Monday, December 9, 2013

'Matt Bissonette's New Bass Guitars'



Anyone who has seen Matt live with Elton over the last year and a bit can't help but notice how hot this guy is. On the bass of course! Underneath the hat lurks one hot as hell bass player. But then again, he has to be. The music demands it. Look at those who went before him, Dee Murray, David Paton and Bob Birch were masters of their craft. Elton's music requires a special touch and Matt plays it up and down the fret with a real slick vibe. 

When Matt joined the band he put down his own instruments of choice and picked up Bob's Ernie Ball bass guitars and just kept the music right on going. This is what Davey said on his blog said to me at the time, ''Matt who suggested he use the same guitar and Bob’s bass rig in order to create a more ‘seamless’ transition for the band and our sound man. You gotta love this guy...'' So when you make a start like that, he's at the top of the hill and staying there. Plus he was great mates with Bob going back to their younger days, so he's knows the job as well as anyone.

Traci Loving of Imagine Loving Art has very kindly allowed me to share these pics. She's no stranger herself to great artwork, check out the link below to her Facebook page. She did a wonderful montage drawing of Elton and the band earlier this year for me which is one of my favourite Elton things in my collection. The other link is to the album of pics which are the two newest bass guitars that Matt Bissonette is currently using. They were designed by Rick Salazar, guitar tech of the EJ band and produced by Ernie Ball MUSIC MAN Guitars & Basses. 

The multi colour bass is silver paint with three different layers, large flake, small flake and the base paint is black. Same with the gold. The silver picks up every colour near it so the look of it is real cool. Rick asked them to paint both guitars with a black base coat to give a contrast to the colour and help it 'pop' more which certainly works a treat. Ernie Ball have never done it this way before, so this is a first. The gold one was used on the Grammy's performance back in September, so check that out on Youtube

Thanks to Traci for supplying the pics and all the background information on them. They look (and sound!) fantastic!!



'Too Hot For The Band?'



This post is an unintended one. I was going to mention the Grammy nomination...or lack of...for the last album, but I couldn't think of very much to say. It didn't get any nods and the sun still came up. But what prompted me to do this was my friend on Facebook, Karen Rooney, throwing out a question on her Fans Of The Elton John Band group page. A query on what next for Elton in the studio. The live aspect is in good hands, the best in the world fact. So I'm going to combine both topics, pick and mix so to speak. I tried to bite my lip...or my fingers so I couldn't type...but I failed! I've no desire to revisit TDB, like a Shooting Star it rose very quickly and burned out just as soon with even quicker velocity. There's plenty of people around who can speak on it's behalf. I don't want to be accused of being a detractor...or a detrailer. A quick word first on the Grammy nominations and this will lead into answering Karen's question.

I have no idea of any of the other nominated albums nor any insight to how the final shortlist is determined. All I can speak about is from the perspective of looking at things from this angle. The thing is, and I could have told anyone this months ago, there's a feeling of too much product out there with that producers name on it recently. People are fatigued of him in some ways, he's had so many albums out over the last ten years with his name on it that it's a case of over exposure at this stage. On one hand having his name on it and rave reviews from Rolling Stone may have been enough a couple of years ago, but it may actually have worked against Elton in some ways now for this holy grail of a Grammy. The fact he didn't get any nomination in any category tells me that. The producer has a huge following in the US, his name alone on an album gets his people out in droves. Didn't happen this time. Has the hipness hopped away from him? Time will tell. Or the fact that the album just isn't as good as the hype would lead you you believe. But again, I'll leave that to weightier minds than mine to elaborate on why that would not be. 

What I want to drive home too is the complete and utter pointlessness of these gongs. If you like TDB, the fact that it was nominated or not in some or none of the categories won't diminish your feeling for it. The classic era albums never won a Grammy for best album for example. What won them in those years? Haven't a clue...don't know, don't care. GYBR has it's 40th this year. You can't buy that longevity. Or be awarded it. You can't pin it on a chart and hope to find the answer...anyway, what's is one worth worth now? About as much as a Rolling Stone review. They hammered most of Elton's albums over the years. So they have as much credence as a Grammy nomination. They both have views like the weather...changeable. They're either right some of the time about some of the albums or right all of the time on all of the albums. Pick and mix again. I love the film North By Northwest. When I sit down to watch it I don't suddenly go into a tailspin of rage because Cary Grant never won an Oscar. In fact he only ever had two nominations if memory serves. I watch John Wayne in True Grit. His best performance? A great film, but not his best performance. A dozen years earlier in The Searchers maybe, most certainly just over half a decade later in The Shootist. The point being having or not having those shiny bits on the credits don't lessen the films or albums impact on you. Getting them for the sake of it because you were overlooked in the past is a further nail in it's crediblity box. . 

The question whether the band should be on the next album is a yes. Anyone who knows me and has read this blog is fully aware of my stance. I'm not going to into every reason why, needless to say they outweigh the why not's by a landslide. Check out earlier posts for greater details. What Elton does need...and this is the most glaringly obvious part of the deal...is a producer. Not a facilitator. In other words, someone who just provides a studio and some session musicians and lets Elton do whatever he wants and just accepts it. No questions, no challenging, no input. Somebody like a Gus Dudgeon or a Chris Thomas, someone who would not be afraid to stand up to Elton and tell him if a song isn't good enough, to go and rewrite it or rework it. An editor who can sort out the wheat from the chaff. Someone who thinks outside the box and can work with unfamiliar musicians...the band...and try get something from them that nobody else can. Rather than just getting his own people in and everyone saying yes sir, three bags full sir. More no's than yes's are required. Popping in for a few days and writing songs then recording them may have worked years ago, but maybe more time is needed now. Determining a style and hoping that will carry the day is stretching the concept. Made In England had a tonne of work, time wise, put into it. Elton went through a raft of ideas before he got what he wanted. Helped by Greg Penny. Another person who knew what the DNA of an Elton album was in the past and how to recreate it in the now as it was back then. 

But if the desire is to steer clear of anything even remotely touching the classic sound, then so be it. What will result from that avenue is more of the same. But I go back to the DNA reference. If you interfere in the basic DNA of what an Elton album is, then the life form that results from it will be of an undetermined species. The producer has no concept of the feeling there is the Elton world for the band. Never mind the fact his ignoring of them up to this point is tantamount to cutting off noses to spite faces. Why any producer would not want access to their collective input and thinks what he has to offer supersedes all that knowledge, feel and insight certainly sets new standards in arrogance and ignorance. If it were an Olympic sport, he'd be dope tested for setting so many records. Dope in all senses of the word...

Elton should know that as well as we do. But what I am certain is now, if there were even a microgram of doubt it's been evaporated to oblivion. He is damn sure in no doubt what the reaction has been on the ground. A future blog post rounding up this years tour will put meat on that bone. My prediction? The next album, if of course there is one, will feature the band. Whoever produces it will have that mandate thrust upon him or her. If the ghosts of the past are too much for the current producer to try and either replicate, imitate or recreate, then hand the baton over to someone who wouldn't have any such hangups. Accept the challenge. Produce an 'Elton' album, not one of your own and by doing so try and shape Elton into fitting predetermined holes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

'Time Stands Still Before Me'



I got this documentary about 13 years ago on an old VHS tape, but thanks to the 'Big Wonder Down Under; a far better quality version has now surfaced. It had been ages since I watched it, but since this new one was uploaded I've watched it countless times. It's fantastic, a real view de force...

