‘It was very special to them’

Davy Johnston and Elton John in 1974 (Photo: Robert Knight/Redfernce Archive)

Davy Johnston and Elton John in 1974 (Photo: Robert Knight/Redfernce Archive)

Multi-instrumentalist Davey Johnstone has been Elton John’s guitarist for 50 years, which didn’t leave him with much free time to focus on his solo career – his first LP, Smiley faceHe appeared on Elton’s Rocket Record Company label in 1973, and it took him a long time to make a follow-up album. Johnston found time, obviously, during 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour in Elton – and the result is deeper than my roots, a family affair that includes the musical contributions of four of Johnston’s sons and artworks by his daughter Juliette. Fifteen-year-old Elliot, Johnston’s youngest child, sings on most songs, including the cover of “Here, There and Everywhere” which Johnston describes as “one of the Beatles’ greatest songs of all time.”

While Johnston talks with Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume about the record, which will be released on February 4, he’s also looking forward to Elton’s farewell tour, which finally resumes on January 19, and looks naturally back to the thousands of previous concerts with Elton. . The full-circle conversation eventually leads to a memorable performance on Thanksgiving 1974 at Madison Square Garden in New York, when he and Elton actually shared a stage with the Beatles: John Lennon. “And this was, unfortunately, the last [public] performance,” Johnston signs.

The night was “legendary” in another way, as it was this concert which eventually led to the reconciliation of Lennon and his second wife Yoko Ono after their separation. “At the time, he was with Mai Pang, who was also a good friend of mine from all those years ago,” says Johnston, referring to Lennon’s personal assistant and Ono who, at Ono’s request, became Lennon’s romantic companion during his 18 months “lost”. Weekend” away from Ono. “But that night, Yoko attended the show, and John didn’t know she was in the audience. I think he would have been really nervous if he knew Yoko was in the crowd. But they got [back] Together shortly thereafter, it was very special for them.”

Johnston believes that Elton “conspired” with Lennon’s assistant Tony King, the “cool guy” who later served as Elton’s assistant, to bring Yoko to the show. “They knew it was coming and all that was left. In fact, Yoko sent some pretty gardenias to say to John, “Good luck with the show.” If you look at the footage – there aren’t a lot of pictures from that show; God knows why not, but there isn’t – You’ll see in John’s button hole, this gardenia he got from Yoko. But he didn’t realize she was at the prom at the time.”

Elton John and John Lennon onstage at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974 (Photo: Steve Morley/Redferns)

Elton John and John Lennon onstage at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974 (Photo: Steve Morley/Redferns)

Lennon was nervous even without knowing that his estranged wife was in the audience, since he hadn’t performed live at all since the Madison Square Garden party two years ago. Nor has he played for the Beatles since the Apple Corps rooftop party in January 1969 which was immortalized in get backand plans to sing two Beatles songs at The Elton Show. While Johnston recalls that Elton’s “quick rehearsal” with Lennon the night before went well (“It wasn’t really rehearsal. …we chatted and laughed and had a few drinks”), Lennon was quite nervous by the time he actually appeared at MSG on November 28, 1974.

“On prom night, I was tuning in all the instruments backstage, and John walked into the locker room looking terrified,” Johnston recalls. And I said, ‘John, are you okay? And he’d say, ‘Well, no. I think I want to vomit. I feel so nervous! – Because he hasn’t played forever. It’s been a long time since John did a live show. …but I tuned his guitar and kind of hugged him and said, “Look, I’ll see you there. That would be cool!” Secretly nervous, too. He almost couldn’t process what was happening on stage.

“I’m walking with Elton and [bassist] Di Murray and [drummer] Nigel [Olsson] And [percussionist] Ray Cooper, I’m thinking, ‘John Lennon He will come on stage with us. This is madness! “Johnston laughs.” When Elton announced John in the middle of the show, it was quite a surprise; No New Yorker knows this. And because he became a New Yorker – and because he was John Lennon – The place went completely crazy. When I think about it now, it was so surreal, everything. …I can never forget such a wonderful night.”

