You can find the coolest stuff while cleaning up. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, the band that changed the lyrics to their biggest hit “Whip It” for Swiffer cleaning product ads, found a supersession jam with the late legend David Bowie, along with Brin Eno, while clearing up some tapes.
“I haven’t listened to it yet because I just found this tape,” Mothersbaugh told the audience at “Song Stories,” an event commemorating the upcoming second anniversary of Bowie’s death at the Sonos Store in Manhattan. Nikki Sixx of Motley Crüe, Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy, and photographer Mick Rock also shared memories.
Mothersbaugh was bringing Devo’s archive to his studio and found 24-track master tapes from the sessions for the band’s first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.
“Devo jammed with David Bowie, Brian Eno, Holger Czukay [of Can], and a couple other odd Germans that were electronic musicians that happened to be hanging out there,” Mothersbaugh said.
The wife of Michael Aylward, the guitarist of the Akron, Ohio band, Tin Huey, sent Bowie and Iggy Pop a tape of Devo demo songs in 1977.
“David Bowie came up and he said, ‘I’d like to produce you guys.’ And we said, ‘Well, we don’t have a record deal.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll pay for it,’” Mothersbaugh said. “And we’re all like, ‘Sounds great to us. We’re sleeping in an Econoline van out in front on Bowery tonight, on top of our equipment.”
Bowie went as far as to announce “this is the band of the future, I’m going to produce them in Tokyo this Christmas” on the second night of Devo’s July 8 and 9, 1977. New York debut at Max’s Kansas City, Mothersbaugh remembered. King Crimson’s master guitarist Robert Fripp, who worked on Ashes to Ashes and other Bowie recordings, also showed some interest in producing Devo’s first release. The band ultimately went with Brian Eno.
Eno was producing the album at a studio near Cologne, Germany, owned by Conny Plank, who produced Krautrock. Devo didn’t have a record deal in place yet, and Eno paid to fly the band out for the studio time in return for a share of any contracts. Bowie was filming Just a Gigolo nearby while Eno was producing the band and came to the sessions, ultimately remixing many of the songs. Eno kept detailed studio notes.
“There’s these tracks down below that say things like: ‘David’s vocals’ and ‘Brian’s extra synths.’ And I’m like, ‘I remember turning that stuff off when we were doing our final mixes,’” Mothersbaugh said at the event.
The Devo frontman said the band was reluctant to use Bowie’s vocals because he was “totally paranoid about people interfering with our stuff.”
“I’m thinking we should see what’s on those tapes. … I’m really curious to see what the heck they did,” Mothersbaugh said, wondering if Devo “might have been more successful” if they had.
There is no word on whether the tapes will ever be released.