Liza Jane

Bowie King Bees 1

‘Liza Jane’ – Single Version (1964) 

Lyrics (Conn)

Well, I got a girl that's so good to me
[Oh, little Liza]
Well, now she ain't more than five foot three
[Oh, little Liza]
Well, this little girl is so good to me
[Oh, little Liza]
Yeah, this little girl's nearly half of me
[Oh, little Liza]

Little Liza Jane

I got a girl, duh-duh-goo-to-duh
[Oh, little Liza]
Yeah, this little girl turn me upside down
[Oh, little Liza]
Well, all of the little girls that I had
[Oh, little Liza]
You know this little girl drives me to despair
[Oh, little Liza]

Little Liza Jane

Yeah, I got a girl who loves me true
[Oh, little Liza]
Now she ain't more than five foot two, yeah
[Oh, little Liza]
You know this little girl is so good for me, yeah
[Oh, little Liza]
You know this little girl's nearly half of me
[Oh, little Liza]

Little Liza Jane

Oh yeah, I love her
Little Liza Jane
Well, I'm coming back to me love
'Cause she's driving insane
When will I meet her

Liza Jane Single A

Although ‘I Never Dreamed’ was Bowie’s first-ever known studio recording, ‘Liza Jane’ was his first single (B-Side: ‘Louie, Louie Go Home’). Recorded during a 7-hour session at Decca studios and published on 5th June 1964 ‘Liza Jane’ was also the first single from his band The King Bees, whose member as a lead singer he became in January 1964. Despite of the ill-fated recording of ‘I Never Dreamed’ Davie Jones’ (how David called himself in his new band) then-manager Leslie Conn had managed to sign a deal for a single with Decca Records label Vocalion Pop.

‚Liza Jane’ is based on a frequently-covered “old Negro spiritual”, as band member and Bowie friend George Underwood called ‘Little Liza Jane’ which was written in 1916 by Countess Ada de Lachau. The 1964 version however had little in common with the spiritual version and was rather inspired by R&B versions of that song as for example the famous version of Huey Smith’s ‘Little Liza Jane’ in 1956. According to Underwood it took Bowie only 15 minutes to turn the Huey Smith version into the version that would be released in 1964. Originally he had scheduled ‚Liza Jane’ as the B-Side of the single.

Bowie’s vocals on ‘Liza Jane’ hint to a heavy influence by the Rolling Stones, who were, in turn, also heavily influenced by American electric blues. The song is recorded far too loud, and the lyrics cannot be considered a masterpiece of songwriting („I got a girl, duh-duh-goo-to-duh“). Furthermore, the repetitive calling of “Ohhh Little LI-za” has the potential to annoy some sensible listener.

Leslie Conn somehow managed to claim the songwriting credits – though his later comments made it quite apparent that the lyrics of ‘Liza Jane’ were created in collaboration with the band. The following comment he made to Mojo in 2008 sort of disqualified him as trustworthy: „It was based on a six-bar blues. I was very good at lyrics as well. (…) I can’t remember why it was called Liza Jane, it may have been after a girl he was taking out at the time.”

Bowie King Bees 6

‘Liza Jane’ which was can actually be described as an enjoyable little song. You just have to imagine swinging London in 1964: the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the vividly rising Mod scene – there were all these young and aspiring bands that stirred up teenagers and founded the basis for the rising mod scene in London’s Soho. It is only understandable that young Davie Jones wanted to get involved in that scene. At this point, he had already proven himself as a highly ambitious, hardworking musician/songwriter who wouldn’t ever be satisfied with the status quo. By 1964 Davie Jones had already left two bands, namely the Kon-rads and the Hooker Brothers, to follow his interest in broadening his knowledge about different styles of music.

But saying that ‘Liza Jane’ is a bad debut would be inappropriate and far from the truth. Indeed, the song is naively written/composed, but it is still quite ‘catchy’. Surely, while ‚Liza Jane’ has never reached a large audience at that time, it must have been quite a corker in some nightclub in Soho at that time. But as with almost all of Bowie’s musical attempts in the ’60s, ‘Liza Jane’ was not a commercial success. Despite a dedicated promotion on television shows such as Juke Box Jury, The Beat Room or Ready Steady Go! the single failed to enter the charts.

After Leslie Conn and Bowie parted ways, Conn had moved to Mallorca. One day, he recalled in 1997, he phoned his mother who asked him what she should be doing with the many ‘Liza Jane’ disks that were stored in the garage. He recommended her to throw them away. Not the best move ever from today’s perspective: nowadays original ‘Liza Jane’ LPs from 1964 are being sold for hefty 4-digit sums.

Bowie King Bees 4

The official press release from the press room of the Dick James Organization in May 1964 reads as follows:

Pop Music isn’t all affluence. Just ask new seventeen year old recording star Davie Jones. Time was (two months ago, in fact) when he and his group were almost on their uppers. No money, bad equipment. Then Davie had a brainwave. “I had been reading a lot in the papers about John Bloom,” says Davie. “So I put pen to paper and wrote him a letter.” David told Bloom that he had the chance of backing one of the most talented and up-and-coming groups on the pop scene. All he had to do was advance the several hundred pounds it requires to outfit a pop group with the best equipment.

