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January 11, 2016

David Bowie's Philadelphia ties

Artist left his mark with live shows, recordings

The stars look very different today, indeed: Legendary musician, actor and icon David Bowie has died at the age of 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer. Bowie had recently celebrated his birthday and released a new album, "Blackstar," which, in hindsight, seems like his final gift to the music world. 

Though the British star was known the world over, he often allowed Philadelphia to become his musical home away from home. Of course, he made plenty of tour stops in the city throughout a career that spanned five decades, but he left his mark in other ways, too.

For starters, he recorded two albums here: 1974's "David Live" and 1975's "Young Americans." The former was recorded during a show at the Tower Theater while on his 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. The latter saw Bowie return to Philly to work with recording legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Sigma Sound Studios.

It's during this second recording that Bowie left behind something special that would take years to rediscover.

In 2005, Drexel University inherited 6,200 master tapes from the former Sigma Sound Studios. Within those tapes they found "reel 4," a leftover recording from Bowie's "Young Americans" days. Drexel's Audio Archives created a digital copy for Bowie, and he let them keep the physical reel. Being an astute documentarian of his own life, Bowie had found "reel 1" and "reel 2" from the same recording session and thus had Drexel Professor Toby Seay digitize those as well. 

As I previously noted for, the story continues: 

Drexel's Audio Archives also house a mysterious tape labeled simply "DB." Seay found it accidentally one day and soon realized it was a recording of a Bowie studio session. This hour-long tape features Bowie practicing songs like "Who Can I Be Now" and (get this) asking backup singer Luther Vandross to change up a vocal.

So, not only did David Bowie appreciate Philly's music scene and the work of Gamble & Huff, but he kept in touch via Drexel to maintain his scrupulous collection of his life's work, leaving a little gift behind.

Below, check out a bit of footage from that famed 1974 Tower Theater show.