David Bowie’s 1976 performance in Rochester is memorable for more reason than one.
Bowie was arrested in a downtown Rochester hotel in March of that year after performing at the Community War Memorial. He and three other people — one of them early punk musician Iggy Pop — were charged with marijuana possession. In May 1976, the charges were effectively dismissed after a grand jury declined to indict the legendary artist. Bowie never performed in Rochester again.
Here are two of the original Democrat and Chronicle articles about the case. The first did not credit an author; the second was written by John Stewart.
‘Pot‘ holds rock singer
March 22, 1976 — David Bowie, the English rock singer, was arrested early yesterday at the Americana Rochester Hotel on marijuana charges. Three other persons, including a Rochester woman, were arrested with him.
They were charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana. Police said they confiscated what they described as about half a pound of marijuana. The charge is a Class C felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The Rochester woman was identified by police as Chiwah Soo, 20, of Owen Street.
The other two arrested were members of Bowie’s entourage, which appeared Saturday night at the Community War Memorial. The two were identified as James Osterberg, Jr., 28, of Ypsilanti, Mich., and Dwaine Vaughs, 22, of Brooklyn.
All four were freed on bond — at Bowie’s expense — and were to be arraigned in City Court this morning.
But Bowie, according to his attorney, left Rochester yesterday for a concert in Springfield, Mass.
Lawyer Thomas G. Presutti said there are heavy penalties when concert engagements are broken and he will « request the court’s indulgence » for Bowie’s absence. Bowie also has a concert scheduled in New Haven, Conn., and should be back in Rochester by Wednesday, Presutti said.
The four were arrested at 2:25 a.m. in a three-room suite in the hotel at 70 State St. by four city vice squad detectives and a State Police investigator.
Presutti said he wanted Bowie out of jail early so he could drive to Springfield. The rock star had a fear of flying, he said.
Presutti contacted the district attorney who recommended bail at $2,000 each. That was approved by County Court Judge Andrew Celli about 7 a.m. Bowie’s bail was ordered in cash, and $2,000 in bond was set for the others.
None of the four had a prior arrest record, Presutti said.
Bowie: ‘Not guilty, sir’
March 26, 1976 — After silently walking through a crush of fans, police and reporters, English rock star David Bowie pleaded innocent to a felony drug charge yesterday in Rochester City Court.
Bowie, 28, entered the Public Safety Building through the Plymouth Avenue doorway at 9:25 a.m., just five minutes before court convened, with an entourage of about seven persons, including his attorneys and the three other persons charged with him.
He was ushered into a side corridor by police and was arraigned within 10 minutes, as a crowd of about 200 police, fans and reporters looked on.
Bowie and his group ignored reporters’ shouted questions and fans’ yells as he walked in — except for one teenager who got his autograph as he stepped off the escalator.
His biggest greeting was the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom.
Asked for a plea by City Court Judge Alphonse Cassetti to the charge of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, Bowie said, « not guilty, sir. » The court used his real name — David Jones.
He stood demurely in front of the bench with his attorneys. He wore a gray three-piece leisure suit and a pale brown shirt. He was holding a matching hat. His two companions were arraigned on the same charge.
Bowie was represented by Rochester lawyer Anthony F. Leonardo, who also represented his companions, James J. Osterberg, 28 of Ypsilanti, Mich., and Dwain A. Vaughs, 22, of Brooklyn. Osterberg, described as a friend and Vaughs, described as a bodyguard, also pleaded innocent to the drug charge.
Osterberg also is a rock musician and performs under the name of Iggy Stooge. Bowie has produced at least one of Osterberg’s album in the past. Judge Cassetti set April 20 for he preliminary hearing for the three men. He also agreed to set the same date for the Rochester woman charged with the same offence, Chiwah Soo, 20, of 9 Owen St., who was also in the courtroom.
Cassetti allowed Bowie to remain free on $2,000 bail, as well as continuing the $2,000 bond on the other three persons charged.
Bowie and the other three were arrested by city vice squad detectives and state police Sunday in the Americana Rochester hotel, charged with possession of 182 grams, about half a pound, of marijuana in his room there. Bowie was in Rochester of a concert Saturday night.
Bowie’s arrangement was witnessed by his fans, some of whom had waited two hours to catch a glimpse of him. All remained quiet in the courtroom and scrambled after his arraignment to watch his exit from the building.
But fans and reporters were disappointed as city uniformed and plain-clothes police slipped him out unnoticed.
Using a maze of elevators and stairwells, police took Bowie and his entourage out a side exit, across the Civic Center Plaza and into Leonardo’s office on the Times Square building’s seventh floor.
Only about 30 fans were on hand to yell goodbye as Bowe and his friends left from Leonardo’s office at 12.30pm. Bowie, for the first time, waved to the crowd as his limousine pulled out from a parking space on West Broad Street, made a U-turn and headed for the expressway and the drive back to New York City.
The blue-and-black Lincoln Continental limousine had been ticketed for overtime parking, but a plainclothes policeman took the ticket, and put it in his pocket.
Bowie had remained silent throughout the morning but granted a five-minute interview to newspaper reporters in Leonardo’s office. Leonardo, however, wouldn’t allow any questions directly concerning the arrest, saying it was the first criminal charge he’d ever faced. He complimented city police, though, for the protection they provided him yesterday.
« They (city police) were very courteous and very gentle, » Bowie said. « They’ve been just super. »
Quiet and reserved, Bowie answered most of the reporters’ questions with short answers, shaking hands with them when they entered and left.
Asked if the arrest would sour him on returning to Rochester, Bowie said « certainly not, absolutely not. » He also said he was « very flattered » by the fans who turned out for this arraignment.
« I felt very honored, » he said.
Bowie and his entourage arrived in Rochester about 4 a.m. after performing a concert in the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island Wednesday night, Leonardo said, he will appear tonight at Madison Square Garden, his final concert of his America tour, Pat Gibbons, said.
Gibbons, 25, who described himself as Bowie’s « right-arm » man, said after tonight’s concert, Bowie will return by boat to England, starting a new European tour April 7 in Munich, Germany.
Bowie’s entourage stayed at the Downtower hotel yesterday morning. Before the arraignment, he had a conference with his attorneys in Leonardo’s office.
Leonardo said he and Thomas G. Presutti had been asked to handle the case by Bowie’s business attorney, Stanley Diamond of Los Angeles, who also was there yesterday. Diamond had no criminal trial experience and wanted local trial lawyers for the case, Leonardo said.
Bowie won’t appear at the April 20 hearing for any defense motions or possible grand jury action, Leonardo said.
« We’re talking about millions of dollars he could lose in concert commitments (if he appeared for such proceedings), » Leonardo said.
Bowie would have to appear for another arraignment and subsequent trial if he is indicted by a County Grand Jury on a felony drug charge, Leonardo said. But grand jury action isn’t expected until June, and Bowie should be vacationing in Switzerland then, Gibbons said.
District attorney’s office officials said Bowie and the others can’t plea bargain on any of the charges until an official grand jury indictment if there is one.
Bowie talked with immigration officials here yesterday before his arraignment, Leonardo said. The officials wanted to know his itinerary abroad for the next few months, Leonardo said. There are no problems now with his entering or leaving the United States, he added.
Bowie faces a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment on the drug charge but could get as little as five years’ probation if convicted.