My heart belongs to Philadelphia Freedom.
And Elton John.
After the show he stood up and gave me a big hug, I was confused, I had my rap all ready, to explain who I was, BUT HE ALREADY KNEW! DAVID TOO!
I was bewildered. Flummoxed. What do you say when your hero treats you like a friend?
YOU DISCUSS RECORDS, THE BUSINESS!
Elton LOVES Brandi Carlile.
Proving we’re all the same under the skin, except he’s a lot more famous, and a lot more rich. Hell, I ain’t got no money, but I’m rich on PERSONALITY! Ain’t that what Prince sang? That’s rock and roll, where your identity means more than your bank account, and we all pray at the altar of music.
When Elton broke I was in my first year of college. In the hinterlands, in Vermont. I’d read that “Your Song” was a hit, but I’d only heard it once, the track I cottoned to, became enamored of, that I had to play every day when I came home from skiing was…
TAKE ME TO THE PILOT!
And Elton did tonight.
Take me to the pilot of your soul, mine is in music, you forget at this late date, and then you hear one of these songs performed live and you’re taken back to what once was and it’s all there in color, in 3-D, that’s the power of music, it makes the past COME ALIVE!
And the first time I saw Elton it was at Carnegie Hall, in the spring of ’71, it was after “Friends” but before “Madman” and Elton introduced a new number, “Indian Sunset,” and he played it again tonight, it was a highlight, I could see my sophomore dorm room in Voter Hall, spinning that record as I fell asleep, with a timer to turn the stereo off. This was back before iPods, before even boom boxes, you could only listen to your music at home, and I did, incessantly.
And I remember driving on Route 30 in my ’63 convertible with the top down on a day like today, with a crispness in the air, singing along to “Saturday Night’s (Alright For Fighting),” and I did as well tonight. When was the last time you went to a show where you knew every song? NEVER!
And it’s kind of odd, Elton says he’s retiring, but he’s so alive. You’re supposed to ply the boards until we wince, hope you’re gone, but Elton seems to just be hitting his stride, although his knees are hurting and he ambles as opposed to strides, but when he puts his digits on the ivories it’s like no time has gone by, furthermore he does not use a teleprompter, he remembers every word, JUST LIKE YOU AND ME!
Now this is a greatest hits show, and Elton says it’s the songs the band likes to play, and the troupe is lean. With original Nigel Olsson on skins with bass drums that look like cannons and Davey Johnstone with long blonde hair and…it’s amazing what one guitarist can do. And Ray Cooper’s on percussion, and Kim Bullard adds some keyboards and there’s another drummer and a bassist and by not mentioning their names I’m pissing them off but the truth is this is a throwback to what once was, when you had a combo, and that was enough. This was a band, and their goal was to rock our socks off.
So they opened with “Bennie And The Jets.” When you have this many hits, you don’t have to save them.
And then “All The Young Girls Love Alice,” from deep into “Yellow Brick Road,” it was one of my absolute favorites, and to hear it performed tonight made the circle complete. I remember walking in the leaves, the double LP came out in the fall, noticing the girl named Alice on campus, but then she transferred and I never saw her again, but this song always brings her back.
And by the intro, I knew it was “Border Song.” That was nearly fifty years ago, but only yesterday in my mind. Funny about aging, the digit counter keeps turning but inside you feel just the same.
But the piece de resistance of the first half of the show was “Tiny Dancer.” I bought “Madman Across The Water” over school vacation, I played it that whole month of January 1972. This was before “Tiny Dancer” became legendary, before it was in “Almost Famous,” and when I heard the intro tonight…
It brought tears to my eyes. I don’t remember the last time I cried at a show. I was crying for what once was and what still is, marveling that I’m still the same person but so much time has passed. That I’ve followed this thread of rock and roll all these many decades and I’m a lifer, and I’m not the only one.
And “Burn Down The Mission” was not the finale, as it was in the early days.
And I could have been one of the few who knew “Believe,” but I continue to do so, Elton’s had nine lives. When he was done on the charts, he triumphed on film and on Broadway and there are very few legends, but he’s one of them.
And when he played “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” I remembered buying “Caribou” just after graduating from college, discovering I had the same shirt he wore on the cover.
And that let into BITCH!
Now it was time to stand up and dance. It was an involuntary exercise, I couldn’t sit still. I thought of Mark Stiegemeier playing it as he skied the bumps at Snowbird, at the freestyle world championships back in ’75.
That’s right, the bitch is back.
Stone cold sober as a matter of fact. After raising $400 million to fight AIDS.
And the show went on and on. With a costume change. With solo and band numbers. And as the gig wore on you could see Elton sweat, he was not painting by numbers, he was into it, just like Ian Stewart when the Stones began, only in this case Elton’s piano was the main instrument.
How come some people are so good? Are they born with it? Blessed?
Then again, Elton said he and Bernie wrote songs that no one covered. So they demoed them and took them on the road, they were forced to, they didn’t expect the supernova.
But that’s what happened. Album after album, year after year.
I only lament the fact we’re never gonna see the whole album shows. You know, “Elton John,” “Tumbleweed Connection”…and even though Elton says it’s a throwaway, I’d love to hear “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player,” just to hear “Elderberry Wine” and “Teacher I Need You.”
It was different then. The Beatles had established the paradigm, everybody was following in their footsteps, everybody wanted to be a star. But the difference with Elton was he was a fan. Still is. They send him fifty tracks to check out for his Beats 1 radio show, but that’s not enough, he’s still checking out more. And when you come from a place of fandom you’re humble and enthusiastic, you know you’re part of a great musical tradition and proud to be so.
And you are too. And so am I.
It was all we had, it was all we needed. TV was “My Mother The Car” and “Mr. Ed,” sugar without nutrition. You needed music to survive. We were addicted to the radio, we salivated over new releases, we thought if our favorite stars came over for dinner our lives would be made.
