Spencer Albee and Sara Hallie Richardson sing through a fab four tune while rehearsing for the 13th annual Beatles Night in Portland in November.

The members of Rustic Overtones were recording their first major label album when producer Tony Visconti decided to call a friend to help out on the record.

“We were in the early stages of recording, we hadn’t done many overdubs at all,” Spencer Albee, then-keyboardist and singer for Rustic Overtones, recalled Monday. “One day, Tony had the idea of calling up David Bowie and having him come by, just like you would call up any friends and ask them to come hang out.”

Bowie did come by, and the rock icon ultimately offered to sing background vocals on two songs on the Maine band’s “Viva Nueva” album, later released in 2001 on Tommy Boy Records.

The pop culture star — who won awards for his acting as well as his music, and was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 — died after battling cancer at the age of 69, his family announced Sunday.

Albee said Bowie made a powerful impression on him during their time working on “Viva Nueva,” describing the British artist as someone who was down-to-earth despite his popular out-of-this-world persona, built up over decades from his 1970s extraterrestrial alter ego Ziggy Stardust all the way through his last studio album, “Blackstar,” released two days before his death.

“I’ve met some [stars] that were total jerks,” Albee said. “You would expect that when David Bowie walked into a room there would be a light show, or he would be nine feet tall. But he was so relaxed and put everybody at ease. He was laid back and we laughed at jokes together. I think when you change the face of pop culture as many times as he has, I think you could reserve the right to make people shudder and cry, but that wasn’t even on his radar. He wanted to talk to us about our music.

“We were in this room with David Bowie listening to our music, much in the same way that you would share your music with your buddies,” he continued. “He was calm and kind. … I think there’s something to be said for people who are comfortable in their own skin. The kindness just emanated from him.”

Dave Gutter, singer and guitarist for Rustic Overtones, wrote in a Facebook post Monday that Bowie “was so kind, down to earth, generous and jovial during the time I spent with him, it was mind blowing.”

“He treated our band as his equals. A feeling I have never truly felt with any other ‘superstars’ I had ever met. In the midst of the music industry trying to change our sound at every corner, he embraced our originality,” Gutter wrote, in part.

“In his art, Bowie was like an alien from another planet that knew things about music that no one else knew,” he continued. “His persona was bigger than life, a god. The sessions we did with Bowie taught me humility, humbleness, and confidence in the most profound way. Things I didn’t expect. He was the best kind of rockstar. Bowie was human. Bowie was mortal. Rest in peace to a beautiful human and artist that changed my life forever.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.