Friday, August 23, 2013

'Dark Diamonds'

We all know what Elton and Bernie created over the years was perfecto. But like diamonds that we see in the shops, not shops I go into you understand, they do require some polishing. All diamonds are unique so they vary in the amount of attention they need. The ten most important people to assist Elton and Bernie over the years in shining the precious rocks and make the whole thing an even better experience in no specific order are:

Davey Johnstone

On a day to day basis the relationship over the 40 odd years has been vital. Both in the studio and onstage. His connection with Elton and the music. He has a deep understanding of it and his technical ability is second to none.

Dee Murray

From the early 3 piece shows when essentially he was both the connection with the piano and the drums and also doubling as a lead part to his laying down of basslines that were trailblazing in their day he has been cited by those outside the Elton world as a true innovator. He had a tremendous feeling of melody and neither over played nor underdeveloped his lines. He could weave in and out like a lead guitarist such was the subtley in his fingers.

Nigel Olsson

Descriptive drumming...with a sweet voice. The blending of his voice with the two guys above is an aural gift. His signature sounds on the drums are legendary, a whole generation of stickmen have been inspired by his work on Elton's albums. His perfectly selected lines go hand in glove with the music. Especially when you compare it with some of the others to sit in his seat over the years.

Gus Dudgeon

To say he made the 'Elton' sound would be an understatement. His work in putting together the masterpieces from basic track upwards to the final collage is a collossal legacy. With a steely determination in his outlook, he didn't suffer poor quality lightly. Or kept quiet about it. His dedication to the technicla aspects of the recordings have made them timeless and fresh.

Chris Thomas

He constantly gets overlooked. His work in the 80's with Elton gave his music a contemporary sound while staying true to their roots. Elton's trust of him unwavering and he rewarded him with some classic albums. Compare some of Elton's contemporaries from the 70's and how they got on in the 80's gives you some idea of how good a job he did in giving Elton a second coming in that mixed up decade. Vastly underrated by many fans unfortunately.

Paul Buckmaster

A one off in his field and no mistake. The man who made an orchestra sound like a mellotron a reviewer once said. That's how far out his style was. Which became a tremendous counterpoint yet connected tightly with Elton's songs. His appearances over 30 years on albums shows how much the various producers acknowledged his need on an Elton album. Unique in the extreme.

Guy Babylon

His eye to detail both in recording, producing and engineering the music, not only the studio albums, but the demo's for the various Broadway and Disney productions is colossal. Tireless in his striving for perfection for the live performances, his bringing to 'life' of Funeral For A Friend to be played live rather than a backing tape is one of many lasting testaments to his talent. We still hear his sounds in concert and will do for as long there's such thing as an Elton tour. His arrangements and programming will live as long as the music is played and sung...

James Newton Howard

His synth work on the albums brought a new dimension ot the albums. Plus his electric piano work where he tied into any Elton groove seemlessly. He could jam onstage as good as Elton could. There duels wree stunning. As was his orchestral arranging in the studio later on. When it came to conducting orchestra's live in concert, he is the conductor of choice for Elton. Why? Because he had a unique position of knowing the music from the studio with the band, onstage with the band and putting arrangements to composed pieces. In other words he could see the music from all angles so his linking of the orchestra to Elton and the band was cohesive and locked in.

Caleb Quaye

From the early days of the DJM demo's he perfected the art of combining piano with guitar so that when the Trident abums came to be recorded it was a smooth process. And left an idelible sound stamp on those albums. Gifted technically, he was never afraid to experiment to get a suitable sound.

Ray Cooper

If anyone was asked to name another percussionist in rock apart from Ray, there would be a hesitation. A long one no doubt. The parts he added on record were vital to the mix, his live two man show with Elton was a mix of vitality. In conjunction with Elton, he created a new style of rockshow that has never been copied by any other artist. Nor could be. Like all the others mentioned here, he has a sixth sense understanding of the music. His taste for it was both subtle and dramatic. Always daring and never dull.


  1. Lovely synopsis and analysis, Paul! And right on the money, as always.

    Are there any producers/musicians/lyricists that you feel were not worthy of the collaboration with Elton (or, perhaps, did not do justice to collaborating with Elton)?

    And, yes, that's a loaded question... :-)

    1. Thanks Kim, you've loaded that one up nicely! As you're no doubt aware I'm not a fan of the current producer, plenty about that on other posts here. I think Elton's been very lucky well served with the people he surrounded himself with in the studio and on tour. Especially considering how long he's been going and the number of character changes.
      All the other producers (apart from Gus and Chris) that he used, Greg Penny, Pat Leonard and Matt Still did fine jobs. Even those he used for limited sessions, Thom Bell and Don Was left their mark, Bell especially.
      I'm sure all the lyric writers would agree that stepping into Bernie's shoes was a huge challenge. Gary Osborne being the most notable, he has his critics of course. But he left us Little Jeanie and Blue Eyes for instance. So that alone would silence that crowd. Tim Rice too left classics. The Lion King songs are still live today. which is some achievement considering Elton's strict setlist regime!
      As regards bands, that's a future post on which I'm preparing on that very issue you raised. Needless to say it'll pull no punches...though I may get some!!