Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Like It Was Yesterday

I looked over at Nigel who was sitting directly to my left at the dinner table and asked, “So, do you remember playing the Troubadour?” He nodded. Then, without missing a beat and with a voice overflowing with nostalgia, added, “Like it was yesterday.”

Minutes earlier, Rob Lowe, the host for the evening had given a brief overview of Elton John’s meteoric rise to fame, which included his well documented first American performance at that historic West Hollywood club in 1970.

I told Nigel how much I truly admired his innovative style of drumming that had graced such albums as Honky Chateau and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and what an amazing rhythm section he and bassist Dee Murray had created together. Nigel then opened up the program book that had been printed specifically for the evening and pointed out a photo to me of Elton, Dee and himself that had been taken right around the time of the Troubadour performance. Long gone was Nigel’s shoulder length black hair. Also gone was Dee Murray who had passed away in 1992. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him,” Nigel poignantly revealed.

I have a feeling that most of those attending that Troubadour show way back in 1970 knew without a doubt that Elton was destined for greatness. But no one could have predicted just how quickly success would come.

Now here is where I enter the story…

The day was October 25th, 1975. I was just a kid who had a passion for playing music and making little films. Elton John and his band were about to make history once again by playing to a sold out crowd at Dodger Stadium, which was the first time a rock band had played there since the Beatles. It would be my first ever concert. And boy what a concert it was: 55,000 fans, a nearly 4 hour set. Elton was at his peak, having released 10 hit albums in just 5 years. The last 2 had debuted at #1, another first.

I had (thankfully) brought my Super 8 camera to the stadium. After weaving my way toward the stage, I proceeded to film the day’s festivities. My friends and I had arrived at 6am, 8 hours before Elton and his band were scheduled to take the stage. This gave me plenty of time to film some of the craziness going on in the stands while 55,000 fans waited impatiently for the show to start. Now remember, this was before the advent of video cameras, so there was no sound, and I was having to reload the camera with film every 3 minutes.

Astonishingly, despite the historic nature of the event, the concert wasn’t professionally filmed or recorded, except for a BBC documentary crew who managed to capture a few things here and there. In the days that followed, I showed my footage to a few select friends and family members who were amused by Elton’s antics of dancing on top of the piano and throwing the piano bench into the audience. The film was then placed in storage and forgotten about - for the next 40 years!

A few weeks ago, while attending the Elton John Oscar Party in West Hollywood, I happened to mention to David Furnish that I had some old footage lying around somewhere that I had taken at the 1975 Dodger Stadium concert. I didn’t think anything would come of our conversation and was more than surprised to receive a phone call from a gentleman named Luke of Rocket Entertainment a few days later asking if it would be possible to view the footage. “Sure,” I responded. I then had to scramble to find it!

Three days ago, my producing partner Trinity Houston and I met with Luke and a gentleman named Tony at the London Hotel in West Hollywood. They had just arrived from the UK. Tony was a legendary record executive with Decca, Apple, and RCA who had been close friends with Elton since 1967 (when he was still Reg!). He had also worked closely with The Beatles and continues to work to this day with The Rolling Stones.

Armed with a laptop, we showed them a portion of the footage and they were enthralled. I have to say, these were two of the nicest people I have had the privilege of meeting in recent years. Tony and I reminisced about the 60’s and 70’s and what an innovative time for music it was.
I gave them a copy of the footage and within 5 minutes of leaving the meeting, received a call from Luke stating that Elton had asked if we would be interested in attending his 70th birthday celebration later that night as his personal guests!

Upon our arrival at the studio where the party was being held, we were warmly greeted by the Elton John staff. As we walked inside, David Furnish immediately recognized us from the Oscars and took us over to Elton who was seated at a table. Elton quickly stood, shook my hand, put his arm around me and profusely thanked me for the film.

In addition to celebrating his birthday, Elton was commemorating his 50 year collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Bernie took time out to chat with us as did Rob Lowe, Neil Patrick Harris, David Foster and Sharon Osbourne. Sharon’s daughter Kelly, along with Ryan Phillippe, Katy Perry, James Cordon, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Joni Mitchell were also on hand, as was Stevie Wonder and Lady Gaga who performed for Elton.

As dinner was served, we found ourselves seated in the front row with Elton’s band. Drummer Nigel Olsson (who’s been with Elton since his first album!) recognized us from the previous year’s Oscar Party and we ended up sitting together. Hearing his heartfelt stories of Elton and the guys during such a magical time in history was simply amazing - like it was yesterday.

No doubt, a night to remember. Thank you to Luke, Tony, David, and Elton for making it all possible!