Live In Australia was my first Elton album. Way back when. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me at the time was one of my favourite Elton songs, so the opportunity to have a live version with a full orchestral arrangement on it was too much to resist. The rest as they say is the continuing journey from the entry via that gateway drug...

The concept of Elton doing such a tour in the mid 80's was baffling in some ways, but a leap of faith (on both sides) that ultimately proved one of his groundbreaking moments. Trailblazing in fact. Nobody had done anything of that scale before. But since then most major acts have attempted something similar. But where Elton had the upper hand on them all, was that his welding of the two setups was not a compromise. The arrangements were part and parcel of the songs. No afterthought or attempt to jemmy them into fitting around the song. One and one certainly equalled the right answer.

On this post I'm going to even begin to attempt to go through the entire show. To do so would over load Google's memory banks and possibly create a Y2K type shutdown of it's servers. What I will do is give an overview as inspired by the documentary with some remarks about it. My suggestion after watching it would be to seek out the full show on YouTube. The full three hour show is available there. Unfortunately the entire show was never released officially. Either on disc or DVD. The Geffen effect again. He's not a favourite of this blog, his attempts to derail Elton's career in the mid 80's merely ended up with Geffen himself almost falling onto the rails. More is the pity he didn't perhaps...as he withheld all the songs performed on the night that recorded originally during his period in charge of Elton's studio output. A scandalous decision, one that didn't lessen the impact of the album but merely highlighted Geffen's own false sense of importance.

This documentary from ABC television in Australia offers a unique perspective. Having access to all the main players of the tour, from backstage to onstage, it gives a rare look at the embryosis of a tour to it's final climax. The creation of the 'spectacular soundwise event' was only something Elton could pull off. His own words in prophesying it in Los Angeles in October were correct. Australia over the years has seen some terrific Elton tours. Incredibly unique, a testament to Elton's faith in the country which was one of the first outside of the US to embrace him right from the start. So no surprise then he chose it to launch with force on of his greatest tours. But to do so he had to round up his trusty lieutenants, those that knew his music as well as he did, better than him in some ways. Not quite seven, but still magnifecent and just as critical and complimentary to each other.

James Newton Howard was the obvious choice as conductor. As he still is to this day, Elton's concert conductor of choice. His unique position, quite unique in the rock world in fact, of having played keyboards of every description in a couple of different lineups of Elton's band in the studio and on tour not to mention adding arrangements to several of Elton's songs was a tap of knowledge too good to ignore. So Elton let him flow. And what flowed was incredible. Not only did he treat Paul Buckmasters's arrangements with due care and diligence, but he added his own parts to them fill them out for the larger ensemble. As if they were always there. If Buckmatser joined the dots, James coloured them in. They worked on the tour with a grace and style that was everlasting. So everlasting in fact we still hear a great deal of them today in any live Elton show. Because for the tour after this one, Elton added an extra keyboard player just to recreate those scores. Guy Babylon took them to another level, made them part of the live Elton world. Kim Bullard has taken said atrrangements and continued the unbroken line. Over a quarter of a century later they still sound exciting and when they are removed a hollow gap is present. But not correct.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra took a serious step into the unknown on this one. Unknown in so far as to how the whole thing would work. From Elton's perspective, he and his people knew it would work. But from the MSO's stand point they had no idea of who, what or maybe even why was Elton. If the thought that maybe James Newton Howard was worse than Ozzy Osbourne, then Elton would have established new level of rock depravity as far they were concerned. But as you can see from the rehearsals, the perceived fences soon wilted and the road to the common goal was set out on. No quarter asked or given. The amplification of the orchestra seemed understandably a bone of contention with some members, but in the live arena with all the amps rocking out a flute solo or bassoon riff had to cut through the mix. Otherwise their hard work would not have been showcased. A compromise for the greater good, as the band themselves had to tone down just a tad. If the band has to up their game with the orchestra backing him, so did the MSO. It's one thing thing just reading the music, but sight reading came into play very quickly. James's ability to forsee Elton's tempo's change's or slight path deviations for example meant he could back off or draw in the orchestra as and when Elton decided to throw in one of his little shimmy's.

If you watch the rehearsals, you can see Elton there for the duration. Not a case of turning up and just starting up as he'd done it all before. He really threw himself into it, not slow to take cues or direction. The greater good of the music was to the forefront, Ego's etc were parked. They were all in for better and not the worst. As were the band. And what a band. As far I'm concerned, Nigel and Dee are the ultimate rhythm section. That's not open for discussion, try another blog if you want to see an alternative viewpoint. Any other combo with Nigel is not open for discussion either. And neither is this one, Charlie Morgan and David Paton. Because they are damn near are as good as it gets. Tight, powerful, rhythmic and with the taste and delicacy that Elton's music craves. Because it deserves a lot of attention. And these guys gave it. They tapped into it straight away, why didn't we see more from this combo is a crying shame. It may have been short, but it was so sweet a chocolate factory would be envious of their output. This blog is great fans of them. Fred Mandel on keyboards was incredible. He put down the familiar lines but had a great hand for that was flashy when needed and filled out with a full but lean sound. His guitar playing was tough with a rough line thrown in for good measure. The solo on The Bitch Is Back his grandstand moment. Jody Linscott on percussion tucked in nicely, again never over egging the pudding. The other two, Ray and Davey, well you know the rest.

Gus Dudgeon and Clive Franks, the two masters in the studio and onstage for Elton respectively were both needed to handle this tidal wave of sound. Because that's how big it was. Two strong men and all that. But what they did do was wrestle an incredible sound mix, balanced impeccably with no compromise. Much like Elton himself. Because he didn't compromise on any aspect of his performance. The stool went flying. In both halves of the show. The costumes were as full on as any that went before. More so perhaps, the sheer size and statement of them was as loud as the sound. If Elton had lived in Mozart's era, nobody would have second glanced him. Though if Mozart had turned up in  Mohican, then I suspect he would have ended up as the 18th century equivalent of a busker. The costumes then were no surprise to any Elton fan, history has not dulled their impact. In fact, they time stamp the era. Just like the music...

