Saturday, April 8, 2017

Watch Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Ryan Adams Perform at Elton John’s 70th Birthday Party

Elton spent his 70th birthday on Saturday night advocating for those in need, and for the arts, at a special celebration at Red Studios in Los Angeles benefitting the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and the Hammer Museum at UCLA. The evening, which honoured his life achievement as well as his 50-year songwriting collaboration with Bernie Taupin, raised nearly $2.8 million to help fund the grant-making initiatives of EJAF and exhibitions and programs at the Hammer Museum.

In addition to tributes from Elton’s friends in the room and around the globe, there were musical performances by Ryan Adams, Rosanne Cash, Lady Gaga, and Stevie Wonder.

Ryan Adams, who helped inspire Elton’s 2001 album Songs From The West Coast and performed with him on Country Music Television’s Crossroads the following year, played a solo acoustic guitar version of Rocket Man. Rosanne Cash, with whom Elton has recently written songs for a future project, took on Border Song. And Stevie Wonder, who has played on four songs with Elton (starting with I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues in 1983) covered Daniel and Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. Stevie closed by playing Happy Birthday (from his 1980 album Hotter Than July) for Elton, with Lady Gaga joining in following her own acoustic set of Born This Way and Bad Romance.

Over the past 50 years, and with a catalogue of nearly 400 released songs, Elton and Bernie have formed one of the most prolific songwriting partnerships in the history of recorded music. As Bernie explained in his speech at the event on Saturday, “In 1967, I came to London and met the man who changed my life. A kindred spirit whose tastes also ran to the eclectic. Like-minded, he added classic R&B, soul and jazz-fusion to the mix…as eager to appreciate what I bought to the table as much as I was ready to embrace his wisdom and musical tastes. To this day, music is the thread that still binds us. You’d be hard pressed to find two people who love music more. Fact number one, we’ve always been collectors and fans.”

Elton followed by saying, “When I met Bernie, when I started writing songs with him, it was the most joyous thing in the world. He was the best friend I never had and suddenly we did everything together. And it all revolved around music, art, cinema, theater, dance…the whole of the arts. I’m so proud of our relationship. And I’m so proud of him. He’s half of my soul, really. He’s etched into my heart. The road we’ve traveled has been miraculous and joyous. Without him in my life I wouldn’t be here, he wouldn’t be here. And you know what? It’s an amazing achievement, what we’ve done. And there’s still more to come out.”

In the week leading up to the party, Elton sat down with Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio DJ Zane Lowe for a wonderfully casual hour-long interview that covered many decades and aspects of his career. He spoke less like a rock star than a music fan, referring to not only his boyhood idols (Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis) but also current artists he admires and plays on his radio show: Laura Mvula, Rag’n’Bone Man, Parker Millsap among them.

“There’s so much great new music to listen to,” Elton said in his Los Angeles home. “That’s what I love…that’s what keeps me going. I am still basically at heart a fan. I still love going into the record store; I still like buying my CDs. And I love what I do; I love it as much as I did when I got my first 45 RPM, which was At The Hop by Danny and the Juniors and Reet Petite by Jackie Wilson. It still has that same magic for me.”

Of his career with Bernie, Elton simply says, “It’s the same excitement now as when we first started. That this year marks the 50th anniversary of my partnership with Bernie Taupin is mind boggling for me because it seems like only yesterday that I met him. It’s an amazing achievement to stay with one person for 50 years on a creative basis, in an industry where that doesn’t really happen very much.”

On reaching his 70th year, Elton notes, “I’m interested in moving forward all the time, with what I create, my collaborations, and also with discovering the work of other people. I think age is immaterial, provided we keep our minds alive by being open to new things. I can be as excited by a new artist who plays me their demo as I am by a new record of one of my musical heroes. I can be excited by playing a new city I’ve never played before, or revisiting somewhere I know well and seeing how it’s changed. Life is a constant state of flux for us all, and I like to embrace that. I also feel very happy to use my position to bring attention to injustice in the world, and to try to help where I can. At this time in my life I’m the happiest I have ever been.”

Bernie says of Elton, “It’s been an unconventional partnership and while we pretty much patented the two-rooms technique I’d venture to say you’d be hard pressed to find a couple of songwriters more in sync with each other and their craft.”


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