Thursday, April 10, 2014

GYBR 'Liberating' - Elton

In a recent phone conversation, John, who is playing the Colosseum at Caesars Palace throughout April, recalled memories of working on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

It's a little odd to reminisce about a record itself so infused with a feeling of nostalgia.

Yes. I'm not a nostalgic artist by trait. I don't listen to my old stuff at all. But this had been planned for such a long time I had to go back and listen to the record all over again, and figure out what I'm talking about. And it was wonderful to revisit an era that was so magical, so innocent, so exciting, and it brought back lots of really wonderful, positive memories.

Was your tour stop at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973 one of those great memories?

Yes, and that really launched us, and it led to me playing Dodger Stadium [in 1975]. We were big, and then we got really big. It led to "Captain Fantastic" coming in at No. 1, and launched us into the stratosphere. I had the privilege of having a wonderful band and lyric writer and a wonderful producer. I can't say enough how it was a team effort. And I'm very proud of that, and very emotional about it. I still have two of the boys in the band with me, and it's so great that they're still with me.

You and the band were originally supposed to record it in Kingston, Jamaica, right?

We did go to Kingston. We went to Byron Lee's studio. The Stones had just done "Goats Head Soup" and Cat Stevens had done "Foreigner." We'd done two albums at the Chateau in France. "Let's go somewhere else." And it just didn't work out. The studio was on strike so we had to drive through picket lines to get in — it was a record factory as well — and the equipment, if it broke down we couldn't get it back for a couple of days. We always had budgets to work with, so we thought we had to regroup and go back to the Chateau. Lucky enough it was empty, because otherwise we're going to spend our budget before we even start recording.

We decamped from Kingston, went straight to Paris and made up for lost time. And boy did we. We wrote and wrote and wrote. In the situation in which we were writing, we'd always stay in different bedrooms. I would get up in the morning, Bernie would be typing away at a typewriter. He would give me a lyric. I would have my breakfast. I'd go to the electric piano. I'd start writing the song. [Bassist] Dee [Murray], [drummer] Nigel [Olsson] and [guitarist] Davey [Johnstone] would come down for breakfast and join in. We'd learn the song after breakfast and go over and record it. It was really, really a wonderful way to write and record. We did four tracks a day, probably.

Four tracks a day?

Yeah. It was written and recorded in 17 days. We put pedal to the metal, but at that time we had so much momentum going for us as a band. We'd made two band albums — "Honky Chateau" and "Don't Shoot Me …" — and I think we turned into a new direction when Davey joined us. We had pop hits with "Rocket Man," "Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock," and this album was a mixture of pop and what I loved to do — Southern music, Americana, drama. It was just a mixture of everything. Happenstance and momentum made us make this record. We were going toward the top, and this was the record that pushed us even further.

Recording with that kind of confidence has to be liberating.

It was so liberating. We didn't have any doubts in our abilities. We were full of confidence, full of joy, full of positivity. It was pre-drugs and drink for me. We had two fifth members of the band. We had Bernie and we had Gus Dudgeon producing. We had a team that was so together. The boys knew what to sing on the backing tracks, and apart from "This Song Has No Title," where I did everything — they would do the backing vocals — I would go to bed and I would get up the next morning and hear what they'd done. We all knew what to sing, what to play. I didn't tell them what to play. I never did that with my band. They contributed equally musically. It was a genuine band.

Was it difficult at all to go back and critique your work from nearly 40 years ago?

It wasn't difficult. It was very beautiful, actually. It made me realize how good my band was — how good we all were — and it brought tears to my eyes because the production from Gus and the sound of the record and just the musicianship made me realize that, yeah, we were doing something really great back then. I felt a lot of gratitude for my life, and the people in my life — my band, my producer, my lyric writer. It made me feel as if I'd accomplished something really good. And as you said, I don't really listen to many old things, but I had to because I have to do interviews about it, so I better know what I'm talking about.

What were your thoughts after listening to it with fresh ears?

There are things that I'm so blown away by. Just drum sounds, and piano sounds, the little things. It's over 40 years old and the sound of the record is phenomenal. That's what I loved. The only thing that bothered me was my voice, because it sounds so high. And when people review [my] show they say, "Well, he doesn't have his falsetto." And I've said it time after time: I had an operation in the 1980s in Australia which lowered the timbre of my voice. And I so much prefer my voice now.

- LA Times

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