Back in 1977, Blondie had just released their debut album and the group was struggling to break big. But after David Bowie and Iggy Pop heard Blondie, they brought the new wave band along as openers on the U.S. run of the Idiot World tour, promoting Iggy’s The Idiot, which was written in collaboration with Bowie. After news of Bowie’s death spread on Monday, Blondie founders Debbie Harry and Chris Stein remembered the experience as the turning point in their careers.
“We got into an RV after one of our shows and just drove up to Montreal for the first gig,” Stein tells EW. “We were very groggy and we walked into this hall and those guys are standing there.” Harry says they had driven all night to get there and were petrified when they arrived at the Le Plateau Theatre to kick off the tour. “When we finished setting up, they appeared and David was just such a gentleman,” she remembers. “They were our complete heroes,” Stein says.
At the time, Bowie had been playing keys in the band, even though he has just put out his 11th LP Low, the critically adored collection released as the first album in his famed Berlin trilogy. “The fact that he took a backset to Iggy during that tour was a huge deal because he was a big mega-star then,” Stein remembers. “Bowie was totally gracious.”
Both Harry and Stein remember Bowie as a generous headliner. “They were really just concerned with putting on a great show and not about competing with the opening band,” Harry says. “This was a new idea for us, but it’s something I tried to carry through all these years when putting on shows — give the band as much tech support as possible. We’ve always done that.”
“After that tour,” Stein adds, “we toured with some of our peers and there would be frequently more competition. Just being nice to everybody around was something I picked up on from Bowie.” Blondie later covered Bowie’s beloved single “Heroes” in 1980. (Hear a version below.)
Stein, who is also an accomplished photographer, snapped the above photo of Harry and Bowie in a candid moment during the tour. He hadn’t seen the Thin White Duke since 2013, when they had discussed Lou Reed’s health, just a few months before the Velvet Underground frontman’s death. When EW spoke to Stein, he had just visited with Reed’s wife Laurie Anderson. He says they spoke about Bowie’s final album Blackstar, which he put out on Jan. 8, his 69th birthday.
The collection hints at Bowie’s death through dark imagery and pointed lyrics — “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings on “Lazarus” — and the idea that he knew he was battling cancer while working on the project affected both Stein and Anderson deeply.
“She told me, ‘It makes me so proud to be an artist,'” he says. “He knew what was happening. I’ve never seen [a work of art] like this before and the more days go by the more I think about it.”