Home Entertainment David Bowie, David Sanborn Play ‘Young Americans’ on ‘Dick Cavett’

David Bowie, David Sanborn Play ‘Young Americans’ on ‘Dick Cavett’

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David Bowie, David Sanborn Play ‘Young Americans’ on ‘Dick Cavett’

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The only person who believed in David Bowie‘s vision of “Young Americans” more than Bowie himself was David Sanborn. The saxophonist, who was trained in jazz, had broken into the pop world as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and by guesting on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. Sanborn, who died Sunday, was in his late 20s when he linked up with Bowie for the Diamond Dogs Tour — he’s featured on the David Live double-album — and joined him in the studio for the recording of Bowie’s explorations of soul and funk music on the Young Americans album.

For Bowie, the title song was breathless narration of horny teenagers wanting something more out of life and America and President Nixon (and it was “all right,” as the backup vocalists sang.) It was a breathless expression of sax fury for Sanborn since he seemed to play more notes than Bowie sang throughout the entire song. At an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974, Bowie is seen center stage performing the song with a sextet of backup singers, but it’s Sanborn who steals the show with indefatigable soloing, honking away in the background ceaselessly. Sanborn also can be heard and seen in the background of Bowie’s Cavett performances of “1984” and “Footstompin’.”

“It was just like a white soul band thing,” Bowie recalled in a 1989 interview with Q. “It was very image oriented. There was [David] Sanborn on saxophone, Luther Vandross on backing vocals and all that. It was a hell of a band, but it wasn’t very theatrical. It sounded great, and it was going for that white soul feel.”

“[Bowie] was always so focused, always professional, always smiling,” pianist Mike Garson recalled of the era in Dylan Jones’ David Bowie: The Oral History. “He relied a lot on David Sanborn and Luther Vandross on that record because so much of the structures were complex, and the vocals were incredibly complicated.”

Decades after the tour, Sanborn still fondly recalled the experience of working with Bowie. “On the Young Americans tour, Bowie would sometimes let the band play for 20 minutes before he came on,” he told DownBeat in 2017. “I remember we had a week at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. … On the Young Americans album, there was no lead guitar, so I played the role of lead guitar. I was all over that record.” But he told DownBeat he had one regret: “I missed the ‘Fame’ session though,” he said. “I was touring with Gil Evans, so I lost my chance to work with John Lennon, who co-wrote the song and I’m 90 percent certain is singing backup vocals.

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“It was some of the most fun I’ve had, working with Bowie,” he continued,”[it was] one of the great pleasures of my life and I don’t regret a single day of it.”

Throughout his life, Sanborn played with the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. From 1988 to 1990, he hosted a unique music performance show overseen by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Micheals which featured live music by an eclectic lineup of guests. One episode, for instance, featured Marianne Faithfull, John Zorn, Aaron Neville, and NRBQ. BrooklynVegan has collected many of the episodes.

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