Saturday, August 28, 2010
Near the age of twelve, John Mahon picked up a pair of drum sticks with the aspiration of becoming a drummer. As an adult, John has not only realized his dream by becoming a professional musician, but he has built a stellar performance resume that is filled with A-List names in the music industry.
Mahon, a percussionist and vocalist, has worked with artists such as Brian Adams, Sting, Phil Collins, Mary J. Blige, Ray Charles, Cher, Tina Turner, Bonnie Rait, and many, many more. For the last several years, John has accompanied music icon Sir Elton John on his journey down the Yellow Brick of Road of Rock and Roll, serving as a percussionist and background vocalist for the Rocket Man's legendary stage and studio band.
John was kind enough to take some time while on vacation from his heavy tour schedule with the EJ Band to talk with me about his life as a musician, his experience with Elton John and his band, his side projects as a songwriter and session musician, and the hobbies he enjoys when off the road.
I understand that you chose to become a drummer at around age twelve when your father took you to Canton Ohio Police Boys Club and you signed up for the Drum and Bugle Corp. I also understand that, throughout your young years, you were extremely active in the performing ensembles offered by your schools. How did these experiences shape you as a music fan and as a performer?
Participation in the school music programs broadened my musical experiences. I was exposed to many different genres of music that I would never have heard or played if not for the school bands. Of course, we played marches but there were classical pieces and even some contemporary compositions. Another part is the choir which was a good way to learn pitch and ensemble singing.
These programs teach a musician to play with an ensemble, take constructive criticism, and be motivated by your fellow band members.
Do you come from a musical family? If so, please tell us about it.
My father was the musical side. He sang and played trumpet. My Uncle was a big band singer, and my grandfather played guitar. Everyone in my family played an instrument of some sort, and most of us sing. That said, my younger brother was unexpectedly asked to leave a McCartney concert recently - it's likely they heard him singing!
When and how did you make the transition from amateur to professional musician?
When I was still in high school, a friend asked me to play with his band and perform at parties. That was the start of getting paid to play. I always worked a day job and did gigs at night until I was about 23. Then it was full on music- -although I had to get a part time job for a while when I moved to LA to pay the bills- - driving a delivery truck! Back in the late 70s and 80s, bands were playing everywhere every night. It was easier to make a living as a musician then. Clubs and Hotels had dance bands 5-6 days a week. It was a great time - no DJs!!!
Who is your biggest influence as a drummer? A vocalist? A songwriter?
I love funk and jazz drumming, so there are so many. I'd have to say, Tony Williams, David Garibaldi, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Clyde Stubblefield, Peter Erskine, Danny Seraphine, Lenny White - just to name a few.
Vocalists - Larry Williams of Tower of Power, Marvin Gaye, Steve Perry, Stevie Wonder, Sinatra, Bennet, Otis Redding.
Songwriters - Steely Dan, Elton John, The Beatles, Led Zep, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea. Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, James Taylor. But I love new bands as well-- U2, Radiohead. So many!!
How did you come to be part of the acclaimed Elton John Band?
I met Davey Johnstone after he heard a recording I was working on with Bob Birch whom I have known and played with for many years since moving to LA. I did some recording for Davey and Guy Babylon, and not long after that session, Davey asked me to audition for Elton's band.
I've read on your personal website that you spend some of your free time writing and recording your own original songs. Can you describe how you approach the mysterious task of songwriting and tell us a bit about your original music?
My music, I suppose, is pop based with a soul/jazz influence. I like to write lyrics first most of the time. Sometimes I will just come up with a musical motif or loop that I like writing around. I write all kinds of music - soundtrack, electronic, organic - even some kid’s music. I think all these influences have put me in the musical blender!! Of course I love drums and percussion based music - who doesn't?
Several years ago, your band mate and fellow singing drummer, Nigel Olsson, released a solo project that was quite good. When can we expect a solo project from John Mahon, and what sort of a project will it be?