Which is of course the most important part of the exercise. The music speaks for ebryone. To everyone. No borders to cross, both genres have a voice and they harmonise to together. When Davey cranks it up, the brass section can deliver a fanfare just as ear splitting. The robustness of the music shines through. Elton's voice as we all know wasn't A1 at this time. But I move pass that. Why? The fact is, at the time Elton had no idea of the ultimate outcome of the problem. The worse case scenario is too shocking to be relayed here. But everything did work out right in the end. But with that cloud hanging over his head, not to mention the fact he was undertaking a groundbreaking tour, he still was able to produce performances night after night of incredibly tenacity and style. Some in retrospect may not have been what we've come to expect, but the sheer determination of them carried the night. And ultimately delivered a hit single. They say the darkest hour is before the dawn and all that, but this is the opposite, Elton had his light before then the darkness of having his problem corrected. Which ultimately brought him back into the light. The set list in incredible, the entire back catalogue of albums is almost covered to that point. So it's a whirlwind through all points from the start to the present day. Ultimately the tour was a triumph. So much so Elton has never attempted anything like it since, except for the brief run of shows with the Royal Academy Of Music in 2004. The tour is frozen in a moment, frozen here in this documentary. A documentary that doesn't shirk from the more testy moments. But captures in all it's glory the verve, drama and ultimately the exceptional delivery by Elton. The Band. And the MSO.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Madmen'

Over the years Elton has reworked some of his songs. Over the next while on the blog, I'm going to look at some of them and see if the try again mantra was better than the first success. In this first look, a pair of Madmen are looking at us...



Mick Ronson is a guitar legend. Bowie's Spiders to Mott The Hoople has made him such. He appeared on countless other recording by a number of artists, a session guitarist that went beyond that title. Because it was merely just a session that his part for the first attempt of the song was laid down on. Gus Dudgeon suggested Mick on electric and Michael Chapman on acoustic guitar. Filling out the sound was Nigel and Dee on their parts. On this version Elton's piano displays all the depth of that famous riff. His vocal has all the early hallmarks off the 'attitude' he could mix with the soft and easy. Listen to when you hear his vocal chords snarl. The lyrics as everyone knows are manically mad. So his delivery is spot on. Ronson's guitar is full on rock, the solo's screech, his rhythm riffs though aren't as clear cut as the later version parts. Nigel's drums are terrific, colossal fills with broken rhythms spattered through. Dee's bass with extra heavy effects making more hardened impact. The solo after the first chorus is painted with those colours, but they softly calm down as the mania is holstered back in. Elton's piano and Chapman's guitar gently restore calm. Then Elton's vocal kicks back in with Ronson's guitar coming earlier than it did at the start of the song. The final solo has Ronson throw every shape in the book out, twists, turns and dead ahead power. Elton's piano has great flashes and flurries, Nigel's drumming in incredible. His stop start parts and use of the percussive fills in the spaces keep the song hanging. Cymbals splashing like manic puddles. The return to where we came in, the riff being strummed is gently waved home after the hysterics of what went before. 




For the version that did actually end being the chosen cut, Gus used the session musicians that were summoned for the recording on the rest of the album. One of whom was Davey Johnstone of course. The song opens with him playing the same riff on acoustic guitar, except this time it sounds more precise and clear. It's bright and stands out. Elton's vocal however has been toned a lot since the earlier version, it's softer on the verse's. Herbie Flowers bass at the start is a well known motif of Elton songs, the bass coming in on it's own with the piano before the drums kick in. Drums which are softer and more controlled than Nigel's this time, the lead is the main focus. Chris Spedding on electric guitar is again more restrained than Ronson, his parts are more shapely defined rather than the loose feel of earlier. Elton's vocal starts to regain that attitude I mentioned earlier as the chorus draws closer, and when it does what a payoff. Because both Paul Buckmaster and Ray Cooper are all over it like a rash. Buckmaster suggested to Gus that he could do something with the song, an unlikely candidate for an orchestral arrangement. But he could do it like no other. A reviewer of the album at the time said Buckmaster was the only arranger who could make an orchestra sound like a Mellotron. Which is probably a back handed comment, as we hear the 60's instrument of choice for the progressive rocker, the Mellotron, being replaced by its successor, the ARP synthesizer, coated on top by Diana Lewis. The weird menace of it with it's beating rhythm. But filling it out to emphasise the demented lyrics tenfold is Ray Cooper with god knows what. The strings rise up and Elton's vocal goes all schizoid and far out, man. The strings dance and jump with the electric guitar riff relentlessly repeating the same line over and over like some demented fool. A fool with a hard tongue. The solo draws to a close much like the original, the acoustic strumming eventually becoming the lone voice. It all kicks back in this time with Rick Wakeman organs line whispering at the back. The chorus is terrific, a multitude of diverse sounds from orchestra, synth, percussion all pounding away. The final fade out has a dreamy intro to it, phasing in full swing. Almost like slipping in and out of consciousness. But the strings are the upper from the downer. The bassoon lightly to one side has a a friendly feel. The song just fades out in a complete contrast to the first version. There is seemingly no end to the character of the song's torment... 

To sum, which is the better one. Answer is easy here, neither are. They are both tremendous. Because they are so different, they can not be compared. The first version is just pure rock, there's no messing around. It's in your face, the music part dominates all aspects. The full, tough sound is uncompromising. Version two however takes a more subtle approach. Even thought there's more people playing on it, there seems to be more space. The lyrics are terrifically enhanced by those parts. Elton's vocal hits the right tone at the right places. The final result is complex yet straightforward. Gus Dudgeon gets a great word here. His production of the two versions, whilst retaining certain vital elements, are as diverse as you get. But it's very hard to say which job he did better. Which makes me suspect the all acoustic version with just Chapman must be incredible too...

Monday, November 11, 2013

'Ghosts Float...Shoulder To Shoulder'




The Great War. If ever a phrase deserved the oxymoron tag, this one would be at the head of the queue. War is neither grand nor great. In the era that phrase was first coined, the war to end all wars was seen as just that. But in essence all it did was lay the foundations for the next excursion 20 years later into insanity. The alleged successful negations in the railway carriage to herald armistice ultimately proved futile. The workers revolution merely put in place the groundwork for what nearly became a war that was cold for a very long time that came close to boiling hot on more than one occasion. A war that if had taken place nobody would have known how it started. But would have lived for 10,000 years with the knowledge of how it ended. 

Bernie pulls no punches on these songs. The imagery is not pretty, the deleted line from 'All Quiet On The Western Front' with stinking tents and thin men dying in them is enough to bring you the very edge of  the madness of war. The imagery of 'Youth Asleep In The Foreign Soil' whilst 'Old Kin Kiss The Small White Cross' is the theme here and on Ocean's Away. Those fallen soldiers who were lucky to have a marked grave at least had some tangible symbol of remembrance. Those who were not so lucky...if being in the madhouse that was trench warfare was some perverse idea of a gallant end...merely became another one of the hundreds of thousands of unknown soldiers. For what? The starting pistol may have been fired in Sarajevo but what it was ultimately really all about was that the royal families of Europe couldn't agree with each other on how to divide up the map of Europe to each other's satisfaction. So, as Spike Milligan once remarked about his own calling up to active war service, a whole generation were 'invited' to enforce imperialist dogma. And by the end of it were lost. None ever came back. Those who died 'String The Harps To Victory's Voice'. Those who came back physically to 'the land fit for heroes' were mentally as much as the same as the 'Ghosts (that)Float In A Flooded Trench'. The trench being the home for of the duration of their campaign. A hole dug in the ground...which ultimately was the soldiers digging their own graves...from which they would 'go over the top' to meet their end. A gun pointed in two directions at them. The mindset being send enough towards the enemy machine guns and that eventually the enemy will run out of ammunition. Notwithstanding the fact the best of an entire generation had their 'Human Blood Pouring Forth' as the bodies piled up in no man's land. The other gun pointing at you was from the officer class. These were the days before PTSD, shell shock was the cover it all phrase of the time. If you weren't prepared to meet an inevitable death by the enemies hands, you're own would facilitate your passage to become one of the 'Male Angels'. The firing squad back home was another deterrent. The powers that be daren't take the risk of the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps suffering from nerves and bailing out. To give the pilots parachutes would not have been great for moral was the message to the front. 'Nobody cares' present and correct from all angles. So as 100 years has nearly passed since it's 'Gone All Quiet On The Western Front, remember those who died on the whims of others.




