The Story of David Bowie’s Forgotten Debut Single, ‘Liza Jane’
David Bowie wasn't even David Bowie yet when he issued his debut single, a stomping R&B rocker called "Liza Jane," with his band the King Bees on June 5, 1964. Then still using his given name of Davie Jones, Bowie was a mere 17 years old, but as evidenced by the recording, already full of fire and attitude.
Recorded for the Vocalion Pop label, "Liza Jane" is a growling tune that features Bowie on lead vocals as well as sax. Joining Bowie were George Underwood and Roger Bluck on guitars, Bob Allen on drums, and Francis Howard on bass.
The song's origins date back to 1917, when a song called "Lil' Liza Jane"' was recorded by Earl Fuller as an instrumental. The song was issued by Harry C. Brown a year later, with added vocals. It has since become a standard of New Orleans jazz and R&B, largely thanks to Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns' classic recording in the '50s.
King Bees' manager Leslie Conn, who also worked for Dick James Music Publishing, made a few changes to update the song and credited it to himself. The flip side was "Louie, Louie Go Home," a cover of a 1963 single by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Even with strong promotion, "Liza Jane" failed to chart and quickly faded from the airwaves. In 1978, it was re-released as a single by Vocalion's parent company, Decca, to capitalize on Bowie's fame.
By then, Jones had long since ditched the King Bees, had a go at it with the Mannish Boys and then Davy Jones and the Lower Third, before finally going solo. In early 1966, Jones changed his name to David Bowie, but still wouldn't find commercial success until "Space Oddity" reached No. 5 in the U.K. in 1969.
David Bowie Year by Year: 1965-2016 Photographs