Gail Ann Dorsey is an American musician. With a long career as a session musician, she is perhaps best known for her lengthy residency in David Bowie’s band, from 1995 to Bowie’s death in 2016. Aside from playing bass, she occasionally sang lead vocals on “Under Pressure” and dueted with Bowie on other songs, including “The London Boys”, “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)”, “I Dig Everything”, accompanying Bowie on clarinet, and a cover of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”.
From 1993 to 1996, Dorsey recorded and toured with Tears for Fears, and collaborated on songwriting with the band. She appeared in several of the band’s promo videos throughout this period. Her diverse range of work includes performances and/or recordings with, among others, Lenny Kravitz, Bryan Ferry, Boy George, the Indigo Girls, Khaled, Jane Siberry, The The, Skin, Gwen Stefani, Charlie Watts, Seal, Gang of Four, Susan Werner, ani difranco and Dar Williams.
In addition, Dorsey has released three solo albums: The Corporate World (1988), Rude Blue (1992), and I Used To Be… (2003).
Dorsey grew up in the 1970s in West Philadelphia. She played guitar from the age of nine and cites Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Terry Kath of Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, and Nancy Wilson of Heart as early influences. She acquired a bass shortly after her 14th birthday but didn’t consider herself a bass player until she was 20. She also wrote feature-length screenplays to accompany some of her musical compositions.
Dorsey attended the California Institute of the Arts in the School of Film & Video. She received a full scholarship with her screenplays and short Super 8 films. Dorsey was the only female in her freshman class and the youngest female to be admitted to the Live Action department up to that point. After completing three semesters she felt unsuited for the film industry and once again turned to a career in music.
At age 22, Dorsey moved to London to pursue her musical career, where she was in a musical collaboration/band 20To with keyboard player/composer Pete Stern. Their first demos were engineered and produced by Paul “Doc” Stewart at Village Way Studio in London. Stewart was responsible for their introduction to CBS Records, which led to her first recording deal. She established herself through collaborations with artists such as Boy George, Ann Pigalle, and Donny Osmond. Dorsey’s first high-profile job was as a guest vocalist in the original line up of The Charlie Watts Big Band and its 1985 premiere at London’s famous West End jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s. A crucial point in Dorsey’s solo career was her appearance on The Tube, a British music television weekly hosted by Jools Holland and Paula Yates.
In December 1987, Dorsey signed with Warner Music Group and in 1988 released her first solo album, The Corporate World. The album was produced by bassist Nathan East of the jazz quartet Fourplay and included appearances by artists such as Eric Clapton. It received a 5-star review and was voted one of the Top 50 Albums of the Year by London’s Q Magazine. She moved to Island Records in 1991, signed by founder Chris Blackwell. In 1992, she released her second solo album entitled Rude Blue, which featured trumpeter Mark Pender and trombonist Richie “La Bamba” (from Conan O’Brien’s house band), Carla Azar on drums (from Wendy & Lisa), Carol Steele on percussion, and the infamous James Brown horn section of Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis.[ After almost 12 years in England, Dorsey relocated to the artist community of Woodstock in upstate New York in 1994.
When her relationship with Island became strained, Dorsey began to concentrate on session work and in 1995 was recruited for David Bowie’s Outside Tour. Throughout the remainder of the 1990s and into the 21st century she performed and recorded with artists such as Gang Of Four, Louise Goffin, world music stars Rachid Taha, Faudel, and Khaled (“1, 2, 3 Soleils”), Sophie B. Hawkins, Tears For Fears, The The, The Indigo Girls, Canadian artist Jane Siberry, Jeffrey Gaines, Italian blues man Zucchero, Dar Williams, Catie Curtis, Toshi Reagon, Joan Osborne, The B-52s, and Michael Hutchence of INXS.
Dorsey is perhaps best known for her contribution to the David Bowie band. After the Outside Tour she provided vocals and bass for Earthling (1997), Heathen (2002), Reality (2003) and The Next Day(2013). She recorded “Planet of Dreams”, a duet with Bowie on the 1997 EMI UK benefit CD release, Long Live Tibet, as well as several other live recordings and videos. She has been on board for the last six tours [and performed with Bowie at “The Concert For New York” at Madison Square Garden. About a decade after Rude Blue, Dorsey released her third solo album in 2003. The album entitled I Used To Be is a collection of previously unreleased material spanning the past 18 years of Dorsey’s songwriting archives. She wrote all songs herself with the exception of a few collaborators, namely Roland Orzabal and singer-songwriter Kristen Hall. I Used To Be was produced by Dorsey and engineer/producer Brandon Mason, with long-time friend and fellow bassist Sara Lee as executive producer.
Style and influences
Dorsey’s musical style spans broadly and includes rock, funk, country, and pop influences. She describes her current sound as a present-day version of the AM/FM radio tunes that left a mark on her music such as The Fifth Dimension, Olivia Newton-John, Bread and the Wilson sisters, and Heart. When asked to describe her sound in one word she says “Black-arach…but that’s maybe how I feel most days. Sometimes you can never tell what vehicle is required to deliver the message until it tells you. I don’t want to limit myself to anything. I just want to maintain honesty and substance in the work. That is my responsibility to the music and the audience.”
- The Corporate World (1988) (Sire Records)
- Rude Blue (1992) (Island Records)
- I Used To Be… (2003) (Sad Bunny) (2004) (UFO Music)