But those who did come back, in physical form, still have the memories. The 'Talking Old Soldiers' don't really talk about their experiences. But they never forget. 'I Hung Out With The Old Folks In The Hope That I'd Get Wise' is in a similar vein to 'Talking Old Soldiers', the younger listener 'Trying To Bridge The Gap Between The Great Divide'. Each year the numbers dwindle. But the memories remain. Ocean's Away is filled with imagery of graves much like the other two songs. Because for most that went there that was there final resting place. The 'Sleeping Bones' lie undisturbed, a monument to their sacrifice. The monuments back home are a recognition of their sacrifice. For the powers that be erect them, unfortunately the impact of the message is lost on them. 'The Few That Still Survive' are the ultimate monument. Because they are 'The Ones Who Hold Onto The Ones They Had To Leave Behind'. Not those at the top. But the men on the ground who now lie beneath it. If the chilling imagery of a cool wind blowing across the shadow of the graves is not a wake up call, then the barrage will never end...and another generation in the future will end up staging their own gathering...

A word on the songs and their musical delivery of some of Bernie's most powerful utterances. All Quiet with Jeff Porcaro's military like work on the snare are a critical touch. James Newton Howard's huge climatic snynth breaks ending with bombastic cathedral like statements. Richie Zito's guitar replies become more aggressive as the song closes. Elton's vocal is wistful, with no anger. The words have enough of that emotion to be carried on their own strengths. Ocean's Away is the perfect extension. Stripped of any of the previous song's elements, the vocal and piano leave the songs sentiment clear for all to hear. No need for me to explain it, listen to it and hear it. Honesty with a 'powerful design...'

Monday, November 4, 2013

'Elton & Band Live From Bud Walton Arena' - TDB Walmart Bonus DVD Review






Live At The Bud Walton Arena Fayetteville, 4th June 2013 

This blog, as I've stated before, is a great fan of John Jorgenson. The guy is a virtuoso and is just as at home in a band. His style is terrific, with great deftness on the acoustic instruments he plays. But for me the biggest attraction is the 'American steel' that's endemic in his electric style, which when it's intertwined with his rock influences, the result is overwhelming. All traits that are vital to Elton's music as so much of it over the years had that country vibe in the background. So no better man than John to bring it home, as they say over there.

When news reached me that the Walmart edition of The Diving Board featured a 90 minute DVD of a show that John played in June this year on I was more than excited. I want it now, I said!! Luckily for me at the time a fellow Eltonite was on his holliers over there and hey presto a copy of said DVD came to be in my hand. What a joy this one is. John was filling in for Davey around this time as guitar god was taking some time out, so his 'St. Peter' stepped in to patrol the pearly gates with Elton.

The premise of this show is all the Walmart employees from all over the world get the chance to go on one big jolly for the weekend at the companies HQ. I think it's supposed to be some sort of cooperate get together, but they're not going to release any DVDs of that, now are they?! So we get this instead. As part of the weekends entertainment, they lay on a big act to amuse the store workers of the world. This year they got Elton. As you do. A draw for tickets was the only means to get in. Would Elton be able to 'wow' a crowd a day trippers into believers?! With a 'steely' determination, he was gonna give it his best shot...

The in house camera's capture this show perfectly, when Elton soloed you weren't looking at someone gawking at their partners phone at the amazing snap they just took. Timing is everything...and John has it to burn. And burn it up on The Bitch Is Back for the first song, playing Davey's Explorer with the same venom he does. John used Davey's guitars with Rick Salazar's help...no messin' about, he can pick up another artists tools of choice and make it his own. Bennie pounded away, Elton working up the crowd of mostly Elton show newbies. Give them what they want and hit it with them hard. So that they don't get up. And Elton was walloping them  with all the tricks, getting the crowd responding to his 'Bennie' call. Levon had some sweet rhythm lines from John, sweetness that bittered up on the jam when he matched each Elton chop pound for pound. John was in the groove alright. And lovin' it! 

Tiny Dancer was incredible. This is a must see and must hear. The stuff John did on the Fender was like a text book guitar manual in sign language. First and foremost he put the 'steel' stamp all over it. But it's the way he did it that was stunning. Minute tone changes, from line to line, coupled with tweeks here and there on the whammy bar gave the song a sound scape of 'Americana' with countless layers. The virtuoso banded it all together with an edgy chime. His fingers with the knowledge of Elton's music. If that wasn't enough to make your hairs stand up, they were still standing by the end of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Because if nothing had been played, the effect would have been the same. John playing Davey's Captain Fantastic Les Paul. Holy moly...and he still found time to make sure all the Lesley effects were all ship shape and on parade. Beautiful!! 

Rocket Man with it's lung bursting intro that Elton does now had the audience applauding...literally seconds into it. Getting a wave off some of the casual fans at the end of a song can be tough going, so I guess Elton was doing something right at this stage. John with big acoustic chords, like huge brush strokes. Sweeping over the venue in a similar way to Kim's trippin' out synth lines. The crowd were high as a kite...Crocodile Rock opened with some sneaky chords of Mexican Vacation trying to get in on the act. Elton teasing the crowd...but nobody knew of course. Saturday Night was it's usual in yer face delivery, but Elton knew this was a special show...for the audience and for the trusty stand in. Elton's rollicking solo on the outro with John putting down a grinding back beat of the familiar riff in turn led Elton to lay down a challenge of 'Go John'. This was John's rock out moment. They locked eyes as John did a rasping solo that was full of flashy, string bending licks. Elton's key's being challenged by John's strings for supremacy. When you hear it you make up your own mind who won...I wouldn't like to have a casting vote on that one!!

Circle Of Life solo is always a spellbinding moment. Elton had the crowd in his pocket by now, so when they thought they'd seen all his glory he showed why he's the number one live performer. Voice, piano and quality songwriting. Their shopping list had been ticked off. But one final item was needed, the one that you don't have to put on your list. Because it comes instinctively. Your Song was the standard we've come to expect recently...excellent...but the little treat on it, like the one at the checkouts in the old days, was John playing electric guitar on it. Every emotion seemed to be evoked from his playing on it, the weeping of it was yearning. It could have strayed over to melancholy but right the end on the final chorus it exuded a release of joy. A release of joy that Elton displayed when he gave John a special hug at the end. A special show with a special guest.

