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Some interesting points in this interview – espescially seen in a historic light. As usual I try not to tamper too much with the original text, and some of the most enlightened of you will notice a couple of mistakes when reading it through. It has nothing to do with me – it was there in the original article!
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THE ELTON JOHN INTERVIEW
KEN EVANS recently visited New York at the invitation of Elton John especially to see his performance at Carnegie Hall which was an outstanding success. In this interview Ken talks to Elton about his `live` performances, past and future.
Ken Evans: Carnegie Hall, New York, has been the scene of many big concerts. Last year Elton John spelled such a huge hit there he promised to return soon. He did just that last November and if anything `72 eclipsed `71. Elton, you really have good cause to love New York haven`t you and especially Carnegie Hall?
Elton: Well this is the smallest venue we have played in on the tour but last year it was such a magical place. You kinda walk into the Carnegie Hall and it`s just got the right sort of feeling in it and we`ve got to play in it next year. We`ve already played in New York once on the tour but we came back to do just two days here.
Ken: You love New York probably more than any other city in America?
Elton: No, not at all! The audiences in New York really drive me crazy. I think the audiences are a breed of their own. I think they`re really crazy. But I would prefer working on the West coast of America where there`s a bit of sunshine.
New York is a place to get out of once you`ve been there for three or four days. I don`t mind it now – but I used to hate it.
Ken: I noticed you included very early in the programme a new song called “Daniel”.
Elton: It`s off the new album called “Don`t Shoot Me, I`m Only The Piano Player” which will be released at the end of january, world wide, and is the single to follow up “Crocodile Rock”.
Ken: Why did you choose “Daniel” as the single?
Elton: When we did the album, “Daniel” was always going to be the single until we did “Crocodile Rock”, which was one of those freak things when you try and recreate something. Usually, it never works but everything fell into place on that one.
“Daniel” is a grower, it`s not an instant single. But most people who`ve heard it two or three times around the house, have gone away singing it. Also, it`s quite different from “Crocodile Rock”.
Ken: What made Dick James upset about the choice of “Daniel” as a single?
Elton: “Crocodile Rock” was already taken from the new album, and Dick didn`t want another song from it released. But I wanted it out, whether it`s a hit or not. As far as I`m concerned, it`s one of the best songs we`ve written. He said “no” and I more or less forced him to put it out. So he said “Right, I`m not going to advertise it and as far as I`m concerned, I`m disowning it.” I told him that I was going to take full page ads in the trade papers. But the funny thing is he said he will pay for the ads if the song makes the top ten. Christ, isn`t that nice?
Ken: That song (“Crocodile Rock”) was the one that really got you away in Britain. Until then I suppose your success really meant America. What were your feelings about that? Were you annoyed to think that Britain followed America in this regard?
Elton: No, I wasn`t really annoyed at all because we happened so quickly in America. I was sort of coming up in England, you know gradually working my way doing something and then we came over here and Wam Bam! – it all happened. Then we went back to England and it all happened. No, I`m not really worried at all. You know, it`s just one of those things.
Ken: Elton, what`s the story behind “Levon”? It`s a beautiful song.
Elton: Well, “Levon” is one of Bernie`s lyrics. It`s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing.
It`s just somebody who gets bored and just fed up with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can`t because it`s the family ritual thing you know. Well, that`s really the story behind that.
Ken: Your first album, Elton, was a live session. Any plans to record one of your concerts at Carnegie Hall for example?
Elton: That wasn`t the first album, the first album was “Empty Sky”, the live album was about the fourth. I don`t like live albums very much.
I was pleased with the way that ours came out because we didn`t have any pre-conceived ideas of recording a “live” album.
But, I don`t know, you`d really have to record a concert on five or six nights to get the best because so many things could go wrong each night.
There`s been so many, and so few good “live” albums, it`s just a rehash of old material, so I`d rather do new material.
Ken: I noticed that on the piano at Carnegie Hall you had a picture of Doris Day. Was there any significance in this?
Elton: Not really. Legs Larry Smith and I went out in Montreal and went to Woolworths and found the most amazing junk you could find, I mean it had been there for years, it was all dusty, and we found a great picture of Elvis Presley and a great picture of Doris Day so we decided to buy it and Legs just stuck it on the piano one night and it`s been there ever since.
It`s been the sort of mascot for the tour.
Ken: Does she know anything about it?
Elton: I don`t think so. She keeps me company up there!
Ken: Has it been as successful everywhere else in America as it was at Carnegie?
Elton: Oh yes, the kids can`t believe Legs, he`s crazy anyway, and as soon as he came out with his crash helmet with the wedding couple on top, they just couldn`t believe it.
They don`t expect it, they don`t expect to see a tap dancer come on. Yes, it`s been really nice, it just came at the point in the set where everybody`s, well if there`s any ice left to break, it completely breaks it. Everybody has to smile at that.
