Thursday, January 16, 2014

What it's like to be John Mahon

John Mahon, a 1973 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, has been a percussionist and backing vocalist in Elton John's touring band since 1997.

One can only imagine where he's been and what he's seen.

On Feb. 1, he'll be onstage with Elton for a sold-out concert at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown.

Here, Mahon — who lives in the Los Angeles area when he's actually home shares some insider stories:

Q. You keep very busy onstage with Elton. What all do you do up there?

A. "Just look good! No, really.... The best way to describe what I do onstage is, I accentuate and color the music rhythmically. There are so many options with percussion like cymbals, congas, tambourines, electronics, etc. But one of the most important things I have to do is sing backing vocals. I sing on every song quite a lot. Recently, we rehearsed a new song with no percussion and I tried to strategically hide offstage hoping Elton would not need me on that song. I was hoping I could take a little break during the show and he says, 'Where's John? I want you to sing on this song.' The crew had a good laugh as they pointed me out! No escape — but I don't complain because Sir Elton never takes a break the entire show."

Q. Where are some of the places you played with Elton during 2013? Was there a favorite show?

A. "Last year was the usual crazy mix for us. We were in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay. Then we hit the eastern USA along with some stints in Las Vegas. There was Europe in the summer, Normandy, France, Ireland (which I love), Austria, Switzerland and always London. The end of the year was Moscow, Paris, Germany and Norway just to name a few places.
Of course, there is Madison Square Garden. Did you know that the floor is suspended and bounces up and down when the audience is dancing together? It's crazy, especially for a dude that lives in earthquake country! Elton and the band just played the 64th performance there. He has the most shows at MSG of any single artist."

Q. How do you keep things fresh for yourself after so many years of touring?

A. "I have the greatest job in the world. Set aside the countless hours I spend in airplanes, buses, vans (contrary to popular belief, we are not always in limousines) restaurants and hotel rooms. When I go onstage, I see nothing but absolute joy on the faces of the people in the audience. Not many people can say that their job makes people laugh, smile, cheer and cry with happiness for two and a half continuous hours. When I was maybe 18 years old, one of my oldest musician friends, saxophonist Paul Whitehurst of Canton, said to me, 'John, play every gig like it might be the last one you ever play.' I try to do that every night."

Q. Tell me something about Elton John that might surprise people.

A. "Elton has an incredible memory. He can remember any song, the artist, the date it was recorded and even band-member names. His memory is also dangerous, so you never tell him anything in passing because he does not forget. He is often described in introductions as a genius and I have actually seen that crazy brain of his in action. It's impressive — he is brilliant. Another thing is that Elton does not have a cellphone or computer. But now that he has children he is addicted to his iPad. He's constantly showing us their pictures or FaceTiming with them. It's how he stays in touch with his children when we are away so much of the time."

Q. I imagine you have lots of dining opportunities traveling internationally. Are you an adventurous eater?

A. "I was going to say no to that question, but when I started writing down foods I've eaten, it seems that maybe I am adventurous. I do like to try the regional foods. I recently had borscht in Russia, shepherd's pie in London, wiener schnitzel in Germany, kimchee in Seoul, dumplings in Hong Kong.
In Australia, I had Moreton Bay bugs, which are like little lobsters. I love Japanese food like sushi and seaweed salad. I'll try fish anywhere in the world. I've always survived being a little adventurous. I tried a street vendor in Bangkok last year that I thought would be the end of me, but it was the best $3 meal I ever had! I've had kangaroo. Is that weird?"

- Canton Rep

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