My life’s pretty much been written in stone. I can’t change the past, and there’s only a little time to steer in the future. But looking back tonight, I feel that I have not wasted my life. And believe me, I wonder. I have no kids. My wife left me. I had horrific surgeries. I don’t own a home, but if Elton John knows who I am, what else can I ask for?
Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note that these comments are unedited for grammar or content and do not necessarily reflect the views of Encore or its staff.
Dear Bob, look what you’ve done!
I adore Brandi and we have become friends.Her album is my favourite this year.
I thought what you wrote was truly wonderful. I am not good with compliments but I feel this is a fine way to say farewell to the road.
I will continue to write and record and sell next to nothing,b ut I feel I have other things I want to try. As you know, I am well aware of the business now.
I am so thankful that my fans didn’t have to listen to my early albums on a fucking phone. I grew famous with real talent and if you scan the Billboard top 100 now, you will find it hard to find much to float your boat!!
Anyway, I digress. Thank you for coming to MSG AND for all the amazing kind words.
Coming from someone who tells it like it is it meant a hell of a lot.
Stay well AND feisty.
I hope you don’t mind me crossing this barrier and reaching out! I just had to because the piece you wrote recently about your experience and nostalgia at the Elton show really moved me.
Please excuse the way I write – it’s diabolical and I didn’t even come close to finishing school.
I’ve been obsessed with Elton John since I was 11 years old…I’m only 37 so that was the Made In England era – “Believe” was the best string arrangement on that album. I’ve written him countless long winded fan letters and if you look closely I’ve thanked and dedicated every one of my albums to him.
To say he influenced me and guided me through my delicate gay teenaged years in a small town is an understatement. Through him I found Freddie,George,Bowie and The Beatles. He was the fabulousness that I needed to see beyond my situation at the time – and that gave me my art.
When I read this:
“I was bewildered. Flummoxed. What do you say when your hero treats you like a friend?”
YOU DISCUSS RECORDS, THE BUSINESS!
Elton LOVES Brandi Carlile.”
…I DIED of excitement. Not just that Elton loves me but that it came up in conversation between the two of you!! I am SO flattered.
Your gorgeous blog about that evening and show inspired me to maybe do an Elton album concert. Maybe Tumbleweed, Madman or Captain Fantastic at Town Hall or something … Either way I’d HAVE to have an orchestra because Elton and Bernie without the late great Paul Buckmaster in that era is unthinkable. (Paul did “Believe” too).
Our resounding mutual feeling about Elton could easily hang it’s hat on showmanship and musicality…. but it’s his graciousness and gratefulness that keep me a proud disciple.
My favorite part about what you wrote was this:
“My life’s pretty much been written in stone. I can’t change the past, and there’s only a little time to steer in the future. But looking back tonight, I feel that I have not wasted my life. And believe me, I wonder. I have no kids. My wife left me. I had horrific surgeries. I don’t own a home, but if Elton John knows who I am, what else can I ask for?
Who says that? What a vulnerable and relatable sentiment. You know what matters about being alive.
I think you are the Elton John of what you do.
With appreciation and respect.
I’m so glad you made it.
Btw, you saw a really great show. It’s odd how we all give it 100% every night, and every Elton show is a great show (because he is such a monster talent), but some shows end up transcending. We talk about it all the time….how it’s something you can’t plan. It just happens now and then. It comes together in a way that bigger than everyone. Thats the power of music. Yeah…it was a lot of fun tonight.
I was going to end this letter telling you we’re not pissed off but I think starting out is better so your reading is relaxed!
This is John Mahon – the “other drummer” in Elton’s band. To be precise I am the Percussionist, Backing Vocalist, and refer to myself more as E-drummer in the band because I play everything from Timps to sound FX to some double drums on my hybrid setup.
I joined Elton in early 1997 and been with him this entire time for the last 21 years on tour and in studio. Ray Cooper was doing some other projects when I was asked to join the band after meeting Davey. Nigel was not in the band then either – it was British drummer Charlie Morgan.
Elton wanted to bring Ray back into the fold about 5 years ago to just do the Million Dollar Piano shows in Las Vegas, and then recently of course add him back for the Farewell Tour. Elton came to say he was thinking about getting Ray back in the band. At first I thought he was letting me go, then I realized he was being a true gentleman. Most of the percussion I play with Elton is because of Ray, and when he inquired about getting in each other’s way musically I just said “do your thing man and I will get out of your way!” He is all that – inspiring to say the least. So now I focus on the BG’s and other percussion parts – the non flamboyant! – and it seems to work well.
Our bass player vocalist is Matt Bissonette. He’s been around the scene for a long time working with everyone from Maynard Ferguson to David Lee Roth. He’s an amazing player and singer too. You may know his brother Gregg who is Ringo’s drummer. Matt joined the band about 5 years ago after the death of Bob Birch.
All that said, I’ve been a reader of your blog for years and I really enjoy it. I love that you have the balls to tell it like it is and see talent where talent is due. Your review of our show was spot on, from Elton’s bad ass voice to his aging knees.
I’m quite sure you know already, we do not play to any click or have offstage musicians or a DAW running tracks. On a few songs we double the vocal sound to fatten it up. But we are PLAYING – and it feels good even when we fuck up! It’s sad to see amazing musicians playing along to a track on a stage because the artist wants the exact record sound…. Then just go listen to the record (-:
So no, not pissed – but wanted to introduce myself and tell you I’m a fan. I think you had your hands full writing about one of the last icons in music history, which I’m quite fortunate to be part of.
Wish I would have known you were there to meet. Someday.
All the best,
Not just any bassist that you didn’t mention, Matt Bissonnette in context is in his own way part of the history.
