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Vince Taylor: The leather messiah who inspired Ziggy Stardust

Everything  comes from something else.

David Bowie’s chance meeting with a faded rock star who thought he was Jesus Christ was the first of the building blocks that led to Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie was a teenage Mod fronting his band the Lower Third when he regularly bumped into Vince Taylor at the La Gioconda club in London. Taylor was an “American” rocker who had been a major star in France. By the time Bowie met him, Taylor was a washed-up acid casualty who had fried his brain after ingesting waaaaaay too much LSD.

Taylor was born Brian Maurice Holden in Isleworth, England in 1939. He was youngest of five children. In 1946, the family emigrated to New Jersey, where Taylor grew up on a diet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. When his sister Sheila dated Joe Barbera—one half of animation team Hannah-Barbera—the family moved to California.

Like millions of other young American teenagers, Taylor wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll idol. His singing was so-so but he could do a good Elvis impersonation. Barbera offered to manage him. Through Barbera’s contacts Taylor got his first nightclub bookings singing rock standards with a band. He later joked he was only ever chosen to be the singer because of his teen heartthrob looks.

While rock ‘n’ roll was ripping the joint in America, Taylor was surprised to find that back in his birth country the biggest star was a toothsome all-round entertainer called Tommy Steele. With his boy-next-door looks and wholesome cheeky chappy banter, Steele was loved by both the moms and daughters across the land. Taylor figured if this was English rock ‘n’ roll, then he would clean-up with his Elvis routine.

(Sidebar: While Taylor clearly pinched Presley’s act, Elvis later pinched Taylor’s black leather look for his 1968 comeback show.)

When Joe Barbera traveled to London on business—he took Taylor with him. This was when Brian Holden adopted the name “Vince Taylor.” “Vince” from Elvis Presley’s character “Vince Everett” in Jailhouse Rock. “Taylor” from actor Robert Taylor.
Taylor adapted his stage act from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. He added a biker boy image—black leather jacket, pants, gloves, and winklepickers. He wore makeup and mascara. What he lacked for in voice, he made up in performance. Taylor was a wild man. Utterly unrestrained. His body jerked as if he’d been hit by 100,000 volts of electricity. He wiggled his hips and thrust his pelvis at the hormonal teenyboppers who screamed his name. He was sex on legs. Vulgar. Nasty. Every parent’s nightmare, every teenage girl’s pinup.

His early shows in England during the late fifties-early sixties brought him a record deal. He cut a few disc and wrote the classic song “Brand New Cadillac” (later recorded by the Clash). Taylor garnered mega column inches in the music press. But when he should have been heading to the top, Taylor sabotaged his own career by failing to turn-up for gigs. The reason? His jealousy.

Before a gig he would phone his girlfriend to check up on what she was doing. If she didn’t answer the phone—off Taylor would pop to hunt down his girl and the man he imagined she was with. This meant his backing band the Playboys often performed the gig without their iconic front man. This unreliability damaged Taylor’s reputation in England. The Playboys split-up and reformed around the band’s one consistent member—the drummer.

To make money to pay his debts, Taylor took a gig in Paris in 1961. He was bottom of the bill. Top of the bill was Wee Willie Harris (later immortalized in “Reasons to Be Cheerful—Part Three” by Ian Dury). Taylor was pissed with the billing. He decided to show the promoters who was King. During rehearsal for the show, Taylor gave one of his greatest most violent most outrageous performances. He was a rock ‘n’ roll animal. The promoters saw their error and gave Taylor top billing.

This gig made Taylor an overnight star in France.
More on the rock-n-roll ‘Naz(arene) with God-given ass,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
David Bowie’s early appearance as Ziggy Stardust, 1972
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Pop Culture

David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust

RCA records paid $25,000 to fly the “cream” of America’s rock press over to see the label’s up-and-coming star David Bowie perform at the Friars Club, Market Square, Aylesbury, England, in July 1972. The record company hoped the scribes from Rolling Stone, CREEM, New York Times, Andy Warhol’s Interview, and the New Yorker, would be sufficiently impressed to spread the word about Bowie back home. It certainly worked as Bowie, along with his Ziggy line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Woody Woodmansey (drums), delivered a blistering set, which has been a source of mythical tales and innumerable bootlegs ever since.

Also in the crowd that fateful night were Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen, who were just starting off on their career. Taylor later recalled the gig for MOJO magazine in 1999:

...Freddie and I saw the first Ziggy gig at Friar’s Aylesbury. We drove down in my Mini. We loved it. I’d seen him there about three weeks before in the long hair and the dress. Suddenly you saw this spiky head coming on stage. You thought, wha-a-at??? They looked like spacemen.

