ELTON JOHN IS COMMEMORATED AS THE FIRST EVER WORLDWIDE RECORD STORE DAY
ELTON JOHN IS COMMEMORATED AS THE FIRST EVER WORLDWIDE RECORD STORE DAY LEGEND AND WILL RELEASE HIS LIVE ALBUM 17.11.70+ ON RECORD STORE DAY, APRIL 22, 2017, THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF RECORD STORE DAY; EXPANDED ALBUM 2 LP 180 GM VINYL WITH 6 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS
By Harvey Kubernik c 2017
In November 1970, Elton John performed an intimate concert at A&R Studios in New York, recorded for WABC FM. In front of 125 people,
Elton played in his then three- piece line up of himself, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. Intended for broadcast only, its pristine quality – engineered by the legendary Phil Ramone (the ‘R’ in A&R Studios) – meant that the recording of the performance became a fast- selling bootleg. Sales were so swift that it had to be rush-released as 17.11.70 on DJM Records in April 1971, capturing six of the concert’s tracks on a single album.
However, 17.11.70 often seemed a footnote in Elton’s history, overlooked in contrast to his invincible run of studio albums (and he was productive – this would be his fourth album in two years).
17.11.70 is a very revealing artifact: this is the Elton that America fell in love with at the start of their long affair; it offers pure, stripped back performances of those off-kilter, beautiful songs written with Bernie Taupin.
The album was originally released on May 10, 1971 and entered the Billboard album charts on May 29, peaking at No 11. Elton was the first artist since the Beatles to have four albums charting simultaneously in Billboard’s top 100 albums.
Incidentally the live photos on the front and back covers of the album were shot at Elton’s first ever shows in America, at the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles, an engagement that changed the record and music business as well as his life.
“The album 17-11-70 was not meant to be a live one at all; we did one of the first- ever stereo radio broadcasts live at A&R Recording Studios in New York City in 1970 on the 17th of November,” remembered Elton.
“It was Phil Ramone’s studio,” offered Elton. “One of the greatest producers of all time, and we just went in the booth and played it as a three-piece: Nigel Olsson on drums and vocals, Dee Murray on bass and vocals, and myself. There was a studio audience of about 100 sitting outside the booth, hearing it coming through the loud speakers, and we just played. I’m astonished by how good we were, listening to this record. A lot of it was improvised, and you can do that when you’re a three-piece band because I’m really the lead instrument, and Dee and Nigel were so brilliant at following what I did. There’s a 16-minute track on it that was completely improvised, more or less, and I’m very proud of it: I think it’s one of the greatest live albums ever made. It wasn’t initially coming out as a live album, but there were so many bootlegs in those days that the record company put it out. I’m glad they did because it really is something I’m very very proud of.”
“I greenlighted the Elton John 17-11-70 syndicated FM radio broadcast,” volunteered Russ Regan the former Vice-President of UNI/MCA Records, and legendary A&R man who inked John to his first label deal in the United States.
“17-11-70 was done in New York. I knew FM radio would embrace Elton. It was eventually released as an LP. Then I got accused of putting out too much product. I responded, “Look, with this kind of artist you can never put out too much product.’”
Russ Regan has played a major role in the careers of the biggest names in the music business, including the Beach Boys, Hugh Masekela, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Barry White, Olivia Newton-John, and the Alan Parsons Project-all of whom credit Regan as a major force behind their success.
In my 2014 book, Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, (Santa Monica Press), Regan talked at length about his discovery of Elton John and guiding his career in the United States during the first part of the seventies.
“UNI Records was on 8255 Sunset Boulevard.
“Lenny Hodes was a song-plugger for Dick James Music. I knew of Dick James—he was the Beatles’ publisher—but had never met him. Lenny bought me this record and said, ‘DJM [Dick James Music] has a licensing deal with Larry Uttal of Bell Records, and they passed. I’ve shopped this everywhere, and it’s been turned down by five record companies. They think he sounds like Jose Feliciano.’”
Songwriter Roger Greenaway also praised Elton John to Regan at the Continental Hyatt.
“I took it, and around six o’clock that night, I put it on. It was the Empty Sky album. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘this guy is good. What the hell is the problem?’ I loved his voice and the songs. ‘Skyline Pigeon’ and stuff like that. ‘Lady Samantha’ was in there. I called Lenny and said, ‘I like this artist. What’s the deal?’ He said, ‘If you like him, Russ, you got him for nothing.’ So I said, ‘I want him, and I want to sign him.’
