David Bowie: The Childhood Years and Early Music Career

Brixton, London

Pop icon David Bowie was born with the name David Robert Jones on January 8th, 1947 in South London, specifically Brixton, London. David Jones (who's first albums went under the name Davie Jones) didn't change his last name to Bowie until 1967. More on that later...

Jones' childhood was full of artistic expression. While attending Burnt Ash Junior School, Jones was involved with choir and was considered a talented recorder player. It wasn't until the age of nine that Jones was introduced to American music. His father brought home a handful of American records that included Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, Fat Domino, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard. Later his half-brother introduced Jones to American jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. American music had a huge impact on Jones' early artistic expression.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview conducted in 1997, Bowie explained...

"...[he] had American mania when [he] was a kid, but loved all the things America rejects. It was the black music, it was the beatnik poets, it was all the stuff that [he] thought was the true rebellious subversive side."

London - Circled are the two areas David Jones' lived growing up.
(click the image to enlarge)

Bromley Technical High School

Before Jones was a teenager, his family relocated to a suburb of London called Bromley (circled on the above map), where Jones attended Bromley Technical High School. Now called Raven Wood School, Bromley Technical High School was very open to the arts. Jones took classes in art, music, design, layout and typesetting. For fun, Jones and his friends form bands comprised of homemade instruments. In addition, during these high school years, Jones began playing a variety of instruments, including ukelele, piano, and the alto saxophone.

In 1962, Jones got in a fight over a girl with friend George Underwood who punched his left eye. Doctors thought he would go blind in that eye. However, after spending four months in the hospital and undergoing a number of surgeries, he was left with a lack of depth perception and a dilated pupil. He and Underwood continued to stay friends after the incident. Underwood did some of the art for Bowies first albums.


First Bands

Jones' professional music career began at the age of 15. His first ensemble was named The Konrads. It consisted of a rotating 4-8 member rock and roll band that played weddings and youth gatherings, such as Jones' Wolf Cub group, similar to Boy Scouts in the US. From 1962-67, Jones employed a number of managers in the hope to get a hit single. Here is a list of various bands that Jones was a part of and the single that were promoted:

Band Name Single
The King Bee's
AKA Davie Jones and the King Bees
Liza Jane
Manish Boys I pity the Fool
Lower Third You've Got a Habit of Leaving
The Buzz Do Anything You Say
Riot Squad No Single
The Lower Third - "You've Got a Habit of Leaving"

Space Oddity

In 1967, Jones changed his last name to Bowie. According to an interview done with People Magazine in 1976, Bowie explains "[he has] no confidence in David Jones as a public figure." His name change to Bowie was not only to avoid confusion with singer David Jones of the Monkees, but also to bring a flavor of Americanism to his name with reference to the American knife, the Bowie knife. With his new name, Bowie released his first self-entitled album under his new name with little success.

Bowie didn't release new music for the next two years and focused his effort in other artist areas. In the same year, 1967, Bowie became interested in dance and enrolled in London Dance Centre. Here he met Linsey Kemp who influenced the idea of persona and image. These influential ideas eventually led to Bowie's characters and theatrical roles later in his life. Through Kemp, Bowie became interested in avant-garde, mime and comedy theater. During this time, Bowie met dancer Hermione Fathingale and the two began dating and eventually playing music together. Fathingale is credited with Bowie's musical transformation from rock 'n roll to a folk, singer-songwriter sound. Bowie got involved with plays, short films and commercials. In 1969, the short film Love You till Tuesday was created but not released until 1984, and featured musical performances by Bowie including the "Space Oddity," which had yet to be released.

The two later broke up that year with Farthingale move to Norway for the film Song of Norway. On July 11, 1969, "Space Oddity" was released and was met with huge success. Many critics believe this success has a lot to do with the fact that this single was released five days before the launch of Apollo 11. Nonetheless, this brought Bowie opportunities and his music career was beginning to blossom.

In November of the same year, Bowie released his second album under his new name. In the UK it was also self-entitled, bringing some confusion, in the US it was released under the name Man of Words/Man of Music, and eventually rereleased internationally in 1972 as Space Oddity but was not a commercial success outside of the single.