Thus, the night entered rock ‘n’ roll history for being Lennon’s last public performance (he performed one last time, in 1975, on a television special). Greetings to Sir Lou – Mr. Schumann), and to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the Beatles with Ono (the couple met officially in February 1975, welcomed their son Sean in October of that year, and remained together until Lennon’s death in December 1980). But the appearance of Lennon almost did not happen, because the whole thing was the result of a losing bet.

“when [Elton and his band] They were going out for a tour of the United States [in 1974]We decided to take a ship to America. We were all living in London at the time, and instead of flying and being late for long flights, we decided to take a trip on the SS France,” Johnston recalls. [John Lennon’s son with first wife Cynthia] Julian Lennon is on the ship with us, because he wanted to spend the summer with his father in New York. So, we get to the New York docks and there’s John waiting for us, we get off the ship and we all say hello and a hug and all that’s left. I was totally impressed with the stars! Then the next day we went with him to the studio and watched some recordings [Lennon’s solo song] “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” which I sang and played on the piano. John ended up coming to [Colorado recording studio] Caribou Ranch came to visit us and recorded Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds and a couple of other songs, and it was then agreed that if Whatever Gets You Thru the Night goes to #1, John will come on stage with us. And he said, “Yes, of course”—because never He thinks it’ll be No. 1. He-she I was A number 1! Therefore, he had to fulfill his obligation.”

At Madison Square Garden, Lennon ended up performing “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” “Lucy,” and the amazing old Beatles, “I Saw Her Standing There,” while Johnston “keeped on looking; he was right next to me on stage, and I going, “That’s crazy!” and Johnston was still stunned the next day, when Lennon paid a surprise visit to his hotel room.

“Elton called me… and he was like, ‘Wow, what a show that was!'” Listen, John would like to come and hang out with you. Is this good?’ and me [joked], “Nah, tell him to get angry. Um who a path Tell him come! “chuckles Johnston.” So John arrived at my suite about 15 minutes later. He was in the snow and he had the model [Lennon look]: Novelty glasses, robe, rolled jacket, scarf. I was looking for a little spy [in the hotel door]I will never forget seeing him walk towards me. It was like, “This is really one of the greatest things in my life.” …I tell you, I obviously miss him to this day, as so many people do. What a legend, what a man, what a writer, what an artist.”

Davy Johnston and Elton John in 2012 (Photo: Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa)

Davy Johnston and Elton John in 2012 (Photo: Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa)

While Johnston never had the opportunity to perform on stage with Lennon again, he continued to play with Elton for decades, with the exception of Elton’s 1980 tour, during which Johnston worked with other rock legends such as Alice Cooper and Stevie Nicks. “It’s an amazing feat, because I don’t know anyone who’s been with any other artist for that long and has done a lot of live performances,” Johnston says of his stint with Elton, who estimates they’ve performed about 3,300 concerts together. Now, as he prepares to take one last trip with Elton, serving as musical director of the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, he’s just as treasured as his dream job was in 1974—though he admits he never imagined he’d play Elton with her for half a century.

“Back then, back in the day, we never really thought about things like that. When you’re in your early twenties, you’re just doing it out of love for her. It’s like, ‘Wow, I was Permissible to do this. This is the free giftI have given. … So, it’s really amazing that I was able to do this [for so long], “Johnston is a marvel.” I attribute that to Elton’s staying power and tenacity, and the way he handles the whole thing. He is a great singer. His voice has changed over the years, but I think he used it to his advantage; He kind of has a bigger, more emotional voice now. The man is a beast. He is one of those people who plays and sings brilliantly every night. I’ve never heard him not do that great every night.”

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

The above interview is from Davy Johnston’s appearance on SiriusXM “Volume West”. The full audio of that conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.

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