I am always composing material-- whether it be for myself, TV, or even collaborating with someone else on a project. I am trying to finish a bunch of songs, but it is difficult for me on the road. I like to work at home in the studio-- not in a hotel room. All the songs are vocals and groovy. Almost jazzy in way - I'm terrible at pinning down styles!! But I hope to get it out soon, later this year.
Is it true that, even after all of your successes, you still study privately with music coaches and teachers? How important do you think such continuing practice and education is for every musician?
I feel there is so much to learn out there. I try to take the opportunity that travels bring me to study with people when time permits. Going to Europe is cool because there are some real masters there. It's the practicing time that is hard to achieve. No one wants to hear a djembe drum being played in the hotel room next door!
Speaking of Nigel Olsson, he has achieved legendary status as a vocalist and drummer among many musicians and fans. What has it been like sharing percussion and backing vocal duties with such a loved and respected veteran performer? Have you learned anything from the experience?
Yes, I've learned to appreciate great wines!! Not only is Nigel an amazing talent, but he knows wine very well, especially French. He's an expensive date. (No, I'm not gay). Playing music with Nigel has taught me mostly when not to play- - he is a master of creating space and tension on the drums, pulling the time a bit to make the song more dramatic. He also sings like a bird.
As a percussionist for the EJ band, you have the opportunity to do many different kinds of shows. You play with the regular band, with the Bill Joel (Face2Face) set-up, and at times, with a full orchestra. Of all of these kinds of concerts, which is your favorite? Which is the most challenging?
The orchestra is the most challenging because, like I said earlier, one must adapt when playing with a large ensemble. The conductor might ask me to play something different than my regular part to better fit with the orchestra. Small ensemble playing — like duo or trio — is tricky too. No mistakes here!!
When performing the EJ set, are you allowed a great deal of freedom from show to show as a percussionist, or are the arrangements pretty set in stone and done the exact same way each time?
My arrangements are based on what was played on Elton's records, mostly by Ray Cooper. I have changed some of them a bit to adapt better live and add my own ideas here and there. There is a pretty set way I play percussion at shows, but certain songs have sections that are ad lib - I can jam out a little more. Sometimes Elton will change the song a bit and that influences how I play as well.
On the last couple of albums he has released, Elton John has used his stage band on the recordings. I have noticed several stand out percussion parts that you have added to tracks on these albums, particularly on songs like "And the House Fell Down" (from The Captain and the Kid). How much freedom are you given when creating percussion parts in the studio with Elton?
I might be asked to come up with some ideas and then Elton, or whoever is producing the session, will pick what they like. Maybe they will change it a little or even suggest something completely different. I would not call it freedom because every note you play will be scrutinized and criticized so you better be ready to play anything and understand how to take direction. It can be really fun or it can be very challenging. Most of the time when you hit on something it will just work - that's the magic part.
Do you play any instruments aside from drums? If so what?
I play the keyboards some and strum the guitar. Drummer/Percussionists need to know another instrument so we can talk with the really smart musicians!!
Of all your many accomplishments as a musician, of what are you the most proud?
I come from a very humble upbringing in a small town. Playing and recording with an icon like Elton John is quite an accomplishment. Not many musicians, or people for that matter, get to experience what I have. The travel, the concerts, the amazing audiences.... I am very fortunate indeed.
Aside from music, what other interests and hobbies do you have that might surprise us?
I love mountain biking and cycling in general. I've also been playing a bit of tennis. I just like being outside. I don't mind some home improvement projects — which I'm not bad at, and I guess I like photography but that has just come out of my travels. I really love recording too. When there is no pressure it is like painting... adding colors and creating freely - It is very rewarding to me.
Do you have a favorite city or venue to play in?
New York City is amazing. Rio was great. Anywhere in Ireland has the best audiences. I have to say American audiences are the most fun overall — they love to rock out. Playing Hyde Park was great as well as Rome in front of the Coliseum — and lately the Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza, Mexico.
