David Bowie’s Catskills Musical Residence

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Sometime after bassist and singer Gail Ann Dorsey started performing with David Bowie in 1995, the rocker asked where she lived. She told her new boss that she lived in County Ulster, which of course is home to Woodstock, the famous town with the enduring legacy of the 1960s.

Bowie replied, “Why are you living up there with all those old hippies?” she remembers, laughing.

“And I said to him, ‘Because I’m one of those old hippies.’ He teased me for years about living here, and to my knowledge, he had never really spent time here.

Years later, Bowie was recording his 2002 album “Heathen” at Allaire Studios in Shokan, just outside Woodstock, and he contacted Dorsey to tell her he was nearby.

“All of a sudden David is like, ‘I’m in Allaire and it’s amazing,’ then he fell in love with the place,” Dorsey said. “And I said, ‘Who’s the old hippie now? When he finally got a spot here, I could finally tease him.

David Bowie first discovered bassist and singer Gail Ann Dorsey, who lives in County Ulster, when he saw her perform on a UK TV show. The duo would continue to collaborate for around two decades. “It all seemed really easy,” she said of music with Bowie, “because he encouraged you to be yourself. ”

Lindsey Morano

Dorsey believes it was Tony Visconti, Bowie’s longtime producer, who introduced her to Allaire, and that it was the mountain top recording studio with stunning views that ignited Bowie’s passion for the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Valley.


Bowie and his wife, model Iman, bought property in County Ulster, and ultimately built a home for them and their daughter in the area.

RELATED: Locals remember David Bowie’s time in the Catskills

Bowie’s legacy as a musician resonates globally. And as the world remembers him on what would have been his 75th birthday on Saturday, January 8, the creative impact this region and its artist community have had on his music cannot be overstated.

“It’s that spirituality we’re all looking for – I think he’s found a lot of it here,” said Greg Gattine, program director and morning host at Radio Woodstock / WDST / 100.1 FM, who saw Bowie perform live about 20 times. “He found a home, business and community in downtown New York… I think as he raised his daughter he found this (Hudson Valley) to be a real spiritual place.”

Then we were Ziggy’s band: Ulster dwellers play with Bowie

David Bowie signs autographs for fans outside The Chance in Poughkeepsie on August 19, 2003, where he put on a special warm-up show to prepare for his 17 countries in the world "A reality" tower.

David Bowie signs autographs for fans outside The Chance in Poughkeepsie on August 19, 2003, where he gave a special warm-up show in preparation for his “A Reality” world tour of 17 countries.

KMazur / WireImage

Not only did he fall in love with Allaire, Bowie also found several members of the group in the Hudson Valley.

In addition to Dorsey, Bowie included Ulster County drummer Zachary Alford and guitarist Gerry Leonard as band members. It hosted Ulster County bassist Tony Levin, longtime member of Peter Gabriel’s band, to play on “Heathen”. Wappingers Falls bassist John Regan, a member of Peter Frampton’s band for years, performed on Bowie’s 1993 album “Black Tie White Noise” and on Bowie’s “Dancing in the Street” recording. and Mick Jagger have recorded and released as a music video. performed on Live Aid in 1985.

Bowie and his band gave an intimate performance in front of hundreds of people at The Chance in Poughkeepsie in August 2003 as a special warm-up for what ended up being Bowie’s last world tour.

The impact Bowie left on the Hudson Valley, and vice versa, crystallized in the most nuanced way.

Allaire Studios owner Randall Wallace recalled chatting with Bowie about “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus and historian, playwright and activist Howard Zinn. When Bowie saw Wallace at the Cucina restaurant in Woodstock, he made a point of stopping to say hello.

Wallace said Bowie one morning during the “Heathen” sessions took him to the recording center to show him his favorite places to “hang out” and where he liked to write.

“When the artist is excited to be here and has to take the owner away – it’s not common, but it does happen – you can tell it means a lot to them,” he said.

Wallace is an avid reader and Allaire is home to thousands of his books, which Wallace says left a big impression on Bowie as well. “He said, ‘We have an everlasting bond.’ “

Bowie, who stayed in the accommodation provided by Allaire during the recording of “Heathen”, did not lead a life of a rowdy rocker. “We know there were times he maybe fell asleep a bit early,” he said.

