March 7th makes the 45th anniversary of the release of Young Americans. While released midway into Bowie’s creative purple patch, for me at least, it doesn’t rank as a first-order Bowie album. Back in the day it was of course a massive surprise and a pleasant one at that, the direction already telegraphed in Diamond Dogs’ 1984. It was the backing vocals led by Luther Vandross along with Ava Cherry and Robin Clark that made the album. A friend of mine under 30 claims YA tops his Bowie list and listening to Carlos and Robin’s Q+A has elevated my respect for YA. In the UK we heard through the grapevine about the Sigma kids. As I’ve said many a time, Bowie never treated his fans as fuckwits and the Sigma Kids story validates this. By the way, the backstory of the cover of YA can be found here (who’d have thought Norman Rockwell?) but for the full story here is an interview with Eric Stephen Jacobs, the cover photographer.
More positive were the Sigma Kids, a band of Bowie fanatics who had camped outside the studio in rain or shine from the moment the band arrived, and were rewarded with an in-studio preview playback at the end of the sessions. “We had been hanging out around the studio for roughly two weeks,” Sigma Kid Patti Brett told Esquire in 2016. “One night when he arrived at the studio he said that if we were there when he came out he’d have a surprise for us. He told us it was unlike anything else he’d done and that he really wanted to get some feedback. They played [the album] for us, and you could tell he was nervous. But at the end someone shouted, ‘Play it again!’ And he got this huge grin on his face and said, ‘Really?’ And everyone screamed, ‘Yes!!’ And he played it again, and that started the party.”
Alomar remembers that moment: “When they asked to hear it again, David became extremely fluid, mixing with them, talking with them, chatting them up, smiling, laughing. If he knew how to high five at that time, he probably would have done it.”
“It was a beautiful moment,” Garson recalls. “It showed a part of him that had a lot of humility… Because this was such new territory for him I guess he didn’t want to feel like a poser or fake.” — Independent