Elton John Early Years by Stuart Epps (shwepp)
“IT WAS A LITTLE BIT FUNNY”
I first met Elton in 1967 when i went to work at Dick James music as the office boy.
My good friend from school Clive Franks who I was also in a band with at the time was the office boy and was being promoted to disc cutter.
It wasn’t my intention to leave school that early, I was only 15 but I really idolised Clive’s job.
He was the first to get the Sergeant Pepper album as Dick was the Beatles publisher owning Northern songs.
He always had great stories of delivering stuff to Paul Mc Cartney and other stars, being the first to get all the sheet music and all the exiting recording sessions in the demo studio there.
I had to go for two interviews but got the job.
Qualifications needed — 2 legs
Dick James music 71-75 new oxford street telephone number
Temple bar 4864.
What an amazing place to a 15 year old who’s passion had always been music and the magic of it and how its created.
Not only that I was actually getting paid.
Six pounds a week.
This was a huge rise from my one pound a week pocket money. Obviously I had to do the job, which wasn’t very glamorous to say the least.
On the first day I wore a three piece suit but after having to empty dustbins, change towels, clean out coffee machines and check the oil in the boiler house I subsequently wore more suitable clothing.
Still it was incredible just to be in London at that time. Some of the characters you would see in Denmark Street, which was only round the corner from the office and was full of music shops, 2 famous studios, Regent sound and Central sound and of course the famous coffee bar, the Giaconder.
The Beatles, Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie wonder, all had recorded here.
One of the musicians who was often in the Giaconder and who was now signed to Dick James as a songwriter was Reg Dwight
Soon to be renamed Elton John.
Elton was playing keyboards in Long John Baldry’s band and in fact his new name came from Elton Dean the sax player in the band and from John Baldry.
Baldry was a pretty outrageous guy, very flamboyant. Amazing to think now that Elton was in his band.
They did a lot of gigs together many at the famous Marquee club in Wardour Street.
It was also at this time that Elton met the great guitarist Caleb Quaye.
I recently heard that when on a chat show in the states Eric Clapton was asked who was his favourite guitarist, his answer was Caleb Quaye.
Caleb was now the engineer at Dick James studio and he saw the talent in Elton.
They started working together, Caleb playing and producing
Putting together an album, which has actually never been released.
For all of us working in and around the studio at Dick James this was great music and we all became good friends.
This was such an exiting time in music.
So many great bands and great albums coming out every day.
DICK JAMES MUSIC 71 – 75 new oxford street
Elton was such an enthusiast of new music as we all were.
He really got into it though and he and Caleb used to go to Musicland record shop and get all the new American imports.
He was especially into soul, Aretha franklyn, etc.
In fact Elton used to work in the shop when he wasn’t playing or recording.
After being office boy I was now promoted to Disc cutter and tape copier.
This was a big jump and I took over from Clive who was now promoted to assistant engineer in the studio.
I had my own copying room next to the studio and it also became a hang out room for all the muso’s listening to all the newest stuff.
I can remember very vividly the day I first got the copy of the Beatles white album.
Whoever was around came in to have a listen.
This included Elton and a band that were signed to Dick, The Mirage.
They were Beatle fanatics so this was a treat.
Dee Murray the bass player with the band went on to play in the Elton John band.
From the first track we were just mesmerized.
Not only were we hearing great songs but also the Beatles were so advanced in their production.
Clive had done the same when Sergeant pepper came in and recently told me a story of how when he was office boy Dick James called him into his office with a very important mission.
He told Clive he was giving him the new Beatles album sleeve to take to Neil Aspinal at his London flat for his approval.
It was in a brown envelope but once in the cab obviously Clive couldn’t help but take it out for a look.
It must have been quite a moment as at that time he hadn’t heard the album but just to see that sleeve with all the lyrics and amazing titles and photos.
Apparently what also amazed him was the fact it still smelt of the printers ink.
Again listening to the Beatles new album made the Mirage want to give up but I think hearing great records like this only made Elton more determined to make great records himself.
A lot of the tracks on the album that Elton was making with Caleb saw Elton writing the lyrics which to be honest weren’t that great.
The year of the teddy bear,
Tartan coloured lady,
The tide will turn for Rebecca???????
I think Caleb might have written some of these too.
His first single on his own was called.
Baby you’re phrasing is bad!!!!!!!!!!!!
And the B side
Witch with half strength powers ?
So it wasn’t surprising that when a young country boy called Bernie Taupin answered an add that Elton’s manager put in the Melody maker for a lyricist, everyone including Elton were very pleased.
Bernie was from a village in Lincolnshire called Owmby- by -Spittal .
Not the most romantic of village names.
It was Bernie’s mother as the story goes who saw the add and got Bernie to reply.
Bernie was very shy and didn’t say a lot, but when it came to putting words on paper he was and is a brilliant poet.
BERNIE TAUPIN AND FIRST WIFE LOVELY MAXINE
USED TO LOVE VISITING THEM IN PIGLET IN THE WILDS . LINCOLNSHIRE
THIS IS THEIR MAD BLOODHOUND CYRIL
Elton was far from shy and would always be wearing something pretty strange even in those days.
I can remember a certain Noddy shirt, very strange.
He was going out with a very strange women at the time, very tall and even taller bee hive hair style making her look about seven foot and towering above Elton.
She had 2 miniature dogs and together with Elton it all looked very weird.
He was all set to get married and was looking for a place of his own as he was still living at his mums in pinner where he and Bernie shared bunk beds.
The story goes that on his stag night Baldry convinced Elton that he was actually Gay and more in love with Bernie than this strange women and the wedding was cancelled.
Someone saved my life tonight I believe was written about this.
All very strange stuff to a 16 year old from mill hill.
Nothing strange about Elton’s incredible talent though.
When he sat at the piano to play you a song the atmosphere was like nothing I had ever experienced and I made up my mind then that I wanted to be part of his music and help with his career if it were possible.
We were all great friends at this time, Elton, Clive , Caleb , Jeff Titmus The Mirage , Bernie and Nigel Olsson who was doing very well Drumming with the Band Plastic Penny and who would go on to be Elton’s Drummer with Dee Murray.
Caleb had his own band the Brilliant, Hookfoot that also had probably one of the best drummers of the time Roger Pope.
Elton was doing some gigs with Hookfoot backing him and in particular I remember some at the Royal college of Art.
I can still see the coloured oil slides on the walls, the strong smell of patchouli oil mixed with the smell of grass.
Elton’s songs weren’t really what Hookfoot was about who were very much more progressive but in those days it didn’t matter as it was great for them just to play live and enjoy the atmosphere.
I had been singing in a band with clive playing local youth clubs in North London and thinking we were pretty good, but this was something else.
Elton singing, what I thought anyway, were great songs, together with some of the best musicians I had ever seen on stage and these were my mates.
Steve Brown, Stuart Epps, Gus Dudgeon – Recording Elton’s ‘Ice On fire’ album.
Dick James came from a singing back round and sung in the biggest orchestras. He was also the voice on the famous Robin hood TV theme.
It was his friend George Martin who brought him the Beatles.
Dicks publishing catalogue was huge, Gerry and the pacemakers, The hollies, even the Coronation street theme.
With all this going on the demo studio was always buzzing with sessions. Elton was part of a lot of writers at the time all-trying to get somewhere. He was way above them though in talent and could turn his hand to writing anything. He even wrote a song for Eurovision called, I cant go on living without you.
It was because of this that Dick keep Elton on as a writer and artist when he had a bit of a clear out of some of the less talented writers who were taking up valuable studio time.
A good move as it turned out.
Dick was a very shrewd businessman and quite a character too.
I suppose in retrospect it was all a bit disorganised in the studio with the writers all doing bits and pieces.
Elton, although a brilliant writer was writing what he thought was commercial material and his first single, I’ve been loving you, wasn’t that great
One afternoon in my copying room a playback session was to take place that was going to change all that.
Elton and Bernie brought in a guy called Steve Brown.
He had come from EMI records and was being employed as a plugger and A and R.
He was very hippy looking, long hair and beard and seemed like a nice chap.
Apparently his claim to fame up to then was that he’d been responsible for making Rosie a hit.
This was the very strange record recorded by Don Partridge who was a one man band who sang down the underground with a bass drum on his back acoustic guitar and harmonica all going at the same time.
As it turned out this wasn’t an unusual project for Steve to be involved with, him being a guy with very particular taste in music.
Of course we played Steve the new Elton album that Caleb had produced which we all thought was better than Sergeant Pepper.
He was pretty quiet I remember after the playback.
I was later horrified to discover later that he didn’t think much of the album.
I though maybe it was a good idea to spike his coffee with acid in the hopes that he might fall out of an upstairs window.
What a cheek, coming in and not liking this amazing album.
Still Elton and Bernie liked him and Steve had suggested to them that maybe their material was too commercial and that they should write more from the heart.
Steve although never having produced a record before recorded a song with Elton called lady Samantha.
This was a great record with a great feel.
Caleb played brilliant guitar and the record had a very different atmosphere than anything Elton had previously done.
It was simple but great.
It got great reviews and a lot of radio play but not many sales.
Steve had good friends at the BBC notably John Peel.
He liked the record and played it a lot.
After this great recording all opinions of Steve changed as far as I and I think a lot of us at Dicks were concerned.
Not only was Steve now Elton’s producer but he became his friend and mentor.
Steve and his lovely wife Jill lived in Croydon and we used to spend great times there getting very stoned and eating Jill’s amazing curries.
Steve and Jill were the first couple I really got to know.
We had great times there.
Steve had an extensive record collection and we’d just lie on the floor listening to all this great stuff.
The only shock came when I asked Steve how old he was and he said 26.
I felt sorry for him, me only being about 17.
I really couldn’t imagine being that old and it was a bit of a novelty for me to be this friendly with someone so ancient.
Also his taste in music was really advanced and I was hearing stuff I wouldn’t normally listen to.
Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Band, Steve miller, lots of great music .
Its almost like in these times, the years must have been longer as so much seemed to happen.
In June 1969 Steve produced what became Elton’s first released album.
It was recorded 4 track at DJM.
My mate Clive was assistant engineer and whistler on one track.
I was at most of the sessions with Jeff and we are credited on the sleeve with guarding the studio.
Even though mine wasnt a great contibution to the album, i was very proud of my credit and grateful to Elton for
putting me on it !!!
RARE PIC OF THE VERY EARLY DAYS IN DICK JAMES STUDIO.
