by Carlos Alomar
In memory of Dennis Davis
The Spiders from Mars remain as David Bowie’s most well known band. This Trio consisted of Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on Bass and Mick Woodmansey on Drums. They defined David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” sound and remain an iconic trio in Rock and Roll history. But then came another trio, the D.A.M. trio this little known trio re-defined David Bowie once again and helped launch him into the next levels of his career.
“You know Carlos, that’s MAD backwards” Bowie gave a belly laugh as I responded accordingly.
”Yeah! The DAM-MAD Trio” We both cackled in unison.
Dennis came into the studio to join us, excited and smiling as usual, he plopped down on the couch and said…
“ See, I told you Carlos… Solid Bass, huh…yeah he’s cool like that”. Dennis was totally right. George Murray was indeed, cool. Well, it seemed that Bowie had finally found his new Trio as he listened back on the monitors. Dennis Davis, Carlos Alomar and George Murray … The D.A.M. Trio was born.
It was 1975 and we were rehearsing in a small studio somewhere on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood California, before moving over to Cherokee Studios to record what was later to become “Station to Station”. Dennis had spoken to me about a friend of his who played bass from Queens named George Murray. George was attending Bronx Community College and met Dennis through a mutual musician and friend.
Dennis Davis and I had met during the James Brown “I’m black and I’m proud” Anthem days in Harlem circa 1969. I’d heard about him from a mutual friend, Emir Ksasan (the bass player who I worked with for The Main Ingredient). At that time I was working with Jazz Bassist Chris White. Chris had recommended me to play some gigs with Vibraphonist Roy Ayers, but little did I know… so had Dennis. I got the gig, and that’s when I first heard Dennis Davis play drums…wow.
Dennis Davis’ style of playing drums was all his own. Although he’d been mentored by the great, Max Roach and Elvin Jones he really developed his lightning fast high-hat patterns while touring with Clark Terry. His ability to make single stick rolls and flip the beat around seemed effortless … while all the time grinning like a Cheshire cat. Entertaining in spirit and armed with an arsenal of “Big Band” touring and war stories, he was the perfect companion to recommend to Bowie for our new touring band.
Dennis Davis was quite a character. In a few words, he was irrepressible. His energy was electric. You could always tell his mind was always churning, thoughts going at the speed of light. Yet, surprisingly he was a warm and tender soul. I once remember Dennis in a movie theatre…Something had gone wrong and the announcement came that there would be a slight delay…. Well, don’t you know…to our surprise and then delight Dennis Davis jumps out of his seat and informs us that he is going to entertain the audience. Before a word of caution or opposition can be uttered, Dennis goes right to the front, announces himself and before you could say “Who?” there’s Dennis doing his comedy routine, and you know what? The audience was truly appreciative, evident by the rounds of laughter and applause that exploded when the lights eventually went down, heralding the restarting of the movie. Dennis returned to his seat, happy and totally content with his performance. We could only look at each other in disbelief and pride. Not only could he play drums, he was a truly free spirit.
Bowie first learned of Dennis in 1974 towards the end of the “Young Americans” Album. I had recommended both Emir Ksasan (Bass) and Dennis Davis (Drums) to Bowie for the recording of “Across The Universe” and “Fame”. David immediately fell in love with Dennis’ skills, his light nature and his soul. Although Emir played on those tracks and the subsequent live Dick Cavett Show, those recordings would mark his only performances with David, leaving room for a new bass player.
George Murray recalls, “Dennis was friendly and funny, and all he wanted to do was play. He was always scatting, that was part of his musical persona and he always kept the atmosphere light and funny with his sense of humor and spontaneity”.
George Murray was tall, lanky, soft-spoken and indeed cool. Someone you wouldn’t mind touring with for months to get to know. If I could describe him as a piece of fabric, I would describe him as “Silk”. Smooth, silky, organic. This brother always brought warmth and light…mysterious in a way. Although he seemed mysterious, he wasn’t really. He was just deep. And man, could he hold down that bass bottom. He offered melodic bass patterns and counterpoint rhythms with style. And he was quite the striking figure, at over 6 feet tall while donning an “Abraham Lincoln” type top hat. George had toured Europe, South America and Canada with George McCrae as well as performing and touring with the Broadway plays “Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope” and “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God”. George knew that Dennis and I had worked with David Bowie and recalls the day Dennis called him about the gig.
