In 1989, I was a young, hardcore David Bowie fan. I had my mind blown by the "Ashes to Ashes" video on Night Flight, had worshipped at the feet of "Let's Dance", and even had the "Jazzin' for Blue Jean" video on VHS. In my high school years, I drifted over to The Cure, The Smiths, The Replacements, and R.E.M., and from there to classic punk: Sex Pistols, The Clash, etc. Then, when I had started college, Bowie forms a band called Tin Machine and put out a record that sounded like nothing else he had ever done. It was big, noisy, and raunchy, all guitar and ponding drums. The first track, "Heaven's In Here", that left an indelible impression on me. It started as a fairly conventional rocker, but as the song progressed, the drumming became more outlandish and inscrutable to my 18-year-old ears. It wasn't a drum solo, per se, but something more profoundly mind changing. The drummer seemed to be able to disintegrate and reintegrate the beat at will. I literally couldn't make heads or tales of it, and that was awesome to me. Throughout the album, the drumming was thick and muscular, yet impossibly nimble. This guy was hearing things I simply couldn't. Check out this live cut from 1990 where the band floats effortlessly from "Heaven in Here" to Slim Harpo's "King Bee" and back again.
Tin Machine turned out to be too far ahead of its time even for Bowie, who later called the project an artistic success but a commercial failure. Three years later, Nirvana hit big with a ramshackle yet powerful sound strikingly similar to Tin Machine. it was no coincidence. Cobain and company were listening to The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and other acts from the American alternative underground—the same stuff Bowie had been listening to in 1989. The drummer for Tin Machine, I later learned, was Hunt Sales, and the bassist was his brother Tony. It wasn't the first time they had worked with Bowie. Back in 1977, the Sales brothers were the rythmn section for the second album Bowie produced with Iggy Pop. In that session, Hunt Sales produced one of the most instantly recognizable beats of the rock era:
Hunt Sales had a long and distinguished career before he hooked up with the Bowie/Pop axis. His father was legendary TV comedian Soupy Sales, who also happened to be a huge jazz fan and exposed his kids to drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. He did Todd Rundgren's first two albums and toured relentlessly with a variety of acts throughout the 70s and 80s. He did a stint in Nashville before moving to Austin and playing with Charlie Sexton.
Sunday night, November 12, one of the greatest drummers of the rock era is going to pound the skins at Bar DKDC. Hunt Sales and Friends will play with Memphis' six string assassin Dave Cousar (along with bassist Landon Moore, horn players Jim Spake and Art Edmaiston, and Memphis Flyer music editor Alex Greene on keys) at 9:00 PM. It promises to be a hell of a show, so get ready to get your mind blown by percussion.