Left to right: Caleb Quaye, Elton John, Tony Murray
This was a really great album.
Superb playing by Caleb and Roger Pope on drums.
The brilliant ballad Skyline pigeon.
Steve wanted to go for a bit of a weird reverb on Elton’s voice so it was recorded up the fire escape leading to the roof which had a metallic echo.
These were very happy times spent at Dicks , loving the music, so exiting that no one had heard this great music yet and we were the first.
Elton though even in these early days did show signs of his sometimes-unpredictable temperament.
I remember we were recording one night at DJM with Steve.
Elton and the band had put down a track in the studio and the guys came in to listen back.
Elton wasn’t with them so we guessed he must have gone to the loo.
After some time passed we were getting concerned so we went to see where he was.
Left the building!
Obviously we were a bit surprised as there were no signs anything was wrong.
Still we packed up and probably went for a curry.
I asked Steve what had happened after he spoke to Elton next day and apparently something had annoyed or upset him.
This wasn’t the first time by any means this was going to happen in the future though.
I might sometimes get the order of how things happened at this time slightly wrong.
That is because so much was happening in such a short time.
What is definite and I know because I was there is that with Steve Brown taking over the running of Elton’s career as manager, producer and good friend for Elton to trust, things were now happening at an amazing rate.
Dick James son Stephen was the second in command running the publishing. he didn’t really have the talent that Steve had in running a record company and that was going to be the next important stage in this story.
Up to now Elton’s two singles had been released on the Phillips label.
There was no control over promotion and nothing was really happening with the releases on any big scale.
Who’s idea it was I don’t know. Probably Stephens.
Dick was going to Launch DJM records.
Steve Brown was going to run it.
I was going to be his assistant.
Elton was to be one of the first releases.
The launch was going to take place at the revolution club in London.
I have kept a book from those days when I was Steve’s assistant.
It makes amazing reading now.
The amount of day-to-day things Steve and I used to do.
We were so focused on making this all work.
Elton’s second single Its me that you need was released on the DJM label on May 16th of that year.
It was again produced by Steve.
It was a good record, great playing again.
Clive played bass and I think it was recorded at Olympic studios in Barnes.
A proper studio where the stones recorded.
The sleeve was designed by Steve and probably Dave Larkham a great artist who would design most of Elton’s early album sleeves.
This was the beginning of the designing of Elton’s career proper.
Elton’s first album Empty sky was released on June 3rd.
Again time was spent on the sleeve and there were sleeve notes by Elton and comments from DJ’s including John Peel.
This was clever of Steve as it meant that the DJ’s were made to be part of Elton’s career and so of course more keen to play the tracks on radio.
Steve also got Elton playing many live broadcasts.
Using most of the members of Hookfoot .
These were great sessions sometimes probably better than the recorded album tracks.
Steve made sure that every detail of what Elton did was tasteful in design if it was a sleeve or an advert.
Every photo had to be the best it could be.
Obviously the recordings and production as good as it could be.
The revolution Launch I’m sure went well although I can’t really remember.
Its funny the things you do remember.
I can actually remember putting on the album of Neil young while people were coming into the club.
This is very much where we saw Elton as Britain’s Neil young or James Taylor, Crosby stills and Nash.
Empty sky was described as a folk rock album.
We didn’t know at that time that events were going to show that Elton had other ideas.
When playing live with Hookfoot or sometimes just alone on the piano Elton was quite reserved, I suppose shy even,
Hookfoot were such great musicians but it was like a musicians Band and the audiences although liking it weren’t exactly ecstatic.
There was no real show at this time just very much reproducing what was on the record as much as possible.
This was about to change.
ISLE OF WIGHT
I went with Elton, Steve brown , Jeff titmus, ian duck from hookfoot (who got busted for hash on that trip)
Maybe Bernie, cant remember ( he was so quiet you didn’t really notice if he was there or not) to the Isle of Wight festival
This was still 1969 I had only left school 2 years before.
My whole life had completely changed.
For the guy who we still called reg though life was to change much more dramatically.
We were going to see Bob Dylan playing in a huge field to about 150,000 .
Backed by the amazing Band.
No-one could have guessed that almost a year later to the day Dylan would be going to see Elton in Los Angeles and because of the Headlines that were to follow in the Melody maker,
Namely —– DYLAN DIGS ELTON
The Isle of Wight wasn’t just a great gig it was an amazing event.
You really felt part of a movement in those days.
The air smelling of grass and Patchouli oil again but due to not a lot of facilities, a few less pleasant smells too.
Still none of us cared about that.
We were one, Elton included in this amazing event.
The Line up of artists wasn’t that amazing apart from the who, but I will never forget when Garth Hudson The Bands amazing organist came on stage and started playing the intro To The Weight.
We were so far back that the wind would sometimes take the sound away a bit like listening to Radio Luxemburg which had such bad reception in the uk .
Somehow though this gave the music even more magic and the atmosphere of the gig more intense.
I wonder if Elton was feeling the same?
His concerts a few years later would start with a tape of funeral for a friend, which was played on one of the very early
The stage was set almost in darkness and I used to organise Dry Ice to give the smoke effect.
All very atmospheric.
Still that was a way off yet
Meanwhile we had to get off this Island.
No police escort
Steve was very much in charge as the elder and he got us off the island quicker than most of the audience.
ENTER GUS DUDGEON
EARLY TV BROADCAST ME IN THE BACKROUND
Elton was writing all the time.
Sessions were booked at Olympic to record some of this new material.
What I am about to write here is definitely not generally known by Elton fans and possibly not something that most people would think very important.
I believe however that this was a huge turning point in Elton’s career and made it possible for some of the best music made in the 20th century.
The usual band was booked , Caleb , Roger Pope , basically Hookfoot .
I cant remember all the tracks that were recorded but there was definitely Take me to the pilot.
What came out was I suppose a step on from Empty Sky but quite similar.
I do remember a very long guitar solo in pilot.
All very rock bandish .
What stands out more was that we got Elton to smoke some dope from a joint made out of a toilet roll I seem to remember.
We all crashed out round at the engineers flat Frank Owen.
It was good fun and I thought Steve was pleased with the result.
He didn’t think it was different enough or advanced enough from Empty Sky.
He wasn’t happy; I don’t know what Elton thought.
Anyway Steve decided he wanted to get someone else to produce this album.
Steve always wanted everything to be the best for Elton even if it meant him sidestepping and letting someone else take over.
I know he approached a lot of famous producers but the only name I remember was Denny Cordell of Leon Russell fame and others.
He turned it down for whatever reason.
Steve had a meeting with a very eccentric and very handsome and charismatic arranger called Paul Buckmaster .
He looked like one of the three musketeers.
Curly black hair, thin moustache you know the type.
Anyway he met with him I think through his manager who Steve new, Tony Hall.
Paul had arranged Bowies space oddity a record Steve loved.
They got on well and when Steve mentioned he was looking for a producer Paul suggested the producer of the record , one Angus Boyd Dudgeon.
I guess Steve must have met with him but I don’t know about this meeting, only that a meeting was set up for Gus to meet Elton and Bernie.
I think its quite likely that by this time Elton had piano and voice demos of some of the songs that were to be recorded for the next album.
Clive franks recorded many of these at Dicks and they were superb.
The new songs were almost classical and very different from anything on Empty Sky.
To be honest they were different to any songs I had ever heard and I thought they were amazing.
So the fact that they were now being played to one of the most eccentric record producers of the time and possibly to be arranged by one of the most eccentric arrangers ever, could be a recipe for something rather special.
I wasn’t at the meeting but apparently when Gus was introduced he thought Elton was Bernie i.e. he thought Bernie was the singer.
Admittedly I suppose he did look a bit more rock starish.
Elton couldn’t understand why Gus was directing most of the questions to Bernie and was getting very pissed off.
Still it was a good meeting overall and Gus was well up for the job.
He saw all the potential in the songs and you would have to be
Very musically illiterate not to love the demos.
So this the beginning of an amazing partnership.
The Elton / Gus partnership not forgetting Paul, Bernie and of course Steve brown who was now as his credit was to be shown on the albums, Co-ordinator.
What took place now was as Elton described at Gus’s funeral
Like an Army manoeuvre with Gus as the sergeant major.
This was the making of
THE ELTON JOHN ALBUM
What took place now was unusual by any standards of album production particularly for a rock album.
Instead of the usual, book 2 months recording time, the importance here was going to be in the pre- production.
The songs had already been demo’d by Elton as I have said with these great piano and voice recordings.
Now many meetings took place with Gus, Elton, Paul and Steve and I guess Bernie. Going through every song deciding on instrumentation, arrangement what musicians everything in every detail.
Also it was decided that Paul would not only write arrangements for the strings but also for the rhythm section.
This was an important step as it meant that the drums, bass and guitar would have to be played by session musicians that could read and not the band that played on Empty Sky hookfoot.
Paul Buckmaster was himself a Cellist and cello was going to play quite a part in some of the songs.
Paul played beautiful solo Cello on the greatest discovery and
On Take me to the pilot, Instead of the fairly standard rock track that Steve had produced it featured some 10 or so Cellos coming in on the bridge and chorus, very unusual and very dynamic.
Pauls stunning girl friend Diana Lewis played moog synthesizer on 2 of the tracks.
The moog was very new at this time .
The brilliant Harpist Skaila Kanga who was at the royal college of music with Elton played on 2 of the tracks.
“I need you to turn to”, had Harp and Elton playing Harpsichord.
This made for a great and very unique sound for a rock/pop ballad.
Of course as soon as planning started for the album it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be a cheap album to make.
The studio that Gus had chosen was Trident in Soho.
It was top of the range.
Steve had a meeting with Dick and I would love to have been there when he told him he needed £5000.
I bet he nearly swallowed his cigar.
This was a huge unheard of amount to spend on an album.
But good old Dick wasn’t a penny pincher and as an ex professional singer he new that to make a great album you needed the best.
The best is what he got.
The very best session players of the time.
Barry Morgan on drums, not just a great drummer but with a great sound too that Gus would feature. His tom fills were more like Orchestral Timpani’s and Gus had them roaring volume wise on the final mix.
Every track of the album had hand picked musicians to fit the mood of the song from Spanish guitar to harp to huge orchestral strings. Well they were huge for us anyway.
While Steve was involved in the production meetings I was in the office-booking musicians, studio, backing vocals instruments etc.