This a terrific bonus that Walmart put out for The Diving Board. It may seem on paper another greatest hits show. Which it is. But like all shows from the last few years it's a scorcher. But the real sun burn...like the one on a Les Paul maybe...is from John. The variations he brings in and overall sound he has is tremendous. Elton enjoyed having him there, John enjoyed being there and I enjoyed seeing them all together. This is a must have show.


SETLIST
The Bitch Is Back 
Bennie and the Jets 
Levon 
Tiny Dancer 
Philadelphia Freedom 
Candle in the Wind 
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) 
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues 
Sad Songs (Say So Much) 
Daniel 
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me 
I'm Still Standing 
Crocodile Rock 
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting 
Circle of Life 
Your Song 

Monday, October 21, 2013

'Induct Nigel, Dee & Davey Into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame'





My friend on Facebook, Denice Shuba, has come up with a great idea. One that should have been put in train a long time ago, but she's now taken up the baton so everyone should get behind her. This blog fully supports her cause and is throwing it's weight behind it. Anyone reading this, please spread the word around and get people talking about it. Talk may is cheap...but can also be effective. Join the Facebook group and hopefully it will happen!!

Put simply, the greatest combo in rock and roll history so should be admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame sidemen category. Even though that that is the official title of the category, they were more than that. Hopefully over the next few paragraphs those not overtly familiar with what they did and how they did it will have a window of wonder opened. I'm not going to go into any great detail as to their studio and live work. As to do so would mean I'd still be writing this piece on doomsday and I've a feeling that the Hall Of Fame wouldn't be doing any inducting that day.

''On guitars and vocals, Davey Johnstone. On bass guitar and vocals, Dee Murray. On drums and vocals, Nigel Olsson.'' Elton's introduction of them needs no introduction. For an artist of Elton's capability and temperament to trust these guys without question is testament to their abilities. For them to connect with each other, then support and combine with Elton on countless recordings is almost beyond comprehension. From 1969 to 2006, apart from the Victim Of Love escapade, there was not one studio album that didn't feature them. One, two or all three were present and very correct. And with each of their contributions they made each and every Elton album even more special. How and why did they do it? Let's find out...

''Apart from The Beatles, they were the best in-house band for vocal harmonies.'' You know, when George Martin says that you know we're onto to something special. Very special. To have that at your disposal must have been manna from heaven for Gus Dudgeon and later Chris Thomas. Because all they had to do was pinpoint where and when those harmonies were needed and off they went and out them down. Find the note and run with it. But they were a step beyond the usual ''ahh's'' and ''ooh's'' that most artists would be happy with it. The time, effort and dedication in getting all three parts in sync and blending seamlessly is amazing. Harmony, what an apt title when you think about it, for instance took a whole day to get all parts down, an eternity when you consider how long it took to record an Elton album. But the track need that part and benefited from the time and effort. That came from instinct and feel. What they put down from Honky Chateau to Captain Fantastic in that department is mind boggling. Every track they sang on always took their vocals like smooth butter on home made bread. One can only imagine Gus's frustration when that avenue of artistic endeavour was closed off when Rock Of The Westies came to be recorded. No surprise for Blue Moves he brought in Crosby and Nash, a Beach Boy and other 'name' vocalists to add harmonies. That was the calibre of talent required to replace the missing pieces. 

From the 70's to the 10's, all of them, or in other combinations, have been called upon to by a multitude of producers with varying approaches but still with enough foresight to use that sound which was, and of course still is, available to them to give that 'Elton sound'. Gus, Chris, Clive Franks, Pat Leonard and Matt Still all knew the importance of that interlocking sound and it's ability to rubber stamp itself on the music. Chris Thomas when it came to record Too Low For Zero had all the ducks lined up in a magnificent row. Bernie back full time and just as crucially the three amigos on board too. They re-positioned Elton in the 80's as a chart act to be reckoned with again after the holding pattern of the earlier releases. A coincidence...I think not. Chris valued that sound as much as Gus did, he wasn't slow in coming forward in bringing Nigel and Dee in from the cold to put the heat on Reg Strikes Back. Elton's biggest hit of the late 80's features guess what, yep those threesome harmonies again. It all mattered. The last time we heard the trinity as one..but the divinity will never die. As Meat Loaf may say...and Davey would know this better than most...two out of three ain't bad. Nigel and Davey in tandem with various collaborators a have strived to keep that sound alive on disc and onstage. Silence is not an option...Pat Leonard for the second batch of sessions for Songs From The West Coast brought those two in for the very reasons I've outlined. And will outline further on.

The harmonies...incredibly...were only the other string in their bows. The other strings, whether in be in a 4, 6, 8 or 12 setup with a good beat behind them was their meat and drink. Groundbreaking musicianship, in terms of style and technique. To even begin to detail what they did in the studio and how it was developed onstage would have me looking up doomsday in the calendar again. Rest assured though, even as we speak Davey I'm sure is still hard at work plotting the next move for the live arena. The trust they generated in all the producers they worked with was the crucial key. The producers had the wisdom to run with whatever they suggested which more often than not was the right choice. The producers knew what they wanted and where they wanted it. So when they passed it over to them, they were certain it would work. Ten's of millions of sales kind of backs that up.

But the person who gave over the greatest amount of trust was Elton. Once his parts were down, he let them do their 'thing'. Not something that took years to build up, but straight from the off.  Davey's first session for instance on Madman Across The Water was playing Holiday Inn. It was his suggestion to Gus that Elton should come straight in with the vocal and he put mandolin over it. A start like that was bound to lead to good things. It was kismet. For Elton to trust these guys with his and Bernie's babies to nurture them shows to what degree he placed his faith on the. How many major artists...or any for that matter...would do that. Every single part you hear them play on the records was their work. Nobody told them what to do, they just took the song and put their polish on it. Each and every part they wrote from scratch. Sum of the parts and all that...and they were some parts.

When you look at Davey's musical background, it's a contrast to how he developed. His Scots/Irish traditional folk heritage in tandem with the '70's rocker dude with that Les Paul cranked and screaming' persona was an unlikely marriage but has stood the time test. Which ultimately cohabited with Elton. The sound has been unique, refreshing and envied all over. Elton's multicoloured styles demanded and required a myriad of accompaniment. Whatever was needed, Davey could play it. Mandolin, banjo, dobro and every type of electric and acoustic guitar were thrown in with taste and edge. A fine line that was and still is tread with a steady hand.

When Elton first went to the US in 1970, it was exclaimed Dee played chords. He had too in order to recreate that sound off the Elton John album. And more than capable he was too. Anchoring the greatest piano rock three piece there was is only the start point of his contribution. His wasn't just a case being the link between the drums and the lead, but actually inextricably linking himself to all those parts. He became embedded of both elements. He could weave in and out in a flash with deftness and toughness with equal skill. His lines were pure melodic, as interesting as the lead parts. All his successors in his position have cited him as a major influence. They have recreated his stunning lines with the respect they deserve. He was an industry leader in equipment choice, his use of the Steinberger in the 80's is legendary. The sounds he generated out of it on disc and onstage were breathtaking and dramatic. All essential moods for Elton's music.

