I sent David a copy of Bowie & Hutch recently. Maybe he will want to talk to me. On the other hand, he might never speak to me again.
Bowie & Hutch - John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson Exclusively interviewed for One&Other by Steve Jadd July/Aug 2014
Bowie & Hutch is an unusual memoir; Bowie a world superstar and Hutch a comparatively little-known, semi-retired jazz guitarist living in rural East Yorkshire. John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson was Bowie’s musical collaborator, side-man, accompanying musician and friend and his story is an essential read for Bowie fans around the world.
The pair first met in 1966 when Hutch turned up by chance at an audition to form a band with ‘an up and coming new singer’ called David Bowie. An off and on musical relationship then continued for seven years, from the Marquee Club days to the fall of Ziggy Stardust in 1973. Hutch’s valuable contributions to David’s music during the early years are amongst the building blocks of David Bowie’s spectacular career. Looking back, Bowie & Hutch offers a first-hand account of life on the road with David Bowie. The book also covers Bowie & Hutch’s musical lives in parallel from the beginnings, through the rock and roll years and up to the present day.
Q: Tell us a bit about your musical origins/family background and influences, pre-Bowie.
A: In the early Sixties, the first influences on me came via Radio Luxembourg. I would carry the family bakelite radio up to my bedroom in the evening and listen to all the American stuff. On a Saturday morning Brian Mathews would present Saturday Club on the BBC Light Program and UK bands like Carter Lewis & The Southerners and Mike Berry & The Outlaws would play live on that show. I also heard a guitarist called Wout Steinhous every week: Wout was a bit like a European Les Paul. Of course, Lonnie Donegan was everywhere too, he was a big influence, he was the first UK ‘roots’ singer and guitarist really. Then the first Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino records arrived and there was no turning back.
My first bands were The Dave Kirby Five and The Tennesseans around the Scarborough area. Dave Kirby had sung in The Star Club Hamburg and had a great R&B repertoire. He made me sack the rhythm guitarist and ditch the echo machine. No more Shadows covers, just a three-piece like Johnny Kidd’s Pirates. Turn the amp full up to 10, fit a bendy third string and let it rip. The Pirates guitarist Mick Green was a revelation; I would watch Johnny Kidd & The Pirates at Scarborough Spa Ballroom and learn from them. We played support to Johnny Kidd a few times and I got to talk to Mick Green when we did. Mick was my first and only Guitar Hero.
How did you come to meet David Jones aka David Bowie?
I had been in Gothenburg, Sweden for a year playing with a great Swedish rock n roll band called The Apaches, after escaping from Scarborough which had become boring. I had come home to England for Christmas and had some sort of Swedish work permit problem and so was in London staying with some friends and having a look around. I walked into The Marquee Club one afternoon and came out with a phone number for an audition, which turned out to be for an up and coming singer called David Bowie who was forming a new band. At the audition, David picked me out and I got the gig with David Bowie & The Buzz.
THE BUZZ – who were they – did they release any records?
I called my mate Derek ‘Chow’ Boyes down from Scarborough and he came down too, to play Hammond B3 Organ with David Bowie & The Buzz. Chow was a great player and was really the sound of The Buzz. Dek Fearnley (bass) and John Eager (drums) were southerners from London’s leafy suburbs. David Bowie & The Buzz recorded and released two singles I think, on the Pye label. One of them was ‘I Dig Everything’.
The trio FEATHERS: who were the members and how did that come about? Any recordings/film? Hermione Farthingale: whatever happened to her? David’s relationship with HF – the personal and creative effect it had on David?
I looked David up again after I had spent all of 1967 in Montreal Canada, and he asked me if I wanted to join his latest project, a trio called Feathers, as his guitarist Tony Hill was leaving. Hermione Farthingale and David were living together and had more or less put the whole thing together, so I just slotted in, made up the trio and played acoustic guitar and sang harmonies. The whole thing was very chilled, and very arty farty from my perspective. David was very creative and happy in his life and work with Hermione. She was lovely, but I had no idea who she really was or where she came from – and I think neither did David.
Feathers made a promotional film called Love You ‘til Tuesday, paid for by Ken Pitt - a promo for David Bowie that is, not for Feathers. Ching a Ling Song was one of the songs in the film, and there were several other good songs, including an early version of Space Oddity with me singing the Ground Control part and David singing the Major Tom part.
David wrote Space Oddity for the two of us to sing, it is a duet song: 'Ground Control to Major Tom.'
In your book you mention having a rather strained relationship with musician/producer Tony Visconti? What do you think are the reasons behind this?
I didn’t really have any kind of relationship at all with Tony Visconti. I didn’t know that he had apparently asked David to ditch me until many years later when I read Ken Pitt’s book. I don’t really remember any problem in the studio apart from my vocal range not meeting Visconti’s preferences for the harmonies. I have nothing against Tony Visconti – he got along fine with John Cambridge and Mick Ronson so he must be okay. I don’t think I have heard of Back to Where You’ve Never Been so I guess I did not play on it. I can’t be sure though, toooo long ago now.
After FEATHERS (further to Hermione Farthingale leaving) David and you set about strengthening your musical ties. David & Hutch (as a duo) – Tell us about how this came about. Were you a double act? Who were your influences? And why didn’t you didn’t get snapped up as a duo by record companies?
After Hermione left, David and I played a few gigs as Bowie & Hutch – we’d just play floor spots at folk clubs to try things out. It was a natural progression; we just dropped the mimes and the poetry of course. David kind of saw us as a new Simon & Garfunkel perhaps - I always liked Paul Simon’s guitar playing and our harmonies were good. We made demos and talked about making records and we might well have had a future as a duo with a record label but I was already thinking that I had to leave London and get a day job again. The money and gigs had run out - again.
