Kenneth Pitt

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Kenneth Pitt is best remembered as David Bowie's manager from about 1967 to 1970, though his client left him right after getting his first hit, "Space Oddity." As Pitt managed Bowie during the singer's…
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Kenneth Pitt is best remembered as David Bowie's manager from about 1967 to 1970, though his client left him right after getting his first hit, "Space Oddity." As Pitt managed Bowie during the singer's most pop- and theater-influenced phase, some critics have painted him as an old-school manager who was trying to help mold Bowie into an all-around entertainer, with the artist finally finding himself when he left Pitt, and pioneered glam rock. Actually, Pitt was not inherently adverse to straight rock music, managing several rock artists, most notably, Manfred Mann. Pitt withdrew from artist management into other parts of the entertainment business after losing Bowie and wrote at length about his relationship with Bowie in his book, Bowie: The Pitt Report.

In the '50s, Pitt did publicity for American artists touring England, such as Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington, and eventually rock acts like Jerry Lee Lewis. He had entered artist management in the '50s with gypsy singer Danny Purches, but his first memorable star client was the group Manfred Mann. He aided in their success by encouraging them to record their Transatlantic chart-topper, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," but the group dropped him in 1965. In the mid-'60s, he also handled affairs for one of the few all-women rock bands of the period, Goldie & the Gingerbreads, and folk-pop singer, Crispian St. Peters. In late 1965, Pitt was approached by Ralph Horton, then managing David Jones (who had yet to change his name to David Bowie), who was in search of a managerial partner. When Pitt finally saw Bowie in 1966, he was impressed, and did share managerial duties with Horton for a while before he was officially taken on as Bowie's sole manager in April 1967. Bowie's recordings in the Pitt era, particularly those of 1966-1968, are often savaged by rock critics for their fey Anthony Newley influence and light, sometimes invisible, traces of actual rock & roll. As Pitt was also working to help Bowie make inroads into theater and film, some have felt that the manager was trying to get his protégé into the straight mainstream entertainment world. In Bowie: An Illustrated Record, for instance, Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray wrote, "In his last attempt to conform to Kenneth Pitt's demands and expectations, he participated in two Continental Song Festivals (Malta and Italy) held in August of 1969, performing 'When I Live My Dream' from the first album."

While Pitt may not have been the most suitable manager for Bowie in the long term, in his defense it should be pointed out that he did a great deal for the singer in his early career. First of all, he helped sustain him, with money and encouragement, at a time when Bowie was failing to make any commercial headway in pop, accumulating five years of failures before "Space Oddity." Also, the Anthony Newley phase was not something that Pitt forced upon Bowie; it was one of many transitions, albeit not one of the more commercially or artistically successful ones, that Bowie underwent in the course of his chameleon-like career. Finally, Pitt was not necessarily as adverse to Bowie's rock inclinations as some have made out. In fact, he was responsible for giving Bowie early albums by the Fugs and the Velvet Underground after a trip to New York -- not exactly the kind of records a stuffed shirt would have passed on -- although the influence upon Bowie of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed in particular would not fully bear fruit until the early '70s, after Pitt was out of the picture.

Under the influence of his wife Angie, Bowie grew more distant from Pitt after "Space Oddity," and by the early '70s, Pitt had been dumped in favor of Tony de Fries. In Todd Haynes' movie, Velvet Goldmine, a fictionalized treatment of glam rock, the early manager of the star, Brian Slade was based largely on David Bowie. The character Cecil seems largely based on Kenneth Pitt, although the caricature makes him out to be a more pathetic and ineffectual figure than Pitt likely ever was. Pitt abandoned artist management to concentrate upon consulting work with foreign acts touring the U.K.. His book, Bowie: The Pitt Report, is recommended for major Bowie fans, providing a wealth of insight and detail into the singer in the late '60s, when he was not as guarded about his public image and quite different from the glam star into which he evolved.