What do you like most about your current touring job? The least?
I enjoy the camaraderie of the crew and band. We are a big family and it's fun to be around them all. I do enjoy going to some great cities and getting a little sightseeing in. Then, of course, there is the music part- - playing the shows is always the highlight of the day. I loath airports, airport security, airport food, and the smell of airports. Did I say I hate airports? Finding a consistent meal and cup of coffee are the most challenging thing to me on the road. Oh yes, I need good water pressure!!
Now a few questions for John, the fan...What is your favorite Elton John song? Album?
My favorite song might be “Levon” - mainly because I used to play it as a kid. I love Madman Across the Water, Captain Fantastic, and the Made In England album.
(Aside from those from your boss) What are your three favorite albums of all time?
That's not fair! Steely Dan Gauchos. Herbie Hancock, VSOP, Chicago II.
What future musical projects are on the calender for John Mahon?
Elton is touring almost constantly. I plan to continue writing lyrics and songs. I just played drums and percussion on some smooth jazz tracks for a new artist "Ja Nya Sol". I'm producing and playing some music with a friend in Ohio, David Marchione who is extremely talented. We are doing experimental soundtrack music right now. As always, listening, learning, and keeping the darn computer working!!
Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/interview-john-mahon-sir-elton-johns1/page-5/#ixzz0xrta6x8G
Friday, August 27, 2010
The Deluxe Edition is a CD + DVD Package
The CD includes two tracks not available on the standard release: "My Kind Of Hell" and "Mandalay Again"
The DVD features "The Union" the Making Of By Cameron Crowe.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Elton and Leon Russell will appear in concert together to showcase their new studio album, The Union, on October 19 at The Beacon Theatre, New York. This concert is part of The Union Tour.
Reserved tickets go on public sale Friday, August 27 at 10AM. There is a two ticket limit per customer. Performance is at 8PM.
This exciting evening will include new material from The Union, as well as a selection of classic and much-loved hits from the individual careers of Elton and Leon. The Unionwill be available October 19 in the U.S. on Decca Records. Early previews of the album have excited the music media - Rolling Stone called it a "brilliant, soulful new disc".
For this concert Elton and Leon will be accompanied by musicians from The Unionstudio sessions, including Jay Bellerose - drums, Russ Paul - pedal steel guitar, Marc Ribot - guitar, Jackson Smith - guitar, Keefus Ciancia - keyboards, Mike Compton - mandolin and Dennis Crouch - bass.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
'If It Wasn't for Bad' is the first single off Elton John and Leon Russell's first collaboration album, 'The Union,' produced by T-Bone Burnett.
Penned by Russell and lyricist Bernie Taupin, 'If It Wasn't for Bad,' features Russell's intricate piano licks -- beginning as a '50s classical tune, before breaking out into a bluesy, twangy rock effort.
And with John's undeniable soulful voice, mixed in with Russell's rustic harmonies and and backing gospel vocals, the song makes a perfect choice for the album's lead-off track.
The concept of the album, 'The Union,' stems from John's praise and appreciation of Russell's music, which was selective to studio sessions before extending to live performances in the late '60s and early '70s. A pianist, singer, songwriter and producer, Russell fronted the band for Joe Cocker's tour Mad Dogs and Englishmen, as well as the touring ensemble for George Harrison's benefit event Concert for Bangladesh.
"All I wanted for Leon is to have, in his later life, the accolades that seem to have been missing for him in the last 35 years," explains John. "I want his name written in stone. I want him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want his name to be on everybody's lips again, like it used to be. So we made this record."
The album's penmanship varies song-to-song, but includes one, two or all three (Elton, Russell, Taupin), and features musicians and friends Brian Wilson, Booker T, Don Was and Neil Young.
The album cover was shot by esteemed photographer Annie Leibovitz, and Cameron Crowe even filmed the recording sessions for an upcoming documentary, details yet to be revealed.