Ken: Do you vary the show from town to town?
Elton: Not that much, no. We`ve had to vary it some nights when we`ve had to play a shorter set when we`ve got a plane to catch, usually we play for 2 1/4 hours.
But really it`s been the same format for the tour, and then every tour we change formats because we couldn`t play the same numbers all the time. For example, “Take Me To The Pilot”. We won`t do it any more because we`re so fed up with playing it, so we`ve got new numbers ready to work in, but you can`t play all new numbers in a set because people come to hear the ones they like.
It`s a bit infuriating playing the same number for two years!
Ken: Earlier last year I saw you performing at London`s Festival Hall. Now that was a completely different type of show to the one you`ve just given at Carnegie Hall. It was at that concert that you first played the music from “Honky Chateau”.
Did everything go in that concert the way you wanted it to go?
Elton: Yes, it was a bit of a trial and tribulation, it always is with an orchestra, but from the group`s point of view it was the first time that David Johnston had played on stage with us.
We`d just finished making the album when we came out and gambled and played more or less the whole album for the first set, didn`t play any old songs. It was received very well, but the orchestra part was very nerve-racking because there`s such a barrier between pop musicians and classical musicians. I was glad when it was over.
It was like a two weeks nightmare building up to it because it was such a hassle to get together.
We rehearsed for three days and it was still a nightmare. I mean, I enjoyed it in the end, it was a great experience, but I don`t think I`ll be repeating it again.
Life`s too short to go through all those dramas, I think.
Ken: “Honky Cat” was, of course, from “Honky Chateau”. Did it go over that night the way you hoped that it would, because I thought myself that was the one that stood out.
Elton: “Honky Chateau” is the title of the album and “Honky Cat” was a smash in America and it was the first track on the album. It was the stand out track on the album as far as air play went even though “Rocket Man” sold more.
Ken: I think you took everyone in the audience at Carnegie Hall by surprise by starting a very spectacular song and dance setting of “Singing In The Rain” with chorus girls and all the full Hollywood bit. Now this is a departure isn`t it from what you`ve been doing before?
Elton: Yes, I must admit that this wasn`t my idea, it was Legs Larry Smith`s idea, he used to do it with the Bonzo Dog Band with Viv Shanshall and he just said at the start of the tour: “Wouldn`t it be great to do `Singing in the Rain`?” and I thought he was stark raving mad.
Anyway, I said all right and we recorded the back track of it “live” on stage in Boston which was at the beginning of the tour. As we got more into the tour we thought it would be great to have the whole bit, you know, girls, and glitter and midgets and things and we decided to do it in Los Angeles and it worked so well we thought well, Carnegie Hall`s ideal to do it, we`ll do it to New York as well.
It`s just a great number, I mean we fall about laughing half the time, but we try and be a bit more serious when all the girls and the glitter are on. It`s just something I really enjoy.
Ken: I suppose it`s unlikely that we`ll ever hear it on a record?
Elton: I wouldn`t mind doing an album of things like that, but I don`t think the kids would understand it, it`s really just for your own humour. I`d like to do a really big production musical spectacular but I don`t know if that will ever come about.
Ken: I was very glad you included “Country Comfort” in the programme from the “Tumbleweed Collection” album. Is there any story behind that?
Elton: I don`t know, it`s just that Bernie has always lived in the country. I never ask him about the lyrics, I just sit down and play.
“Country Comfort” is a Country Freak so, well actually the words are more American influenced, the old Western influence again from the “Tumbleweed Collection” album which had all that sort of influence on it. He`d love to live in that time.
Go back 80 years and dump Bernie in the mid-West and he`d be perfectly happy.
Ken: Is it true that six months had gone by before you and Bernie actually met? He was posting lyrics to you?
Elton: Yes, that was completely true, we eventually met up in a little studio at Dick James`s and we got together from there, it was very strange.
Ken: Who designs those spectacular clothes of yours?
Elton: I used to shop in Mr. Freedom a lot, and I still get tee shirts and stuff there. My suits and everything, and most of my clothes are now made at Granny Takes A Trip in the Kings Road, and I also have three Nudie suits, this guy in California who makes Elvis Presley`s gold lame suits etc., and all the country and western clothes – all the sparkly things. Mostly if I wear clothes outside I usually shop at St. Laurent.
Ken: The suit you wore at Carnegie Hall was a red, white and blue one.
Elton: That was a Granny Takes A Trip Suit. They design all my stage clothes now.
Ken: “Crocodile Rock” was an enormous hit in Britain where it was released first. That`s unusual isn`t it? Usually it is an American release before Britain.
Elton: This is the first time it has ever happened. They could have released it at the same time but it was planned very carefully over here. It was released later to coincide with the album.