How come you didn’t appear on the David Bowie (later released as Space Oddity) album? Tell us about early demo recordings Space Oddity, An Occasional Dream for the album.
I’m not sure what’s on that original album, but I do have the David Bowie album 2009 re-release and I just sing and play on two bonus tracks, they were Space Oddity and An Occasional Dream, both of which were recorded for Love You til Tuesday, Ken Pitt’s film.
What were the reasons for leaving London and the high life with David Bowie behind?
The reasons for leaving in 1968? They were the same as when I’d left him in 1966, just Money, Money and Money. I went back to the day job for money. In 1973 after a few years absence you reconnected with Bowie for the Ziggy Stardust tour. How did that come about? What was that like being back with your old friend Bowie? Did you hang out much during the tour? The Spiders From Mars - Working with Mick Ronson, Mike Garson, Woody Woodmansey, Trevor Bolder etc? Did you feature on any demos for Ziggy or the subsequent Aladdin Sane albums?
I’d seen an article in The Melody Maker where David said he was going to increase his band for the USA tour with saxophones and ‘a guy to play 12 string and sing backing vocals’. I was at another crossroads in my life at that time and so I contacted David and he and Mick Ronson called back and asked me to join them for their Aladdin Sane world tour. I had not bought any of the albums, including the Ziggy Stardust one, and I missed out on maybe playing on Aladdin Sane as I had to work my notice at the day job in Scarborough. It didn’t matter to Mick or David that I did not know the albums, they gave me chord sheets and a music stand with a flash on it.
Mick Ronson and I became good mates on the tours, and I progressively saw less and less of David as we went round the world. We had started out in New York hanging out together but then David was withdrawing, living Ziggy’s life on the road perhaps. Mike Garson was a wonderful piano player, I loved his stuff, and Ken Fordham was a great sax player. Woody and Trevor considered me to be an auxiliary tour musician, not an actual Spider. They were right really, of course, so I accepted and played that role with both of them. We got on okay together but we did not socialise much because they had wives on board and Mick Ronson and I did not.
I was the first Yorkshire man to play with David Bowie.
Yorkshire influences – David’s father was from Doncaster. The Spiders from Mars were in fact from Hull. Any thoughts on this or pure coincidence?
I was the first Yorkshire man to play with David Bowie, and John Cambridge the drummer from Beverley was the next one. Woody from Driffield and Trevor and Mick from Hull were next. I have no doubt that all of us might have reminded David of his Yorkshire family connections.
Did you attend the recent David Bowie IS exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London? What were your feelings?
No I did not go to see the V&A exhibition, it did not interest me – I don’t get it really, old stage shirts and stuff. I know that David’s big fans loved it. I did go to London at that same time though, that same week or so, to play at the ICA in The Mall for a Mick Ronson Memorial concert which was a fantastic evening. Mick’s sister Maggie Ronson had invited me and I sang Space Oddity with Lisa Ronson, Mick’s daughter.
Have you stayed in regular contact with Bowie?
Well not always, over the years. I regret that really; I wish I had tried a bit harder to keep in touch, I have always wished him well but it is hard to stay in touch with a superstar. Anyway we do stay in email contact these days, but I don’t bother him too much, we both have lives. I only email David if it is important to me - or to both of us maybe. I once asked his New York office to ask David if he would call me, before we all had email, and he did.
David Bowie albums – What is/are your favourite/s?
I don’t have any Bowie albums, except for the early ones I played on, so I could not pick a favourite album – I don’t have one, but I have liked everything that I have heard him do over the years.
How do you feel about having lived in the shadow of David Bowie?
I have not been living in the shadow of David Bowie. I have lived my own life, formed my own bands, played my own kind of music and worked a career in the offshore Oil & Gas industry too. I have rarely thought much about the old days for most of the time – just when people ask me about those days – and more so lately since I finished my memoir of course. All my life I have played with good musicians to rooms full of people who have enjoyed my music and David Bowie has had nothing to with it. I am still playing, and playing well they tell me. The Bowie & Hutch book should help to explain my point of view I hope.
How did you come to write the Bowie & Hutch book?
TV and book interviews had been increasing and the idea of writing a memoir to tell my story of my own musical life, including my three stints with Bowie, came to me when my wife’s boss gave me a very old A5 size pre lap-top machine and I found the time to sit and let it flow. Once I had started I could not stop. It was like writing a song.
David Bowie IS a talented, hard working and successful star, but you must remember that David Bowie IS a normal, vulnerable person, just like you and me.
In answer to the question David Bowie IS – what would you say?
David Bowie IS a talented, hard working and successful star, but you must remember that David Bowie IS a normal, vulnerable person, just like you and me. Tell us about current activities/plans/solo album/getting back with your old pal David Bowie.
I am planning and writing songs for a first and probably one and only John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson solo album. My son-in-law Sam Forrest will I hope be producing, he’s a talented lad. The musicians will be the guys I am currently playing little gigs with as The Sultans of Thwing (The Wold’s Most Famous Band).
I think there is very little chance of me working with David Bowie again; his points of reference and his musicians are around him in New York for one thing. That we might try again to have a little reunion meeting is certainly not impossible though. David sent me tickets and backstage passes when he played Manchester with the Reality tour but we did not meet – backstage is not good for that. I did send him a first proof copy of Bowie & Hutch recently. If he read it and laughed a bit maybe he will want to talk to me. On the other hand, he might never speak to me again.
Bowie & Hutch is published by Lodge Books of Bridlington and is available from Lulu.com or from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle, and from Waterstones and all good booksellers.