For guitarist Davey Johnstone, it adds up to 39 years, more than 20 studio albums and roughly 2,100 concerts.
After working all that time with superstar Elton John, guitarist Davey Johnstone remains convinced no artist in the business plays more consistently, works harder or brings more intensity to the stage and the studio.
“He’s incredible: He sings and plays great every night, and he always sticks something new (into the set) every night,” marvels Johnstone, Elton’s righthand man and music director.
“Elton is really competitive. When the red light goes on in the studio, he’s perfect. He just goes for it. That’s what makes you rise to the occasion. He lifts your game, the way a great athlete will lift the rest of his team.”
Johnstone has been on the Elton team since 1971, after joining the flamboyant rock pianist for his “Madman Across the Water” album.
If that seems to tally uncountable hours, miles and concerts, think again: Some vigilant devotees — lovingly described by Johnstone as “psycho fans” — meticulously track anniversary dates and obscure factoids most musicians are clueless about.
So during a June 2009 concert in Scotland, Johnstone was surprised to see banners waved by jubilant fans commemorating his 2,000th show with Elton, who makes his third Grand Rapids visit on Saturday.
“The following show, I saw a sign that said, ‘2001: An Elton Odyssey,’” an amused Johnstone told me during a recent interview. “That’s very cool. I like that. They (shows) keep on piling up.”
As do all the remarkable numbers for an enduringly popular singer and piano-pounder whose first Top 10 album came out in 1970, during the Nixon administration.
So, with the Rocket Man on his way to West Michigan, I’ve compiled an “Elton John by the numbers” list:
250 million — Estimated worldwide album sales, according to Wikipedia and other sources, which puts him behind The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, ABBA and Queen.
175 million-plus — Dollars raised by the Elton John AIDS Foundation for HIV prevention programs and care/support services for those living with AIDS, according to the EJAF.
70 million — Certified album units sold in the United States, as listed by the Recording Industry Association of America.
37 million — Copies of “Candle in the Wind 1997” sold, making Elton’s tribute to Princess Di the best selling single of all time (or maybe second to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” depending on the source).
24,931 — Fans attending Elton’s two sold-out shows at Van Andel Arena (in 1997 and 1999), with another 12,080 expected Saturday.
22,599 — Pairs of silly glasses Elton has worn over the years (a wild guess).
690 — Approximate number of feet from the stage where I sat in the Pontiac Silverdome at my first Elton John concert in 1976, far enough away that when he sang “Philadelphia Freedom,” I thought he was actually in Philadelphia.
446 — Dollars demanded last week by scalper/online ticket broker theticketmachine.com for primo floor seats to Saturday’s show, or $90 in upper bowl Section 220 (at stubhub.com, prices ranged from $60 to $775 for tickets listed at $39 to $139).
126.48 — Average price in dollars for an Elton concert ticket the past year, based on Pollstar figures, about twice the price of a Miley Cyrus or Jonas Brothers ticket, but with Elton you get to hear actual music.
63 — Elton’s age, which makes him younger than Mick Jagger and Bob Seger, but old enough to be Justin Bieber’s grandfather.
56 — Top 40 Billboard hits, second on the all-time list behind Presley.
29 — Studio albums (not counting soundtracks, EPs).
26 — Consecutive years (1970-1996) with a Top 40 hit, the longest in chart history.
9 — No. 1 hits, putting him in 10th place all time.
5 — Grammys won, though mostly for the wrong songs, such as “That’s What Friends Are For,” rather than classics such as “Your Song,” “Rocket Man” or “Daniel.”
4 — Number of copies of Elton’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” double-album I’ve bought (and worn out) over the years.
3 — Ranking for the Elton John/Billy Joel tour on the Top 10 list of 2009’s biggest-grossing concert tours.
1 — Academy Awards won (for best original song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King”), Tony Awards won (for best original score for “Aida”), women married/divorced (Renate Blauel), civil partnerships (David Furnish), Michigan shows scheduled in 2010 (Grand Rapids).