Nigel is descriptive, to use his own words. Like the other two, he had a feel for the music. All of them being aware of Bernie's lyrics, an important part of the process, their parts in turn complimented both Elton's and Bernie's parts rather than crush them. Which for a drummer is like walking a tightrope. But Nigel high wires every line with balance and poise. His ability to roll back and let the music speak is his Nigel to a tee. Over playing was and still is not on his agenda. His attention to detail in terms of the sound he created is again standard setting. Compare any 1973 album and the drum sound on them with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it's years ahead of it's time. His trademark slow drumming style on the ride cymbal has been copied countless times. But only he can pull it off with such sweet touches. Even in the 21st century it never lost it's impact on record. Or relevance.

If the studio was where gold was mined, the stage is were it was turned into the finest hand crafted creations. Because that was where Elton..and still is of course..in his element. And they were too. They had already fine tuned the songs but when they were let loose on stage with them, they grew immeasurably. Elton, like all proper musicians, learnt his trade the hard way. Working through a diet of tough, hard nosed clubs. From which he gained the ability to read an audience and work them. The three lads had the same groundwork behind them in their various previous musical lives. Whether it be 500 or 500,000 the method is the same. The stage can be a lonely place, but they made it their kingdom. None of them had any problems in bringing their studio parts to the stage. They transferred with consummate ease. As tight a combo that can be imagined, but with the freedom to follow the lead. Watch Elton, see where he was going and follow. No explanation needed here to detail Elton's endless journeys he made over the years in stretching out the numbers. These guys always locked into a different groove that Elton threw in each night...and it was incredibly diverse...as if it were planned. A technique which doesn't exist with Elton doing freestyle. Spontaneous in the extreme. They even found time to bring in one of their creations for a memorable live moment. The solo for Davey's Keep Right On from his 1973 album Smiling Face (on which they all played, including Elton) was used as the coda to herald the extended jam on Rocket Man in the 80's. Both slipped together like silk. Even the songs they didn't play on the studio, they expanded and gave new life too. Ticking on the 1982 tour a perfect example. Simple additions of backing vocals (of course), rhythm guitar and light percussion upped the songs game. Upmanship indeed.

Whether it be with the three piece, orchestra or playing with other musicians they always combined in any given situation. Elton over they years occasionally tried the new sound route, but these were short lived ventures. Bringing Nigel and Dee back in 1980 made sense all round. They helped to begin him getting a foothold back in the charts, his biggest hits in the early 80's, Little Jeanie and Blue Eyes, both featured Nigel and Dee on their own respectively. A statement that they could still be effective apart. As Davey has been on numerous occasions over the years when he's been left holding the reins.

Since 1969 they've played on about 90% of Elton's recordings. In pairs, on their own or most influentially, together. Some feat considering Elton has recorded in and around half a thousand songs. And performed over 3000 shows. An incredible fact that stems from the last stat is that when Elton played the Revolution Club on March 25th 1970 (two weeks to the day that The Beatles officially split incidentally) every single band show after that, including orchestra, Face To Face with Billy Joel, The Red Piano, either featured Davey or Nigel (or both of course) onstage with him. A run that ended, wait for this, on the 19th October 2010 at The Union promo show in New York. 40 and a half years. I bet that must be some world record and if it is won't be broken. When you consider Elton's longevity and penchant for changing band lineups that is some feat. It's been noted that other band members should be included. A point I am in agreement with. People like Ray Cooper, Roger Pope, James Newton Howard, Caleb Quaye, Richie Zito, Fred Mandel, David Paton, Charlie Morgan, Guy Babylon, Bob Birch, John Mahon, Kim Bullard and Matt Bissonnette have all made tremendous contributions. And deserve their moment. But not knowing too much about how these things work, I suppose the number of years and amount of albums etc. that have been made would surely create a cut off point. But I do agree that they should find themselves being acknowledged too. Maybe that will be the end result of all this. Fingers crossed.

I'm not into number crunching or rivet counting, but here are some remarkable figures. Just taking the US charts as a yardstick...all three lads have played on either together, in pairs or solo on the following chart successes over 4 decades. (All figures open to correction)

22 top 20 Albums of which:
11 are top 5 albums (7 of which went to number 1)
2 are top 10 albums
9 are top 20 albums

31 top 20 singles of which:
6 numbers 1's
9 top 5's
5 top 10's
11 top 20's


Even the sales figures alone would put most artists in the ha'penny place.

To sum up, I've tried to be brief but to compress what they've helped to contribute to Elton's work would be impossible on this post. But by scratching the surface, it gives an insight in to why they should be honoured in this way. For anyone not overly familiar with them, use this a bids eye view and swoop down alter like a High Flying Bird for a closer inspection. The cultural impact of Elton has been immense. Their contribution to it cannot be ignored or underestimated. To do so would be an oversight of epic proportions. So Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, it's over to you...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'But They Can Rock 'n' Roll'

http://vimeo.com/76891840


Contrary to popular belief lately, rock and roll ain't dead. The amps...especially the size 50 ones...are still plugged in. None more so here...as everyone knows that this blog is a huge fan of Davey's and all he's done over the years. Now he's teamed up with his multi-talented kids and created a showcase for everything in his (and theirs) repertoire. On drums and lead vocal is Tam who I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago when he played here with John Jorgenson. Energetic in both departments for sure.

Magic Johnstone...short for magnificent I would suspect...made their debut at the recent Elton EXPO in Las Vegas. Public debut that is because you can be sure they've done this before. Thank god for garages...even those near a motorway. Anyway, the opening part is Sixty from the 2012 Pnau (remember them?!) remix thingy. Young Charlie recreates the haunting sound beautifully as the rhythm section kicks in closely followed by Davey to add that edge I'm always on about here on the blog. As they all gradually lock in together the sudden stop of Charlie on piano playing the intro to 60 Years On is devastatingly good. The cold harsh chords are piercing, the rest of the band kick back in, Tam with drum fills that Nigel in his 17-11-70 guise would have been proud of. A pounding drum fill that heralds another rarity. What a treat this is...

...because something that hasn't been heard live since the summer of 1976 lights up the room. Grow Some Funk Of Your Own, with one of the most recognisable riffs off any Elton album from any era, means it's business time. Rock and roll baby...this has attitude and multiple killer punches. Jesse's relentless bass line just booms, Tam's vocal leaves no stone upturned in punching out the attitude. Just like his playing on the drums, the groove nailed down solid. The jam on the outro when Charlie cuts in with a slick solo, brings the crowd to it's feet. The whole thing though is lead expertly by Davey...why wouldn't it be. He did have a hand in creating the song so he knows its strengths. So no surprise all the trademark licks were present and correct, the bluesy lead into the chorus, the grinding riff that follows it. Terrific!!