AT MY DESK, IN OFFICE I SHARED WITH STEVE ,
HERE IS THE BOOK IM WRITING IN 1971 AND SOME OF THE PAGES
I HAD THESE STICKERS MADE WHICH STARTED APPEARING ALL OVER THE LONDON UNDERGROUND
IF YOU LOOK AT THE NOTES FOR TUESDAY I WAS STILL CALLING ELTON REG AT THAT TIME
Gus wanted big backing vocals so I just rang all of the best male and female singers, which included Roger Cook And Madeleine Bell from Blue mink also Dusty springfield , sue and sunny and Kiki Dee plus mabe a few others..
On Border Song , which was the first single from the album there was also a choir.
The sessions took place in January 1970.
I was asked by Steve to go to check out a band we were going to sign in Scotland, so amazing as it seems I wasn’t at the start of recording.
I can remember very well though calling Steve every night to find out how it was going.
The tracks were recorded almost live , so in the first week most of the album was done.
The sessions were booked in the old traditional way
10.00 am- 1.00 pm
2.00 pm- 6.00 pm
7.00 pm – 10 .00pm
In a 3-hour session at least 2 tracks were recorded
When I got back from Scotland obviously I couldn’t wait to hear the result.
Trident studio was really advanced compared to DJM and was using 24 tracks.
The control room wasn’t big but had 4 big playback monitors instead of the usual 2.
There were no tape machines in the room, they were actually on the floor above and the engineer, the aptly named Robin Geoffrey Cable spoke to the tape operator via an intercom.
To people not familiar with recording this might not seem strange but the fact is he had to tell the tape operator when to go into record and when to playback etc.
When vocal drop ins were taking place it was all very nerve racking as a wrong move on the part of engineer or tape operator could be very serious. There was no undo function in those days and erasing a great musical performance was not advisable.
Enough of all this technical stuff.
What I heard when Gus played back the album was without doubt the most amazing sounds, musicianship, arrangements , Vocal performances, Backing vocals ect ect I, Steve and in fact everyone else who was connected with the album had ever heard. .
Gus also liked to have the volume at ear shattering level, which obviously made it even more amazing.
Well, Gus was now God.
He had turned these songs into something extraordinary.
We were all amazed and exited.
This was surely going to make the public take notice of Elton John.
Gus was a complete perfectionist and the mixing sessions although quick by later standards took longer than any album we had ever worked on before.
In fact everything Gus did was like this.
The album when finished was cut in Tridents cutting room
To the very highest standard making sure that the volume cut into the vinyl was as loud as it could be without distortion or making the record jump. This was an art in those days before Cd’s.
Test pressings were meticulously checked over and over before they were passed for pressing.
Then there was the sleeve.
This wasn’t going to be ordinary either.
The best photographer of the day David bailey was hired at great expense. Unfortunately these photos didn’t turn out too brilliantly , so the darkest photo was chosen which actually gave the sleeve just the right atmosphere.
Steve was impressed by the Crosby, Stills and Nash first album sleeve.
The card used had a sort of furry feel to it like velvet.
We had meetings with a sleeve designer and found out we could get it for Elton’s.
Of course like everything else on the album it was expensive and became one of the most expensive sleeves of the time per unit.
One of my jobs was to go through all the lyrics checking them against the recordings, as it was always possible Elton wouldn’t sing exactly what was written.
This was a pure labour of love and I liked to do this job.
Not so good though when the final sleeve was finished only to find that I had maybe missed a few.
Still I think generally they are accurate,
Check for yourself!
As assistant to Steve head of the DJM label, on the release of the album in early April I was to be involved with all aspects of its promotion.
Obviously there was the usual press coverage and this album was getting great reviews.
Taking out big adds in the major music press was a must.
I seem to remember we also took out some TV advertising.
Very late at night to keep costs down but this was new for a rock album.
I had stickers printed, which were finding there way all over the London underground.
Took out adds on the back of London buses saying ELTON WHO. Bit of a strange idea.
Then again it might seem strange now but the name Elton John was unknown then by the public at large and it wasn’t an average name and when you said it people would always say Elton Who?
I also put album displays in all the major west end record shops.
This was also a good way of making sure at least those shops stocked the record.
This was still very early days and shops would only stock what was in the charts or if there was a demand of orders.
The DJM staff as part of their duty would order the album wherever they could to try and get the sales figures up.
Taken from the album Border Song was released as a single prior to the album release on 20th march 1970.
Looking back its amazing to think that Your Song which has become an all time classic wasn’t chosen for the first single.
I don’t suppose many people reading this are even aware of Border song.
At this time though a single had to have strong commercial qualities and we all liked its soulful content.
You could imagine Aretha singing it or Ray Charles and these were Elton’s favourite singers.
As part of my job at DJM i was also responsible for trying to get covers of songs by the writers signed and obviously for me Elton’s were top of the list.
I sent some to Ray Charles very early on but they got turn down. Apparently he didn’t think they were lyrically for him.
Not due to me I’m unhappy to say but a big US band Three-dog night did do a cover of one of Elton’s songs in the early days, which really knocked him out.
Obviously Elton see’s himself as a singer and performer but I think what he’s most proud of is his song writing and to have a famous artist cover your song is high praise when its from an artist you respect which Elton appreciated enormously and I’m sure the royalties came in handy at the time too.
So Elton was about to release one of the best albums ever made in our opinion, obviously it was going to sell like hot cakes and at least be in the top 10.
In line with this to happen, the call came through we had dreamt about.
Elton was offered top Of the Pops !!!!
Obviously everyone, Elton top of the list, was over the moon.
The sales of the single hadn’t been great to this point and this would surely send them soaring with the Album to follow.
Ray Williams who was Elton’s Manager went with him to get some suitable stage gear for the show, which I think, consisted of a Mini length, tight leather jacket that were all the rage at the time.
We booked the band and backing singers, all was set.
In those days you sometimes had to record the track again at the BBC studio instead of using a backtrack and I think that’s what happened.
Whatever the Top Of the Pops broadcast was like, I can’t remember but the fact is there was no or very little change in the sales figures following it.
All very disappointing.
The album continued to get great reviews and if you went into a top hi-fi shop it wasn’t unusual to find that the album they were using to demonstrate their latest equipment was EJ’s.
The Single was released in the states by UNI records.
Run by the very charismatic and all round nice guy Russ Reagan.
Although on this occasion when the single only got to number 90 he said it was 90 with an Anchor instead of the more desirable bullet, which meant basically, it had stiffed.
The Elton JOHN band formed
Elton tried all these and then decided that the best course of action was to form a shit hot band and go on the road.
He didn’t really.
Try all those things I mean.
I think that came later.
Elton could get very depressed when things went wrong like any body would, but he used the anger and depression to spur him on to find a better way to make it happen and at that time steve and Gus were always there giving great advice and encouraging him . There was a great team at Djm who wanted him to be succesful because we all loved the music and genuinely wanted the world to feel the same same .
Elton is probably the most self determined person I have ever met and his energy for succeeding in whatever he attempts to do is Quite amazing and sometimes frightening.
You would see and feel this energy whether he was onstage in front of a difficult audience or if you were playing him at table tennis.
What he did now came as a big surprise, to me at any rate.
He started rehearsing his new band up at Dick james studio with Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass.
That was it.
More specifically, no Caleb, (best guitarist in the world) Quay.
Or Roger (best drummer in the world) Pope
How could you have a band without a guitarist?
We were about to find out.
What I haven’t mentioned to this point is that although Caleb was one of the first people to recognise Elton’s talent, they were very different personality wise. Also Calebs band hookfoot had a record deal and Caleb wasn’t keen on them getting known as Elton’s backing band.
He had his own dream to follow and so their split at least gigging wise was inevitable.
I could go on to talk about clashing of Ego’s but you get my meaning I’m sure.
Elton, as the true Aries that he is needed to be in charge 1,000,000 percent of the time.
This was a very important step in his career, maybe the most important.
The formation of this very unique sounding band would take Elton from an average performing artist to one of the most amazing and successful Rock performers of all time.
Again, even though it was centuries ago I can very vividly remember walking into the studio when they were rehearsing.
At first being a bit disappointed there was no Caleb and roaring guitar and no Popey, (Roger Pope) on drums.
This was quickly forgotten though when I heard them play something like 60 years on from the album.
Dee Murray who was the bass player with the Mirage was playing amazing bass, some of the time playing chords, I had never seen this before on a bass and he had a huge sound.
Nigel Olsson who had been playing in the pop band Plastic penny had a massive Kit, soon to get more massive and was playing brilliant solid rock as he still is today.
Elton is without doubt the best and most distinctive pianist I have ever seen . It wasn’t easy in the early days to amplify a grand piano or even to make sure a good one was available at the gig. His style and technique though sounded amazing with this line up and without guitar, had plenty of space to come through.
It was great to hear the orchestral tracks from the album turned into these huge rock tracks.
This was exiting and ground breaking stuff!!!!!!!
Elton and his new band started gigging in the UK .
There were some great venues in those days.
The roundhouse chalk farm, often run by DJ Jeff Dexter who became a good friend and went on to manage the band America. He used to come into DJM from time to time to get acetates cut.
The Marquee in wardour st . and the country club in belsize park where Elton was to play soon, a gig that nearly went very wrong.
The one early gig I remember most vividly though was apparently the first gig he played with Dee and Nigel.
This was at the revolution club at the end of March of 1970.
As I am writing it occurs to me that all these important dates so far seem to happen end of march, April.
I am an Aries and I do find I have the best energy at this time and usually the best things happen.
I guess its possible Elton has the same.
This started out like a fairly normal gig as I had seen the guys rehearsing so i new what to expect. The audience were a little bit better and more receptive.
However toward the end of the gig Elton was I think doing a new song Burn Down the mission. It then went into a bit of a rock and roll medley.
This was different and I wasn’t quite sure if I was into it yet.
I really cant remember the songs he did could have been Beatles get back or Jerry Lewis my baby left me.
Anyway he suddenly stood up from the piano stool and stopped playing, got a tambourine and was whacking it on his bum. I was feeling very uncomfortable now and a bit embarrassed to be honest.
I though, what is he doing! He’s going to blow it.
As I looked around the audience though I could see they were getting into it and the atmosphere was changing.
This was the first time I had seen Elton lift the audience to another level.
They were now more in his control.
He was getting them to clap along, this bit of showmanship was really working and now I was relaxing into it too.