Monday, August 23, 2010
He's a class rock act, but yesterday Sir Elton John was rocking a little more than he would have liked.
The 63-year-old was having trouble with his sea legs as he disembarked from his holiday yacht in the South of France.
The star, who made a hit of I'm Still Standing three decades ago, almost ended up in an ungainly heap on the ground as he hopped off the gang plank.
Fortunately he was able to enlist the help of two sturdy crew members to help him negotiate the step onto the jetty at St Tropez. Judging by his grimace, it didn't go as smoothly as Sir Elton would have liked.
The singer, who was joined by his partner David Furnish, 47, later stopped off at Louis Vuitton for a spot of retail therapy and found himself mobbed by a crowd of locals.
- Daily Mail
The first single from Elton & Leon's upcoming studio album "The Union", "If it wasn't for bad", will be available for instant download on August 24 via iTunes. The cost is $0.99.
Alternatively, pre-order the entire album now via Amazon.com for shipping on October 19 by clicking the link below:
Sunday, August 22, 2010
An upcoming Elton John tribute show produced by Rock Nation School will be as much a tribute to late band member Guy Babylon as to the Rocket Man, himself. Three members of John's band-lead guitarist and music director Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionist John Mahon-will perform "Goodbye Superman," a song written in Babylon's memory by his 12-year-old son, Ben Babylon. Johnstone and Mahon will also play Elton John songs with Ben and other student musicians. The concert will take place September 26 at the famed Canyon Club near Los Angeles.
The younger Babylon will play keyboard and sing lead vocals on "Goodbye Superman," which he composed after his father passed away suddenly on September 2, 2009. Elton John and his musicians have remained close friends of the Babylon family, so when Ben's mother, Kathy Babylon, learned that Rock Nation was planning an Elton John tribute show, she came up with the idea to invite members of his band to appear.
"It's been a year now and it just seemed to be perfect timing to bring everyone together in honor of Guy's memory, through Ben's song," she said. "My husband was a big supporter of Rock Nation. All the guys in the band have helped with fundraisers over the years, and the last one was actually at The Canyon Club. So this is truly a full-circle moment for me."
Ben Babylon, who plays keyboards, piano, guitar, ukulele and drums, has taken private lessons at Rock Nation since 2008, and has written several original songs. He has been heavily influenced by his father and Elton John, having grown up watching them work together.
"I'm really excited that Davey, Nigel and John will be playing my song," Ben said. "I wrote it as a tribute to my dad. They were his friends and fellow band members, so for me to get to play it with them on stage means a lot."
That sentiment is shared by John Mahon, who has been a member of the Elton John Band since 1997.
"I'm looking forward to playing some music with Ben Babylon again, and performing something by Elton John will be right up his alley," Mahon said. "He is an amazing young talent with many exciting musical endeavors in his future. I better start practicing!"
Ben Babylon isn't the only child of an Elton John associate who will appear in the upcoming show. Fifteen-year-old drummer Juliet Johnstone, a student at Rock Nation, will perform, as will her older brother, Jesse, a professional recording engineer, who will lend his talents on bass. Their father, Davey Johnstone, has worked with Elton John since the 1971 album "Madman Across the Water," and was responsible for bringing Guy Babylon into the band.
"Elton always called Guy our 'keyboard genius and wizard,'" Johnstone said. "I met Guy at a recording session in 1987 and immediately knew I was in the presence of someone really special. We had an almost psychic connection and we loved stretching our talents to create music that was always challenging and refreshing."
In 1990, Johnstone and Babylon formed their own musical group, Warpipes, with Nigel Olsson, Bob Birch,and Billy Trudell, and released one album, "Holes in the Heavens." Singles off the album are now being released on iTunes, in association with Babylon Music.
Unfortunately, Elton John will not participate in the upcoming Rock Nation concert, because he will be on tour in Europe with drummer Ray Cooper. However, he remains close to the Babylons, and has shown support for Ben's music in other ways. Recently, he invited Ben to hang out in the recording studio, while he worked on his forthcoming album "The Union" with rock legend Leon Russell. That album is scheduled to be released in October.