“He calls me the next day and says, ‘I just talked to Dick James, and we have a deal. But Dick wants you to buy another act along with this kid. We’re
giving you Elton John for nothing, and Dick wants $10,000 for a band called Argosy; I replied, “because you guys are so nice to give me Elton John for nothin’, I’ll buy this other master for $10,000.’
“Then, before I could put out Empty Sky, the advance of the Elton John album came to me in the mail. That’s when I shut the record label down for a couple of hours [and] brought [in] the employees, sales and marketing, A&R, everybody—thirty people sitting on the floor of my office. I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you, God.’
“I had never heard an album that good in my life. I played the album, and everybody went out of their minds. It hadn’t even been out in England yet. I equated that Elton John album to Pet Sounds. It was so good. The arrangements by Paul Buckmaster were important, and Gus Dudgeon was a great producer.
“Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, if you analyze them, were incredible. He was way ahead of everybody. For a 21 year old kid at the time he was amazingly talented.”
Pianist and singer Elton John landed in Los Angeles in August 1970, along with drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray. John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin was also there. Regan asked Neil Diamond to introduce Elton for his debut performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.
Before meeting Russ, Elton immediately visited Three Dog Night member Danny Hutton at his house. In 1969 the group had already covered a couple of Elton and Bernie songs, “Lady Samantha” and “Your Song.”
In Canyon of Dreams The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon (Sterling), my 2009 book, Danny Hutton discussed his initial encounter with Elton John, aka Reg Dwight.
“I first met him in 1969 in England when I was looking for songs for Three Dog Night. So I phoned Dick James Music and Reg Dwight came up to my room and had some demos, which I still have. Reg or Elton, I really liked him. He was so sweet and sincere.
“I invited him to a small club where we are doing a show. The bouncer came up and said ‘Did you invite somebody because I don’t have him on the
list.’ He’d come with Bernie Taupin. They were downstairs in the bar and I went down and he was humming something. I said, ‘You’re a great singer.’ And Elton said, ‘Nah. I’m a songwriter, not a singer.’ Maybe he was working me. Later on I couldn’t get him on the list for our show at the Marquee Club so we brought him in as our roadie. Reg knew my resume. We were a hot, hot band.
“I heard ‘Lady Samantha’ and brought it to the group. Our producer, Gabriel Mekler, had all three of us sing it and had Chuck [Negron] do the lead vocal. I liked the song. We also did ‘Your Song.’ And then I got a 3-page handwritten letter from Elton thanking me for helping him and Bernie out.
“Elton then phoned from London and said ‘I’m coming to town.’ He arrived and the first place I took him to eat was Billy James’ Black Rabbit Inn. Then I brought him up to the house. I phoned Van Dyke Parks to come up. And Elton played the piano at my house on Lookout Mountain.”
The next day while Elton John was preparing for his game-changing opening at the Troubadour, Russ Regan was running a record company and couldn’t attend his sound check at the club.
“And then the next day there was Elton’s sound check at the Troubadour and I was so busy at the label I couldn’t make it,” lamented Russ. “Rick Frio was working for me at MCA and I sent him. After the sound check, Rick calls me and says, ‘Russ, you’re not gonna believe it. We got one here. We got one!’”
Regan then went beyond the call of duty, and as Elton John’s advocate, telephoned everybody in his Hollywood rolodex and invited them to the Troubadour on August 25, 1970.
Russ was ringside for Elton’s launch, along with Danny Hutton, Neil Diamond, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Chris Darrow, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, booking agent Jerry Heller, Mike Love, UNI publicist Norman Winter who comped GO! magazine music columnist Rodney Bingenheimer, Circus photographer Kurt Ingham, and pop music critic Robert Hilburn from the Los Angeles Times, who wrote the review that touted Elton John to the regional and national entertainment media. Leon Russell, Denny Cordell, Blackie Dammett, Gordon Lightfoot, and Brian Wilson came other nights.
“This was something euphoric. I was on a high for three days,” added Regan. “I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to have an artist like Elton John. “It wasn’t a feeling like when Brian [Wilson] would play me his singles before [“Good Vibrations”] they were released. It was beyond that.”
“Danny Hutton brought Elton up to my house in Bel-Air in 1970,” Brian Wilson told me over a lunch in 2007.
“Three Dog Night earlier did ‘Your Song,’ still my favorite of Elton’s, and he had just played the Troubadour. I heard he was nervous to meet me when they rang the intercom system. I was nervous to see him! So I answered the buzzer and sang ‘It’s a little bit funny’ from ‘Your Song’ to them before they came up.”
