This is the second half of the interview that Keith Hayward did with me for his book Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John, pictured below.
I saw Elton many times after that, at the Festival Hall, Hollywood Bowl and small provincial gigs as well, and I went to his house in Sunningdale where we played table tennis. We got on really well because he was a real record buff and so was I. He collected records and had good taste and you could sit down and chat with him about old records, obscure ones, and you could discuss things like great B-sides with him. I remember when I was in Los Angeles with him he was DJ-ing and I went along to watch him, it was about the same time as he did the Hollywood Bowl show, the same week, he had taken a cottage in the Beverley Hills Hotel at the time, and I remember watching him doing his stint and commenting on his choice of records.
The Hollywood Bowl was a big night for Elton because they were promoting the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that had just come out. The show started with ‘Funeral For A Friend’ and Linda Lovelace came on stage to introduce various look-alikes from the world of pop, rock and film. Then Elton came down and he had five pianos and when their lids were opened they spelt ELTON. This was the most memorable Elton show I had seen. I had a good seat at the front in a box and there was a big party afterwards at the On The Rocks club.
I remember going to a luncheon for John Reid’s birthday around the same time and they gave him a great big brass cock. I already knew that Elton was gay or probably gay. He didn’t seem to have any girls around him, apart from those that worked for him. You could tell when you’re with rock groups who are predominately heterosexual by the number of girls that are around and the way they offer themselves, dressing to attract them. That wasn’t happening around Elton.
When I went to Sunningdale, just by Wentworth Golf Course, there was no evidence of John Reid there because I think Elton lived there with his mum and Fred Fairbrother. I remember his games room where we played table tennis. He was extremely competitive but by chance I was quite good at table tennis because when I was a teenager I used to play in the local town team in a league. Elton was probably used to playing people who couldn’t really play but he realised after three or four points that I knew what I was doing and I beat him. He was a bit surprised and insisted on another game and I think it ended one all.
I remember America in 1976 when he was a major star. This was at his height when he had his own plane, The Starship, and a big entourage and he would get to the airport and there were several limousines to take them to the hotel and to the gigs. What I really remember was how I got there because I was the only journalist on the road with him because he remembered me from his early days. I rang up and said I wanted to do an interview with him and travel on the road with him and the American PR was a bit snooty about this and I asked him just to mention my name please, and he got back to me within a few minutes.
The Starship was a 707 and most of the seats had been taken out. You could walk up the gangplank and turn right and it’s a carpeted area and with couches at the sides and beyond that were dining tables with soft dining chairs, two on either side of the plane, and beyond that was a bar on the left, about six foot long. At the end of the bar was an electronic keyboard. At various points on the planes were TV screens which you could use as videos so you could watch what you wanted. There was a wall behind where the electronic keyboard was and then you went down a corridor and there were two private rooms, one was full of cushions where people could lounge around on the floor and another room further on was a bedroom, with a double bed and then a bathroom. There were one or two bathrooms at the back and an en suite for the bedroom. The livery on the outside was painted with Elton John. Other bands used it and the livery changed accordingly. It was leased from a company in Los Angeles and Frank Sinatra used the same plane as well as lots of other artists, like Led Zeppelin, and you paid for it on a daily basis whether you went anywhere or not, about $25k a day. There were a couple of stewardesses on it as well who were chosen for their looks and they were dispensing food and drinks. You could tell them what you wanted beforehand and they’d get it, and there was an unlimited supply of booze and loads of videos when videos were just coming into play in the mid-seventies which was a novelty then. I seemed to remember Elton loved Kentucky Fried Chicken.
When you have your own plane you can run the tour from one city so you stayed in one hotel in Chicago and from there in the afternoon they would get on the plane and go to another city to play and the tour was planned to be within an hour’s flight from the hotel city. Set off at 4.00pm in the afternoon to get there and do the sound check and do the show and then after the show it was into the cars back to the airport onto the Starship, a night flight then back to the same hotel. The show finished about 10.30 and you are back in your hotel by midnight. The convoys of limousines would have a police escort as well so you would whiz through the traffic, through red lights too. Then they would move to another central point and start again for a couple of weeks.
Elton had a huge portable wardrobe in his dressing room because he wore these spangly outfits and you would open the wardrobe and there would be 30 pairs of shoes, 200 jackets to choose from, drawers and drawers of spectacles but he was always very good natured about it all. He realised it was all over the top and he was self-mocking about it. He thought it was all a big laugh really.
On that tour he told me he was retiring and that was a real scoop for me. He said it was getting all too much for him and he was going to retire and run Watford FC instead. I knew he was gay. Well, everybody did but you didn’t mention things like that in the press in those days and MM didn’t mention things like that, or drugs. We just wrote about the music. When Elton came out to Rolling Stone I remember reading that and thinking, ‘Why are they making such a big deal of it. I‘ve known about that for years.’
When Captain Fantastic came out they had a party in New York and it was at a lunchtime, a Thursday. I’d been invited to this party of course but I had deadlines to meet for MM and I had a courier coming round at between 1 and 2pm to collect my copy. The phone rang at about 1.30 and it was one of Elton’s assistant who told me Elton had noticed I wasn’t at his party and he wanted to know why. I said tell him I’ll be along in a minute but I’m busy. The assistant said Elton was worried that I didn’t like him anymore! When I did get there he came running over and gave me a great big hug and said he thought I wasn’t coming and I said I was sorry but I had a lot to do that day. I said I had to write about people other than him, you know, and he said yes he knew that. It sounds silly now but that’s how he felt. It was nice in a way, to know that he cared that those who’d known him since before he was famous still liked him.