When it is in the top twenty, if you have an album and a single out it really does make an enormous amount of difference over here because if people see the single and know there is an album coming out, they will buy the album.
The single will suffer but I prefer people to buy the album.
Ken: You must be very happy at the success of “Crocodile Rock” in Britain.
Elton: It`s funny – I have never been in the country. I have had three big hits: “Your Song”, “Rocket Man” and this one - it`s amazing, I am hardly ever there.
Ken: With the American tour coming to a close have you any plans to tour Britain?
Elton: I`ve never really done a major British tour so I really would like to do one of about three and half weeks and do ballrooms and places like that.
There`s definitely going to be a big tour, either in February or March. We do neglect England but it is just finding the places and the time to play.
I find touring rather boring, not the gigs but driving to Bolton isn`t quite as glamorous as driving to Santiago. But we really have got to get our finger out and do it.
We did a short tour of England just before we came on this one and it really was amazing. There were great crowds and we owe it to them to go out there and do it again.
Ken: Have you got any plans to turn to acting at any time? I noticed Adam Faith and Dave Clarke over recent times have gone into the acting business. Would you like to?
Elton: No, not on a full scale, I would never neglect music and as you know my whole life is music. I`d like to do it, I`d like to dabble, I have some ideas.
I could never do it with people I didn`t know – I would have to know them. Acting can be so boring getting up at eight in the morning – I can`t really foresee it. I might do one next year, it all depends.
Ken: Of all your albums which one have you been most satisfied with?
Elton: This is a question that always crops up. I really haven`t got a favourite out of any of them. I don`t listen to them anymore.
I remember each one as I make them and everything that went on during the session and each one has a different sort of atmosphere about it.
I`m still very fond of “Empty Sky”. I suppose nostagically that`s not my favourite album but it was the first album I ever made and I remember recording it late at night and I also remember walking up Oxford Street at 4 o`clock in the morning and going to a Wimpy Bar.
I still think it`s a great record as far as I was concerned – there are a couple of things which are highly awful on it but then there is on anybody`s first album – it`s just a feeling album, and I`m very proud of it.
I usually get wrapped up in the one I`ve just done and then they all level out. I`m glad we did “Honky”. I got rid of everything everybody wanted me to get rid of – not the strings, but it`s good to do an album without strings. There are strings on the new one but Buckmaster is so good I can`t resist having him on the albums.
Ken: You walked onto the stage at Carnegie Hall and said: “It`s going to be a fun night.” Are you always confident of going out front and having fun?
Elton: Sure. I`m never nervous. I don`t think it`s possible to get nervous in my position because they`re there because they like you and the only danger is of getting over confident I SUPPOSE.
Some audiences are harder. San Francisco audiences traditionally are harder but you just have to go out there and if you have any trouble you just have to work a little harder. I starred there for four hours before I had them eating out of my hand, that`s my attitude.
Ken: “Shake, Baby, Shake” is one of the greatest numbers you do. Do you always do it as an encore?
Elton: Yeah, well it`s a Jerry Lee Lewis number. He`s always been one of my idols and it`s always a great one for the crowd to sing along. That`s another one that is going to hit the dust after this tour.
I`ve got a couple of numbers to do. One of them is a Chuck Berry number, but it depends. I will always close the show with somebody else`s song as an encore.
I would always rather do this as a tribute to other artists as I don`t really get the chance to sing other people`s songs.
It`s a great way to do it.
Ken: What about you and Bernie in the future. Will you be doing your own writing as well?
Elton: I would love to do an album of entirely my music, but I don`t think I am capable of writing the lyrics. I`m quite happy working with Bernie as a team. We haven`t really started yet.
We have only been successful for two and a half years – we`re babies really. I would love to do a completely self-indulgent album but would it be successful?
Perhaps a self-indulgent album would have to be called the “Elton John Solo Album” because Elton John and Bernie Taupin are a complete unit. I would love to do it one day, sure.
Ken: There must be a lot of people that you are close to and would like to mention.
Elton: Well, the band. I really have an incredible band. I`ve got Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Ollson on drums and David Jensen on guitar.
They really are incredible guys to work with, really great, they don`t get enough credit as far as musicianship goes. They really are one of the best rhythm sections in the world and they are getting better.
We have the odd argument but we are always happy together. I couldn`t work with a band who had arguments all the time.
David has only been playing the electric guitar seriously for about six months as a lead guitar. Before he used to play acoustics and he is now coming along strong and he will probably have a band of his own one day and so will Nigel. It`s great. As far as I am concerned I want them to be successful.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro, Kid Jensen, Chuck Berry, J. Geils Band, Rod Stewart, Moody Blues, Silverhead, Bryan Ferry, Average White Band, Tempest, Madeline Bell.
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