David Bowie’s death was a blow to guitarist Charlie Sexton and keyboardist Mike Garson.
Sexton was an occasional opening act on Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour, and appears on that jaunt’s home video playing on The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”
But Sexton, best known for his ’80s hit “Beat’s So Lonely,” questioned if he wanted to join Bowie tribute acts after the Thin White Duke died.
“When David went away, I avoided 99 percent of every request,” Sexton says via telephone from Austin. “There were a lot of tribute things and whatnot. I did one benefit thing for a health organization here in town with a kids’ choir.”
Garson founded “A Bowie Celebration,” which kicks off its U.S. leg of the tour on Wednesday, February 6, at the Mesa Arts Center. The tour features players who backed Bowie and those who were influenced by him.
“I was a big fan of Mike Garson, who played with David for about 30 years, really,” Sexton says. “I’ve been a great admirer of David’s work forever. It’s a bittersweet subject. I almost regret I knew him because he was such a smart, charming person, which made it all the harder when he died. I say that half seriously. I’m glad I got to spend a wee bit of time with him.”
Sexton is joined on stage by Garson, guitarist Earl Slick (Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Reality); vocalist Bernard Fowler (The Rolling Stones) and bassist Carmine Rojas (Let’s Dance/Serious Moonlight Tour). Having just finished a European tour, Celebrating David Bowie has been a hit.
“The concerts are as loud as they were when David was here,” Garson says “That’s the most amazing thing. He was more loved in Europe than the States. When we did the shows last year at the Wiltern (in Los Angeles) and in New York, it was equal in volume and enthusiasm. What was missing was David and his presence, humor and singing.”
Sexton, who now serves as Bob Dylan’s guitarist, met Bowie through a mutual friend and said he could “charm the pants off anyone. He was really, really sweet. I had brief experiences and honestly, I really hoped to do more work with him.”
Garson was always a Bowie fan, but heard his voice get “richer” in the 1990s and 2000s. Other things changed as well throughout the years.
“I was with him on the Nine Inch Nails tour,” he said. “I love Trent Reznor. We’re good friends. On that tour, they sang each other’s songs. It was mostly Trent’s fans at that time, though. We had to compete with a much-younger audience, and Nine Inch Nails was a much louder band.
“We had to add sub bass to our music to match their volume or it would have sounded like we were really outdated. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not.”
The concert’s setlist changes nightly and it’s something that thrills Garson, who serves as bandleader. One thing remains, however—the overwhelming emotions.
“It’s been bittersweet,” he said. “I think I cry every night. Sometimes the audience sees it; sometimes they feel it. It’s a group grief because he left us too soon. I was saying to one of the audiences that my biggest regret was taking certain things for granted. I just tell myself, ‘Oh, I screwed up that one.’”
A Bowie Celebration, Mesa Arts Center’s Ikeda Theater, 1 E. Main Street, Mesa, 480.644.6500, mesaartscenter.com, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 6, $33-$68.