I could see the point of it and when he went back to the piano To join the band the concert was at another pitch atmosphere wise, roaring in fact, as we would say in those days.
At the end of the song the audience me included was on its feet.
He’d done it.
He’d won over them over and it was a great feeling.
WHEN WE WERE FIRST TOURING THE STATES THE TOP PHOTO WAS THE ONE IN ELTONS PASSPORT WHICH CAUSED A FEW PROBLEMS SO I HAD A NEW ONE DONE
I could see that might not be necessary in the future.
I suppose had I been to a lot of rock and roll gigs in the past I would have been more used to this sort of performance, but I Had yet to see the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, which is obviously what Elton was emulating.
To me this was new and who cares , it was working it was making people get into the gig , making for a great atmosphere
Between Elton and the audience.
Making the people take more notice and this could only be good for his career.
Some musicians might think this was selling out or degrading the concert in some way .
In fact im sure they did.
Elton however wanted the audience on their feet at the end of the gig not just clapping politely.
Its hard to expect an audience to go berserk over songs they’ve never heard before and up to this point Elton hadn’t really written many rock songs that you could get this sort of audience participation. So adding a few classic rock covers was the way to do it.
Im sure the general public thinks that this sort of winning the audience over comes from great musicianship or the fact that the songs are great or hes singing well.
It is all these things but it’s also and to me more importantly in a rock gig, the artist wanting and willing the audience into the show.
Its taking a risk, putting yourself on the line.
You know you could fall flat on your face if it doesn’t work.
But willing to take the risk to make the show great, not average
In my opinion this is what separated Elton from the Folk rock artists of the time.
James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Jackson brown, or Neil young.
We, that is Steve and I imagined that this was the area Elton could be successful in.
Elton it would seem was aiming much higher.
Just how high, time would tell.
It might be worth noting at this point that there is a young artist around at the moment that did just the same as Elton.
In fact its Elton’s career whom he’s copying and doing quite well at it.
I worked with him on his album that made him a megastar
And he would love to ask me what it was like working with Elton in the early days.
You have to guess for yourself who it is.
He comes from Stoke –on-Trent.
One fairly major thing that Robbie (blast ive given it way) has never managed to do which Elton was about to at the end of this amazing year of 1970 was to be successful in the states,
In fact F,,,ing huge .
ELTON IN THE USA
Even before the Elton John album was released Elton and Hookfoot were in trident studios recording the next album Tumbleweed connection.
This was to see a bit of a return back to the sound of the empty sky album more band orientated much less orchestral.
I suppose it was a strange thing to do looking back and taking a risk that the people who bought the first album might not like it.
This is another reason though why Elton has succeeded in that he is always trying to make it better and improve. Even if that means a change in style.
What took place now was to have an amazing effect on Elton/s career.
He and the band continued to do gigs at the roundhouse the marquee the speakeasy and the lyceum also keeping up the flow of live sessions for radio.
Promotion wise it was all really getting into gear and even if the sales figures weren’t great the name Elton John was certainly starting to get known.
It seems amazing now but only 2 months after Elton was on top of the pops doing the single Border song another single was released Rock and roll Madonna.
This record really didn’t do very much at all commercially but it did show yet another side to Elton’s versatility in writing.
It was also Gus having a bit of fun, the track was made to sound like it was live with some audience put on it which was actually taken from Jimi Hendrix live the Albert Hall.
I suppose it was also reflecting that Elton was becoming a live performer now, which was to really off in the states.
The Elton john album was released in the states on July 22ndand on August 26th Elton and the band played the first of a week of concerts at the now legendry troubadour club in West Hollywood.
Prior to this an amazing character called Norman Winter was employed to handle the press for Uni records.
He wore a ten gallon hat and was really into any sort of publicity that he thought would get Elton noticed.
Steve, Elton and the band and crew were met at the airport by a red double Decker London bus which didn’t really go down well . Too much hype.
What the US promotion did do whether it was Norman’s or the record company’s idea was to get some very big names and of course the press to the gig .
Also in only a couple of months release the album had got round to a lot of the Hollywood music business and they obviously loved it and were looking forward to seeing him live.
I kept in touch with Steve regularly on how it was going and I must admit I obviously would have loved to have been there.
Neil Diamond introduced Elton at the show, which was probably because he was also on the Uni label at the time and like everyone he loved the album.
It must have been strange though to have heard these big orchestral arrangements, harps etc and then to see just 2 other musicians on stage for the gig.
What took place though was just the perfect situation .
Expecting a rather sedate English folk singer what they got was quite different.
Elton was performing the songs that they had heard and liked but was giving them all this extra power with Nigel’s huge drums and Dee’s brilliant playing.
Without guitar there was plenty of room sound wise to have Elton’s piano good and loud and his playing has always been amazing. Although this was early days for Pa’s and piano pickups to really make it sound huge.
Its worth taking a look at the set list from that night.
+Bad Side Of The Moon
+Sixty Years On
+I Need You To Turn To
+Take Me To The Pilot
+Honky Tonk Women (Jagger / Richards)
+Burn Down The Mission (wth Get Back (Lennon / McCartney))
Starting off with Your Song the ballad that has become a standard and the song he has played at every concert since.
Later into 60 years on which the band played like a something from a modern day rock opera.
Border song , very much a gospel feel .
Country comforts which was actually on Tumbleweed which the audience wouldn’t have heard yet but was very much an American flavoured country and western song.
Honky Tonk women !!!!!
Wow! Can’t believe he was doing that but this must have had the audience roaring by now.
Burn down the mission also not from the Elton John album but from Tumbleweed is an amazing track which goes into rock and roll madness at the end which was where Elton would kick the piano stool away and end up playing on knees .
Then ending with the beatles get back.
This was no ordinary set .
This was a set designed by Elton in every way get to show what he could do and to get that audience with him and on their feet
He new that this was his big opportunity and he was going to make the absolute most from it.
I’m sure Norman Winter would have told Elton that many of the musicians he looked up to were in the Audience.
Amongst them on that first night, the great Leon Russell.
Throughout the week though many of the greats of the time came to see him including Bob Dylan.
The reviews the next day in all the major papers were amazing.
The reviewers and the public alike couldn’t believe Elton’s originality and diverse musical styles all executed brilliantly and with so much power.
Anyone who thinks that Elton’s appeal is due to his outlandish costumes should also take note that on this tour he was bearded and wearing Jeans and a tea shirt.
In some ways being back in England for me had its rewards as Melody Maker the biggest of all the music papers at that time gave Elton his very first headline.
It read.. DYLAN DIGS ELTON with a great photo by Ed Caraff who was to take many great Elton pics.
This was to really help in making the British public take more notice of Elton and certainly made all of us who were involved very proud.
Back to England Elton and band play at the Albert hall.
Must have been great but I really cant remember.
In October that same year Elton was in the studio again recording a soundtrack for a film called Friends.
Not a great film and probably not a good idea on reflection.
But there was some great tracks recorded .
Following his success Elton was back in the states at the end of October which included 2 nights at the legendry Fillmore west
In San Francisco , with the kinks.
He then did a live broadcast in New York which also became his first Live album called 17 /11/ 70.or when it was released in the states 11/17/70.
He also played 2 nights at the Fillmore East in New York for the Legendry promoter Bill Graham supporting Leon Russell.
Again I was in England keeping in touch with Steve who while normally pretty reserved and not very excitable was now getting very exited.
He said that Elton was going down better than Leon.
In fact blowing him off stage is what he said.
It seems to have a double meaning now which it didn’t have then.
On the 11th December Elton did the Andy Williams show and on returning to the Uk played the roundhouse supporting the Who with Pete Townsend dedicating Tommy to Elton and saying he was going to be a big star.
What an amazing Year
TO THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
1970 was amazing 1971 wasn’t going to be any different.
It stated with a bit of strange gig for Elton.
On January 8th he was booked to play at the Country Club in Belsize Park. Clive and I used to go there for the disco nights and to meet girls.
It wasn’t a great place for Elton to play but these were still early days though and it could hold quite a few people.
When Elton got there for the sound check the piano was a bit if a state and I seem to remember it had an orange box taking the place of one of the legs. He left pretty quickly after and not looking very happy.
Steve came later and the place was really filling up .
It was getting near Showtime, Elton hadn’t arrived and when we called him he said he wasn’t coming.
I remember very clearly Steve on the phone in the club trying to persuade him to do the gig, Eventually he was successful and it turned out to be a great night.
One of those gigs where everyone’s crushed together with sweat dripping off the walls.
It was like this at the marquee club in Wardour Street.
They used to really pack the people in there.
Seemed like there were thousands in a room meant to hold about 300.
Amazing to think that in just a few months Elton would be playing at the very posh and very beautiful Royal Festival hall with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Quite, a difference.
Between Jan and March Elton was really working hard as he always does, doing everything at once.
Gigging, recording in the studio, radio broadcasts in London and Paris, interviews and producing an album with his long time friend Long John Baldry .
The records were showing healthy sales now and Your song reached number 7 in the UK chart.
More significantly The Elton album received a gold disc for
I million Dollar sales in the US
Also the friend’s soundtrack album was going up the US charts.
While Elton was touring I was busy in the office helping organise the Festival Hall gig.
Looking back on my notes for the time I can’t believe quite how much I used to do.
Booking the Orchestra, all the other musicians, something like 15 backing singers, i have Dusty written down to ask but don’t know if she did it.
Booking all the rehearsals, Making sure there were music stands. Meetings at the Hall, meetings with the PA company who at this time was Charlie Watkins |of W.E.M and he was actually mixing the gig.
Even sorting out Elton’s and everyone else’s cloths,
I had by this time organised a deal with Steinway. Mr Voike at Steinway to be precise (wonder if he’s still there) to provide pianos for Elton wherever he played so we wouldn’t get the Country Club situation again.
I can see David Bells name in my book so I think he was filming this for TV.
I had never organised anything like this before neither had Steve but we just used to take it all in our stride.
We were just happy for the opportunity that Elton was playing these great gigs now.
I’m sure Elton was under a lot of pressure at this time and some of his tour had been cancelled because of it .
He is a person of Extremes in everything and whatever he does.
Always putting a lot of pressure on himself, which sometimes was too much even for him.
He was always the true professional though when it came to the gig, which was faultless and brilliant and made everything and all that went into it more than worthwhile.
I loved the atmosphere on these occasions.
All the tenseness of the day with all the various things that could go wrong.
The whole build up to the start of the show.
