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Elton John: The Rolling Stone Interview

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Elton: I used to think those were really high heels. I thought those boots were really hip because they had high heels. Shit!.

Bernie: I remember when you got those. They were so outrageous because they had stars on them and they were silver.

Now you say you won't wear anything except the heels you're wearing now.
Elton: I feel so short, I never wear really short shoes. I rarely wear tennis shoes. I'm 5' 8", I hate being short. I'm sure I will wear something that's flatter. I mean, in a couple of years' time I'll probably look at a picture for me in platforms and say, "What the hell was I doing?" Those are, again, disposable. Everything's becoming disposable. Disposable me, disposable . . . [makes shriveling up noise]

What have you got ready for the next American tour, or have you started thinking about that yet?
Elton: I've got a couple of ideas. I think a couple of dates on the next American tour are going to be very bizarre. Not bizarre weirdo, like the Cockettes or anything, but bizarre show biz. We got a nice idea for the Hollywood Bowl if we get the date.

Bernie: We're gonna blow the audience up.

Elton: Steinway has offered to build me a special piano; I would like to get a special piano made. I think visual are very important to me, not in the sense of an act like Alice Cooper who's got it down to a fine art, but in the sense of high camp and just very, very tongue-in-cheek. We did "Singing in the Rain" as a tongue-in-cheek thing on the last American tour, "Legs" Larry Smith and I, it was his suggestion, and I said, "You must be mad, they'll wonder what the fuck's going on," but they loved it! They'd sing along with it and I thought well, there you go.

The act is going to become a little more liberaceized, not in a clothes sense, or Busby Berkeleyized--I'd like to have nine pianos onstage, a cascade of pianos, and make my entrance like that. Just give the audience a really nice sort of show. I don't like to look at groups who come out standing looking like they've just been drowning at Big Sur for five years. I could never go onstage in denims.

Of the pianists, you've mentioned Liberace, and many people have said there's a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis influence in your jumping about, but you said in the car you're not really a big Lewis admirer.
Elton: Well, I used to be until I saw him, and then I went off him a bit. I still think his rock and roll records are amazing, but I'm more a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, whereas I think Little Richard is more of a pounder. I think his rock and roll records are the best rock and roll records ever made, as far as just the genuine sound on them goes. Apart from "Hound Dog," which is amazing.

Bernie: The stuff Jerry Lee Lewis is into at the moment–

Elton: It's just taking the country road, which so many people do, and he treated his audience like shit, which I've never ever done.

Bernie: He treats everybody like that, smoking his big fucking cigars, and pretending he's such a heavy.

Elton: And calling himself "The Killer." I could kill more people with one fucking finger than he did when I saw him. I always find rock and roll acts like that now pathetic. I mean, I've seen them all, and I feel it's sad. Chuck Berry is god, but what the fuck has he written? I mean, people say he wrote all those great rock and roll songs and we never wrote any, but at least we're still writing things. He hasn't written anything decent for 15 years. It amazes me why everybody exults him. Why, Muddy Waters can grow old gracefully, you can still go see Muddy Waters and enjoy him. He'll still play "Got My Mojo Working," but he'll throw something new in. I think it's about time all this Chuck Berry idolizing came to a halt. I can dig the nostalgia trip, and I dig his old records, but I find that side of the business very irritating. I feel sorry for them. I wouldn't like in 15 years' time to still be playing "Crocodile Rock."

Bernie, you were going to say something about Jerry Lee's album.
Bernie: The Session album, I mean there's so much shit going on about that. It's such a nothing album. Who wants to hear Jerry Lee Lewis doing "Proud Mary" and saying, "The Killer's gonna get ya." There's this big fuss about all his heavy friends on the album, there's hardly anybody on that album.

Elton: Well, Peter Frampton and Al Lee. It's just that Mercury Records decided to have this great hype and invited everybody who was anybody. I mean, they invited me to play on it, which was ludicrous. What I am supposed to do, play piano for Jerry Lee Lewis? I mean the guy's technically brilliant enough to eat me for breakfast. It's just that he's so lazy he won't fucking do it. And Rod Stewart. What's Rod gonna do on it, sing for him? It should have been called "Jerry Lewis' Session, starring Rod Stewart, who sings for Jerry Lee, and Elton John, who plays for Jerry Lee. Jerry was in Nashville when this album was recorded, but, his spirit was there."

Bernie: Don't read this, Jerry. Don't read this!

Elton, basically your musical career started with Bluesology, didn't it?
Elton: Actually it all started when I became old enough to listen to records, because my mother and father collected records and the first records I ever heard were Kay Starr and Billy May and Tennessee Ernie Ford and Les Paul and Mary Ford and Guy Mitchell. I grew up in that era. I was three or four when I first started listening to records like that. I obviously took great interest in them, and then I went through the skiffle thing with Lonnie Donegan. The first records my mom brought home that I was really knocked out by were "Hound Dog" and Haley's "ABC Boogie."

They changed my life, I couldn't believe it. I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and that was it. I didn't ever want to be anything else. I just started banging away and semi-studied classical music at the Royal Academy of Music but sort of half-heartedly. I was never really interested in it.

Bluesology got together when I was about 14, playing in scout huts and youth club dances. Just one ten-watt amplifier with the piano unamplified. We started off by playing . . . we started off by playing . . . [annoyed] I can never remember what we started off by playing . . . gradually we got into playing Jimmy Witherspoon numbers. We were always playing the wrong stuff. Bluesology were always two months too late, or three years too early. Never playing the right thing at the right time. They were always appealing to minority tastes. We always thought we were hip because we were playing Jimmy Witherspoon songs. It sounds ludicrous, and Mose Allison numbers, but they were sort of the hip figures of that era. It was the time of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. What was that classic Ray Charles thing [sings piano part] . . . "Let the Good Times Roll," things like that. Then we started to add brass, because brass was the thing.

Then we went for an audition at the State Cinema at Kilburn on a Saturday morning. There were thousands of groups and you had to play two or three numbers. The guy there from the agency, the Roy Tempest agency, I don't know where he ever disappeared to, asked if we would be interested in turning professional and backing all these American people. Backing Major Lance was probably the biggest thing that ever happened to me. So we said yes, originally it was going to be Wilson Pickett but his guitarist didn't like the band. The first person I ever played for really as a professional was Major Lance although when we turned professional I was working at a music publisher's taking tea around and packing the parcels. While I was in school I was playing in a pub every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night for a year. This was all to earn money to buy electric pianos and mikes and amplifiers and things. I used to make a quid a night but then I'd take my box around and people would put donations in it. For my age, I was making a fortune, getting about 35 quid a week, I think.

But it was Major Lance who was the first person in our lives, and from then on it was a succession of people. Patti LaBelle twice. Looking back on it, it was the most miserable existence, but at the time it was quite happy. We backed . . . let's see . . . Patti LaBelle twice, the Original Drifters for two gigs, we did a whole tour with Doris Troy, and a whole tour with the Ink Spots [laughter], and Billy Stewart. In between not working, by that I mean not backing people, we did the traditional months in Hamburg. That was another thing that changed my life and made me grow up. Then we went to Sweden and then the south of France for a month. We just did mediocre things.

I used to make records, you know, those cheap cover versions. I did backup vocals for those: Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," a cover of "United We Stand," "My Baby Loves Loving." I used to do the "oooohs," and "ahhhhhs." The lead singer of Uriah Heep, David Byron, used to sing all the lead vocals. Musically, they were very, very good, but the songs were awful, "I'll be your Jack-in-the-Box," and I used to go, "whoop-doop-doop."

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