As you know, original bassist Dee Murray passed away long ago. Bob Birch replaced him, and after Bob committed suicide a few years ago, Matt Bissonnette (brother of Gregg Bissonnette, by the way) replaced him. Bob was Matt’s high school teacher and used to sneak him into clubs in Detroit for gigs.
You might already know this from reading the album credits – I sang background vocals on EJ’s Caribou album’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” along with Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Toni Tennille.
Recorded at The Beach Boys’ Brother Studios in Santa Monica with only EJ’s Producer Gus Dudgeon present, we sang to the basic track (drums, bass, guitar, piano, tambourine) with Elton’s vocal as our guide. Carl made up the soaring background vocal part at the end of each Chorus that was mimicked throughout the song when it was “sweetened” later with orchestration.
And can you believe, all these years later since around 2000, I still get a healthy check from a SAG/AFTRA fund set up for “non-featured performers” !
I hope to see his final show somewhere along the way.
The only Elton track I worked on! (“Philadelphia Freedom”)
I was General Manager of Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s Big Pig Music in the 70’s – it was during the period of Philadelphia Freedom, Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, and Rocket Man.
I had great fun.
Ann P Munday
I was at MSG last night for Elton too. It was my first time seeing him live. Amazing. Rocket Man was my favorite song of the night, but the whole show was stellar. Were you seated down front on the floor section?
Amazing post. And I have so many thoughts and feelings and memories evoked by this piece that I don’t know where to begin. I will respond intelligibly tomorrow, but thanks for this and I’m so glad you put all of your thoughts down.
My family and i love Elton and really
enjoyed the show. Elton has been important to me since High School and that is not lost on my family who have all seen him multiple times…even Story my eleven year old.
In the early 80’s, at the most fallow and lowest period of his career, Elton did a solo tour in theaters with just Ray Copper backing him up.
I was working for MCA at the time and took journalists and radio guys to consecutive shows in Ann Arbor and Toronto.
Two of the most amazing shows of my life.
At the meet-n-greet after the Toronto show I mentioned to Elton that I had been in Ann Arbor the night before.
He literally grabbed me by the shirt and started pumping me with questions about the differences in US and Canadian audiences,
talking enthusiastically for almost 10 minutes about fans and audiences the world over.
(It was actually embarrassing as there was a long line of people to meet him and I felt like I was monopolizing his time.)
His keen interest in and love for fans was so evident even at a time when many had abandoned him.
I’m sure it’s the same today.
I was a HUGE EJ fan in my youth. He was my first real concert I ever went to in the 70s (if you don’t count the BeeGees on the steel pier in Atlantic City). I was just a kid and my big sister took me cause she knew how much I loved him! I still own every one of those albums. Indian Sunset has always been my very favorite song. It still makes me cry today. Whenever I see environmental destruction, which is often, I belt out words from that song! Just incredible lyrics by Bernie Taupin. Glad you love him and apparently he loves you too. Elton gave me so much happiness when I was a kid discovering music. Thanks for the memory.
The tour is coming to Oakland in January and we will be there. Still remember when they used to open Tower Records in the off hours so Elton could fill a trunk full of records…he was indeed a real fan and would buy two copies of everything.
Was a great show. Same set in TO. Only thing I missed was Madman Across the Water and Mona Lisas and Madhatters. How’d the Brooklyn/NYC shows go?
One of the highlights of my musical life was seeing Elton at the Berkeley Rep. he played alone for the first half of the show and brought Ray Cooper for the second half. No band.
In the center of the stage was the biggest gong I ever saw and they never touched it till the third encore. As the song progressed, Ray picked up a mallet about six feet long and when he hit that thing, the entire audience rose to their feet and cheered and some cried.
I have seen him with his band twice more and I love Elton John.
He inspired me deeply. I still play his songs. I have all of them. He made my life better.
The first time I saw Elton John was spring 1971 in Honolulu. It was an iconic show; John on piano, Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. I couldn’t believe what a huge sound came from the three of them. Definition of “less is more.”
Saw him a few years later at the Oakland Coliseum; another amazing, albeit, flashy show. Came out to the parking lot afterwards, couldn’t find our car (63 VW Beetle) I knew I wasn’t THAT high. Waited till every car left the lot; yeah, stolen.
Still, worth it.
Sounds like a great show. I saw Elton in Poland last summer and, to my amazement, he satisfied many of my hopes: “Come Down in Time”, “Madman Across the Water”, an extended piano improv, and more. He’s always been a major player.
He’s been through some crazy times, but yes, he is for real. I’ve seen an interview clip where he describes his first real gig in a backing band for US artists brought to the UK. He starts raving about how great it was and what he learned, especially from Billy Stewart with his version of “Summertime”. Elton was so excited in telling it! It touched me in a big way.
Saw him in toronto – tears for real
I was there. My back was against the wall in the nose bleeds. But I danced and sang along all the same, it still sounded amazing, looked great, it felt incredible, and I cried when he played Border Song. Last time I cried at a show was when Paul Simon played “An American Tune” solo during the encore in Toronto. I must pay my respects to these musical giants who have changed my life. Goodbye for now Rocket Man!
Loved the walk through of your evening at Madison Square Garden. Considering Elton’s depth of masterpieces he could select on this farewell tour, what a gift for fans to hear ‘All The Young Girls Love Alice.’
Shocking to know Elton considers ‘Don’t Shoot Me’ a throwaway while most artists would give up their careers to deliver that single album. I thought I was the only one out there that thought ‘Teacher I Need You’ and ‘Elderberry Wine’ were great songs. My EJ challenge- visit the last track, ‘High Flying Bird’. Discard the lyric, go straight to the chorus and listen to the melody line and chord progression. A sure fire hit for most artists yet a forgotten song from Elton. That underscores the greatness of Elton and what a gift he has been to us all.
