A string of influential, early 1970s David Bowie albums long ago entered the annals of history. The sounds are epic and revolutionary.
The titles resonate: The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane.
In the 30th anniversary commemorative edition of Ziggy Stardust is a jacket page with images of a youthful Bowie, along with Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick “Woody” Woodmansey (drums).
For the uninitiated, "Mick Ronson’s guitars are often referred to as the birth point of heavy metal," notes Bowie's website (http://www.davidbowie.com), referring to The Man Who Sold The World and its impact. "And certainly the auspicious beginnings of glam rock can be traced here."
Sadly, only two remain from that jacket page and the Ziggy Stardust recording session nearly 45 years ago.
Cancer has claimed both Ronson (1993) and Bolder (2013).
Bowie remains an elder statesman of rock. He has gained widespread acclaim with the upcoming release of what his website dubs his 31st studio album, titled Blackstar. It will debut on Friday, Jan. 8, the rock icon's 69th birthday.
But then there's the fourth musician from that seminal series of albums, drummer Woodmansey. An acclaimed musician in his own right, Woodmansey has taken a 2013 request from a director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, to discuss the five-year stretch of performing and recording with Bowie, and parlayed it into what would become a series of successful touring concerts by a cover band of musical greats.
On Thursday, the U.S. tour launches at Portland's Asylum.
"We're just looking forward to starting in Portland," Woodmansey said in a telephone interview on Dec. 30 from the United Kingdom.
"We did 19 shows in England and then Ireland and Japan," Woodmansey said.
"It's a really great band, they're really fantastic musicians, and they're passionate about the music," he said.
The tour is titled Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy ("Holy Holy" is the title of a Bowie single released in January 1971, with “Black Country Rock” as its B-side, shortly before the album, The Man Who Sold the World, came out).
Woodmansey said the musicians — elite company including Glenn Gregory of 1980s New Wave band Heaven 17 and renowned Bowie bassist and producer Tony Visconti, among a host of other luminaries — play the material as fans.
They cover the entire album, The Man Who Sold the World (younger music fans may recall Nirvana covering the title song; frontman Kurt Cobain was a fan of the album and Bowie's influence).
Woodmansey said The Man Who Sold the World stands out in his memory for personal reasons.
"I guess it was really the beginning of our relationship with David, really, I'd been playing with Mick (Ronson) in the north of London," he recalled.
Woodmansey and Ronson performed together in a band called The Rats. Woodmansey, Ronson and Visconti later constituted a band called The Hype and began recording The Man Who Sold the World with Bowie in 1970.
"I think that was the start really of David doing his own thing instead of trying to be like anybody else," Woodmansey said.
Woodmansey called this heavy, complex musical shot across the bow "a progressive Sgt. Pepper's type album."
"We could go anywhere we wanted, so we did. It was adventurous. We just let it rip, really, got in the studio and jammed on the tracks," he said.
"When we finished it, we thought, whoa!"
Calling The Man Who Sold the World "quite dark lyrically and concept wise," Woodmansey recalled that it didn't strike a chord with the public at the time.
"The album kind of got bypassed," he said.
Interest was revived when The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 16, 1972) soared into popularity. Bowie moved on to other endeavors, remaining in the public eye and atop critics' polls through the intervening years.
"I've met up a couple of times with him on different albums," Woodmansey said, describing his intermittent contact with the famously elusive artist since the Ziggy Stardust period.
Bowie has been supportive of the Holy Holy tour, Woodmansey said.
"He's been helping us," he said, noting that Bowie posts information on Facebook and different websites, helping promote the shows.
"He just started doing it," giving the free promotion, and it helps reach a broader audience, Woodmansey said.
Asked about Bowie's new album, Woodmansey said he's not surprised by the eclectic and unpredictable nature of the new music (critics call Blackstar a melding of pop and free jazz; Visconti, again, helmed the album as producer).
"I think with Bowie, he always does what he wants to do at the time," Woodmansey said.
"You never really know when you're working with him," he said, describing the surprises that came with recording the five Bowie albums in the early '70s.
Now, Woodmansey revisits that period, with a tour that tears through the Northeast and culminates Jan. 21 at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. Bowie looms large over the proceedings, for obvious reasons. And this week, one show in particular will be special.
"We actually play New York on his birthday," Woodmansey noted.
That’s the next Holy Holy show after the Asylum gig, which is at the Highline Ballroom in New York City on Friday, Jan. 8.
Many fans of the Holy Holy shows hadn’t been born when Bowie made his 1970s breakthrough. The audience is diverse but includes a younger set, Woodmansey noted.
"Surprising really, they're from 16-18 right up to like 65, and we met a lot of families, we've been doing a meet and greet afterwards and we see mom and dads and three kids clutching the albums," Woodmansey said.
"There was one show where there was a 16-year-old girl in the front," he recalled, and the teen was singing lyrics from songs off The Man Who Sold the World with such precision that the band actually stopped performing to acknowledge her.
"Tony stopped the show," Woodmansey recalled, so he could salute the young fan and give her a hand.
"It wasn't a singalong album, The Man Who Sold the World, but the audiences are singing the whole songs all the way through," Woodmansey said, marveling at this belated connection.
"It's really surprising, I guess a lot of people got into the music later on," he said.
The band knows the material intimately.
"We head out on the Fourth of January," Woodmansey said — at the time of the interview he was in the south of England — and he said he planned on spending a couple of days rehearsing.
"We just go through it a few times and make sure the equipment works," he said.
Affable and relaxed, Woodmansey said the Asylum seemed like an ideal kicking-off point for the U.S. tour.
"One of our tracks is ‘All the Madmen’ so we thought that was appropriate," he said with a laugh.