Studio City, CA (May 10, 2021)—At the end of last year, barely six months after launching Rolling Live Studios, Kerry Brown found himself producing one of the most ambitious livestreamed events of the past year. Organized by pianist Mike Garson, A Bowie Celebration: Just for One Day! aired for 24 hours on Jan. 9 and featured live performances by dozens of Bowie band alumni and guests.
A music producer and musician with a credit list that includes the likes of Billy Corgan, Miley Cyrus and Jessica Simpson, Brown opened a studio and record store in Studio City at the beginning of 2020, shortly before COVID-19 arrived. “Having a record store was my childhood dream, and I built it just in time for the world to shut down,” he laughs.
Brown, a livestreaming pioneer, launched Rolling Live Studios in June to provide musicians sidelined by the pandemic with a concert platform. When Garson, an old friend and Bowie’s longest serving collaborator, asked Brown to help produce January’s three-hour-long event, he jumped at the chance to kick things up a notch.
Partnering with Logitech’s Streamlabs company, Brown built out his service to also include a live chat stream and additional ticketing capabilities for the event. Patterned after Bowie’s 50th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden in 1997, the celebration featured an all-star cast covering over 40 career-spanning songs. With participants scattered around the globe, it was never going to be a live performance, but the concept, says Brown, was for everyone to record their parts and film them live so that he and his team could seamlessly stitch them together.
Duran Duran, for example, contributed “Five Years,” with Garson guesting on piano. “The core band went into a studio in London and shot separately, but on the same day, in front of a green screen. They composited it and sent it to me. I had [bassist] John Taylor, who was in L.A., come to my place and I shot him on green screen. Then I had Mike come in and play,” says Brown, whose production facility features a vintage API desk and Otari tape machine.
Collaborating with some of his Hollywood connections, Brown says, he ensured that all the camera perspectives matched. A virtual artist used Google Tilt Brush to create the video’s unique look.
John Crawford, creative director for Nine Inch Nails, shot and edited video of Trent Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig and Atticus Ross performing “Fashion.” “We have some old TVs lying around in this space,” says Brown, “so I talked to my AV guy and got some converters, stacked them and played the video through them. For the livestream, Mike played piano live with Trent on the video wall, but after the show, we spent some time to post the video, adding additional TVs and putting more alumni members in, and released that.”
Backing tracks for most of the songs were provided by two core Bowie bands. “In L.A., we had guitarist Charlie Sexton, who came in from Austin, Alan Childs on drums, Carmine Rojas on bass and Mike Garson on piano. They came into my studio and had a COVID test every day.”
Guitarist Gerry Leonard recorded himself and bassist Mark Plati, drummer Sterling Campbell and guitarist Earl Slick at his New York studio, along with various local-area vocalists. “We shot them in the studio as they were recording, so it was as live as it could be,” says Brown.
Other vocalists added their parts to the backing tracks at their own studios or local facilities. Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, covering “Ziggy Stardust,” literally phoned his vocals in. “He needed some work on his knee and said, ‘If you send me the track right now, I can do it on my iPhone before I go in’ [to surgery]. And he crushed it.”
U.K.-based Yungblud covered “Life on Mars” from London. Brown, invited by a friend to a Zoom event with the JPL and NASA engineers behind the Perseverance rover, pitched them on the idea of playing the song during the then-upcoming historic Mars landing. “It closed the NASA stream,” he says.
Yungblud’s label, Interscope, released the cover as a single in March. “It proves the power of this space,” says Brown.
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