Playing with the Orchestra made it all the more special.
I can remember one of the most urgent problems being, providing Paul Buckmaster who was conducting, with some special cigarettes. That you couldn’t get in the shops.
It was a great gig and again we were all very proud of where this was all heading. The people who were working at DJM then loved Elton and there was a great camaraderie between us in those days.
I was saying earlier that many of my best times seem to co-inside with my birthday period in April being an Aries same as Elton. Just looking at the start of this tour in 1971 and I cant believe we left for the states on my 19th birthday for a 3 month tour.
I was still living with my parents and I had never even been to America and here I was about to go on tour as Elton’s personal assistant.
Steve really wanted to stay in the office this time and this was to be a long tour.
Obviously I was over the moon and couldn’t wait.
This tour would take us all over the states ending up at the Famous Carnegie hall in New York.
Promoter of carnegie hall Ron Delser me and Dee
I like to think we were pretty good friends at this time.
I always felt really comfortable with him and I don’t ever remember any rows or disagreements.
Of course he had his moments when things would get to him.
He’s not very patient, so it was always a good idea to make sure cars were on time and waiting around was kept to a minimum.
Actually I used to think that he was very tolerant and if anyone came up for an autograph he would be happy to oblige.
No private planes, no limos no security needed at this time.
We used to go shopping together and I do remember he once liked the look of a turquoise bracelet that were all the thing then. I think it was about 60 dollars. Too much for him although he did say when we got back to the hotel he should have bought it.
We were staying mainly in Holliday inns which weren’t exactly very smart but as I said, I had never even been to the states before and I thought they were amazing.
Huge beds, swimming pools, 24hr room service.
This was heaven.
Of course most people think rock tours are all about all night parties and hundreds of groupies every night.
Well when you’ve been travelling all day, sound checking and then the gig your pretty knackered and there was usually some sort of reception that Elton would have to be at to meet the local mayor or something.
Of course there was still time for a certain amount of enjoyment and I certainly made the most of it.
A lot of the gigs were in the south or the mid west so it was always boiling hot and first thing we would do when arriving in the hotel was hit the pool.
It was like a paid Holliday with all your best mates and then an amazing concert at night. It never really felt like work to me.
In the Middle of the tour we even had a holiday in Hawaii.
Touring in the states was always better than in the Uk .
The audiences were so much more receptive. They were really out for a good time and Elton would give them just that.
Of course, in the hotels, or when travelling, you could sometimes get a bit of abuse from the locals. Long hair wasn’t looked on favourably by your mid American businessman type.
You could the occasional, sorry I thought you were a girl treatment.
The worst when you would check into a hotel that had some sort of conference with hundreds of what we used to call Ernie’s all over the place with their photos on their shirts all looking the same.
The Audiences loved Elton and the Band though and he was going down a storm every night with the band getting tighter and tighter and the sound getting better and better.
We all loved the states Too, Elton more than anyone
He was appreciated here; they were buying the albums, really getting into the lyrics, becoming real fans that would stay with him for years.
Elton embraced America; this was the place where his favourite music came from and we were playing in the same venues as some of his favourite artists that he’d grown up listening to
He’s such a fan of music and the business so what could be better than being able to tour like this.
To break America you need to spend a lot of time there.
That means you have to love it and the people.
It’s no good playing a few major cities and think that’s going to do it.
Elton’s tours were at least 3 months long and he would also do all the promotion that was required .
Of course the fact that the Americans loved his music obviously helped.
It’s not always a forgone conclusion that if you make it in the UK you’ll make it in the states.
Robbie Williams, Oasis and Cliff Richard are 3 that I can think of where this has happened.
I worked with Chris rea too and even though some people actually thought he was American he never broke the states.
This was because he didn’t like it there or the people I don’t think.
He did a few gigs and then came home, even though his first recordings got high in the charts there and were produced by Gus.
The difference with Elton was that he actually broke the states first and the fans there stuck with him and are still with him today.,
These early tours in the states gave Elton much confidence and were really establishing him as a rock performer to equal any of the greats.
He worked hard in those days and wouldn’t come off stage unless he had everyone on their feet.
Nigel would come off stage Soaked with sweat. Dee was a bit cooler and used his amazing teqnique, which was so unusual in those days.
In fact this was a very unusual band, long before Queen, which I suppose you could compare it to. Although at this time there was no guitar.
Ive just looked at the dates on this 1971 tour and noticed the warehouse gig in new Orleans.
I’m sure this was the gig I remember as the hottest gig ever.
It really was in a warehouse, no air conditioning and packed to the rafters.
It was so hot and Nigel was sweating so much the sticks were flying out of his hand every few minutes.
It was quite exiting though I suppose.
The promoter was going round rubbing ice all over everyone.
In these days the venues were so varied.
A warehouse one night and then a week later 4 days at the amazing Carnegie hall .
You couldn’t get 2 more different venues.
Back to England and then on June 21st I remember a great gig at crystal palace.
On the same bill were Hookfoot , Yes , Rory Gallagher and Fairport convention .
What a great show!!!!
Dave mattacks the drummer with Fairport would become one of the most famous session drummers and a great friend in the future and he played on Elton’s Ice on fire album.
Apparently, or though I don’t remember, Elton played the whole of his forthcoming album Madman across the water.
Incredible thing to do really to play love an album that no-one had heard but Elton always did what he wanted when it came to the shows and still does. In fact in everything he does come to think of it.
In the studio it was slightly different with Gus making most of the decisions.
Most of the time Elton was quite happy to let Gus Run things and they usually agreed with each other.
BACK IN THE STUDIO
AND DAVEY JOHNSTONE
The madman sessions started at trident on August 7th1971
This is such a great album.
Amazing songs, brilliant playing, superb sound, everything about it, at the time and now, great.
I wasn’t at all the sessions although I had booked a lot of the musicians.
Davey johnsone was a good friend of Gus’s. He was in a folk band called magna carter that Gus had produced.
He played brilliant acoustic on Madman that Gus put backwards echo on. He also played mandolin and sitar on Holliday Inn.
Everyone took to Davey immediately he is such a great musician and a lovely guy. I don’t suppose though anyone especially him could ever imagine that he would still be playing with Elton
36 years later.
This album really had everyone on it Hookfoot and Nigel and Dee.
It had the beautiful Tiny Dancer.
Bernie on tour had met and fallen in love with Maxine.
She wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, very much the opposite of Bernie, very loud and very Hollywood.
I liked her straight away and when Bernie bought a great little cottage in Lincolnshire called piglet in the wilds I used to
Love going there.
They were beautiful together, such a great couple in those days. They had an amazing Bloodhound called Cyril I think, I
might be wrong. Elton would remember his name, he remembers everything
I remember they locked him in the kitchen one day and he ate a hole in the wall trying to get out.
Not Elton, the bloodhound.
Maxine did get Bernie to buy a pink E Type jaguar which was a slight change to his land rover .
Anyway im pretty sure tiny dancer was written about Maxine and it still sounds amazing.
There are so many great songs on this album with amazing arrangements by Paul Buckmaster.
I remember we were at Dave Larkhams house in LA he was working on the sleeve.
His wife had embroidered the title for the front cover.
Steve suddenly had an idea to do the same for the back cover and to include the titles.
I was wearing a Levi Jacket.
We’ll use that, he said.
So my Jacket became the back cover of the Madman sleeve.
Not a lot of people know that!
The great Ray Cooper played on this album too .
Believe it or not it only got to number 40 in the uk charts .
The end of the year 1971 saw Elton touring the Uk again with Marc Bolan from TREX making an appearance on stage with him at the Fairfield hall Croydon. He and his wife June had become good friends to Elton.
Bernie’s poetry album recorded at DJM was released at this time but didn’t get very good reviews.
Davey played on a lot of this album with the amazing Shawn Phillips on Sitar.
On January 7th
Reg changed his name by Deed poll to Elton Hercules John.
It was always a bit weird for him having 2 names.
People when they first met Elton would of course call him Elton and then suddenly when they thought he was now a friend they’d call him Reg .
This was going to have to stop so Elton told everyone he was no longer to be called Reg .
Even his mum had to call him Elton.
I don’t think we found this easy at first .
Still it was a little while before this that Caleb decided to give me a nickname by putting Stuart Epps together as shwepp, which is what I now became.
Everyone had nicknames in those days there was, Phlop , who looked after Hookfoot with crink don’t even know what his real name was.
Tit who was the engineer Jeff titmus.
Cart who worked in the studio too. Popeye roger pope.
Nigel was often called Nigroid , Diesal for Dee and Nettle his wife Annette.
Brownbox , Steve Brown , Reidy , John reid.
I can’t remember all of them.
The entire band the mirage used to call each other Sid, don’t ask me why.
For a while everyone was called Sid even Elton.
This was a bit confusing.
RECORDING IN FRANCE AT THE
The stones had moved there and they used to hire a mansion and set it up as a studio using a truck with all the recording gear in it.
I contacted their roadie Ian Stuart to ask him if we could hire it and do the same.
I also looked into various mansions to rent.
Gus went out there to have a look and it must have at this time he saw strawberry studio at the Chateau de Herouville about an hour from Paris.
He was very impressed especially with the MCI desk which he.d never seen or heard before.
It was a beautiful place with bedrooms, games rooms,’ swimming pool, everything.
This seemed like a great idea so I booked it for the next album These were very exiting and fun times at the château.
It was totally unique, everyone living together while recording.
Of course it became the thing later on in the Uk with what were called residential studios opening everywhere starting I think with Richard Branson’s Manor studio in Oxfordshire.
There was a long table in the dinning room where everyone would eat together and table tennis table, which saw some great battles. I loved table tennis and would often play Elton.
If ever I was winning though you would suddenly feel Elton’s
Frustration and I often let him win rather than get him upset.
I think they might have had table football here too another game that Elton would get very serious about winning.
Of course being together like this could also cause friction and I do remember a few arguments with Elton and Sheila Gus’s wife. She could really wind Elton up .
She would come out with Don’t be so fucking stupid in her broad Brazilian accent which would have Elton raging and leaving the table. Gus was always trying to diffuse their arguments not very successfully.
Generally though it was a nice atmosphere with the wives there. Dee’s wife, Annette. Davey’s wife Di . And Elton’s wife?
Of course no he wasn’t married then.
I think Bernie and Maxine were there.
I suppose the most famous track from this album was rocket Man .