As you can see from the clip, they are real tight, energetic and electric. And have a real knowledge and feel for the music. And went down a storm. The word on the street is that this is not the last we're gonna here of this combo. Hopefully in years to come we'll look back on this in a small way as being a '1962' moment, the year of the crooner when rock was dying and Dick Rowe thought he was right. And what will follow being more of a '1963' vibe. Because contrary to what some may say, it ain't accurate to 'throw away them records 'cause the blues is dead' just yet...

Check out Davey's website (links on the right hand side of this page) for more info. Smiling Face is getting a re-release soon...another great Davey moment...so keep an eye on his website (updated by Tam) and his own blog for any updates on that. I've a feeling it's gonna be a busy 2014 for this clan...

Monday, October 14, 2013

'Two Became One'



Side one is as good as side two is as bad. The contrast couldn't be any more marked...the opening track as gritty an influx as you could want while the outro is as sappy you could not want. Two key men on this album, Steve Lukather who turned down the opportunity to join the EJ band during these sessions and James Newton Howard. Lukather's guitar work is funky with a nice fluidity. JNH's work on Sartorial Eloquence is stunning, the mix of the very deep parts and the high end is orchestral. Only an arranger of his touch and feel could do bring the best out of the synth's. Plus his use of electric pianos makes wonderful counterpoint to Elton, the next album having a track that showcases the possibilities of the instrumental album that they nearly created at this time. The rhythm section binds well together, Alvin Taylor's big sounding drums just come out of the speakers with a fatness that isn't overweight, overwrought or overstays. Then we get the contrast with Nigel on Little Jeannie, his delicate touch's and fills just what was needed on the track. Not surprising the original drum part was wiped. The distinctive brass arrangement is the hook on this one, the parts on the chorus demonstrate this fully. Bernie's lyrics on side one are very personal. Two Rooms being a musical explanation of what he and Elton are all about. The drum lines on this are incredible. The broken rhythms with the incredible brass arrangement behind it are powerful in tandem. White Lady, White Powder is again another insightful lyric, the fact may be inferred that Elton is singing in the third person but as well know it's autobiographical. Elton can never detach himself from any of Bernie's lyrics even when they have nothing to do with him, he always finds the method to make them seem as if they originated from him. But no need on this occasion. 

The 21 At 33 sessions recording wise are probably the most productive since GYBR...but no where near in quality terms. The double album scenario quickly vanished as more filler than a Polyfilla delivery began to emerge. But in saying that some of the best tracks were left off it... David Geffen...or the bearded 'bee' as he was called once...seems to have spent more time in court with his artists over the years than the recording studio. And when he was mulling over his roster, he had a peculiar way of doing it. The 21 At 33 album was to be released on MCA before Elton moved to Geffen. But for some odd reason it was Geffen who decided what MCA should or shouldn't have. So the disc was reduced in size, the leftover tracks appearing on The Fox, by which time MCA had bailed out early. And the rest turning up on various b-side combinations.

I wish we had the original running order for the double album version of 21 At 33. It would have been interesting to see would that era of Elton be seen in a different light than it is now had it been released in that format. Though a double album seemed pretty ambitious, maybe there would have been too much filler. As I suggested earlier, side 1 of 21 At 33 is as good as anything at anytime that Elton has done...I'd have put those tracks with these tracks that were recorded duing the same sessions and made one great single disc. The running order is open to discussion...

Side 1
Chasing The Crown 
Little Jeanie 
Sartorial Eloquence
Two Rooms At The End Of The World
White Lady, White Powder

Side 2
Carla/Etude-Fanfare-Chloe
Heart In The Right Place
Elton's Song 
White Man Danger
The Retreat

'Bernie Bolted'



A Single Man. Never seems to be an album that appears in many people top 10's...though considering the competition it's not hard to see why. So putting aside the competitive aspect and looking at it as a standalone piece, then it certainly has its merits. Elton's 'new' voice, or in truth Elton just putting into practice what Thom Bell had shown him how do a few months earlier is the first marker that's put down. A new found depth that strikes a perfect balance with the light side. Elton's piano playing is also to the forefront here, right from the off in Shine On Through. The Thom Bell edition of the song on its own is fine...but when this version is presented to us we can see why Elton has the best brought out of him by the people around him. The Autumn 1977 version has a saccharine orchestral arrangement, as if a tonne of sugar was dumped in and candy floss came out on disc. Whereas when Paul Buckmaster gets a hold of it, the result is devastating. The devastation hits right home when the drums kick in and the oboe harmonizes Elton's vocal. All this after the strings with a harder edge than before begin the buildup. 

It Ain't Gonna Be Easy has the main protagonists on the album showcasing their talents...Ray Cooper's vibes like audio bubbles in the background playing off Buckminster’s arrangement that has attitude and changes that switch from dark to light in a turn of his baton. Tim Renwick's bluesy guitar breaks are Pink Floydish...a gig he done later of course. Steve Holly's drums are never messy on this one, just a full backbeat with fills as and when necessary. Part Time Love is the single material that Elton could write all day...but where would be the challenge in that. Gary Osborne wrote this one with more than a hint it was from experience. The hook of this track is undoubtedly Davey Johnstone weaving in and out as only he can. Georgia possibly sounds like it could have been on Tumbleweed Connection in another life. Elton's vocal goes slightly into 'down south' territory here, which can be forgiven as the subject matter requires it. The beautiful mix of pedal steel and Leslie guitar just takes you to the heartland of the song...which in turn takes us the south lands. Return To Paradise has Elton's vocal with a soft focus...the Fender Rhodes plays along with equal softness. 

Madness then counterpoints what has gone before with Elton singing about a thorny subject. The thunderous fills from Ray Cooper on the timpani are magnificent; they don't build into a crescendo because they already started that way. The sudden change in pace is again thrust upon us as Reverie gives us time to contemplate the tremendous climax to the album that is on the horizon. When Elton sits down at the piano to compose an instrumental, the journey he takes only he knows the route. No road map of a lyric, just his thought processes on their own. The destination then becomes all apparent when the deed is done. However when he wrote Song For Guy he couldn't have imagined that the original image in his head had become prophetic. Almost immediately. Elton fills on the various synths creates a soundscape. The solid walls of sound had given way to swirling waves of sound washing over us. Sometimes to enjoy the highs we have to endure the lows. In a strange twist of that concept we can the experience the high of Elton's completed piece from the low of the songs premise. And people wonder why Elton is so good...as with the case with a lot of Elton albums the best tracks sometimes end up as b-sides while their lesser brothers and sisters end up as the chosen few. 

