Elton John: The Rolling Stone Interview

Page 4 of 5

How did you get involved with 'Friends,' the film?
Bernie: I don't remember how it started–

Elton: I remember. It was a time, it was the year we broke in the States, 1970. It was early on in the year and we were pretty cold everywhere, nothing really was happening, then John Gilbert, whose father was making the film, approached us after hearing the Elton John album. They approached us and we agreed to do it, we agreed to a sum of money they would pay us in advance.

Bernie: It was all done in a very straightforward fashion and in fact I was the first one to get the script–

Elton: You wrote one of the songs before you ever saw the script! "Michelle's Song."

 Bernie: Yeah, well, I guess we thought it was quite neat to do a film score. I just read the script and halfway through the script I wrote one song and then by the time I'd finished the script the three songs that were actually written for the film were done and the other songs were things we'd just had hanging about, and they stuck them into the film.

Elton: Well, we didn't spend any time doing it. We'd gotten back from the States the first time and then, because we'd had success there, we had to go back to the States four weeks later for this sort of first major tour. All the Friends stuff had to be done in four weeks; it was such a panic session. They wanted to release a soundtrack album, and I didn't want them to release a soundtrack album with three songs on it and fill it out with garbage, motorists peeing by lakes and things like that, so we said, well, we got two spare songs, have those, "Honeyroll" and "Can I Put You On," which we'd been doing onstage anyway. So they put them on during transistor radio sequences. We put them on the album as a bonus, really. I really regret that because, fuck, I would have wanted to put them on our own album.

Bernie: Music people and film people really don't hit it off. Like when we first cut the original soundtrack at Olympic we had all these people coming in, film people whom we didn't know, trying to command the session, saying you should do this and you shouldn't do that. It was like working in a bank or working at a computer. You have to write 40 seconds of music and if you don't write 40 seconds it's a disaster. I'd never ever do it again.

Elton: Film people are so fucking arrogant. I hate them. I saw Sam Peckinpah. We went to the set of one of his films, and oh dear, oh dear, I would have liked to have smashed him right in the fucking mouth. He said, "Oh, I must lie down, you did that take wrong." I know it's artistic temperament, but, really. I wouldn't mind if he had ever made a decent movie.

Why did you do 'Born To Boogie'?
Elton: Well, I mean, why did I do my three minutes? Marc Bolan said, "Could you just come down and we're gonna just do 'Tutti Frutti' and a couple of things. It'll be fun." It was nice. I met Ringo. All we really did was play for four hours, we didn't pose or anything. They must have lots of stuff they didn't use. Like I've said before, in that I look like a fucking gorilla, so ugly.

At the same time you had 'Friends' and the two studio albums on the chart you had the live album. How did that come about?
Elton: We had this guy who worked for WABC and he is an Elton John freak, or at least was, probably not now; I didn't send him a Christmas card. He was always trying to badger us into doing this concert because he wanted to inaugurate live concerts on the air in New York, in the studio. The first time we said no and the second time they came back to us and said we'll put you into a recording studio instead of a WABC studio so we said yes, all right. So they got . . . what was the name of the place?

Bernie: A&R Studios.

Elton: On Seventh Avenue. So we just did it one evening with a hundred people in there and it went out live on the air. I didn't know at the time that it was going on eight-track. As far as I was concerned it was just going out over the airwaves of New York.

Bernie: Oh, we had no intention at that time of recording it for an album.

Elton: I'm very anti-live album, as a matter of fact. Well, we recorded it and listened to it, on the eight-track. It was a time when people were coming to see me and people were buying my records and the two of them weren't getting together. Everybody thought I was going to be a very moody person onstage, fainting after every three songs. I thought the band wasn't getting any credit, Nigel and Dee, and that it would be nice to do the album as sort of a bootleg cover, and Nigel and Dee would be able to earn some money out of it.

I think it's a fucking good live album in that most live albums are the result of say, six days' recording. If you're gonna make a live recording you get a truck to come down to two or three performances and you choose the best ones so it really isn't a live album. It's like doing a session album –"Which take is the best over three nights?" Ours was just totally live; we didn't know anything about it.

It was on the chart simultaneously with the three others. Were you surprised 'Elton John' really broke first in America?
Elton: Well, it had come out in England and died. It had come out in May of 1970, got into the BBC chart at 45, and went straight out again. [The BBC LP chart contains 50 albums.] We thought it would get into the charts 'cause it was a special type album with orchestra and all kinds of things. We had a crisis meeting to say, "Why isn't it on the charts?" "Why isn't it selling?" and I didn't want to go on the road, I just didn't want to know. They said, you're just going to have to go out on the road and promote it. We went to the States primarily because the record company said, "You come over here, we'll break this." I didn't believe them, I really went to the States to have a look at some record stores. And also it was either join Jeff Beck or go to the States, or Jeff Beck was going to join us. But it turned out we would have had to join Jeff Beck, it was one of those ego things. So we went to the States and it broke. I wasn't surprised because there was so much hype going on I could have believed anything that was going on when I was over there.

Bernie: It was all just one night, that one night at the Troubadour.

Elton: It really was just that first night, like you said, like The Eddie Duchin Story or "dis boy is a genius." One of those old films, "Look, the boy is conducting the orchestra he's 14 years old and he's blind and he's got one leg and everybody's going 'hooray!'"

Bernie: The next morning, like, wham, bam, there on the front of all the papers . . . it's just . . . [sighs]

Elton: People were flocking to us. I couldn't believe it. Second night I played Leon Russell was in the front row but I didn't see him until the last number. Thank God I didn't, because at that time I slept and drank Leon Russell. I mean I still really like him," but at that time I regarded him as some kind of a god. And I saw him and I just stopped. He said, "Keep on," and he shouted something, and I said, oh fuck, and he said "Come up to the house tomorrow." I figured, this was it, he's going to tie me up in a chair and whip me and say "Listen here, you bastard, this is how "you play the piano," but he was really nice instead. It was like schoolboy's fantasies coming true. Really strange. Quincy Jones . . .

Bernie: All the pop stars . . .

Elton: Quincy Jones, he must have brought his whole family, he has 900 children, Quincy Jones, and I kept shaking hands coming through the door. The whole week at the Troubadour should have been called The Million Handshakes. David Ackles was on the bill. I mean, that was the first thing I couldn't believe that we were playing above David Ackles. In England he had much more prestige than he apparently had in America.

It was very, very weird. I loved it, though. I went to Disneyland and sang "Your Song" onstage in shorts and Mickey Mouse ears. Looking back on it I think it's horrific. I mean, when we went back the second time and I was big enough to play Santa Monica Civic on my own for one night and Ry Cooder was first on the bill and then Odetta and then us. I had four suits of clothing on.

I had this cape on, and this hat. I took that off and had a jumpsuit on. Took that off and I had another sort of jumpsuit on. Then I took that off and had a long Fillmore West sweater. Maxine had gone out and said [imitating Maxine], "Oooh, I've found these mauve tights, I bet you wouldn't wear them onstage," and I said I would, and this was all filmed, it was on the Henry Mancini show. [Bernie in hysterics.] Oh weird! And we had this big feller (he does the Sonny and Cher show now), better not call him a big mincing queen, who kept saying "Oh my God, oh my God, what's he doing, what's he doing?" He's one of those intolerable people who were going, "It's a disaster, it's a disaster, what's he doing?"

Bernie: Oh, so many of those people–

Elton: I mean, I look back and say, fuck me, did they actually happen, all those things?

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