Baker & Taylor
Vice President/General Manager
If Elton John knows your name what else can you ask for – true that. I have seen Elton 3 times but the 1st time was MSG Thanksgiving the night John Lennon came out – wild (& funny thing was I had 4 tix but b/c of the holiday the girl I invited bailed to be with family & my other friend too, so I scalped the tix & sat “alone” with strangers – too bad for those forgotten friends).
Back in the early 70’s, I had met Elton through Seymour and Linda. I’d been to his house in Surrey, helped at the infamous lunch at their apartment before the John Lennon appearance at MSG, and was the recipient of a deal for JEM TO import his first album, “Empty Sky,” from Dick James with Elton’s blessing. But your post reminded me of how much Elton was interested in what others were recording—-when HE was #1.
One day Seymour calls me up and says Elton want me to buy a copy of EVERY ALBUM on the Top 200 and bring them to his suite at the Sherry Netherland Hotel. This was at a time when everything he touched turned multi platinum, yet he wanted to hear everyone else’s records. When I brought boxes and boxes up to him, he just dived in and listened.
Because he was A FAN !
This is fantastic.
My first memory of an album is looking at the folding cover of “goodbye yellow brick road” while funeral of a friend started up on the family turntable – what a freakin invitation to rock and roll and everything it could be and would become. oh I could go on – but this is your moment!!
Just wow. That brought tears to MY eyes.
Amy Lewis Madnick
Old school Santa Monica rent control like you and I have in this 21st century may be better than any home!
Heard Your Song and my heart opened wider, newer.
Then, won Tumbleweed Connection by calling in to the underground FM station. Hooked!
Saw Elton with the original trio open for Leon Russell at the Anaheim Convention Center. Moved to Laguna and my new pal at Laguna High couldn’t stop playing Madman Across the Water. A year or so later in the south of France in a nefarious adventure one of the cassettes that was played in our funky chateau continually was Don’t Shoot Me I’m the Piano Player.
Then, that same trip in ‘73 at the Rainbow Theater in London – Elton again, now singing Happy Birthday to Rod Stewart who was in the audience and came onstage. And on and on and on.
We are deeply blessed to have been splendidly spoiled by Elton & Bernie’s gorgeous and transformational gifts throughout our formative and ever so impressionable years.
Happy you got them up close and personal tonight!
Bob – I’m so happy for you! Feels like I’ve been following you for many years (guess it is) and know that Elton was a very important influence for you. To hear that he knows who you are (and actually showed it) feels like “a circle circled”.
First-time responder. Been reading your posts since 2005. Lots of odd train-of-thought narratives, countless nuggets of awesome context from your life and experience in the entertainment industry.
I live in the sleepy ‘burbs wayyy outside SF. Been traveling internationally with a Celtic trio since 2001,, you’ve been with me through three presidents now.
Tonight’s Madison Square Garden review with Elton John hit me in the chest.
For what it’s worth from a random citizen, thank you for the generous sharing of yourself over the last 17 years. This post was tops.
Felt like I was there.
Elton is a fan…of music, sports, life. He has an opinion, an educated one at that. I sat next to him on a commercial flight in 72. Honky Chateau was out. Started talking about hockey, (my sport) he asked questions, learned about it. I went to his show at Maple Leaf Gardens several days later. Stayed in touch for many years. I was in Eastern Sound when they recorded Blue Moves. My career burned out in 4 years and he just keeps showing up night after night. Thanks for the review.
What an awesome letter Bob, the songs you wrote about Elton playing tonight brought back some of the happiest memories of my life.
Him hugging you, icing on the cake:)!
Me, just one of your countless fans that appreciates your letters more than you know
and I am blessed to be on your list:)
Thank you for being you…
I’m crying. This goes to your all time top 5 letters. The last sentence alone is priceless.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Cheers from Sydney,
Wow-Love this on the money post!
What a stellar and fitting tribute!
Great job Bob!
That is one of your best ??
Hope your well Bob
Love from Scotland
Congrats, Bob! That is one beautiful piece of writing.
I’m seeing Elton next month, taking my 79 year old Dad who feels just like you about Elton!
Kim is an old friend of mine. So happy to be able to see the show.
Impressive. I guess that makes you a rock star too. I have seen live Elton so many times
that Mrs. Epstein has actually banned me from the farewell tour. “Another 401K tour”
she says. Eventually we all have to let go of the past. Seeing Paul Simon live at The Ryman in 2016 and then again in June of this year at Bridgestone Arena. Epic concerts.
And then agonizing about seeing him one more time in Atlanta. The Rock and Roll Dad
resists. And gets over the regret. Eventually. Having never regretted GOING to a show as much as MISSING one. This is the great paradox of life. Like the girlfriend you still recall as the one who got away. But you know even in your heart of hearts things would
have ended badly. Eventually. EE
Elton John knows who you are and you have a HUGE following of subscribers who prioritize your emails over most everything else.
Bravo. THIS brought tears to my eyes..
Bravo, Bob! (May I call you Bob?). Not afraid to keep that heart on your sleeve. Thanks for saying it over and over for so many of us. I’ll keep reading if you’ll keep saying … !
…….a terrific bit of writing there, bob!!!
A life well lived Bob
“Be here Now” Be In the moment is all we can do
Think of the moments you’ve had! And your ability to share them…
I could feel your genuine excitement in every word.
What a night it must have been!
Dr. Blaine Leeds DDS
Bob you have what everyone wants and less is more in today’s world . Possessions mean nothing . Day to day memorable days and friends trump money . Bob just keep going forward and these surprises and amazing gifts in music are life
Wow. I have goose bumps. I’m enjoying your sirius show only problem is I listen on demand so can’t call in. But you have females listening too.
“The journey not the arrival matters.” T.S. Elliot
got goosebumps reading this one.
….some of us are on on the same journey, maybe even crossing paths and not even knowing it. There are moments your writing helps pulls us all together.
Great writeup on Elton. My personal fav is a rarely heard oldie – Holiday Inn. Does he ever play that one?
