By Peter Lindblad
Don’t tell David Bowie, but Gail Ann Dorsey is, above all, at least as far as musical inspirations go, a Queen fan. That puts a certain amount of stress on Dorsey, the respected session musician who’s had a long partnership with Bowie.
See, when Dorsey goes out to play bass on tour with the Thin White Duke, there comes a moment every night when the spotlight finds her. And that moment comes when Dorsey is called on to sing a duet with Bowie on “Under Pressure,” the smash hit he had with Queen in 1981.
Dorsey, who first started with Bowie on the “Outside” tour in 1995, can be heard singing Freddie Mercury’s part of “Under Pressure” on the upcoming Bowie live album A Reality Tour, due out Jan. 26.
Listening to the recording again recently, Dorsey couldn’t help letting out a sigh of relief after hearing that track.
“I had a good ‘Under Pressure,’” recalls Dorsey. “I was hoping I would, because [the show] was being documented, and I was pleased that I hit the note. I didn’t let Freddie down. He was my hero.”
Packed with 33 songs, including three previously unreleased tracks (“Fall Dog Bombs The Moon,” “Breaking Glass” and “China Girl”) that did not appear on the live DVD “A Reality Tour” that came out in the fall of 2004, A Reality Tour serves up a career-spanning smorgasbord of classics — “Fashion,” “Rebel Rebel,” “All The Young Dudes, “Life On Mars,” “Changes,” “Hang On To Yourself,” “The Man Who Sold The World” and “Ziggy Stardust” — and rarities (“Sister Midnight,” co-written by Bowie and Iggy Pop for Pop’s album The Idiot).
Mixed in are newer works like “Cactus,” off 2002’s Heathen, and “New Killer Star,” “The Loneliest Guy,” “Never Get Old” and “Bring Me The Disco King” off 2003’s Reality. The versions on A Reality Tour were recorded in Dublin on Nov. 22 and 23, 2003, at the Point Depot. Bowie’s “A Reality Tour” spanned parts of 2003 and 2004.
Dorsey sees the latest live LP as “quite a landmark” in the Bowie legacy of concert albums. “It was exciting to be a part of,” says Dorsey. “This one can stand up to the great ones.”
Though she never found out why the powers that be chose to record those Dublin shows for posterity, Dorsey does believe that Ireland, and Dublin in particular, brings out the best in Bowie.
“David really likes Ireland and playing in Dublin,” explains Dorsey. “We rehearsed in Ireland, I believe, for the ‘Earthling’ tour in a place owned by U2 — they own a lot of places (laughs). I think he really likes audiences there because the Irish love music. Ireland has such a great legacy of musicians, writers and poets. I think Ireland gives him a charge.”
Speaking of charges, Dorsey got a jolt in the mid-1990s when Bowie called to recruit her for his Outside tour. “It was out of the blue … literally,” recalls Dorsey, who was working on her own solo album with Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal at the time (Dorsey played with Tears For Fears between 1993 and 1996).
Though Bowie didn’t reach Dorsey at first, he eventually tracked her down. For the longest time, Dorsey wanted to know why he chose her.
“It took me two years to get up the courage to ask him,” she laughs. “I was intimidated those first two years. But he told me he saw me play in the 1980s when I was promoting my solo album, The Corporate World, and he was impressed and wanted to work with me.”
One thing about Bowie: He knows how to put together a band. And Dorsey wound up backing Bowie through five or six tours — from Outside through Earthling, Hours …, Heathen and Reality — over an 11-year period.
The Reality tour, however, was special. Critics lavished it with praise. Dorsey, who’s seen Bowie backing musicians come and go, believes some of the credit goes to the band (Earl Slick on guitar; band leader/guitarist/vocalist Gerry Leonard; Sterling Campbell on drums and vocals; Catherine Russell on keyboards, vocals, percussion and guitars; and Mike Garson on keyboards) and its personalities.
“We had really gelled as a band, and we connected musically and personally,” says Dorsey. “You can tell when it feels right and it hits that mark.”
And that’s just what Bowie did vocally on that tour. As A Reality Tour points out, Bowie and company reworked many of the tracks in new and interesting ways. Watching an invigorated Bowie alter them and perform them in fresh, new ways was, and always has been, a thrill for Dorsey.
“Some of the best moments for me [on the Reality tour] were when I could really listen to David more,” says Dorsey. “In the moment, you’re doing your parts. It’s not like you can be in the audience absorbing what’s going on. But those times when we could take a break and go off stage, when it was just David, you could go and listen and sit back and watch.”
Hearing this new record allowed her to appreciate Bowie’s vocals more.
“He sings so beautifully on this record,” says Dorsey. “When you listen back, there’s so many more subtleties and nuances in his singing, and there’s those emotional moments like ‘Loneliest Guy’ and ‘Disco King’ … just the way he delivers his vocals. He’s the greatest male vocalist in popular music in his genre of music.”
Over the years, Dorsey has witnessed the physical changes in Bowie — “the hair’s longer, and the times I worked with him, there’s been different looks, different vibes,” she says.
What hasn’t changed, however, is Bowie’s ability to evolve without sacrificing his own identity as an artist. That helps keep things fresh for his band, as well.
“You have to adapt and change with him,” says Dorsey. “He always has ideas. He’s always looking ahead to the next thing. It’s been great to watch him adapt to what’s current. His skill as an artist … how do you not get swallowed up in what the next cool thing is? That’s transient. But he’s always maintained his own grounding and rootedness.”
And A Reality Tour reminds us of all of that. It also proves that Bowie is still able to have a lot of fun onstage.
“Sitting back and listening to it, I didn’t realize how joyful and playful he was and how much fun he was having,” says Dorsey. “We did know that on those nights in Dublin they were recording them, and so that puts a psychological spin on things. And sometimes you’re not at your best on those live recordings. There might be some obscure night in Jersey that tops it.”
Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
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