Hitting all the right notes
Instructor Todd Bowie tells tales from his rock-and-roll history as part of series
January 18, 2023
Many people can relate to the security and stability of working a 9-to-5 job, but few can say their career involved traveling the world with a rock-and-roll band. Todd Bowie has done both.
Last month Madison College held a special presentation of the Writer’s Life Lecture Series at the Truax Campus. The guest lecturer was Madison College video and audio instructor Bowie. He discussed his former career as a sound engineer and backline technician for the Eagles and his musical collaboration with rock groups such as Fleetwood Mac.
Journalism program director Larry Hansen organized the event for his Introduction to Mass Communications class.
“I wanted my students to have some experience with someone who’s been in music, for them to understand the underworkings of the music industry,” said Hansen, who also served as the presentation’s host. “We study not only journalism, but we study entertainment media as well. The entertainment media section is a big part of the class.”
Growing up in his native New Hampshire, the unassuming Bowie lived in a rural area near the woods, greatly influencing his musical training. Bowie, classically trained in baritone and piano, said the isolation was lonely. Music filled a void in him and kept him company. Eventually, his music passion turned to guitar, bringing him to Los Angeles, where he met Eagles’ founder Glenn Frey.
The audience followed Bowie through his musical career with a slide show, bringing them through an ‘80s and ‘90s time machine, with stops in California, Europe and Asia. In the 20 years he’s toured, he has worked with a broad spectrum of artists, collaborating with the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and joining forces with Ringo Starr, Beck, Ozzy Osbourne, CSNY, the Flaming Lips and others.
His assignments ran the gamut from pre-production audio engineering with Fleetwood Mac to live show production, where he functioned a backline technician. Eventually, the collaboration also brought Bowie on stage, where he performed as a keyboard player and guitarist with Joe Walsh, one of the lead guitarists for the Eagles.
While his career has taken a considerable flight path, with little time in a holding pattern, it has taught him several life lessons.
From the moment he started with the Eagles, Bowie soon realized the band was not the often stereotypical “go with the flow” type of rock band. The musical group was extremely self-disciplined and ready for every contingency.
“Collectively as a band, they made that kind of magic sound everyone liked in the early ‘70s. I learned from them that they didn’t just show up and sound like that. Those five guys had to work at it, and they worked. I saw it firsthand for years and years,” Bowie said.
The band was insistent on having vocal rehearsals backstage before a concert started. Bowie would be on hand with instruments so one musician could play and another could harmonize.
Bowie said that type of attention to detail inspired him. He said he learned patience from the Eagles and the ability to see a project through from start to finish, whether in his teaching or doing things around his house.
“With me, if I start something, I want to finish it — right down to sweeping, cleaning everything out until it’s absolutely done. I learned that work ethic from the Eagles. They were like that. It was the way they operated. I like that; it appealed to me,” Bowie said.
One thing his experience has taught Bowie is that friends and family outweigh global glamour. While he traveled in style and was well-compensated, he said there was a trade-off. Travel privileges meant visiting landmarks without his wife at the time. He misses the lost opportunities.
“No matter how nice your hotel room or how new your tour bus or how good your catering is — it’s still not your own house. It’s not your own kitchen, your own bed, your own living room. It’s not your family,” he said.
After touring with American musician Beck during the Sea Change tour, Bowie retired from the road in 2003, when he formed his own group. For the next 14 years, Bowie spent his weekends with Doug Corella, playing regionally in a band called the Karlz.
A few months before quarantine, he realized the grind and time away from family was taking a toll, prompting him to pack away his instruments and leave his weekends free.
Bowie is now part of the full-time faculty in the Video Audio Design program, staying in one place with the security of regular hours. But he still remembers his former life, showcased in the slide show.
When he reflects on the slides, he’s buoyed by special moments.
Milestones include when Walsh surprised Bowie with an introduction to Ringo Starr and the chance to team up with the former Beatles drummer. He treasures the picture of him, Walsh and Starr.
The shiniest moments came when he played guitar with Walsh. Jamming with 20,000 people was a dream for Bowie, who was given a chance when Walsh needed another musician.
Bowie said his career has been a considerable path, “from playing in a band with my friends to now here teaching people.”
Hansen sees the importance of having a speaker like Bowie, where students can come away from a presentation knowing that while it may be challenging, they can fulfill their dreams.
Towards the end of the presentation, Hansen asked him if he were to rewrite his life, would he do it all over again?
Bowie said he loved all the skills he learned, all the legends he met and the countries he could visit, but he didn’t like how it all affected his personal life.
“I thought I could do everything I wanted to do. When you’re a kid, you’re told, ‘follow your dreams — you can do anything you want.’ That’s what I did. I followed my dreams.”
Bowie then paused and reflected, thoughts swirling in his head.
“Sometimes you follow your dream, and you got to hold on fast. That’s what my experience was. I held on for so long that I couldn’t wait to slow down. I eventually wanted to be in a place like Madison College and go to a job every day. It said a lot — for me to want that.”