
What is known is that the majority of the tapes recorded during Sigma Sound Studios' history has now become part of the Drexel University Audio Archive in Philadelphia, following the sale of the studios in 2003. So this may have been the source of the "stray" tape in question.
The tape - which is a 2" multi-track recording - contains four songs in their early stages of rehearsal and recording. These tracks are 'Young American' (takes 1, 2 and 3), 'Lazer' (take 1), 'After Today' (take 1) and 'Shilling The Rubes' (take 1). Up until the discovery of this tape, it was originally believed that 'Shilling The Rubes' was merely a working title for the album. However, its emergence on this tape now confirms that it is indeed a recorded song in its own right. In total there are 25 minutes worth of recording on the tape and according to the hand-written notes that came with the tape, there is reference to a 2nd reel.
- THE NEWLY-DISCOVERED 2" STUDIO REEL IN ITS ORIGINAL CARDBOARD BOX WITH STUDIO NOTES -
Tony Visconti was contacted within days of the discovery of the tape. When asked for his thoughts on it, he said, "I think it's a rough mix tape on quarter inch (just stereo), a work in progress. It's rare to have four masters on a two inch reel. But then again it could be a back up tape. But it's a great find for Shilling The Rubes alone. I don't even remember how that goes!"
The tape was on offer on Ebay for a massive $15,000.00! However, the seller removed the item, but not before these 4 short samples of some of the tracks were circulated:
- ORIGINAL STUDIO NOTES WHICH WERE INCLUDED WITH THE TAPE -
Only time will tell if the full versions of these tracks become available. It was said that a second reel from the same session with three additional songs and never-heard-before takes was to be sold at a later date.
For the Young Americans album cover artwork, Bowie provisionally wanted to commission a Norman Rockwell painting for the cover, but retracted the offer when he was told Rockwell needed at least six months to do the job. The cover's photo was eventually taken in Los Angeles on 30th August, 1974 by Eric Stephen Jacobs. David's apparent inspiration for the airbrushed art for the cover came directly from a copy of After Dark, which featured another of Jacobs' images of David’s then choreographer Toni Basil. The similarities between both are striking, as can be seen in the following examples -
(Left): AFTER DARK, VOLUME 7, ISSUE 5, SEPTEMBER 1974
(Right): YOUNG AMERICANS ORIGINAL POSTER ARTWORK
The Young Americans album was finally released on 7th March 1975 (RCA RS 1006) and became David Bowie's ninth studio album.
YOUNG AMERICANS US RADIO PROMO, BROADCAST APRIL 1975 BY CKLW RADIO STATION (SERVING ONTARIO, DETROIT, TOLEDO & CLEVELAND):
P E R S O N N E L
DRUMS DENNIS DAVIS, ANDY NEWMARK
BASS EMIR KSASAN, WILLY WEEKS
GUITAR CARLOS ALOMAR, BOWIE, JOHN LENNON (Fame), EARL SLICK
KEYBOARDS BOWIE, MICHAEL GARSON
SAXOPHONE DAVID SANBORN
PERCUSSION RALPH McDONALD, PABLO ROSARIO, LARRY WASHINGTON
VOCAL BACKUPS BOWIE, AVA CHERRY, ROBIN CLARK, JEAN FINEBERG (Fame), JEAN MILLINGTON (Fame),
ANTHONY HINTON, JOHN LENNON (Fame), WARREN PEACE, DIANE SUMLER, LUTHER VANDROSS
VOCAL ARRANGEMENTS LUTHER VANDROSS & BOWIE
STRING ARRANGEMENTS TONY VISCONTI
RECORDED AT SIGMA SOUND PHILADELPHIA, ELECTRIC LADY & THE RECORD PLANT NEW YORK
ENGINEERS CARL PARUOLO, EDDIE KRAMER & HARRY MASLIN
TAPE OPERATORS MIKE HUTCHINSON, DAVID WHITMAN, KEVIN HERRON & DAVID THOENER
MIXED AT THE SOUND HOUSE AND THE RECORD PLANT
PRODUCED BY TONY VISCONTI, HARRY MASLIN & BOWIE
THIS PAGE LAST UPDATED 5th MAY 2014