And this, Bob, is why we all love you.
This is so good, Bob. Damn, wish I had been there. Thank you. Keep it up, man!
Long time fan of EJ and a long time reader of yours. You do make me lean back and think.
Of all the paragraphs you’ve crafted…this one just might be the best:
My life’s pretty much been written in stone. I can’t change the past, and there’s only a little time to steer in the future. But looking back tonight, I feel that I have not wasted my life. And believe me, I wonder. I have no kids. My wife left me. I had horrific surgeries. I don’t own a home, but if Elton John knows who I am, what else can I ask for?
If your travels ever bring you to mnpls/st. Paul-gimme a shout. We can play golf, eat well and talk about lives well lived.
Widely Recognized as Someone Who Can Out-Slack Most Slackers
Bob, your life was not wasted. You are an artist and you just keep giving us your art. I really feel a lot of love for you as I read this note—not in a weird way, just can’t read this and not really care about you as one of your fans and longtime readers. Thank you for this one. You really nailed it in terms of what it’s like being a fan, following the music, finding the meaning of your life in it.
You’re somebody to me, Bob. You make sense of things in a senseless world. Thank you.
Nice… and congrats.
Michael A. Becker
I wanted to be there so badly!
Tickets were insane!
Thx for being so vivid and visceral with your experience and sharing it with us! I’m sure that wasn’t easy but probably carthartic at the end. We all need spiritual cleansing and religious worldliness. It’s only healthy and by the sounds of it you had a heavy dosage.
Every time I hear Your Song my eyes tear up and Candle in the Wind.
Well, you may not have an endless cash stream but you get to go around the world seeing the artists you grew up listening to and writing about and on occasion receiving big hugs too. You’re a lucky man!!
That was awesome.
Love that you remain a fanboy!
That last paragraph. A life in 73 words. Damn!
You continue to bring joy through your writing to so many!
And thanks as well for producing your most excellent podcast.
you may not have kids buddy …
but you’ve got all of us with you each day Father Leftsetz!
Shortly after Diana dies, Mother Theresa did too. The Onion ran an article that had the headline: Elton John wows mourners with The Bitch is Back at Mother Theresa funeral.
He’s here in Saskatoon next October for two shows.
Your last line hit the nail on the head. That’s fulfillment that resonates on a very deep level. Sounds like an amazing show and night for you personally. I’m happy for you. Elton’s music takes me back to my childhood and was music that helped unlock the first of many doors. Clay
Bob, you nailed it ! I took my wife Pam on and for her 59th birthday. Wow ! We saw opening night at the recently renovated Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Elton’s voice was solid gold. The band was super tight. You’re right, tears were flowing. A three year farewell tour leaves me plenty of opportunity to see the magic again before it disappears forever.
Sir…you are good mensch!
Bob- you live a life nurtured by your passions, your values, and connection. And through you we realize that if we keep at it, maybe we can do it too. Your mark is made. That’s priceless. Thank you!
When people exceed your expectations, it’s ok to be speechless.
lovely piece. thank you.
This is perhaps the best thing you’ve ever written:
“My life’s pretty much been written in stone. I can’t change the past, and there’s only a little time to steer in the future. But looking back tonight, I feel that I have not wasted my life.”
This is exactly why I leave the house 40 years on to still go see shows. A life in pursuit of music and art is not one lived in vain.
Sounds like your travels on your own Yellow Brick Road was worth every Step!
Cheers to the Personal Joy that emanates from this piece!
Great letter. I agree with you on so many things.
I hope you get a house someday
Musician/ Club Owner etc.
Again a Beautiful perfect sharing so on the money .
Continued : Good ,Good, Good,
Good – Vibrations to you
There are a lot of people on this planet with shit kids and / or facade marriages.
Your life ( and mine ) are NOT. a waste – but rather the thrill of risking all for what you love.
Skydiving for REAL
! ! !
Very very happy for you Bob, nothing more than you deserve.
Sir Harry Cowell
Love ya’ Bob — thanks so much. Again!
Beautiful, beautiful “letter”.
Fantastic post. My life has been made vastly better when I discovered your writing.
Thanks for the review.
Decided to catch it next year at Nassau Coliseum.
I hope I am no taking a risk.
Loved the point about the idol knowing you.
On a smaller level of fame, I expect that when I see Poco’s founder at (the brand new) My Father’s Place Thursday.
New York is always a great place to be….or visit.
Corey B. Bearak, Esq.
Hey Bob, I love your columns, really do, but this one you really seemed to make all about yourself. Just my humble opinion. Regards, Doug Deutsch
Bob, the entire music industry knows who you are. Paul Lanning
Hey Bob…friends of mine got me tickets to see Reg with Ray at the Palladium on 14th St. for my birthday in 1979…thnx for the reminder…Mitchell Fox
P.S. Good for you Bob…
Great letter! Trust us (your subscribers), Bob, you have not wasted your life.
Good for you Bob. Your love of music is contagious — well, that’s not the right word. When you have that in your soul, you just have it, and you recognize a kindred spirit, and it feels good to have a tribe based on something like this. That post-show feeling… nothing beats it.
And now Bob Lefsetz knows who I am, what else can I ask for?!?
that is awesome!!
All I can say is you have done alright!
Dude… you’re Bob Lefsetz! It’s no surprise you needed no introduction. Thanks for sharing the fun with us.
Fantastic, just wonderful Bob.
I have so many thoughts to share but instead just want to say that I get it and thank you for expressing what I often feel about music, the connection/soul, live shows, and artists quarks (I’ve met, worked for a few).
What a thrill to have Sir Elton hug and be a human to you.
I, like you have been a fan since I was a kid. Bought all the albums
through Westies. You and have have the same favorite Elton tunes! Im taken
back instantly as well,to where I was when I first heard those songs.
