He had just limited success with his solo career, but through playing thousands of live shows and recording with Elton John, he is indeed a household name. With the name Olsson I guess he`s got swedish ancestors, and the name of his daughter, Annette, sort of confirms this theory of mine.
Not the most imaginative guy, naming his first four solo albums: Nigel Olsson’s Drum Orchestra and Chorus, Nigel Olsson, Nigel Olsson (second self-titled) and Nigel. Oh, well….
Still going strong in his 68th year – may he continue to keep the rhythm for Elton John for many years to come.
Nigel Olsson`s Utopia
By Dick Meadows
“I don`t always want to be known as Elton John`s drummer and nothing else. I owe that man so much, but it would be nice if I could make it on my own with my own ideas and my own things.”
The speaker was Nigel Olsson, whose drumming with Elton has earned him in turn applause, respect and now not a little adulation. He is also a man with a pretty powerful vision of what he wants from the business in the future.
At the moment that means making a success of his first solo album “Nigel Olsson`s Drum Orchestra And Chorus” which has just been released. The album is really Olsson and Friends for among those who worked on it were Mick Grabham, Caleb Quaye, Dee Murray and Kathi McDonald.
Clutching a cup of tea, Olsson talked in Dick James` office where the album was recorded about the kind of music he wants to play. “I think people may have been a little surprised at the album. It`s not really heavy is it? I`m just not into heavy music. I just want to lay down the kind of stuff that I really enjoy.”
When Olsson talks you detect a sense of urgency in his voice. It`s as if he fears that if he stops talking and planning and working like a madman his success so far and his vision of the future may desert him with all the speed of a quick roll round the kit.
You can hardly blame him. He knows all about the instant rise-and-fall world of pop from bitter first-hand experience. For Olsson has been up, very down and now he is up again. But this time he reckons there is going to be no going down again.
Olsson turned to drumming after making a botch of the guitar. “I was playing guitar and singing for a group in Sunderland. That was when the Beatles came in and I gave up guitar because I couldn`t get the chord sequences right! I was really shy then and didn`t like being out front singing. So I ended up at the back with the drums.
“When I joined Plastic Penny together with Mick (Grabham) it was a huge change for me. I jumped from being nothing to being something. At the time I was working in a garage fitting exhaust systems. So I went straight from underneath lorries with oil dripping in my face to the top of the business.
“I was very foolish with my money then. I spent it like water and just didn`t care.”
But he began to care all right when Plastic Penny couldn`t keep up with the Great Hit Parade Carnival. They went down and down and Nigel went with them. It was a bad scene and when the group split it got worse. A star one minute. A nobody the next.
A tour of the States with Spencer Davis and some gigs with Uriah Heep brought in some bread but it was still nowhere land for Nigel Olsson. However at that time a guy called Elton John was beginning to make a big impact.
“Dee Murray and I joined him for a gig at the Roundhouse. We rehearsed together beforehand and it was incredible. Everything went so exactly right for us. We got right into it from the beginning.”
The rest is pop history. Elton took the band on tour to the States and was a fantastic success. Now he is in that strange aristocracy of the business which writers have labelled “The Superstars”.
Does Elton deserve to be a superstar?
“I don`t really like that description. It can mean a lot of things. But if anyone is a superstar then Elton is. He worked so incredibly hard for the band in the States. He never seemed to stop working. That man`s a lunatic but an incredible, marvellous lunatic.
“Things haven`t changed for us. It is like it has always been. We are all friends together and it is like a big family. There have never been any arguments. I guess that`s because we all know exactly where it`s at when we are together.”
Later this month Olsson goes on the road again with Elton, this time around the world. The tour will take in America and then zig-zag about Asia.
Is the band more popular in the States than England?
“I guess it must be, simply because we have done so much work over there. I was absolutely knocked out by some of the receptions we got and some of the nice things said about me.”
And nice things they were too. The New York Times described his drumming as “beyond breathtaking” and Cashbox enthused: “He`s growing into one of rock`s finest drummers.”
Does it worry him that the band is more popular over there than in England?
“Yes, I suppose it does. It is always nice to make it really work in your own country, but there is so much work in the States and of course there`s a lot of bread to be made there.”
For his first solo album, Olsson used material mainly written by himself, Quaye and Grabham. The formula is broadly the same for his second Drum Orchestra album which he has already almost completed. All that remains to be done is to add vocals by Kathi McDonald and Claudia Linnear. It was hoped they could get over here for the cuts but now the plan is that they will do the vocals in the States during Elton`s tour.
The Drum Orchestra production is Nigel`s work and he is very enthusiastic about doing a lot more. He is also keen to put his own band on the road some time in the future. “I would like to have about 14 musicians travelling together. I know it would work and we shall see it through when we have got it together.”
Other plans gaining momentum are a farmhouse in Essex, part of which will be converted into a studio, and his own record company. In January he will also be recording a new album with Elton. The music business and Nigel Olsson certainly aren`t going to be parted for some time yet it seems.
“It is just that I am completely into music. There is nothing else I want to do. I`m utterly freaked out on music – a music freak if you like.
“I have never been so happy. Yet I realise that in this business one day you can be up and the next day everything may be ruined. I know I could never do a 9-5 job again.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Stu Cook (Creedence), Stray, Seatrain, Arthur Brown, Cambridge Folk Festival, Don Everly, Herbie Hancock, Rod Demick and Ernie Graham, Fairport Convention, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Dave Cousins, Taj Mahal, Kid Jensen, Ray Fisher.
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