A weird track called I think im gonna kill myself that Gus had Legs Larry smith from the bonso dog doo dah band tap dancing on.
On feb 20th Elton played at the Shaw theatre.
This was the first time I remember seeing Davey play live with the band although he did play at the 2nd festival hall gig, which had the orchestra again.
Davey wasn’t really an electric guitar player and he didn’t even own an electric.
Elton had bought a Les Paul at mannys music store in New york .
He did try learning the guitar once.
Anyway he gave it to Davey who still plays it today at gigs.
I remember not being too impressed with Davey in the band to start with.
He hadn’t really got his sound together yet.
I don’t think Dee and Nigel were very happy either as they were quite happy with the line up the way it was.
BACK ON TOUR
It was in April again that I went on tour with Elton as his assistant.
Davey was now playing brilliantly in the band after touring in the Uk
We also toured the states later that year with Legs larry coming on stage to tap dance on Kill myself.
What a strange thing to do looking back.
Larry was on the whole tour tap dancing on one number.
Mind you there was another part of the show he featured in and this really was weird.
I even made an appearance.
Elton and Larry had worked out a strange routine for the middle of the show,
The tour manager Marvin would come on stage wearing a tuxedo.
This suited him as he looked like something from the Mafia anyway.
He sat at the piano and mimed while a tape of singing in the rain was being played.
Elton and Larry then came on stage wearing trench coats like long raincoats singing the song.
Larry had loads of weird props in a trunk in his dressing room
These included magic wands that fired lighted tissue paper.
Elton and Larry would have one of these in their pocket and at some time during the song would fire them into the audience.
Bernie’s wife Maxine would then come on stage dressed in a costume and sprinkle glitter everywhere.
Very strange stuff.
It was one of my jobs to load the wands, which used little caps full of gunpowder.
Sometimes I put a bit too much in and then, worried it might blow someone’s hand off I used to test them first.
I remember once going into a room off the dressing room to test it.
I let it off and the explosion nearly blew my head off.
I hadn’t realised I was in the shower room and the echo was so loud I nearly passed out.
I didn’t use quite so much gunpowder in future.
Another time I was waiting with Elton at the side of the stage.
I had put the wand in his pocket and on checking to make sure it was there, he set it off.
His whole coat pocket went up in flames and I had to act quickly to put it out.
Sometime into the tour Maxine had gone home.
Bernie came up to me just prior to the singing in the rain number and said I’d better do the glitter sprinkling.
I said I’d do it if I could find some sort of mad costume.
I went into Larry’s trunk and ended up wearing a weird robe with a balloon under my shoulders to look like a hump.
This together with a mask made me look like the hunchback of Notre dame.
I went on and sprinkled glitter everywhere.
It was now it part of my routine every day to find the ugliest ,weirdest, mask I could in whatever town we were in to use in the show.
I would sometimes test their shock value by wearing one and knocking on Clives door saying I was room service.
Depending on his look of horror would tell me if I had a winner or not.
Elton did have some strange ideas, as did Larry.
When LArry came onstage to tap dance in Kill Myself he wore what he called his wedding outfit.
It was like a wedding dress with white Running pants and he wore a crash helmet with a wedding couple stuck on the top like you would get on a wedding cake.
I remember when we were in the south he got a black couple.
I used to be in fits of laughter watching Larry.
It used to really tire him out him tap dancing and he’d come off stage in a right state usually without the wedding couple, which had fallen off.
Again so much was happening at this time that I might get the order of things wrong.
It was recording, touring recording touring.
I get confused as to which tour I was on.
In May 1972 though Honky Chateau was released.
Lots of up tempo tracks and what I guess has become
another Elton Classic, Rocket Man.
On the front cover was one of my favourite Ed Caraff photos of Elton
I remember so well when that photo arrived at DJM. Steve opened the envelope and just said that’s it, that’s the ablum cover.
Ed had printed it on paper that had like a nylon finish and the early sleeves had the photo stuck on to make it different.
I’m pretty sure I was still touring with Elton at the end of 1972
But changes were happening again.
Gus had made a solo album with Davey called smiling Face.
He didn’t want to release it on DJM so the idea was formed to start our own record label.
That is Elton, Steve, Gus, Bernie and John as in John Reid.
ME KIKI AND BAND ARRIVING IN HAWAI
IN FACT WAIKIKI ? … ANSWER WHY NOT !
“What we are offering is undivided love and devotion, a fucking good royalty for the artist and a company that works its bollocks off.”
So said Elton in an interview and this got used with dots instead of the naughty words in full page adds in all the major music papers to launch the label.
I remember very well going in to see Dick James to tell him I was leaving to go and work at rocket.
Elton wasn’t getting on with Dick at all well lately there’d been lots of arguments.
John reid was now managing Elton and Steve was finding it difficult while working for Dick to remain loyal to Elton.
So I guess Dick could see there was a split coming.
My mate Clive had left to initially work at Island studios but now was working for Elton full time as live engineer.
This was a really exiting stage.
Elton had released the Don’t Shoot me album and by now all the albums were going to number 1.
Elton’s career was roaring and he now wanted to put something back by signing artists to his own label.
One of the first artists signed was Kiki Dee.
Elton met Kiki through John Reid . Before working with Elton, John Reid was running the tamla Motown label in London and Kiki was the first white female singer signed.
Elton co – produced her album with Clive. Also we had signed a band called Longdancer who made an album for rocket.
The guitarist in the band was Dave Stewart of eurhythmics fame.
I was the first person to work at rocket and we had our office at 101 Wardour Street in Soho.
To launch the label we had an amazing reception, which I helped put together.
It had a train filled with champagne leaving London with all
The guests arriving at a small village in the Cotswolds.
There they were met by a brass band playing hello dolly.
Then led by Elton and the band to the amazement of the villagers to the village hall for a meal and then live performances by the new artists signed to the label.
Kiki became good friends with Elton and it was decided to form a band for her.
I was very involved now in putting together the band and getting them rehearsed and in shape to tour. I toured with
The kiki Dee band as they were called as their tour manager doing gigs in the Uk and the states with the Beach boys and Steely Dan.
Kiki also supported Elton in the Uk at the end of the year.
It was prior to this at the beginning of October that The Yellow brick road album was released.
Again recorded at the Chateau and in fact most of the songs were written by Elton there.
This was and, most definitely still is an amazing album.
Daniel, Benny and the Jets and what was to become the song that when re-written for Diana became the biggest single of all time. Candle in the wind.
Not forgetting Funeral for a friend and Love lies bleeding that would become the opening of Elton’s live show for many gigs in the future.
By this time I was now working with Kiki and the Band full time as John reids assistant.
Not the easiest job to say the least as John had a very similar temperament to Elton. It was very much a case of when things were good they were very good and when they were bad, Watch out!!!!!!!
Still the band although hard to keep together as members were often leaving just before important gigs was now brilliant with Roger Pope on drums Jo partridge on Guitar and Bias boshell who was not only great keyboard player but great songwriter too.
An example of John’s unpredictable temper was that in early March while on tour with Elton in New Zealand he was actually arrested and server a short jail sentence for assaulting a reporter.
Elton was absolutely roaring career wise though.
He the band and Gus had started recording at a new studio for them at the Caribou ranch in Colorado.
It was owned by Jim Guercio from the band the Grateful Dead.
I never went there but it was on a huge ranch and everyone stayed in Log cabins.
Elton’s next album was named after it, Caribou.
Another great album with as so many times before 2 stand out tracks in my opinion, don’t let the sun, and Bitch is Back.
Must be Elton’s too as he still does these live.
In July Elton was back at Caribou recording Lucy in the sky with Diamonds with John Lennon on guitar.
This was such a thrill for everyone especially Gus who loved Lennon’s music. This was also to be the start of a great friendship and music partnership between John And Elton.
Elton later sung on Johns whatever gets you through the night.
Elton made an agreement with John that if it got to be number one he would have to come and play it onstage with him live.
Elton was very good at predictions and he was right about this
In October 1974 it reached number 1
ELTON AND LONG TIME MATE TONY KING AT HAMMERSMITH CHRISTMAS SHOWS
ELTON AND KIKI TOUR 1974
FEATURING JOHN LENNON
In September 1974 Elton started a tour of the states.
The best situation also happened and that was the Kiki dee band was going as support.
So this meant that I would be on the tour but looking after Kiki and the band.
It just couldn’t get better than this.
We were all there Elton, Dee, Nigel, Davey , Ray Cooper was also in the band now.
Clive and Kiki’s band with popey ect.
We had all been together on and off for 7 years and now we were all away together on tour.
We had out own plane THE STARSHIP.
In fact much better than first class.
Limousines with police escorts to the airport and then your own plane painted with the tour date on it waiting for you.
On the plane was a bar with an organ at one end.
Lounge chairs and even a bedroom with a fire place for the top of the bill.. There was even room for the Mussel shoals horns that were playing with Elton.
What an amazing tour this was to be . The kiki band were just brilliant we had some great material including the track that became a hit for kiki written by Bias Boshel , I’ve got the music in me.
There was quite a lot of moaning and complaining. I guess it was nerves some of it by the younger members of the band.
Certainly not Kiki who I love to bits and is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met.
Not to mention the most amazing singer and performer.
I had to drive the band from the airport and sort out bags etc, get everyone to sound checks, get them up in the morning all the usual stuff.
I also came onstage to announce the start of the show and then Kiki .
I used to love this as it wouldn’t have mattered if Hitler went on to do it im sure he would have gone down a storm.
The audience just went wild and were pleased that the show was to start.
STU AND CLIVE
We were playing 5 nights at the huge Forum in LA probably holds about 15000.
He kept telling me he had something special planned but wouldn’t tell me what.
\I kept trying to guess.
Is it Phasing? Backwards delay?
He said I’d never guess.
He was right.
On the last night I was now getting a bit nervous and when I went on to the stage I tripped and nearly fell
Still I got in front of the mike and did my usual , Good evening and Welcome to the Forum.
Nothing came out at all from the PA.
I thought oh im on the backing vocal mic and its not switched on so I started to walk to the centre of the stage and the lead vocal mic.
As I got half way across I heard my announcement. I thought wow! that’s a long delay Clives got on my voice.
Then I realised that the voice was saying stuff I hadn’t said yet.
He’d only recorded my announcement from the night before and was playing back the recording.
Once I realised I just stood there trying to mime and make a few arm movements.
I felt a right pratt but I had to admit it was a great joke and well done Clive .Got me back for all those heart attacks id given him with the horror masks.