The recording at Allaire, it seems, also prompted Bowie to purchase a mountainous property adjacent to the land the studio was on. Wallace said he got a phone call from Bowie long after recording there, and the musician discussed water access and wind management on a Catskill Mountain peak.

Watch out for rock’n’rollers: looking for a drum machine

Bowie’s musical bond with the Hudson Valley grew stronger one summer day after receiving an email from Leonard. The guitarist had learned that his boss was in Ulster, and Leonard asked him to come over for coffee.

Bowie called Leonard, who has a home recording studio, and asked if he had a drum machine. This prompted Bowie to get into his rental car with a map and drive to Leonard’s house for the first of three songwriting sessions. The result was three new songs, two of which ended up on Bowie’s 25th album, “The Next Day”.

Upon arriving for his first visit, Bowie seemed satisfied with his navigation skills.

“It was just David – it wasn’t David and a limo driver or David and a security guy,” Leonard said. “It was just David in a car. There had been no fanfare. It was just him.

Leonard believes Bowie was so fascinated with the Hudson Valley and the Catskills as it provided privacy while keeping him connected to an artist community.

“He didn’t like stories,” Leonard said. “He liked things to be simple and straightforward. He liked to work. He liked to be creative and inspired. He liked to be around art.

Dorsey, Leonard, and Alford each described Bowie as someone who loved living in New York City. But, said Alford, “Inevitably, you’re going to go up the Hudson Valley, because that’s New York’s treasure. These are the beautiful mountains and the countryside.

Time Can Change Me: The Bowie Call

David Bowie, center, has played for years with Ulster County musicians, including bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (right Bowie) and guitarist Gerry Leonard (far right).  (Left to right: Catherine Russell, Earl Slick, Sterling Campbell, David Bowie, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson, Gerry Leonard.)

David Bowie, center, has played for years with Ulster County musicians, including bassist Gail Ann Dorsey (right Bowie) and guitarist Gerry Leonard (far right). (Left to right: Catherine Russell, Earl Slick, Sterling Campbell, David Bowie, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mike Garson, Gerry Leonard.)

Courtesy of Gerry Leonard

So how would these three Ulster County residents describe the experience of making music with the legendary singer-songwriter?

Dorsey, who has also starred with Lenny Kravitz and Gwen Stefani, was first contacted by Bowie in 1995, six years after seeing her star on a UK TV show. He later told her that he had kept it in mind all these years for the right project. She would continue to play with him for about two decades.

“It was easy,” she said of playing music with Bowie. “It all seemed really easy because he encouraged you to be yourself. “

Alford, who played with Bruce Springsteen, B-52s, Billy Joel and currently plays with the Psychedelic Furs, was referred to Bowie by another drummer who had previously played with Bowie.

Being a musician is Alford’s job, he said, but with Bowie, “I just happen to like this music and I like the guy who sings right off the bat. So I was just as happy as a clam.

Leonard, who plays with Suzanne Vega, was recording years ago in the same New York studio where Bowie worked. A mutual friend who worked with Bowie asked Leonard to add some of his atmospheric, layered guitar playing to a song Bowie was recording, “Shadow Man.” And that set the stage for Leonard to perform on “Heathen”, join Bowie’s band, and become his musical director for the “Reality” tour and DVD and “The Next Day” album.

“When you were on stage with David he just brought this whole new level of performance and energy,” Leonard said. “He did things on a grand scale, and he wasn’t afraid to take risks.”

And why do we Bowie listeners find him so compelling?

“For me, originally it was the image, the visual part of it, that really struck me as something from another world,” said Gattine of Radio Woodstock.

“And then the material, which is endless… The themes of these crazy characters, these isolated and lonely people lost in space, people who don’t fit in – for a lot of people, it gave them a home. “

He continued, “The very idea of ​​David Bowie as a transsexual freak made a lot of people feel like they weren’t alone in the world anymore, that they had someone they could relate to. , they had something they could relate to, which is important, especially for a young teenager, and even later in life. These themes are constant. Bowie has always been about it and about this power. bigger than us. “

Hudson Valley Art, Music and Culture




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