Tinderbox in 2006 is Bernie's take on the 1977/78 situation. I Cry At Night is his take on the same situation from a contemporary point of view. The narrative is the same in both...we conquered the world and now we don't want it. The tank is dry and the fumes are used up. The sudden stop may not have physically hit a brick wall, but the emotional impact is the same. Time to retreat and regroup. Elton's vocal switches from the new deeper side to the original incarnation to reflect the lyrics with the emotion he was only too well aware of. His piano when it's on its own and playing a melody like this is a joy. If anyone was in any doubt at this stage to Bernie's well structured thoughts on the industry that had made him he had helped make even better then Ego gives it to us in spades. Spades from a dump truck, not hand held ones either. Bernie had seen them, been with them without possibly ever wanting to be them. But the environment around him had turned him that way. If they were arm lengths before, they were now the distance across the border from Mexico to the orange case. When Elton sings about himself and his colleagues in the business there could have been a danger to fall into parody. Self or otherwise. But the right balance is struck; the self knowing of Elton is evened out with the caustic lyric. 

Lovesick certainly deserved the other flipside billing than the one it got. Again Buckmaster's hands are all over this one. The heavy bass sound of the strings are bang on the beat. The delicate use of the woodwinds in tandem with Tim's raunchy guitar on the outro flicker around each other. Overall the album may not reach the dizzy heights of what went before or was to come. Merely it was a repositioning for Elton to restart his recording career with had come out of hiatus as quick as it went into it. The production is clean and bright, his voice and piano are the starting points and everything else is built around it. The songwriting mightn't pull up too many trees in the general scheme of things, but taken in context then it has its place. Quite where Big Dipper or Flintstone Boy fit into all this, that's anybody’s guess

Friday, October 4, 2013

'All Mixed Up And Mad As Hell'



The great thing about this blog is that's it's proactive and reactive. If something brews up, I'll be here when it boils. As is the case with this update. I've already focused on Home Again, in it's live form, on an earlier post some weeks past. But like most things in the Elton world events can sometimes overtake us. So at the moment I'm on the hard shoulder coming up on the inside. This latest video clip has only just surfaced and is a treat. But it's also generated a lot of discussion elsewhere, the pro's and con's of recent performances being put sharply into context. Let's dive in (pun intended) and see what's happening.

This is the 'definitive' live visual version to date...for a number of reasons. The primary one being that it's properly mixed and recorded. Probably due to the fact they almost certainly took the sound from Elton's 'people'. There's currently a lot of debate on various Elton forums as the quality of recent performances of the song. One point that has eluded a lot of those observers is that most TV broadcasts feature sound mixes that can only be described as being as stodgy as last weeks porridge left to deteriorate. The Emmy's version had the low end of the choir up too high and made the male voices sound like monsters on occasions whilst the Ellen show versions spectrum was so narrow that I think it may even be in mono. Both clips, whilst visually a great record, are poor in sound terms. Not to be taken as definitive. Same goes for the BRITS Icons awards example, amateurish sound mix for the most professional of artists. Not fit for purpose...

...whereas the one above ticks all boxes. The thing is, probably with the exception of the BRITS Icon version which had to be done twice to Elton's satisfaction, the ones I mentioned are all fantastic versions but are let down by inadequate broadcasting. But the USC version should be held up as a shining light of what can and should be done. But what is truly remarkable that even on an official release things can go arfways. The version from the Capitol Records playback is indeed poor, as has been noted elsewhere. Mexican Vacation from that showcase...if it can be called that...didn't do any justice to Elton's vocals. Home Again from said showcase again isn't up to par...because it was the first time they did it with that combo (live) I'm sure they'll use that as an excuse. But as I keep mentioning here, perspective is key. What seemed good then is now consigned to the also ran category. The recording is tinny, the piano sounds nothing like it does in real life. The bass button is definitely turned down to 0...

...whereas the one above is a definitely an 11 on all counts. The piano is warm and great depth is reached. The band flesh it out, not flabbily but with tight lean muscle. The highlight moment of the song, the solo and it's buildup, maintains the piano upfront ethos whilst still allowing the choir to sound strong without overpowering. Adam Chester's hard work on the arrangement is clear for all to hear. Even the 2Cello's on the second part of the solo can be clearly heard as they gradually creep in and increase tempo. The brass still has that hanging feel, it drifts in and out to good effect. The harmonies of the girls in the band can also be detected over Elton's vocal which is strong as per usual, no hint of these colds and flu's that some contributors always seems to notice when he's on the telly. TV puts pounds on you, not infections. It's very annoying when people take some of these crappy broadcasts and use them to dissect over Elton's, the band's and the general setup of things to use as a template as to what's going on. Every conceivable theory from Elton having nothing short of whooping cough to the band being given something to do to pass the time are typical of the insights explored. My advice...only advice not an edict...disregard those sub par examples and take the USC one as a how to do. The others are a will not do...

Hopefully this USC show will be broadcast in some near future like right now. The multi camera angles make me suspect it will, the mix of band, orchestra and new songs all done on the same bill sounds like too much of a good one to keep under wraps. Doesn't it?! Knowing our luck it probably does...a word or several on the performance. The song is probably the most accessible from the album, therefore it translates well live. And of course, goes without saying on this blog, gazumps the studio version and puts a tin hat on it. It's a real full on moment when Elton does the final chorus, his lifting it up of a tad hits Home, as they say. Again...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Fucking Brilliant'


Without beating about the bush...as it were...John Jorgenson's guitar work is fucking brilliant. And of course I agree with Elton on that. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting John twice and seeing him play live on his own and he's something else. Luckily I also got to see him play live with Elton, a treat a very few lucky punters got earlier this year when he filled in for Davey. The guy is class and quality, he's a firm favourite of this blog.

I want to highlight one of his best contributions on the Peachtree Road sessions, the b-side So Sad The Renegade. Peachtree is one of my all time favourite Elton albums, if you want to hear American music in all it's rawest forms on disc as interpreted by Elton and the band, then this a must have. And when I say get it, I mean get all the tracks. Out takes and everything. Because the entire 80 minutes it takes to play the entire batch of songs is a rich collection of rusticness and edginess mixed with some smooth cuts. Elton's vocals on the album is sometimes critiqued over the years, but it's my view that in fact the rusticness I just mentioned earlier is enhanced by his voice having that bit of wear and tear. Much like the landscape the lyrics on the songs portray. On this cut, it's pure rawness. One of the most stripped down songs that doesn't lose any effect or appeal by adding tasteful layers. The most important being JJ on pedal steel. The line he puts down isn't a cliched one, he strikes the perfect feel and tone. Right from the intro, it's interplay with Davey's acoustic guitars is stylish and classy. In some way's it's hard to describe, it's unqiue on an Elton album for sure. The big drums are panoramic and loud. Mirroring the American dream.  The undercurrent of electric and acoustic guitar again hammers that sentiment home. Guy Babylon's strings are equally unobtrusive, they hang in the background enhancing the chorus sublimely. Elton's harmony vocals are a great ploy, not quite gruff but that rustic vibe comes through. 

But the key is JJ's pedal steel. Throughout the song it's the focal point. You take that away and you lose the hook, the key into the song. By introducing it straight from the off, the song is hinged on it. It's exceptional playing, melancholic and uplifting almost simultaneously. Fucking great indeed...

Unfortunately the great mandarins on Youtube have failed to upload a clip if this song. I'm sure you all have it though...