On the 28th November 1974 the most amazing gig I have ever witnessed.
I think john that is John Lennon came with us on the plane to one of the gigs .
He was very shy and quiet surprisingly.
At Madison Square gardens I was in his dressing room when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to see yoko standing there.
It would have been okay but John was with May Pang I didn’t know at that time that this was all amicable and that she had actually put the two of them together and that May had been Yoko’s assistant. I was relieved when John said hi and come in to Yoko and all was okay.
The gig started with Kiki as usual and then Elton came on and was going down better than ever.
The audience were going berserk and you couldn’t imagine it being better or the audience being louder.
I was standing at the stairs with John and some others, as he was about to go on.
He was petrified, really very nervous.
We couldn’t really understand it this was the guy who had played Shea stadium in the biggest band in the world, how could he be nervous?
But it was some time since he’s been onstage and he really didn’t know how the audience would receive him.
As Elton announced him he said, oh well he we go over the hill, in the way that only John Lennon could say that as if he was going to war.
Of course we all rushed to the front to see him come on.
The audience in a millisecond were on their feet screaming.
The sound was like nothing I had ever heard at a gig.
It was like pure white noise and stayed at that pitch for what seemed like half an hour.
It was like it was never going to stop.
They did Lucy in the sky. Whatever gets you through the night and as a big surprise , I saw her standing there.
This was the first track on the Beatles first album and John wanted to do it as it had been Paul singing the lead.
I had never seen the Beatles live.
This was for me the best thing ever.
I couldn’t take my eyes of John.
The building was literally vibrating and looking at the huge PA, which was hanging from the Roof, and bouncing up and down I was worried the whole place would collapse.
It has been hailed since as one of the most amazing gigs ever.
As it turned out when John was so terribly killed this was to be his last concert ever.
Gus was in a mobile recording it and backstage everyone was crying with the emotion of it.
What a night.
After the gig there was a party at the Waldorf Astoria.
I was standing at the table when Uri Geller said to John that he should draw a picture and he would copy it sitting opposite him.
Uri copy’d johns picture exactly even got the scale of it, which was of a rowing boat I think.
Wish I had it now!
What an amazing night, something you just never forget and feel grateful for just being there.
As it turned out a lot of things were going to change for me from now on and also with Elton’s band.
We had stayed in Maui again on this tour and played in Honolulu.
In maui Clive and I met two girls at a club in the village of Lahina.
We had a really mad night, we were with most of the Kiki band and someone had told the management.
We were all getting very drunk when there was an announcement that the Kik Dee band were going to play.
We all went up on the stage .
I think it was everyone except for Kiki.
We did what was probably the worst version of I’ve got the music in me ever heard.
I was singing it. Well screaming it really as I think they were doing it in Kiki.s Key.
Luckily Gus wasn’t there to record that one.
Clive and I got quite friendly with these two girls that looked very exotic and Hawaiian.
Quite a shock then when, my ones name, turned out to be called, the very un-exotic name of Cheryl Briggs.
I felt a bit better when Clive said that if I thought that was bad, his one was called, Eleanor Splink !
Wow Splink and Briggs.
Briggs lived in an ice cream van, im serious.
I thought this was all very romantic and decided that my touring days were over and maybe I should hang up my backstage pass and put down some routes.
On returning to England Elton had some very bad news for Dee and Nigel.
He had decided to change the format of the band and in the middle of April told them that it was over.
As I have said Elton liked to change things now and again.
In his words he wanted a band that chugged.
Don’t quite know quite what that means but I think what he meant was he wanted a bit more musicianship .
Something more complex to get away from the straight sounding band with Dee and Nigel.
Maybe there was more to it, I really don’t know.
Although I was pleased for Popey who was asked to join the new band with Caleb I was very upset for Nigel and Dee.
Also it was going to seriously disrupt Kiki’s band.
In fact John told me the band was no more.
I accepted it at the time but looking back it was a great shame.
The tour couldn’t have been better, her Album that Gus produced had hit the US charts and music in me did really well too.
In those days though it wasn’t a good idea to question John’s decisions.
Steve Brown had left because of differences with John and he’d just had enough of the whole business.
Rocket hadn’t really succeeded either.
We ran out of the money that came as an advance from distribution with Island records.
Basically none of the records we released had made any money. .
No-one including Elton was investing any of their own money in rocket so it was closed in its original format.
I was very disappointed; I’d gone from being so high during the tour to the opposite.
I was now at the incredibly old age of 22 and I thought it was time to retire.
Retire on a high,
id seen everything,
It was to Hawaii, to Briggs and the Ice cream van I was headed.
I have never told Elton this but although I wasn’t actually working for him I wanted to meet with him to tell him why I was leaving.
I thought I’d take him out for a meal and just say it wasn’t down to not wanting to work with him.
I wasn’t getting on with John either we had had some terrible rows.
He tried to strangle me once just because I told him Kiki’s sound wasn’t very good on the steely Dan tour and could he talk to their manager.
I liked John though and anyway he and Elton were Partners not just in the working sense. I couldn’t see how I could Elton that it was because of John I wanted to leave.
I guess had I have met with Elton he might have suggested something.
Im sure he wouldn’t have thought the Hawaiian idea was a good career move.
I did go and see my good friend Gus though.
On reflection now im very glad I did.
One of my better decisions as it turned out.
THE MILL RECORDING STUDIOS
I went to see Gus at Rockfield studios in Wales.
He was working with the Dutch band solution that rocket had signed.
I was telling Gus about all the difficulties with John etc and I think he understood.
Im sure he had mentioned before that he was thinking of building a recording studio but now he was saying that he had actually found and bought a property and was getting into the planning stages.
Gus had used many different studios over the years and there was always something not right with all of them.
He wanted to use his vast experience to build a studio that had everything right. For the artist. The producer, everything you could want.
What a great idea I thought and when he mentioned that the property was in Cookham I was now very interested.
My uncle had a boat on the Thames and from a young age we would moor up in Cookham and go through the locks, it was a beautiful place I remembered.
He just said why don’t you go and have a look at it, nothing about a job or anything.
It was a long time since I worked in a studio or had been producing I was more into co-ordinating and tour managing these days but I went obviously.
Gus had described in his usual amazing way exactly how to get there in every little detail and I have that description still clear in my head.
Coming off exit 7 of the M4 at the big willy turn off we used to call it.
Have a look, you’ll see what we mean.
Unbelievably tragically it was just near the next exit that Gus and his wife Sheila were killed in their car a few years ago.
I remember pulling up at the gates of the mill, which were very broken down.
It all looked a bit shabby but then going through into the courtyard this amazing garden with the river in front.
I didn’t go in the house just wondered around.
The atmosphere almost took my breath away.
It was peaceful but with a strong powerful presence of some sort.
As I walked around I found the mill house with the river pounding through it.
I loved the river anyway and I just felt somehow at home here.
I was exited about the idea of the recording studio in this amazing setting so close to London.
Good old Gus, I thought, this is brilliant; I want to work here no doubt about it.
Id been booking studios for Elton for over 10 years so I new a bit about what was needed.
Hawaii and retirement was going to have to wait.
I think I must have called him as soon as I got home; I was still living at my parent’s house.
We agreed a salary which was a little less than I was getting with John, £70 a week I think.
I was all fired up now, money was never important to me in those days. It was the excitement of the project and also I’d be leaving home to live in Cookham.
I didn’t really think id go back to engineering, maybe studio manager.
Anyway it had to be built yet.
As this is a story about Elton I will miss out the next 2 years or so and the amazing time I had while the studio was being built.
I will also miss out two Elton albums Captain fantastic and Rock of the westies.
Not that they weren’t great albums, of course they were.
I want to go straight to what is such an amazing stand out album, Blue Moves.
These are a few words from Gus on the Album.
It’s done with the new band. And there’s no comparison I can make about working with these people, between them and the old group. Its. Really like working with a whole new artist.
There’s a lot more instrumental space all the way around. Loads of long passages, of just music. But they are arranged passages. None of that six minute bullshit, where somebody plays a self-indulgent guitar solo. And I’m talking about proper sections, which have been entirely worked out. Much like what we did with the first album. Only much more open, and diversified than we did back then.” I suppose that you could say we’ve brought to flower here, the promise of much better things to come that one got from The Rock of the Westies. I really think it comes true on this LP.”
I was now working for Gus full time at the Mill.
Gus was roaring in his career, it had never been a better time for him.
All Elton’s albums were going to number 1 and selling millions. He had a huge hit with Elton and Kiki’s duet Don’t go breaking my heart and he was building the best studio in the world. He also had a beautiful old Bentley and a chauffeur, and amazing house in Cobham not far from the Mill.
The studio was being built for Quadraphonic, surround sound you would call it now.
The idea was to re-mix all Elton’s albums in Quad.
The time that Gus took to mix an album that would keep us in work for the next 50 years.
In 1976 who was booking studio time at the Mill?
He came in without Gus producing but with Clive .
This was Elton changing again this time with Producer.
Gus was busy with his new discovery Chris Rea and Lindisfarne and he had a great run with Elton albums so I don’t think he was that disappointed.
It was great o have Clive there and we had a good time making that album.
It was also great to be working with Elton again and he was in good form although not working with Bernie the lyrics were a bit strange again.
Hello campers being one of the songs.
Luckily it didn’t make it on the Album.
Elton and Clive asked Paul Buckmaster to write the string arrangements. Seemed obviously like a good idea and Clive had a meeting with him weeks before recording was due to start to give him plenty of time to write the scores.
If I wasn’t the night before the string session it was pretty close
Paul told Clive that his cat had tipped ink all over the scores and they were ruined. We think that was a story he made up
So he and Clive were up all night sorting out the string parts literally the night before the sessions.
As it turned out they were great so all was okay.
Another near disaster happened on this album concerning the track that became a classic for Elton.
Elton apparently had written this song the same day the office boy at rocket records had been killed on his motorbike.
He was only 17 and his name was guy.
During one day of recording Elton kept playing a bit of a piano piece and saying that he wanted to record it at the end of the session.
We finished late but Elton said it wouldn’t take long to put the part down.
Gus had a Rolland rhythm box and Clive and Elton set up a pattern to fit the song.
I put on a spare piece of multitrack tape and Elton started recording the piece. It was quite unusual and had a few changes and Elton kept making mistakes.
He would get a minute in and then make another error, which was now really annoying him.
