'Blackstar' Bassist on Bowie: 'The Greatest Musician I've Ever Heard'

Tim Lefebvre describes the iconic artist's 'immense generosity' and 'extraordinary humor'

Credit: Lefebvre:Josh Withers/Corbis; Bowie: G. Gershoff/Getty

Tim Lefebvre, a member of Tedeschi Trucks Band, played bass on every song of David Bowie’s last album Blackstar. Here he shares his initial reaction to Bowie's passing and what it was like to spend time in the studio with a rock & roll legend. 

You can now better understand what the album Blackstar is about. I knew that David was ill, but not to this point. He made us understand that he was frail. We didn't realize. When he sang, when he played, he had strength and a real punch. I'm shocked.

Last night, I was playing at the Blue Whale, a club in Los Angeles, when between sets I got the news. I checked my phone and read a text message, which said, "He is gone." Mark Giuliana, the drummer on Blackstar, was with me. I went back on stage thinking, "This can't be true." It was unbelievable and shattering, but I went on playing, transported by David's overpowering energy.

He created this album knowing that he was going to die and he never let go till the end. It's his testament, a final part of his heritage, a last gift for all of us. Do you realize the generosity of this immense artist? We are often so full of self-pity; in the meantime David worked, giving all of himself with a smile, despite the sickness.

I listen to all the Blackstar songs and only now realize that "Dollar Days" is a chronicle of a death foretold. I felt the incredible sadness of this song while we were recording it. His voice, his words — "I'm falling"; "I'm dying to" — were full of tears, full of hope, of pain and also of solitude. It is, at the same time, a last search for survival and the admission that he was not going to make it.

I would be unable to play it again today.

David was a star. He knew it. The man was more powerful than the image. He managed to control everything. He was a king and a gentleman. He treated everyone with respect and love. He was sincere, authentic and brave. He made ​​you feel important. He was the first to applaud when he was amazed by someone playing. He was often amazed. So wonderful.

David Bowie was like John Lennon. An artist, an icon, someone truly committed who will never be forgotten. He was the greatest musician I've ever heard. A genius who revolutionized pop and rock, breaking all barriers.

It is as if David took us with him in his spaceship, showing us the Earth's view from the stratosphere: In "Heroes" — speaking about the Berlin Wall — or in "Blackstar," a political song with many layers that I'm still trying to understand. I learned so much from him, from his extraordinary imagination and incredible storytelling. I saw with my own eyes how he could transform himself, turning into a woman or a flamboyant and mad character.

David was a man full of love and extraordinary humour. During the recording of Blackstar, we spent our days laughing. David and I battled with words. It was hilarious. He dished them out with his great British accent. He laughed and nicknamed me "Cunt," a reference to the song by British comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore where they keep repeating the world "cunt." At the end, everybody called me 'cunt,' even the sound engineer.

I cannot believe that he's not here anymore. So, what has he left me? The incredible inspiration to make records and music as powerful as his, just like we did together in this small recording studio in New York — no frills, just what's essential.

Interview conducted by and translated by Paola Genone