Freddie Burretti was a very important figure in David Bowie’s transformation from pop wannabe to rock megastar, creating a visual representation to match David’s evolving music explorations. Freddie was a talented designer who not only created flamboyant stage costumes for David but was also very aware of how to use contemporary fashion to make original and very striking street wear.
Because Freddie was very striking and incredibly good looking David persuaded himself that Freddie could become a signing star and set out to launch him as Rudi Valentino, ‘the new Mick Jagger’, as front man for a band that would be ‘the next Rolling Stones’. But it wasn’t to be.
This is the story of Arnold Corns…….
When David arrived back from his very successful promo tour of the US in February of 1971 he was excited about the potential for the new music he was inspired to write – and had begun drawing up plans for his new character Ziggy Stardust. Because he was unable to record or perform while his manager Tony Defries was extricating him from his existing contracts, to enable him to pursue more creative options, David decided that he would record some of his new songs for a group he called Arnold Corns – and he wanted Freddie to be the lead singer.
David had first met Freddie and his girlfriend Daniella Parmar in 1970 at Yours or Mine, the gay club underneath El Sombrero cafe in Kensington that David and Angela visited regularly.
As Angela recalled in her memoir Backstage Passes – “You have no idea how handsome this man was. Freddie was wearing white Spandex hotpants with a navy blue sailors trim and a sailor shirt with short sleeves out of the same white Spandex edged in navy on the collar and sleeves. He looked totally Scandinavian with high cheek-bones and lots of blond hair, but he was tall and had big hands and feet speaking of his artistry and physical stamina. Every night he made new clothes to wear. He was so brilliant.”
Freddie and Daniella soon joined David and Angie and their growing coterie at Haddon Hall and became an integral part of their group’s passion for what Angie described as ‘shocking the morality of Britain to its core’.
On February 25, 1971, a week after arriving back from America, David’s publisher Bob Grace arranged for a session at London’s Radio Luxembourg studios to record two new songs David had written that Bob was very impressed with – Moonage Daydream and Hang on to Yourself. Bob was right about the songs being great, but David was wrong in believing Freddie could sing them!
To support Freddie David brought in Mark Pritchett on guitar, Pete De Somogyl on bass and Tim Broadbent on drums. It soon became very evident that Freddie had no vocal abilities at all – and David had to sing vocals.
The Arnold Corns single, with Moonage Daydream on Side A and Hang on To Yourself on Side B was released on May 7, 1971, with a credit for David Bowie as producer.
Chrysalis Music also included a small plug for the single on the sheet music they published for Peter Noone’s version of Oh You Pretty Things (which did far better than The Arnold Corns!)
This is the hand written note that David Bowie wrote to Rolling Stone journalist John Mendelsohn, which accompanied the copy of the Arnold Corns single he sent to John for review. Mendelsohn was an early admirer of David’s work and wrote a very influential review after they had met in San Francisco during Bowie’s promo tour in February. It’s fair to say John wasn’t as enamoured with Arnold Corns.
On June 17, Bob Grace booked another session for Arnold Corns at Trident Studios where David was already working with Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey on tracks that would eventually be released on Hunky Dory. With Freddie on vocals and Mark Pritchett joining on guitar the band recorded the songs Looking for a Friend and Man in the Middle. These were intended for an album tentatively titled ‘Looking for Rudi’, but it soon became obvious, even to David, that Freddie’s Rudi Valentino was never going to be ‘the next Mick Jagger’ and so the Arnold Corns project died a miserable death.
But that didn’t really matter to David as his own plans were gathering momentum, his new band were sounding fantastic and he could sense success just around the corner.
And Freddie’s design skills, which were considerably greater than his vocal skills, were about to become a very important part of David’s evolution..