In a 2014 interview, Russ reminded me, “Don’t forget we went from the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard to the San Francisco
Troubadour that Doug Weston also had. And Elton didn’t do that well in San Francisco. He did all right but it wasn’t the same magic.
“Here’s the bad news. We then went to New York and they put us in the Playboy Club for a luncheon for everybody. By the time Elton went on half the people had left. And Elton was so disheartened that his performance was not that great. OK. He didn’t do very well at the Playboy Club and I don’t blame him.
“So the next day we’re on a train going to Philadelphia to play at The Electric Factory. We get there and check into the Marriott Hotel and all the radio people are there. Kal Rudman of the music industry trade magazine Friday Morning Quarterback came up.
“I had picked up the phone in advance for my people. I’m having them up to a big suite at the Marriott, people are coming by, and I’m ordering 20 club sandwiches at a time. ‘Cause club sandwiches are cut up in fours. Right? I’m having drinks brought up.
“So all of a sudden, Elton’s room is next door to my suite, I get a call from one of MCA President Mike Maitland’s assistants, who runs me down and says, ‘Russ, you’ve gone out of your mind. We all think you’ve lost your mind with this Brit that you’re promoting.’ He called him ‘a Brit.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘You’re out there spending all this money and we’ve sold about three thousand records. It hasn’t translated into sales. We aren’t selling shit and you’re spending this money!’
“I said to him, ‘it’s just a matter of time before he pops loose. This guy is gonna be big!’ So he says, ‘Well you know what they call your big time superstar?’ ‘What are they calling him?’ ‘They’re calling him Regan’s Folly.’
“By the time Elton got to Philadelphia he was Regan’s Folly. I called the guy every name in the book and hung up on him. I walked next door and went to Elton and told him what had just happened. And Elton looked at me. I will never forget these words, ‘Russ, tonight I’m gonna burn the city of Philadelphia down.’
“He had a song called ‘Burn Down The Mission. Right? So we get to The Electric Factory. He does his set and the last song was ‘Burn Down The Mission.’ And he did it for 20 minutes. He was under and on top of the piano. He was out in the audience. He was everywhere. People were going out of their minds. I said, ‘This is it.’ And we finally got out of there about midnight and called room service for a couple of banana splits.
“I got to bed at 3:00 AM in the morning. I was awakened by Sam Passamano, who was the MCA branch manager.
“He called me at 10:30 and said, ‘Russ, I have to wake you up and I know you were up all night. But I have to give you some news. I just had to order 5,000 Elton John albums. Something happened last night.’ ‘Thank you very much,’ and I went back to sleep.
“Two hours later Sam calls me again he woke me up again. ‘I know you’re still sleeping and not checking out until 2:00 PM. But I had to order another 5,000 albums.’
“I then called the MCA office and asked for the Maitland’s assistant and he picked up. I said, ‘This is what just happened. Sam Passamano has ordered 10,000 Elton John albums and you can go fuck yourself and tell everybody they can go fuck themselves ‘cause Regan’s Folly is coming home!’ And I hung up.
“Then what happened was Elton John took off. And don’t forget we hadn’t put out the single yet. When I came back we released ‘Your Song’ as the single. I loved that song.
“Now get this. I was being second-guessed. Everybody was going with ‘Take Me to The Pilot.’ I loved that, too, but ‘Your Song’ is the hit. So guess what, that 45RPM, if you can ever find one, ‘Your Song’ is the A-side and ‘Take Me To The Pilot’ as the B-side. ‘Cause everybody thought I was crazy putting out ‘You Song.’ ‘They’re gonna flip it!’ And they never did because ‘Your Song’ was a smash.
“The only supporters I had at MCA Records were Rick Frio, Pat Pipolo, and Norman Winter. Elton, his manager John Reid, my wife and I went to Hawaii for a week together socially.
“I then remain at MCA for another couple of years through Tumbleweed Connection, and ‘Rocket Man.’”
During 1972 Regan moved to 20th Century Records. As President he signed Barry White, the DeFranco Family, Carl Douglas, Maureen McGovern, and the Alan Parsons Project.
In 1980, Regan became PolyGram Records’ General Manager of West Coast Operations. He was the music consultant on the Flashdance soundtrack that sold 14 million copies. Regan was also Music Supervisor for Breakin, A Chorus Line, This is Spinal Tap, Karate Kid, and Chariots of Fire.