Rock Nation, a private rock-music school with four locations in the Los Angeles area, is owned by Tony Avalon, son of singer and actor Frankie Avalon. The school produces several tribute shows annually, each highlighting the music of a different rock star.
"Rock Nation and the Rock Nation community are very excited and honored to have the members of the Elton John band performing at a Rock Nation show," Avalon said. "What this means to me is that Rock Nation's status has earned the respect from professional world-class musicians who embrace the quality of a real music education to all ages. The musicianship level of this show will be outstanding. These students will sound unbelievable and true to the songs of Elton John."
The Rock Nation Tribute to Elton John will take place on Sunday, September 26, at 7:00 p.m. at The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills, California 91301. Tickets are $12 at Rock Nation or $15 at the door. Reservations can be made by calling Rock Nation at 818-706-2326, The Canyon Club at 818-879-5016 or by visiting www.RockNationSchool.com.
Elton & Ray are confirmed to perform a second concert in Sweden on December 4.
The show will take place at Scandinaviam Arena in Gothenburg.
Further, Elton is rumoured to be playing a date at historic Carthage in Tunisia on September 28.
Venue information and official confirmation has not yet been made.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Music-loving holiday home owners can see Elton John and Andrea Bocelli live in Mallorca in September.
The two megastars of the music world will be performing on Saturday September 4th to a packed audience at the ONO stadium, home of Mallorca football club.
It will be the first time these two world-class acts have showcased their talents on the same stage, and fans are in for a treat as they will put on a five-hour set, accompanied by 72 musicians from The Balearic Symphony Orchestra and 42 singers from The University Choir of the Balearic Islands.
Sir Elton John has sold over 250,000 million records and is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, enjoying sell-out concerts around the world.
Meanwhile, Italian Andrea Bocelli has achieved 70 million record sales and is a globally recognised performer even outside of his genre.
The host venue has a capacity of 34,000 and tickets are selling fast.
Elton and Leon Russell will appear in concert together and alone with their bands for one night only on November 3, 2010 at The Hollywood Palladium, USA as part of The Union Tour.
This exciting evening will include new material from The Union, Elton and Leon Russell's highly anticipated album which will be available on October 19 in the U.S. on Decca Records. Produced by Oscar and multiple-Grammy winning producer T Bone Burnett, The Union is a unique collaboration of two of the most talented artists in the music business. Recorded live in the studio with Elton and Leon on dueling pianos, the album features a variety of musical genres from R&B, soul, gospel, country, pop and rock.
Elton's band includes Davey Johnstone on guitar, Bob Birch on bass, John Mahon on percussion, Nigel Olsson on drums and Kim Bullard on keyboards. Leon Russell's band comprises Jack Wessel on bass, Chris Simmons on guitar, Brandon Holder on drums and Beau Charron on guitar and steel guitar.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I will be taking a break from this blog for 2 weeks.
There will be limited or no updates during this time.
I'll be back soon with more exciting Elton news!
In the meantime the final bits of news...
ELTON PERFORMING IN MEXICO & SWITZERLAND
Elton & Ray will perform in Switzerland this december. Elton and the band will also play Mexico this October.
|15-Oct-2010||Guanajato , Mexico||Centro FOX|
|19-Dec-2010||Geneva, Switzerland||Geneva Arena|
FULL TRACK LIST OUT FOR THE UNION
The track listing is as follows:
- If It Wasn’t For Bad
- Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes
- Hey Ahab
- Gone To Shiloh
- Jimmie Rodger’s Dream
- There’s No Tomorrow
- Monkey Suit
- The Best Part Of The Day
- A Dream Come True
- When Love Is Dying
- I Should Have Sent Roses
- Hearts Have Turned To Stone
- Never To Old (To Hold Somebody)
- The Hands Of Angels