That?s the magic of music and were richer for those experiences. I’ve had
the opportunity to see him recently (several times) in Vegas at his
residency and that show was amazing.. he?s truly an artist like no other.
Thanks Bob! I feel the same way about Elton. I am a bit younger so I did not see him in the 70’s but seeing him in the 80’s at the Hollywood Bowl was pure magic. One other footnote, Julian’s Auctions is selling Bernie Taupin’s original lyrics, record awards etc. It is an unbelievable archive of material. One would assume he doesn’t need the money but then again you never know. Maybe he was a victim of the other Bernie… It just made me feel bad that he is selling his stuff (for whatever the reason…)
Elton John knows who YOU are!
I’d agree that you can’t ask for much more. I was really moved by this one, Bob. My heart has belonged to Elton since I was a girl.
I’m only 47, not super old, but no longer young. Your reflections usually hit me hard. This one cut a bitch.
My mother passed away almost 3 years ago now. We made a tape when I was a little kid of us singing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. I sang the Kiki Dee parts. I still can’t hear that song without losing it.
I know The Forum show will hurt, but I also know it will be life affirming, as you lay out right here.
Indian Sunset?!?! Damn.
Anyway, thanks for pouring your heart into this one.
It was 1990 or so. I had tickets to Elton John at the Garden. Was busy during the day at a photo shoot for a new client – Johnson and Johnson “Micatin”. Had recently opened my own ad agency and was excited to pull in this J and J account. The shoot went late so I raced into NYC from Scotch Plains. And parked on the street at 33 rd street.
And met my friend Ed Lee at the Garden.
What a show Elton put on. I recall the amazing female backup singers wrapped in Saran/wrap like mini dresses. And a sax player who twisted and turned and made that piece of metal seem like an extension of his lips.
Ed and I were dressed like businessmen in shirts and ties nevertheless bounced and swayed and lived the moment with chills and thrills.
Elton put on a non-stop show with all the passion of his youth – though not a 20- year old anymore.
Walking out of the Garden and back to the car we sang and laughed and loved what we had just experienced.
Everything changed when I got back to the car. The back door of my Toyota Cressida
Was ajar and everything I had inside- which I had tucked under a car blanket was missing.
I opened the trunk- empty. About a dozen pair of high end sneakers which had been photographed earlier in the day – were gone.
As was a VCR and other props.
I told Ed to go home and went to the phone booth and called the police.
Eventually, they came. Took a report and were not surprised at what happened in that neighborhood.”Use a garage next time,” they said.
Finally, I got into the drivers seat and started towards the tunnel. And suddenly began to sing “I’m Still Standing” with a smirk on my face and a great feeling of having experienced the amazing Elton John in person.
Screw the theft I thought. I’m insured.
Your Elton John blog SANG to me. That was as much a masterpiece as “Your Song” or “Daniel!” Again, you nailed it as music does make the past come alive! Recently on a drive from NY to Chicago, I realized I had spaced my CDs & was headed into the almost-radio-free Allegheny Mountains. The truck stop had a bin filled with CDs but what could I possibly listen to for the next 10 hours?? In the sea of Country, Metal and current R&B, I was terrified until I swooped up “Elton John’s Greatest Hits” – a 20 or more song disc set with Elton on the front cover basically saying, “This is what you need!” Ahhh! My drive was filled with memories and the past coming alive! Mostly happy like when my friend and I were studying cello and bassoon in 8th grade, smoking pot and playing along to the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album and of course before that when we were all listening to “Daniel” – singing along, completely absorbed which possibly was the cause of another friend Falling out of a tree we had climbed with our transistor radio. Enthusiasm! Hey Hey, we’re not the Monkees! She lived. We lived .. we LOVED Elton John. Madman Across The Water! He still rules so much of my preteen and teen years along with Zep & Joni. Thank you, Bob. Another greatest hit from you!
As a fan of the man and his music, it is the ultimate accolade to be able to say that “Elton John knows me.” Elton and his band are perhaps the single most significant musical influence on me over the past 43 years. It was the string riff on Philadelphia Freedom that brought me into rock music. It’s the little things. Before that it was Herb Alpert and the Carpenters. While their music is still great, discovering Elton in 1975 expanded my musical Horizons both going forward and looking backwards before his time.
As to musicianship, Nigel Olsson is one of the great drummers of the Rock period. For me, as a drummer, he remains a touchstone as to great groove andtasty licks. I still miss Elton’s original bass player, Dee Murray, who died of cancer many years ago. He was one of the greatest, and most under-appreciated, bass players ever.
And let’s not forget pure songwriting ability. Don’t Shoot Me, While underappreciated in Elton’s canon, is a songwriting masterpiece from start to finish. I have loved Teacher I Need You for over four decades now. Who can’t love that infectious shuffle groove along with Elton’s mischevious vocal. I still get chills when I listen to Blues for Baby and Me, especially the little flute touches. In this respect, you also have to give a hat tip to elton’s genius producer, Gus Dudgeon, who put it all together. He is missed, as well.
Congratulations, Bob. You have once again hit upon that tangibly intangible Joy that comes from loving the music so much.
More than any other artist, Elton is the reason I became a musician. I was a fanatic as a kid. He made me want to play piano, but the apartment and the family finances didn’t allow that, so I picked up a cheap guitar. I still have this weird fantasy about playing on a session with him.
I’m surprised that EJ thinks of Don’t Shoot Me as a throwaway. Blues for My Baby and Me, Have Mercy and High Flying Bird and the two you mentioned are classics and bring back a lot of great memories for me. In fact, I was listening to it in my car the other day, followed by Tumbleweed Connection.
And his original band…man, what a chemistry they all had. That is almost impossible to find. Davey Johnstone, a fantastic utility player and master of taste. Nigel, a weird style that really gelled with the band. And let’s never forget Dee Murray, the most underrated bass player to have ever graced the instrument.