“He called and told me that David was doing a new album and the spot was open. I didn’t have to think about it and told him I’d do it. I knew that I had to make the decision at that moment or he’d have to call someone else. I will never forget that day and that phone call. And I will always feel an appreciation for Dennis Davis who recommended me for the gig out of all the bass players he knew.
The uniqueness of the D.A.M. Trio was that Bowie allowed us to work the arrangements with just the Trio. Everyone else would over-dub. To that end, the sky was the limit…no idea was out of bounds. We could do 4/4 beats and then insert a 3/4 beat (e.g. station to station). We could play a song in cut time and then double time the chorus (e.g. up the hill backwards). Whatever arrangement was suggested The D.A.M. Trio could execute in 2 minutes. Bowie was never happier. On Tour Bowie incorporated The D.A.M. Trio into “RAW MOON” for Station to Station, but we just went back to being the D.A.M. Trio when we got called back and every one else was gone.
Let’s stop here and look at the historical relevance of the D.A.M. Trio.
In 1975 Jim Croce, Barbra Streisand, Cher, John Denver, Elton John, Barry Manilow, Glenn Cambell, Helen Ready, The Carpenters, Neil Sedaka…wait a minute! Here’s a brain freeze moment. The longest running number one song of 1975 is “Love will Keep Us Together” by Captain & Tennille. That’s what was playing on the airwaves in 1975. What was David Bowie listening to? TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia), Gladys Knight and Earth Wind and Fire. How many black rock musicians were out there then? MTV wasn’t even a thought. That wouldn’t happen for another 5 or 6 years. David had a hell of a lot of foresight to have a black (African American) rhythm section… think about it …there might have been one or two, maybe. But here was David Bowie with a black Rhythm section…and I’m not even black, I’m Puerto Rican. Maybe David simply thought he had the tightest rhythm section out there, or maybe it was another highly calculated move by the Thin White Duke.
Dennis Davis fist appeared with David and I on the Soul/Philly Dogs Tour. The D.A.M. Trio recorded David Bowies next 6 Albums- Station to Station (1976), The famous Berlin Trilogy Albums of Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979) as well as the live recording of the Isolar II tour-Stage (1978). The last album recorded by the D.A.M. trio was Scary Monsters (Super Creeps) in 1980. They also toured to support these albums on the Isolar I tour (Station to Station Tour) and the Isolar II tour (Heroes/Low). David Bowie also brought them on to record Iggy Pop’s iconic comeback album “The Idiot”.
After that George Murray recorded “The Red and the Black” (1980) with Jerry Harrison. George Murray then happily returned to California where he now lives with his wife Teresa Woo-Murray and son Marcus.
Dennis last performed with David Bowie on his A Reality Tour, in 2003. He went on to record with Stevie Wonder, The fabulous Thunderbirds, George Benson, Eddie Murphy, The Oakridge Boys, The Rodeo Boys, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and others.
I continued to tour with Bowie until the Outside tour in 1993 and later played guitar on the Bowie tracks “Everyone Says Hi” (from the album Heathen in 2002) and “Fly” (a bonus track on the limited edition version of the album Reality in 2003). I continued to record over the years with other Iconic figures here are a few…Jagger, Yoko, McCartney, The Bee Gees, Scissor Sisters, Alicia Keys and right up to the present for Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Special” Album.
The D.A.M. Trio remained friends and stayed in touch till the end.
It’s now April 6, 2016 and I’m dialing George Murray to tell him of the passing of our dear friend, Dennis Davis and to ask for his support to complete Dennis Davis’ first and only solo album “The Groove Master’’. My visits to the hospital are over, no more hospice. What is important now are the needs of his wife, Chie and his children Darien, Naoto, Erika, Kaito and Hikaru. Thoughts of the band getting back together are no more and “Breaking Glass” by David Bowie, Dennis Davis and George Murray play repeatedly in the background.
Rest in Peace Dennis Davis
You were the “glue that bound” The D.A.M. Trio.