Ziggy's return to Memphis - Ellis Auditorium - February 25, 1973
I can't remember the first time I heard a David Bowie record, but I can't forget the three Bowie concerts I saw in Memphis or the night two brothers from Holly Springs, Mississippi, a female porn actress from Frayser, and I met Bowie in a South Memphis neighborhood restaurant.
The Ziggy Stardust tour stopped in Memphis in February 1973 at the old North Hall auditorium for one night of two shows. Steve Brashier, my buddy from high school, and I got our row 14 main floor tickets for the late show at Prince Mongo's hangout on Poplar near Mendenhall. The tickets were about $6.50 each. We got to the North Hall right as the first show was ending, and as we stood outside the auditorium in line with all the young dudes and girls we could hear the muffled sounds of the Spiders from Mars. When we got inside with our 35mm cameras hidden under our jackets, we found our seats to be closer to the rear exits than the main stage. Our camera lenses weren't long enough to make up the distance, so we decided we'd run down to the stage when the time was right and take some close ups. That time never came.
The show began as all the Ziggy Stardust shows did---with the Walter Carlos Moog synthesizer version of Bach's Joy of Man playing as a prelude to the band's entrance. As the switched-on sounds of Bach reached its coda, Mick Ronson ripped into the Bach with a couple of chords from his Les Paul. The lights went up and the show took off with Hang On to Yourself. I stood up on my chair and snapped my first shot. I waited a few minutes before taking my next shot and watched the band in action. This was Bowie and the Spiders from Mars in Memphis! But after I shot my second picture, a plainclothes security goon grabbed me by the shoulder and told me either I go or the camera goes. Steve and I didn't anticipate this happening, so I handed my camera to Steve who sprinted to the car and put the cameras away. The show was great. Bowie sang Space Oddity while a spotlight hit a mirrored ball hanging high over the stage, and for a few minutes the North Hall became a planetarium. I didn't need drugs to enjoy that moment, but the marijuana certainly enhanced it. After the show, we stopped at a Krystal on Summer near National, and ran into people who had been at the show. Great minds do think alike.
Bowie came back to Memphis on June 30, 1974 at the Coliseum. Bowie hired a Broadway set designer for this tour, and the stage was elaborate and orchestrated. My then girlfriend Della Buckley and I had ninth row center seats to the show. I didn't take my camera for some reason, but perhaps it was because I was learning again how to walk. Della wanted us to get dressed up, so she put glitter around our eyes and nail polish on our fingers and toes. But the platform shoes I had added four inches to my height and I moved with all the grace and elegance of someone trying to ice skate for the first time. What I remember most about the concert isn't just the show itself, but how we got our tickets. I had called Mainman, Bowie's production agency out of New York, to complain about the lousy 20th row tickets we got after standing in line with only a few people in front of us at the ticket counter. I spoke to a young woman who was sympathetic to two Bowie teenage fans with nothing else of importance in their lives except sex and drugs. She told me to send our tickets to her and she'll return two tickets with better seating. Amazingly, we got our ninth row tickets to us in the mail just days before the show. If you’ve heard David Live, you know what the show sounded like. I just can’t remember much of it.
But I haven’t forgotten anything about the last time I saw Bowie in Memphis except the date. It was either 1976 or 1977. I’m thinking it was 1977. I was still driving a Ford Pinto.
||This was Bowie’s Thin White Duke period, and the new album at the time was Station to Station. I went with Donna Hodges, a friend from high school who I kept in touch with for a few years after graduation. We had incredible seats at this Coliseum show---second row main floor center section. Sitting near us were two brothers from Holly Springs, Mississippi who drove up for the show. I don’t remember their last name, but Raymond and Marty were big Bowie fans. Somehow they found out that Bowie was staying at the Hilton Hotel at Democrat and Airways. We agreed to meet there after the show. Before Bowie took the stage, the audience was treated to a screening of Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Bowie’s appearance seemed to belie everything about that surrealist film---he wore a black vest and pants with a white shirt---but, then again, the former Ziggy Stardust looked surreal in a conservative suit. After the show Donna and I met Raymond and Marty at the Hilton to look for Bowie. Donna struck up a conversation in the hotel bar with one of the musician’s in the band.
Thin White Duke - Mid South Coliseum - 1976
Meanwhile, Raymond and Marty and I were wandering the hotel looking for the Thin White Duke when an older woman in her 30s came up to me and asked if I was looking for Bowie. She said she knows where he’s at and she’ll take me there if I could drive. Donna was nowhere to be found, so Raymond, Marty, and the woman and I piled into my Pinto and took off. Along the way, the woman told us she was from Frayser and had been in a pornographic magazine. I can’t remember this woman’s name but I remember her hair was streaked in black and blonde and she looked like she could teach me a thing or two. We drove up Airways and took a left at Dunn next to Kellogg’s. We turned right onto one of the streets off Dunn and found the Black Hut, some little lounge/restaurant smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. A black limousine was parked on the street next to some cars that looked like they hadn’t started since Hunky Dory was released. Inside, there were wooden tables and chairs with a few couples drinking and eating. I think there was a jukebox in the corner but I don’t remember hearing any music. An old black man in a white Porter jacket walked up to us as we stood just inside the door and asked, “Are y’all with Mr. Booey?” We said yes, so he took us back to a little room adjacent to the dining area where Bowie sat at the head of a table lined with 10 or 12 people. Bowie glowered at us, but we walked straight up to him and said hello. Raymond and Marty asked for an autograph.
We were young and foolish and had all the audacity of cops raiding a house. Bowie, still wearing his clothes from the concert, said he’d sign an autograph but wanted us to take a table in the other room while he talked with friends. No one in his party seemed upset. They kept right on talking and drinking. It happened so fast all I can remember now is watching Bowie sign the autograph and telling us to leave. Well, we HAD just crashed his dinner party. The four of us went to a table and ordered drinks. We couldn’t see Bowie, but we sat there feeling vainglorious. After several minutes, I got up to walk around. I ran into Bowie’s drummer, Omar Hakim. He asked me if I drove a car and could he catch a ride back to the hotel. So the four of us, along with Omar Hakim and his girlfriend, crammed into my Pinto and drove back to the Hilton. I had an 8-track cassette player and put in Station to Station. Omar said, “Well, alright!” And so we made our way back to the Hilton. After we dropped Omar off, we went back to the Black Hut but the limousine was gone. Donna ended up staying with that musician overnight. I took the Frayser woman home where she showed me her ,uh, magazine spread. I lost touch with Raymond and Marty over the years. And I lost touch with Bowie, too. He never came back to Memphis.