Yes, Tom Larsen’s band is called “Major Tom & The Moonboys.” And yes, their repertoire is composed exclusively of David Bowie songs. But no, they don’t play “Space Oddity,” the song that actually features the “Major Tom” reference.
“To me, it was just too obvious,” Larsen said in a recent phone interview.
Larsen, a Draper resident, and his band headline Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo for Halloween. This isn’t your average Bowie cover band. The more you talk to Larsen, the more that becomes clear.
“I don’t necessarily even like calling it a tribute band,” he explained. “I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but it’s something different than what’s out there.”
For one, there’s Larsen’s stage appearance. He isn’t dressing up as Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie — that Bowie was about 30 years Larsen’s junior. No, Larsen is playing an older Bowie. One that is, well, Larsen’s own age.
“Personally — and I mean nothing against these other tribute guys out there — but when I see people dressing up as Ziggy Stardust, and it’s usually guys like me in their 40s or 50s, there’s something pathetic. It’s kind of cheesy or clownish.”
Then there are the songs. Larsen said he and The Moonboys currently cover 27 of Bowie’s songs, and it’s not just the hits. He wanted to do songs that maybe even Bowie himself didn’t play live, or played very rarely. Larsen wanted to play the deep cuts. (And, of course, the occasional hit sprinkled in.) As mentioned, they don’t play “Space Oddity” from Bowie’s breakout album. But they do perform other rarely played songs from that album, including “Janine” and “An Occasional Dream.”
With “Rebel Rebel,” for example, Major Tom & The Moonboys channel the version from Bowie’s 2010 live album, “A Reality Tour.” They even bust out a bootleg version of Bowie’s 1976 song “Stay” from his “Station to Station” tour — a version that wasn’t commercially available until recently. Then there are songs from “The Day After” and “Blackstar,” Bowie’s final albums.
“That’s how deep into the weeds I get with this,” Larsen said with a laugh. “That goes over 90 percent of people’s heads, but I know that there are a few who get it.”
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In a lot of ways, Larsen’s entire musical history has culminated in a project like this. He remembers recording himself playing Bowie’s “Suffragette City” when he was 13 years old. He met his wife in high school, “and she was basically the only other Bowie fan that I knew. No one else I knew was really into it. So we used to trade records — she had some bootlegs, I had some bootlegs, and that’s pretty much what got us together.”
Larsen wanted to be a musician, and his career started taking off in the 1980s. He performed in various bands throughout Salt Lake City, and became a composer and studio engineer at a production studio in Sugar House. Larsen recalled how he started getting attention from folks in the music industry, and eventually moved he and his young family to Tallahassee, Florida, where he began working with musicians such as Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers.
Through those connections he got to know legendary producer Ken Scott, most known for his production work with The Beatles, Supertramp and, of course, David Bowie.
“The one criticism or warning or concern I’d get from the labels was that I sounded too much like David Bowie,” Larsen remembered. “I would tell them, ‘I know. I can’t help it.’ It’d be artificial and fake of me to try to not sound like that. So I was kind of in a quandary.”
Still, folks from various corners of the music business showed interest, and Larsen eventually had an offer to work with a record label in the UK. The label’s plan was for him to spend some time overseas, get popular in the UK, then break into the American market.
“So I got up to this crescendo of everything I’d been working for, and realized I can’t leave my family — go on tour 300 days out of the year, and go to Britain, and leave my wife out in the middle of Tallahassee with these little boys,” he said. “And I’d always vowed that if it came to my family, breaking up my family or causing any distress there, versus living my dream — and I’d seen so many rock ’n’ rollers do that — I would not do that.”
Larsen moved back to Utah and got a college degree, occasionally doing music with the hope of getting back into it more fully at some point. Then he took the LSAT, “and unfortunately, as I look at it now,” he said, “scored really high.” He went to law school at the University of Utah, completed the program, but realized he didn’t like that atmosphere at all.
“You know, I’m an artist. I’m a musician. I just want to be a singer in a rock ’n’ roll band. That’s all I ever really wanted to do.”
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David Bowie played a pivotal role in Larsen’s musical upbringing. Same goes with his family life. He, his wife and children are all well versed in Bowie way, way more than most families. Every time a famous musician would pass away these past few years, Larsen said, the family would look at one another and acknowledge that one day it’d happen to Bowie, too. There would come a morning where they’d wake up and Bowie would be gone.
Then, in January, it happened.
“It’s like we were preparing ourselves for the inevitable. So when it came, it was a shock,” Larsen said. “It was almost too much to process. It was like it wasn’t real. It was so shocking that we had to prepare ourselves in advance for the time that it would happen.”
One of Larsen’s sons, Jackson, has achieved considerable local acclaim with the band Westward the Tide. Jackson’s band was actually scheduled to play Velour the day news of Bowie’s death broke. He called his dad and asked him to sing Bowie’s 1977 classic “Heroes” onstage with him at that night’s show.
“And I was shaking, I was so excited, because I hadn’t sung or performed for years,“ Larsen said.
He recalled that January night fondly — just thinking about it, he said, makes his hair stand up. In the months that followed, he pulled a band together, and they’ve been playing since March. Through most of Larsen’s life Bowie has always been there. And if there was ever a time to embrace it fully, it’s now. Digging deep into this project, he said, has caused his own musical awakening, and he’s been feverishly working on a bunch of new solo material that he’ll eventually unveil.
“My wife and I just looked at each other and said, ‘You know what, let’s just do this. Let’s just go all in now.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”