Davie didn’t get the money, but he did get a telegram next day from John Bloom giving the phone number of Artist’s Manager Leslie Conn. Davie got in touch, he was rewarded with a booking at Bloom’s Wedding Anniversary Party. “We were a dismal failure”, recalls Davie. “It was a dinner dress affair and we turned up in jeans and sweat shirts and played our usual brand of rhythm and blues. It didn’t go down too well. Still we’ll know better next time.

However, all’s well that ends well. Leslie Conn liked the earthy type of music the group played, arranged an audition with Decca Records which resulted in a contract and the first release by David Jones with the King-Bees. “Liza Jane”, released by Decca (Vocalian 9221) on June 5th.

DAVIE JONES WITH THE KING-BEES

MET AT BARBERS

Davie Jones met up with his four member backing group the King-Bees when he visited his local barber shop in Bromley. In between clips he got chatting to the four lads, also there to be sheared, about their musical interests, and before you could say “Short back and sides”, they decided to join forces.

The group specialise in hard-driving, uncompromising R & B, a brand of music that has won for them a dedicated following in the London area, a following which should soon be spreading throughout the length and breadth of England on the strength of their first disc.

“LIZA JANE”, is a beaty, action packed disc which features the direct no-holds-barred Davie Jones vocal delivery. The King-Bees supply a hard core, R & B backing and the whole thing is crowned by a catchy chorus featuring the line “Little Liza Jane”.

DAVIE JONES


Seventeen years old, fair haired Davie first got interested in pop music when he was ten. His father’s secretary (Davie’s father in P.R.O. for Dr. Barnardo’s homes) who had previously worked for a disc company, sent Davie a ‘Demo’ copy of a new Little Richard disc. As the phrase goes, Davie was “knocked out”, and when he had scraped together a few pounds of his pocket money, bought a plastic saxophone. Eventually he progressed on to the real thing. Lessons were the next step. “My idol on saxophone has always been Ronnie Ross”, says Davie, “So I looked up his name up in the phone book and asked him if he would give me lessons.” Ross agreed, but after Davie played him a few bars Ross’s comment was: “Right now we can start working on you, that was bloody awful!” Davie gave up his music to take his G.C.E. at 15, then left school and joined an advertising agency as a commercial artist, where he still works.

When he left school Davie was able to concentrated on his music again, this time mainly as a vocalist, playing dance halls and clubs in and around the Bromley area. Then came the hair-cut and the letter to John Bloom…

Davie’s favourite vocalists are Little Richard, Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker. Apart from the saxophone he also plays the guitar. He dislikes Adams apples, and lists as his interests Baseball, American Football and collecting Boots. A handsome six footer with a warm and engaging personality, Davie Jones has all it takes to get to the show business heights, including… talent.

Although Bowie’s next band, The Manish Boys, continued to play ‘Liza Jane’ during some of their live performances, the song went into oblivion – failing to raise anyone’s interest in the single or the lead singer – and never entered Bowie’s live repertoire again for a couple of decades.

Bowie 2004

Until 6th June 2004, just one day after ‚Liza Jane’s’ 40th anniversary. Then-58-year-old Bowie was just performing on the last concert event of his Reality Tour in the US (only a few performances should follow until Bowie finally cancelled off the entire tour due to health reasons). On that day Bowie played ‘Liza Jane’, a song which he called “absolutely dreadful” and “excruciating”, much to the (obvious) delight of his audience. George Underwood commented on Bowie’s 2004 version in an issue of the Mojo magazine 2008: “He did a version of it. But I know he hates the song. When he finished, he said, ‘I hope that’s the last time I ever have to play it’.“ On that day in 2004 Bowie played the song in a style similar to the Delta blues of John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly. The live version can be heard here:

‘Liza Jane’ – Reality Tour: Holmdel, New Jersey (6th June 2004)

An almost similar version can be found on Bowie’s Toy album which miraculously leaked onto the Internet in March 2011. The album contains Bowie’s recordings when he revisited some of his older songs in 2000. ‘Liza Jane’ can be found here in a much longer version (4’47″). It sounds a bit more relaxed and balanced than the original screamy version of June 1964.

‘Liza Jane’ – Toy, unreleased (ca. 2000/01)

——

Discography

Single Version:

  • Vinyl Liza Jane (A-Side) / Louie, Louie Go Home (B-Side) 6/1964
  • CD Early On (1964-1966) 1991

Delta Blues Version:

  • Toy Sessions unreleased

——

Musicians

  • Davie Jones (vocal, tenor sax)
  • George Underwood (rhythm guitar, harmonica, vocal)
  • Roger Bluck (lead guitar)
  • Dave Howard (bass)
  • Robert Allen (drums)
  • Produced by Leslie Conn
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Filed under 1963-65: Early Songs, 2000: Toy Sessions

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