On a side note, I’ll go see the movie, but would have preferred a Netflix series about Elton, where all the key players could get a little more screen time and character development. Same goes for the Queen movie.
My heart also belongs to Philadelphia Freedom. Not only have I been obsessed with the sport of lacrosse for 50 years, I have evolved (devolved?) through the entire Bell Curve: from neophyte learning to catch and throw on up to high school and college player and back down the slide to today when I play in as many Geezer (age 60 and over) tournaments as I can find. (My motto: “I may be old… But I’m slow.”) Looking back over the past half-century, I can pinpoint the absolute peak of that curve as a 2-week span in late April /early May of 1975. It was a magical… that thing that everyone calls “The Zone.” Not only did I know that the ball was going in the goal before it left my stick, it felt like I was watching someone else do it. I never talked about this with any of my Bowdoin College teammates (“The less I say the more my work gets done.”) for fear that it would end, which it did. Since that spring of 43 years ago, I’ve had flashes of brilliance, but nothing has ever approached the magic of that 2-week span. However, thanks to Elton, I get to take a delicious sentimental journey every time Philadelphia Freedom pops up on my radio today. And I still command enough gravitas in “my good old family home” to insist that my wife and kids not touch that dial and sit and join me in listening to it.
I first saw Elton in ’75 at Rich Stadium; a big road trip for a 16 year old from Ottawa. Boz Scaggs was one of the opening acts and Kiki Dee sang with him.
The amount of amazing music that he and Bernie put out in a few short years is incredible. I still have vivid memories of being in my next door neighbour’s basement pouring of the GYBR album cover and lyrics as we listened to the record for the first time.
Some punk with a shotgun ….
And I loved your skiing reference. We grew up in the young and free days of freestyle skiing; when ballet was still an event, moguls weren’t groomed and K2, Scott and Vuarnet were the brands of the day. My sports heroes at the time were Roger De Coster, Mark Spitz, Dave Keon and Airborne Eddy Ferguson. While I appreciate the difficulty of today’s ariels, the moguls event sucks. Give me the beauty and grace of the timeless back scratcher, the pleasure of a daffy held over a soaring jump and the raw athleticism of a top to bottom, always on the edge, old style mogul run.
We’re running short of heroes …
you are killing me with this…..I have spent my last 5-6-7 years,( hospitals, operations, more operations, bad lungs, heart, cannot take any stress, the same thing as you, BUT I worked with Azoff, Jerry Heller, ICM, Booked / Managed Ike and Tina Turner at 20 years old. In my experience with all the artist I worked with and got close to they did not give a shit about me unless I could do something for them. MUCH MUCH WORSE then the regular people you see every day. I remember Elton coming to America, I had just started working for Jerry Heller, asked him if he would get me in at the Troubador, Nope, the rest is History.
I like Elton, though I am a little worn out from 50 years of hearing those songs.
He headlined N.O. JazzFest a few years ago (a zoo) and we were there and heard him, it was ok, but it was the SAME songs.
Two things I have always loved about Elton. One: his piano playing.
And two: years ago, Jerry Lee Lewis did a big tribute type album in London with all the most famous Brit players. They interviewed Elton, who said something like–and I’m paraphrasing–“Jerry is so damn good, much better than me, but he coasts and doesn’t work at it and that pisses me off.” Or words to that effect. I loved that he was so honest. And on the money.
Reg is a pretty cool guy.
Elton, what a legend. But why won’t he license his music to online educational services like HDpiano or Flowkey where there are thousands of students desperate to learn to play his tunes? It’s 2018! I don’t read sheet music so the books are useless. Next time you see him maybe drop a hint? Same goes for Billy 🙁
Love the musings. Cheers.
It was 1970 and I had just come off producing the #1 show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, on CBS-TV. A record promoter and friend in the Northeast sent me an album of a new artist to listen to. I got so many records those days that I put it with the others behind my desk. One day, as I left the office, I took all the albums home to listen to.
Most of them I quickly tossed out after a song or two. Then I put on the one the one the record promoter had sent. From the first song it was magic and I was blown away. I listened to it over and over. It was Elton John’s! Just like you, I was particularly moved by “Your Song” and it became my favorite.
Elton hadn’t been to the States yet but he was scheduled to play the famous Troubadour in Los Angeles in the coming weeks. That club was virtually a second home to me and my various artists. I went there opening night and, after his terrific show, I spent time with him and his manager, John Reid. Elton was wonderful to me and I ultimately acted like a groupie and went to his shows all over the US.
As the years went by I had many more wonderful experiences with Elton including the time I was having a luncheon meeting at Le Dome on Sunset near my office. Elton spotted me from his table way across the spacious restaurant and unlike any artist I’ve ever known he got up and came all the way to our table to give me a hug. Needless to say my companions were impressed. So your experience shows he’s still the same Elton.
On another occasion my wife, Cathy, and I were in Australia with my then client, Lionel Richie, and after Lionel’s show, we were celebrating Lionel’s mother’s birthday. Around midnight at the restaurant we all were at, Elton came bounding in with bottles of Champagne and hugged everyone and sang “Happy Birthday” to Alberta.
Finally, this past April, Cathy and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by going up to Las Vegas to see Elton’s show for what will probably be the last time. His agent, Howard Rose, gave us comp tickets and wonderful seats and the show was great. Only disappointment for me was that he was not seeing any one backstage that night and I couldn’t come totally full circle.
The great news is he’s still the same sensational entertainer and wonderful person. Thanks for sharing your experience.
They wrote some great songs. B has a couple still in her back pocket. I know you didn’t get into Bettye until Interpretations, so if you didn’t backtrack, you may have missed her version of Talking Old Soldiers from Scene Of The Crime. Here’s what Elton had to say after Interpretations came out.
