Tony Visconti on saying no to producing David Bowie’s Space Oddity: “I wish I did record it, quite honestly”

The producer recalls telling Bowie, “It could very well be a hit, but you’re going to have a tough time following it up, because it’s not you.”

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Tony Visconti and David Bowie

Image: Getty Images

Tony Visconti has opened up about his creative relationship with the late David Bowie, and the reason he ended up saying no to producing the music legend’s smash hit, Space Oddity.

Visconti, whose production credits run the gamut from Bowie to T-Rex, Thin Lizzy, U2, Gentle Giant and more, tells Classic Rock in a new interview that one of the reasons he worked so well with Bowie was because they were both “idealists”.

“We saw our relationship like a friendship, with an arts lab that was part of it,” he says. “I was very active [with him]. I would be an all-round person to play bass, work the sound, work the lights.”

The producer reckons that the secret to their long partnership was accepting that Bowie wanted to go off and work with other producers.

“It could be very disconcerting for people who work with him,” Visconti explains. “He would go through periods using people like Mick Ronson and Aynsley Dunbar, and they’d think they were in the Bowie band. And then all of a sudden he decides he’s never going to use them any more.”

“Even as a producer. I didn’t produce every Bowie album. He would just drop me, go with [Chic’s] Nile Rodgers [for Let’s Dance], for instance. His explanation would be that he just liked to change things. I got easier with it years later after the first time it happened. He’s an artist. He can work with whom he pleases. This is why his sound is so fresh.”

Despite having met Bowie at a young age, Visconti quickly recognised the star’s talent and potential for what it was. “The minute I met him I thought he was a special guy,” the producer says. “I heard his first album, and I thought the guy was talented even though he lacked direction, and I could hear the star quality in his voice. I was surprised to find out that he was only 19.”

“His personality was very mercurial. A non-stop talker. He was fidgety and very aware of his physical presence. I knew it was going to be a long haul with him, like Marc Bolan. Marc gave me the same goose bumps in the beginning.”

Visconti recalls telling Bowie when the latter wrote Space Oddity, “It could very well be a hit, but you’re going to have a tough time following it up, because it’s not you”. While he did eventually produce the rest of Bowie’s second studio album, Visconti chose to pass up production responsibility for Space Oddity to Bowie’s former engineer Gus Dudgeon.

“I wish I did record it, quite honestly,” Visconti says, though he admits that those worries weren’t unfounded: “We couldn’t follow it up. It was really tough.”


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