For the cover story of the new issue of Rolling Stone Elton John sat down with Austin Scaggs for a career-spanning conversation. Here are some key moments from the interview. (To read the whole interview pick up a new copy of Rolling Stone, or sign up for Rolling Stone Plus to read it in our digital archives.)
You played piano and sang on Kanye’s last album, on “All of the Lights.” How’d that happen?
I ran into him in Honolulu last January. He’s a stone-cold genius. He’s like Miles Davis meets Frank Zappa. 808s & Heartbreak is the sexiest record since What’s Going On. He played us the track for “All of the Lights” and it was fucking amazing. It’s like, “Wow, this is something else.” I mean, he sampled Bon Iver! That’s his genius. His new album is a masterpiece.
What’s the most spectacular thing you’ve seen, looking into an audience?
Seas of people. Central Park was phenomenal; I got to ride in a police car in New York, which was almost as fun as the show [laughs]! I played to 800,000 people at the Colosseum in Rome, with it all lit up. Or the square in Kiev. That was 600,000. I played the Odeon in Athens, where you’re looking up at the Acropolis. Or the Ephesus amphitheater in Turkey, where Mary Magdalene fled after Jesus died.
What moments are unforgettable?
Hanging out with Groucho Marx. Meeting Mae West. Neil Diamond introducing me at the Troubadour. When the Band played an early show in Connecticut, they flew down to see me in Philadelphia. When George Harrison sent me a telegram saying, “Well done, congratulations,” when my album was on the charts just above All Things Must Pass. When I met Bob Dylan at the Fillmore East. He was standing on the staircase and he tells Bernie, “Oh, I really like the lyrics to ‘Ballad of a Well-Known Gun,’” and Bernie goes [fakes heart attack]. There’s nothing like when your heroes rubber-stamp what you’re doing.
In 1970, Neil Young came to my apartment and played the whole After the Gold Rush album on my piano until three in the morning. How are you ever going to forget that?
Does your baby have his own iPod?
Yes. We put on lullaby versions of songs by Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and the Beatles. Linda Ronstadt’s Dedicated to the One I Love, Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and Kate Bush, because we love her so much. Then some Chopin and Mozart.
More Elton John:
• Rolling Stone‘s 1976 Cover Story: Elton John: Lonely at the Top
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Elton John’s Elton John
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Elton John
• Rob Sheffield on Elton John’s Greatest Non-Hits