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Detroit drumming legend recalls time spent with David Bowie

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, January 11, 2016

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David Bowie logged plenty of time in the Detroit area during his nearly five-decade career, with frequent tour stops from the Fisher Theatre to the Palace of Auburn Hills.

And Johnny "Bee" Badanjek feels fortunate to have logged plenty of face-to-face time with the iconic British rocker, who died Sunday at the age of 69 in New York after an 18-month battle with cancer.

"He was also a very, very nice go, and probably the most iconic rock 'n' roll musician ever," Badanjek -- the drummer for the Detroit Wheels, Detroit, the Rockets and now the Howling Diablos -- said Monday after news of Bowie's death spread. "The guy was so innovative it's unbelievable."

The Sterling Heights resident first met Bowie during early March of 1973, when Bowie had to scuttle one of the planned Ziggy Stardust Tour shows at Masonic Temple because he was sick. Bowie and members of his Spiders From Mars instead wound up at a Rockets show at Detroit's Savoy Ballroom, hanging out afterwards with the band in its dressing room -- where Bowie and Rockets guitarist Jimmy McCartney spent some time talking about a mutual friend's recent death in London.

"He was there with the red hair and the Ziggy Stardust look, the whole thing," Badanjek recalls. "It was just a great experience to meet him. We had a great time."

Badanjek would encounter Bowie a couple more times when he came through town. When Bowie toured as the keyboard player for Ypsilanti native Iggy Pop in 1977 -- supporting Pop's album "The Idiot," which Bowie produced -- the two dropped in on a Rockets show at the Red Carpet Lounge on Detroit's east side. "That was crazy," Badanjek says. "The world got out they were coming and the place was packed. People were standing on the bar. There was no place left to put anybody." Bowie and Pop were sequestered in a booth towards the back, where large bodyguards stood in front of them to keep rabid fans away.

Pop, Badanjek remembers, climbed over tables to join the Rockets for a rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," but Bowie had to ultimately be ushered out because things were getting too crazy. "They got him into the limo and the bodyguard was leaning against the door and the girls were just going crazy, trying to get to (Bowie)," Badanjek says. "It was pretty insane."

A few years later, Bowie -- who happened to be in town for one of his own shows -- also accompanied Pop when the latter put his hands in cement at the now-defunct Metro Music Cafe in Royal Oak. The two had lunch upstairs in the restaurant and hung out in the office, where Badanjek spent a few minutes talking with them.

Badanjek also saw a variety of Bowie's shows in the metro area and was particularly impressed by 1983's Serious Moonlight Tour. "The guy always put on a great show, always something different," Badanjek says. "He was a real innovator. I saw the news (about Bowie's) death and couldn't believe it. The guy just put out on album ('Blackstar,' on Jan. 8). It's not right..."

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