“Bettye LaVette has always been a wonderful singer – I have been a huge fan for many years. To my delight and surprise she recorded an amazing version of “Talking Old Soldiers” – a song which nobody else has covered, and made it her own. Now she has recorded “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and has done exactly the same – but this time with a much more familiar song. I am truly touched by her picking these songs and can only hope that this album brings more attention to this incredible artist.”
Check out the video, below.
The recording had David Hood on bass, Spooner Oldham on piano, recorded at Fame Studios.
Talking Old Soldiers
I was born in ’75, but my first memory of Elton was in the back seat of my Dad’s Audi Coupe in 1980, barrelling down the autobahn in Germany, listening to a squeaky cassette of Captain Fantastic. Philadelphia Freedom…and no speed limits! You can imagine how that blew my 5 year-old mind.
But the song I keep coming back to is Someone Saved My Life Tonight, also off that album. Back then, I just loved the way the song soars, but it was only later I realised the poignancy of the lyrics. And until recently I lived just up Holloway Road in London and used to walk down Furlong Road, where Reg and Bernie lived and almost lost it. It’s the epitome of north London gentrification now which is fitting.
I’ve got to take in this tour. He can’t really be retiring, surely?
You don’t have to have money to be loved. All of the persons whom I know that read your column, love you, buddy.
The first time I saw Elton John was December 2, 1970 (I keep track of these things for 50 years now). Four of us (still friends to this day) drove from St. Lawrence to Syracuse (130 miles) to see the show. The opening act was Toe Fat, followed by Elton and headliner Derek and the Dominoes featuring Duane Allman. Duane only did a handful of these shows. At the time, we were high on the Elton John LP, which featured “Your Song” and other classics. He had “it” already and was the primary reason we went to the War Memorial in the Salt City.
The concert was great but what also sticks out to this day was our return trip back to campus, where somewhere between Watertown and Canton, we stopped the car and witnessed Aurora Borealis in magnificent splendor. There are few city lights in that part of the world.
You couldn’t be more right about Elton being a fan. When I lived in Atlanta in the nineties, it wasn’t surprising to see him at the now-defunct Tower Records on Tuesdays, looking for new music.
And speaking of Reginald Dwight, in 1992, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Reggie Dwight, a tight end from Troy University. He had to change his phone number to an unlisted one because people were finding his name, Reginald Dwight, in the phone book and were calling and asking for Elton.
Hi Bob, another good read, thanks. IN 1970/71, I was the manager of the record, stereo and TV dept. for The Emporium department store in Sonestown. This was walking distance from SF state college, my alma mater. The record section was the most pathetic and neglected area in the store despite the many students that passed by the area shopping in the store. I loved music and was an album collector myself as were most of my 20 something peers. One of the first things I did was put an end cap of Billboard top ten albums right in front where nobody could miss them. But the most revolutionary idea was to play the albums. Nobody had thought before to have a soundtrack of hit albums playing in a department store. I thought the store manager would shut it down but when the Album sales took off, he was so pleased with the skyrocket sales numbers and the positive feedback from the customers he would give me suggestions everyday to make sure and play this album or this artist. And his favorite and one of mine was Elton’s “Mad Man Across the Water”, and both our favorite song was “Tiny Dancer”. The album got played so many times, during a day we set some kind of sales record and won an award from the distributor for selling more than Tower’s famous SF store in one month. I think every Elton fan that went to SF State must have bought the album from my dept that month. OK, probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I do owe Sir Elton a thank you for getting my sales numbers up and a quicker than expected promotion.
alan segal san diego
Bob-WHY are you up writing your letters at 2:03a? Oh yeah, I know-it’s because you were hanging out with my husband Wallace Collins ( you guys finally got to meet each other!) and Jason Flom, Daniel Glass, et al. and Wallace said you asked him about his life—and you found out he had gone to Fordham undergrad and Fordham Law-you mentioned that he must be Catholic and he gave the Woody Allen answer of ‘lapsed Catholic’——and he married me, a ‘lapsed Jew’—-but anyway he was so excited to meet you…we are always enthralled with your letters…….I am a nobody, as I am sure you know..but I have always loved your letters asI have told you in the past, ESPECIALLY the more personal ones…your mom, your dad, people who have worked with/for you…and Wallace loves the music biz letters, of course…BUT-we have an Elton John story as well…way back in the dark ages when they were doing the VH1 Storytellers…we were in New Orleans for a music conference..Wallace was on a panel…Elton John was going to be at the Hard Rock doing storytellers….our friend’s family OWNED the building that housed the Hard Rock…and they told us that IF we could sneak in to the building, we were golden. After his panel, Wallace had checked out the streets where all of the possible entrances to the Hard Rock would be…he said it was all clear-we’d be fine——later, when we went back to sneak in…there were HUGE trucks blocking every entrance..so we literally CRAWLED under one of the trucks and ran into one of the doors where we saw someone was walking out ——score! I then did my ‘sneak on the elevator to another floor, go the ladies room then the bar, order a drink at the bar and pretend I’d been there the entire time’ and Wallace just tried to find me-but we got to hear the entire concert-so intimate—BUT—Elton did NOT say hi to us or that he knew who we were—that only happens to you!!
Thank you for always writing in such a refreshing, prolific way. You rock.
I was there Thursday night, sorry I missed you. Supernova indeed! It’s obvious singing his songs is important to him and he still LOVES performing them. Can’t say that about a lot of “legacy” artists. First album I ever bought was Captain Fantastic, and if you would’ve told that little boy that one day he’d be walking back stage and heard echoing through the halls, “Where’s JS?” -coming from Elton John’s dressing room – he would have died. (Years ago in Vegas) So I know how you feel, and of course he knows you. Anyone that wants to know anything about the music business or music culture, or just read a good smart specifically opinionated take on the world, knows Bob Lefsetz. When you’re back in town, let me buy you lunch.
Does Felice get any credit???
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