In August 1980, 10 years after he made his triumphant U.S. debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, rock & roll icon Elton John celebrated with a party at another L.A. nightspot. Long famed for his outlandish costumes and turbo-charged stage show, John’s appearance at North Hollywood’s Palomino club — recognized as one of the West Coast’s most important country-music venues — might have seemed as out-of-character as the fringe-festooned black jacket or the rhinestone stars adorning the singer’s cowboy hat. But that night, as he and four musicians from his new band were joined by members of the Palomino house band, John’s brief performance included a pair of his best-known tunes, “Tiny Dancer” and “Your Song,” along with Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go,” a country-pop classic he frequently played in English pubs in the Sixties.
“I’ve always loved country music,” John told CMT in 2005, just ahead of a performance with Dolly Parton on the CMA Awards. “I love hillbilly music, I love bluegrass music. It’s just the musicianship that I love.” While name-checking several legends — Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash — John also spoke with the authority and passion of a new fan in that same interview, citing Gary Allan’s Tough All Over from that year as one of his favorite discs. And while their output as collaborators has incorporated rock, pop, gospel and blues influences, John’s longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin reached a new audience with his work in 2002, co-writing (with Matt Serletic) Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack’s Grammy-winning “Mendocino County Line.”
Meanwhile, Taupin’s solo albums — as well as two LPs with his acoustic-roots outfit, Farm Dogs — have been peppered with country-leaning songs celebrating the influence the genre had on him while growing up in the northeast of England. In 2018, John and Taupin enlisted a who’s who of artists for a pair of albums covering many of their best-known hits. The country portion of that set, Restoration, included Little Big Town, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash.
As moviegoers prepare for their first look at Rocketman, the fantastical, decidedly nontraditional retelling of Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s transformation from pudgy but musically gifted London schoolboy to internationally recognized superstar Elton John, we revisit 10 of the musician’s most country-influenced performances on record.