Bowie split Spiders after sports car chat led to fight
David Bowie split the Spiders from Mars after tensions exploded following a conversation about a sports car, says drummer Woody Woodmansey.
He reveals how a chance conversation took place on a plane during the band’s 1972 US tour, which broke Bowie in America but led to him killing off his Ziggy Stardust character.
Woodmansey was sitting with newly-added keyboardist Mike Garson on the flight. The drummer tells the BBC: “I was reading a magazine and there was a Lamborghini in it. I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ and Mike said, ‘Well, why don’t you buy one?’ I said, ‘I wish.’”
Garson persisted, believing Woodmansey could easily afford the car, and it led to a discussion about wages. “I went, ‘What do you think I get?’ He went, ‘Well, I know what I get,’ and he told me – and it was three times what I got.”
The keyboardist explains: “I was getting a salary that seemed fair, and I just assumed the other guys were getting more because they’d been there several years.”
The conversation led to Woodmansey, along with guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist Trevor Bolder, confronting Bowie and manager Tony Defries. The three musicians threatened to leave the tour and go home.
“The final straw was Defries saying to us: ‘I would rather pay the road crew more than you,’” Woodmansey says, “I thought, ‘There’s no game here.’”
The Spiders were able to negotiate a new deal and the tour continued – but the fight permanently damaged relations between them. Along with Bowie’s desire to distance himself from his Ziggy character, the disagreement contributed to the band’s split when, in July 1973, the singer announced at London’s Hammersmith Odeon: “Of all the shows on the tour this particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour – it’s the last show we’ll ever do.”
Ronson’s widow Suzi says Woodmansey and Bolder were the only people in Bowie’s organisation who didn’t know what was to happen that night. She says: “It was decided in Japan. Mick was sworn to secrecy and told, ‘If you do this for us you’ll be the next star, you’ll be doing the next thing – but you mustn’t tell the boys.’
“Everybody knew except Woody and Trevor. I knew, the sound guy knew. I think it was horrific to have done that to them.”
Garson, who continued to work with Bowie, comments: “It wasn’t a big deal to me. David was done with it, and any artist at any time is entitled to be done with something.”
David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK until the end of the week.