I said he wasn’t very patient and that included patience with himself. It was getting quite late now and he new that Clive and I had a long day and were tired.
Still he’s definitely not one to give up so he kept going.
On one take he was about 2 minutes in and no mistakes.
I looked at the tape machine and realised that I hadn’t got anything like a full reel on not thinking it was very long.
I figured it should be okay but was a little concerned.
Elton was now 4 minutes in and still playing verse after verse with middle bits and all sorts.
Now when I looked at the reel, it wasn’t looking good.
This was the first time Elton had got this far without a mistake
If the extremely unthinkable happened and I ran out of tape before he finished my life wouldn’t be worth living.
In fact I would probably save Elton the trouble and kill myself.
The piano track was sounding really good and a drop in or edit wouldn’t be acceptable.
So the only thing to do was pray to the God of Ampex that we would be Okay.
Every time it looked like it was going to end he’d go into another bit.
I was really sweating now and so was Clive.
The take up reel was looking like it only had a few feet left on it and Elton wasn’t showing any signs of stopping.
Just as it looked like I was dead he played an outro and the last chord.
As the last chord died away the tape ran out.
Clive and I nearly died anyway from relief.
I’ve never told Elton this and I don’t think Clive has.
( SINCE WRITING THIS I WAS WITH ELTON AND CLIVE AT REHERSALS AND TOLD ELTON THE STORY )
HE WASNT VERY INTERESTED !!!!!! TYPICAL !
What did happen was that this instrumental grew in atmosphere with every other instrument that went on it into a brilliant track. We played it to Gus the next day who was never very complimentary let alone about an Elton track that he didn’t produce and he loved it.
Song For Guy became a big hit and is still played on the radio 30 years later.
I always kept in touch with Elton, Clive and the band by going to gigs.
Elton never stops and he had got back together with Nigel, Dee and Davey Which was great.
In 1979 he went on tour with Ray Cooper to do the 2-man show.
You couldn’t get more different than this just the two of them on stage.
It was brilliant though some people saying it was the best theve ever seen Elton.
Or course as I said right at the start of this, Elton on his own playing you the songs just piano was amazing anyway.
Whether it was with a 3 piece 2 piece 10 piece rock band with brass or with a philharmonic orchestra Elton is always brilliant.
He would just change the format every now and then to keep it fresh and to keep him enjoying it
He has played Your song at every concert but at least he could change who he was playing it with.
He spent nearly the whole year of 1979 touring with Ray.
In 1980 he did another album with Clive co-producing called 21 at 33.
This was his 21st album aged 33.
Although he was still touring all over the place the record sales weren’t as healthy as they had been and chart positions not brilliant.
Things weren’t great for Gus either and due to some dodgy dealings by his accountant and extreme overspending on the building of the Mill, Gus had to sell the studio.
When recording the single man album Elton could see that Gus had spent an absolute fortune on the mill, about a million pounds, which in 1976 was a very large amount of money.
He made comments about this while he was there which we at the mill didn’t take very seriously.
He was right though and the mill got sold to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy page in 1980.
While Elton was having hits with Blue Eyes, Kiss the bride,
And many others and still touring the world, I was now working with Jimmy on Led zeppelin and Jimmy’s own bands.
Also Bill wyman , Bad company and I had been producing for
Atlantic records and having some success with heavy rock bands including hits with the very mad Twisted Sister.
I always kept in touch with Gus who was working in different studios but still not with Elton.
In 1984 Steve Brown who had now come back to work with Elton and John Reid called to say he wanted to book some studio time for a new Elton Album.
I was over the moon and obviously asked who was producing.
Apparently they hadn’t got a producer.
I suppose I was hoping that he would come in without one and we would just get on with it.
I have to admit that towards the end of the time that Gus had the Mill we were spending an amazing amount of time recording and it could get a bit much.
Gus was a complete perfectionist and he never wanted to stop.
Gus would also do so much of the work that working with him could be very tiring.
Although I was very sorry for Gus losing the mill I was having a great time producing and being in charge as I was now Studio manager, engineer and producer.
It was only a couple of weeks before Elton was due in that Steve called to say they had a producer.
He said it was someone I new very well.
I couldn’t believe it .
I was obviously happy for him but I was a bit disappointed as I would have loved to worked with Elton alone.
Still it was all good work for the studio and I was going to make sure that everything was how Gus would want it and to make Elton comfortable there.
Given this new opportunity to work on an Elton album again Gus was all fired up to make this the best album ever whatever it took.
Digital sound was the latest thing so Gus experimented with this and found it was much better sounding.
Also for this album instead of writing just the amount of songs needed, Elton and Bernie were going to write double the amount and choose only the very best for the album.
I was getting exited too now and was looking forward to recording. This was like the old days again with the old team back.
Also I was married now and knowing that Gus wouldn’t take a few days to make the album I suppose I was looking forward to the money side too.
I had watched Elton and Gus become Multi millionaires and thought maybe it was time I took a bit more interest in that side.
Gus never did things by halves; he certainly hadn’t making the early Elton albums, remember the £5000.
He didn’t when building the mill. Cost 1 million.
He certainly wasn’t going to, making this album that he wanted to get Grammy awards for.
Similar to the first album he was going to use different musicians for different tracks.
This was I think late 1984.
My wife was pregnant and this was going to be a very busy time to say the least.
Every week for several weeks we had a different rhythm section coming in.
This included the bass player and drummer from Queen.
The drummer from simple minds.
Dave Mattocks who had played with fairport in support with Elton all those years ago.
Also different guitarists including Nik Kershaw.
Even a duet with Cliff Richard.
HAPPY DAYS GUS, BERNIE AND ELTON AT THE MILL PRODUCING WITH MILLIE JACKSON
People were going off on holiday or having babies only to come back and find Gus was still working on the same solo.
As it turned out the time spent was very worthwhile as everyone now knows this was a hit and became another Elton Classic, whereas some of the other tracks have been forgotten.
Nikita also featured George Michael who was mates with Elton and popped in to sing.
He really took over the vocal session I remember and I thought Elton was going to go mad. But on this occasion Elton seemed to like his ideas and went with it, as did Gus.
So weeks went into months on this album.
Elton was in a funny mood at this time and would just come in, lie on the sofa reading, eating occasionally laughing and seemed oblivious to Gus who was getting very fanatical on this album and I couldn’t see how it was ever going to end.
Elton was married to Renate at this time although she never came to any of the sessions, which I found surprising.
Elton had met her when she was assistant engineer at the studio in Monserat.
One near disaster did happen on this happen which now its well in the past, I can tell.
As I said we were recording with this new digital technology and that was really the cause of the problem.
We had 2 digital machines on hire for months, which alone cost about a hundred thousand pounds.
After a few weeks of recording some of the rhythm tracks we were to have a bit of a playback.
I think Bernie was there, John Reid, Steve and probably some others from the record company.
I wasn’t as familiar with the tape machine as our own analogue one and as it was new technology it was a bit temperamental.
Still I had been very careful to make sure I new exactly where the master recordings were on the tape.
I had put white leader tape in between so they were easy to find on the reel.
I could see that Gus was about ready so I ran the first track.
As the leader ran out and the master came up instead of all the meters flying about with the recorded material there was nothing.
I started to get that same feeling I had several years ago when we did song for guy and it wasn’t pleasant.
Gus hadn’t noticed as they were all chatting away so I spooled to the next master.
I really felt sick now, as I was sure I was in the right place on the tape.
Was it possible that these tracks had been erased?
This was unthinkable!
Something like 4 weeks work gone!!!!!!!
I turned the machine off
Then on again .
Don’t know why, it sometimes works.
Not on this occasion though, still nothing.
Gus asked if everything was all right and I said oh yes just sorting something out wont be a minute,
What I really meant was, my whole world is about to come to and end and I was trying to think what country to head for.
There was no way that I could say to GUS, ELTON AND JOHN (I’ll STRANGLE YOU) REID ive lost your recordings.
I thought I would ring the technician who supplied the machine to see if he had any ideas.
He didn’t, apart from turn the machine on and off again which I had already done.
I wouldn’t give up hope so kept asking him, there must be some explanation.
Just as a by the way he said, have you got the tape the right way up?
At first didn’t know what he meant, of course I had it the right way up otherwise it would sound backwards.
Then he reminded me that this was different on the digital and that there was a control track .
If the tape was upside down you wouldn’t get anything!
This had to be the answer.
I raced back to the control room where everyone was now
Getting agitated and wanting to hear the tracks.
I rewound the tape, turned it up the other way and watched and prayed, as the white leader headed towards what should now be the first track.
There are no words to adequately describe the feeling I had when on hitting the master all the meters started jumping about and brilliant sound came roaring out of the speakers.
I didn’t bother telling the gathering even after the playback.
I was just happy and relieved.
My son Jonathan was born at the end of July and by then after 6 months of recording the album was still not mixed.
IT was decided to make these 2 albums and so all the tracks were going to be recorded.
It was unusual of me but on this occasion I had enough so another engineer was brought in to finish the album.
Unfortunately it didn’t win the awards that Gus was hoping for although as I said Nikita was a hit and the album did go platinum.
It was the last album that Gus would produce for Elton.
I did get to work with Elton on another project at the mill though.
ELTON AND CHRIS RECORDING DUET
IF I WAS YOU AND YOU WERE ME
I was working with Chris rea .
I was talking to Steve Brown and he mentioned that Elton was releasing an album of his Duets.
I said maybe he would do one with Chris.
Steve said that they weren’t really recording any new ones just putting together the existing ones.
Well I mentioned it to Chris anyway.
When I came in the next day he said what do you think of this and he played me a song he’d written for him and Elton.
If I were you and you were me or maybe the other way round.
It did sound brilliant, so that day we recorded the demo with Chris obviously singing both parts.
That night I played it down the phone to Steve.
He thought it was brilliant too and played it to Elton.
He said great and recorded it later that year at the mill.
As it turned out he recorded a lot more new Duets including one that I co- produced with him at the mill called Duets for one, which wasn’t a duet, just him.
I have since worked with Elton on some live gigs with a 100-piece orchestra and Choir standing in for Gus who would have done it had he not been killed with his wife Sheila.
Its been a pretty amazing journey knowing Sir Elt and I hope its not finished for a long long time.
Of course back then although we all thought Elton deserved to be a major star, no-one with maybe the exception of Elton himself could have imagined quite how well known he would become .
They were great times and im very happy to have played a part in his musical history .