The band’s appearance was not just a shock to the audience as Bowie later explained:

Woody Woodmansey was saying, “I’m not bloody wearing that!” [Laughs] There were certainly comments, a lot of nerves. Not about the music - I think the guys knew that we rocked. But they were worried about the look. That’s what I remember: how uncomfortable they felt in their stage clothes. But when they realized what it did for the birds… The girls were going crazy for them, because they looked like nobody else. So within a couple of days it was, “I’m going to wear the red ones tonight.”

Bowie’s performance at the Friar’s Club was voted the greatest gig to be held at the venue.
While Glenn O’Brienn described the concert in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine:

The Aylesbury town hall is the size of an average pre-war high school gym…There were perhaps a thousand peers in the hall when we entered. At first I thought it was remarkable that RCA had spent at least $25,000 to bring a select group of writers to a concert at which there were no seats for them, save the floor… David Bowie did not come on unannounced. He was in fact preceded on stage by a handsome Negro and his attendants who attempted to work the audience to a fever pitch by tossing them balloons, pinwheels, and hundreds of Bowie posters. The audience needed little prodding, though, and anxiously awaited David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, while the giant amplifiers sounded a recording of old Ludwig Von’s Song of Joy from the Ninth Symphony. David appeared on stage with his band to what could fairly be called a thunderous ovation. And he deserved every handclap… His hair was a vibrant orange… And the band played on… And David proved himself to be a unique performer.

Bolder and Bowie on stage at Aylesbury, being filmed by Mick Rock.
The Aylesbury gigs was a key moment in Bowie’s career and photographer Mick Rock filmed it all on 16mm. This footage was apparently thought lost until 1995 when it “discovered” and transfered onto video by MainMan. It has not been made officially available although it currently circulates amongst collectors.

While the footage available on YouTube is raw, the camerawork sometimes iffy, and the sound, well, about what you’d expect from a concert, but as an historic document of early footage of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust it is a delight.

Track listing: “Hang On to Yourself,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Queen Bitch,” “Song for Bob Dylan,” “Starman,” “Five Years,” “Waiting for the the Man.”

The color footage is believed to be from the July 15th gig at the Friar’s Club while the b&w footage is from the June 21st gig. Audio taken from July 15th performance.

More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
David Bowie: Modeling on the cover of sex education magazine ‘Curious’ 1971

On the cusp of stardom, a young David Bowie models a Michael Fish dress on the cover of Curious - the ‘sex education magazine for men and women.’ He wore the same outfit on the cover of his 1970 album, The Man Who Sold The World.

Bowie stands next to clothes designer Freddie Buretti, who would design some of the early Ziggy Stardust costumes. Bowie tried to make a star of Buretti with his side-project band Arnold Corns, recording a version of “Moonage Daydream” with Buretti. The band failed, Buretti returned to designing clothes, and Bowie recorded Ziggy Stardust.

Arnold Corns - “Moonage Daydream”

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
YouTube frees BBC’s Ziggy Stardust & Quadrophenia docs from futile UK-only restriction

“Jesus, darling—when do you reckon they’ll learn?”

As good as the BBC is at making authoritative and expertly styled documentaries on virtually everything, it seems bizarrely in denial of the YouTube age.

As with its programs on punk, reggae, synthesizers, and krautrock, the Beeb’s rights department seems strangely bent on keeping its pop history lessons imprisoned in its UK-only iPlayer nick, even while kind YouTube uploaders like LisbonExpress and Syden2 hook up the colonies with the good-good.

Ah well. Here’s the BBC’s doc on David Bowie’s creation of his Ziggy Stardust persona…

After the jump, the Beeb doc on how Pete Townshend & the Who made Quadrophenia…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
David Bowie: Brian Ward’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ photo-shoot from 1972

Those darlings at Retronaut have posted a fine selection of Brian Ward’s photographs for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album cover, taken in January 1972. See more here.
More of Ziggy, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
David Bowie: ‘Aladdin Sane’ latex mask
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David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust

Crazy latex “life mask” of David Bowie by Erick Erickson for sale on eBay for $164.99.

This started with an actual life cast mask of singer David Bowie. Then it has been sculpturaly enhanced by me, Erick Erickson. The Hair and ears have been added to create a very Spacey display, and I sculpted the eyes open showing a dazed space like expression. The detail is amazing, from the shaved eyebrows, to the Bowie teeth set in the mouth.

Update: I just noticed the Bowie mask is selling for $139.99 on Erick’s website.

(via Cherry Bombed)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment