On Tour with Bob Gruen
Elton John Retrospective
IN 1970 I was hired to photograph a young piano player from England who was going to open a show at the New York City’s Fillmore East theatre for Leon Russell. His name was Elton John. I remember thinking how hard it is to get an interesting picture of someone playing piano. It’s a very large instrument and the player is usually just sitting behind it. But Elton John is not the usual piano player. He is one of the most exciting performers I’ve worked with. He doesn’t just sit at his piano. He jumps around it and on top of it. Sometimes he leaps straight into the air with only his hands on the keyboard. And he’s still playing! He also wears onstage the most flamboyant and colorful costumes and outrageous glasses.
I enjoyed working with Elton for the next several years. At the Fillmore in the spring of 1971 I got a nice and arty double-frame photo of him with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. Then I photographed him twice at Carnegie Hall, and later at Madison Square Garden. At Carnegie Hall, his mother made a surprise backstage visit.
By 1973, Elton was touring on a private 727 jet plane. It sported a large lounge, a long shiny brass bar with a built in piano, and two bedrooms! On a flight to Boston, Stevie Wonder was hidden in a bedroom when Elton took his seat and the plane took off. A publicist then told Elton to come to the middle of the plane to meet a piano player the airline had hired to entertain him. At first Elton didn’t want to be bothered. But he finally agreed. And as he came toward the lounge Stevie Wonder started playing “Crocodile Rock,” and this made Elton very happy.
In 1974 I went to the Record Plant studio to visit John Lennon’s recording session for his “Walls & Bridges” album. It was a good day to be there because Elton John was there as well, playing and singing on Lennon’s song “Whatever Gets You thru The Night.” When they finished recording, Elton asked John if he would appear with him at his upcoming Madison Square Garden show. John tried to put him off by telling Elton that he would only do it if the song reached number one on the pop charts. Well the song did become a number one best seller, and John Lennon came out onstage to join Elton at the Garden and the crowd went wild.
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