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A Bowie Celebration in Royal Oak, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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Of all those celebrating David Bowie since his unexpected death during January of 2016, Mike Garson has perhaps the greatest credibility.

Garson recorded and toured off and on with Bowie throughout his career, starting in 1972 and as recently as his final tour during 2003. He was Bowie's most frequent band member -- more than 1,000 shows in 13 different lineups -- and in the wake of his death Garson, 73, has launched A Bowie Celebration: The David Bowie Alumni Tour, performing Bowie's hits with other former band members as well as guest singers. This year's roster includes Living Colour's Corey Glover and the return of Rolling Stones backup vocalist Bernard Fowler.

It's become something of a mission for Garson, keeping Bowie's music alive with players who were part of it originally. And worldwide audiences have certainly embraced the effort...

• Garson says by phone that his goal for A Bowie Celebration remains the same -- credibility. "Look, there's hundreds of tribute bands out there, but not too many that have real band members in it. I didn't want to just have it watered down; I wanted it to sound like what was in my head in all the different bands I worked in with him. In my first two years David fired five band members; I'm the only one who stayed 'cause I was able to change styles with him. I keep all that in mind when I do this. It's very humbling and rewarding."

• Garson, who lost his home and three pianos in California's recent wildfires, says he's proud of the way A Bowie Celebration has grown during the three years he's been doing it. "It's taken three years to say, 'OK, I'm feeling pretty good now -- not to say I'm gonna relax. I've got to keep it getting better. It's one of those things where you have to approach each day and each performance as if you've never performed before. You can't sit on your laurels. David never did."

• Garson continues to expand the band's repertoire at sound checks before each show. "My biggest problem is I have 100 songs I'm ready to do, but that would be an eight-hour show. We're doing about 20 a night, shifting them around. I've taught the band to do about 40 songs, so there's plenty to call from. And we go deep into the catalog -- like, we're doing 'Sweet Thing' and 'Candidate' from 'Diamond Dogs,' which haven’t' been done since '74. There's a lot more like that, which is a lot of fun, and the fans love it."

• While he likes the consistency of a self-contained band, Garson also likes to mix things up with different musicians from Bowie's past, even if they only make cameo appearances over the course of a tour. "When we hit Boston, Omar Hakim, who played drums on 'Let's Dance,' jumped right in. Three years ago we were out with Sterling Campbell on drums, but he's out with the B-52's. We had Gail Ann Dorsey (on bass), but she's out with Lenny Kravitz now. It keeps going. I like what I have now but the changes keep it fresh, too." The current tour features guitarists Earl Slick and Mark Plati and bassist Carmine Rojas.

• The idea of documenting A Bowie Celebration with a live album or video has been broached, according to Garson, who has also worked with Smashing Pumpkins, nine inch nails and the jazz band Free Flight and collaborated on soundtracks for the films "Stigmata" and "Gone Girl." "Some people have been asking. I can see that eventually happening. My intention now is to give the fans the best experience they can have' cause the music sounds to me what it sounded like when I played with David. My intention right now is to give the fans the best experience they can have in person, but I can see us (recording) the shows at some point."

A Bowie Celebration: the David Bowie Alumni tour plays Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors at 7 p.m. $35-$65. 248-399-2980 or royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

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