In December 2018 I wrote about a signed napkin that appeared in the photo section of Phil Lancaster’s book “At the Birth of Bowie”. The photo had been loaned by Linda Stevens and her daughter Carlie – the napkin was also featured in a national newspaper who ran a story about Phil’s book which was published in January 2019.
What interested me was that you could clearly see something had else had been written on the napkin, but only a very few people knew what…
Carlie wrote to me and, with her permission, I publish part of the contents and the real story behind the Davie Jones napkin:
"My mother is the owner of the signed Davie Jones/ David Bowie napkin that was featured in the book “At the Birth of Bowie” written by Phil Lancaster. I noticed that you also mentioned it in one of your blogs.
The napkin also has another side to it. I have done some research and this is what I have been able to find out about it.
My mother was the company secretary at a nightclub called the Bristol Suite Club for Leslie Conn in London in the 80's. Leslie Conn was David Bowie’s first manager, when he was still called Davie Jones.
Leslie gave my mother this napkin that Bowie signed in 1965 which reads. "I Davie Jones promise not to become too big headed when I am famous."
The other side of the napkin is signed by "Calvin James"
My Mother didn't know who that was, so I decided to do some research online. I found out that his real name is George Underwood (Calvin James was his stage name for a very short time).
George and David have been friends since they were kids. George is the one who punched David in the eye when they got into a fight over a girl that caused the paralysis of his left pupil and gave him his iconic look and his mismatched eyes.
I found out that George Underwood is now a famous artist. He did the artwork for 2 of David Bowie’s albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Hunky Dory.
I found his email address online and decided to write to him. I told him what I knew about the napkin and sent him pictures of it. To my surprise he wrote back to me. He said he thought it was "fascinating"!
As you can see, they didn't sign the napkin on the same day and the witnesses are different?
David actually signed it 10 days after George. My Mother had never noticed that and she had always assumed that they signed it at the same time.
After doing more research, I found out that David and George were in a band called The King Bees. Leslie Conn was their manager. They released the single Liza Jane in June of 1964. After it was unsuccessful, David found another band.
Leslie Conn then got George an audition with Mickie Most, the successful record producer , who was looking for a solo artist. George performed for Mickie and he gave him a record deal.
He thought that George needed a more "rock and roll" name and he came up with Calvin (after his son), and James, because Mickie wanted him to have a "James Dean" image. Mickie suggested James Calvin and then George said "What about Calvin James?"
Apparently, after George got a record deal, David did not take his friend's success very well. I found out that one day they ran into each other on the street, George could feel David glaring at him "like daggers" and he was "seething with jealousy".
George's album "Some things you never get used to" and "Remember" was released on April 17th, 1965, just shy of 2 weeks before the napkin was signed.
Leslie and David Jones parted ways in July of 1965, 2 months after he signed the napkin.
What I think happened is that Leslie Conn and Calvin James went to a coffee shop and were talking about the album that was just released and it somehow came up that Calvin was going to be famous. They drew up the contract on a napkin as a joke and Leslie put it in his briefcase.
10 days later, he had a meeting with David and he showed him the napkin that Calvin/George had signed. David was still angry about the record deal and wanted to be one up on him and wrote "When" I become famous instead of "If I become a star" like George did. I guess we will never know for sure...
It is amazing that this fantastic piece of rock and roll history has been in my Mother’s old briefcase (from when she went to boarding school) and kept under my parent’s bed for the last 30 years!
I have looked and I can't find any David Jones/Bowie memorabilia that is this old with such an amazing story behind it anywhere. It may also be one of the last times he signed his name as Davie Jones as he changed it to David Bowie in September of 1965, only 4 months later.
David visited the Bristol Suite Club in Mayfair to say hello to his first manager Leslie Conn in 1985 ( around the same time as Live Aid) and at the same time signed a sheet of headed paper for Carlie’s Mum
The “contract” napkin needless to say is a fantastic reminder of the 18 year old David Bowie’s early life, written at a time when he was determined to find the right band and a time when he and his friends literally camped inside the Giconda Coffee bar in Denmark Street Soho (known as Tin Pan Alley) hoping to bump into record industry influencers.
Needless to say it's value (with such great provenance) is massive.
Thanks to Carlie and Linda for sharing this brilliant piece of Bowie history..
The 2 page agreement not to become big headed