In 1986 Russ was hired as President of Motown’s Creative Division. He worked on Smokey Robinson’s successful comeback album, One Heartbeat, which went platinum and spawned two top 10 singles. Regan remained with Motown until the company was sold in 1988.
Russ Regan has been an independent consultant to record labels and musicians over the last few decades.
And in April 2017, Elton John’s live album 17.11.70, initiated during Regan’s UNI/MCA tenure, remastered by Bob Ludwig, will now be reissued in expanded edition coinciding with Record Store Day.
17.11.70 + reinstates six further songs from the concert and thus it is, at last, the most complete edition of the show available. The version of “Amoreena” here has never been released on vinyl.
This is a record of which Elton is tremendously and rightly proud. With its mixture of originals and then-recent covers (Elton takes on the Stones, the Beatles and Elvis).
17-11-70+ captures the warmth, humor and showmanship of a 23-year-old on the brink of international fame.
Take Me To The Pilot
Honky Tonk Women
Sixty Years On
Can I Put You On
Bad Side Of The Moon
Burn Down The Mission (Incl. My Baby Left Me / Get Back)
Indian Sunset Previously unreleased bonus track
Amoreena Newly remixed bonus track
Your Song Previously unreleased bonus track
Country Comfort Previously unreleased bonus track
I Need You To Turn To Previously unreleased bonus track
Border Song Previously unreleased bonus track
My Father’s Gun Previously unreleased bonus track
“Happy 10th birthday to Record Store Day,” stated Elton. “I love record stores. I can go to the record store in Vegas and spend 3 hours in there. Just the smell of it, the looking at it, the wonder of it, the memories. I love vinyl so much; the tactile nature, the ritual of it, looking at the sleeve…especially with the old albums and the liner notes – who played on them, the process of putting it on, the needle going on and the sound coming out. And it DOES sound better, I know it does! It’s just the wonder of having vinyl.”
Record Store Day is the one day of the year when over 200 independent record shops all across the UK come together to celebrate their unique culture. Special vinyl releases are made exclusively for the day and many shops and cities host artist performances and events to mark the occasion. Thousands more shops celebrate the day around the globe in what’s become the biggest record buying event on the music calendar.
Vinyl releases have been a core part of Record Store Day since its launch and Record Store Day has in turn spearheaded the UK vinyl revival. In 2008 there were just over 75,000 vinyl albums sold in the UK. Propelled by Record Store Day, sales reached 3.4 million in units in 2016, representing 14% of physical albums market.
On March 25th, Elton turned age 70. He celebrated the event at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in conjunction with his AIDS Foundation which raised money for the foundation and the museum.
“I’m interested in moving forward all the time, with what I create, my collaborations, and also with discovering the work of other people,” proclaimed Elton. “I think age is immaterial, provided we keep our minds alive by being open to new things. I can be as excited by a new artist who plays me their demo as I am by a new record of one of my musical heroes. I can be excited by playing a new city I’ve never played before, or revisiting somewhere I know well and seeing how it’s changed. Life is a constant state of flux for us all, and I like to embrace that. I also feel very happy to use my position to bring attention to injustice in the world and to try to help where I can. At this time in my life I’m the happiest I have ever been.”
For 50 years of his life and career he has worked with the English lyricist and poet Bernie Taupin, in which they collaborated on more than 30 albums.
“On his work with Taupin, Elton commented: “It’s the same excitement now as when we first started. That this year marks the 50th anniversary of my partnership with Bernie Taupin is mind boggling for me because it seems like only yesterday that I met him. It’s an amazing achievement to stay with one person for 50 years on a creative basis, in an industry where that doesn’t really happen very much.”
Bernie Taupin says of Elton, “It’s been an unconventional partnership and while we pretty much patented the two-rooms technique I’d venture to say you’d be hard pressed to find a couple of songwriters more in sync with each other and their craft.”
As MCA Records West Coast Director of A&R during 1977-1978, I briefly worked with Elton on a few products. John has always been a diehard music fan and a record collector. At MCA we chatted inside Cherokee Studio about Neil Sedaka, Tamla-Motown, Billy Stewart, Jackie Wilson, Laura Nyro and the Hollies. Elton confirmed he was the pianist on their 1969 recording session for “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
On October 14, 1978, Elton gave a solo set performance for MCA record executives and staff employees at in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza Hotel. It was the occasion to debut his new A Single Man album. John was pretty loose at the gig, chided the label, and did some selections from A Single Man not usually found in his 1978 live repertoire. The rendition of “Sixty Years On” was stunning.
During April 2017, Elton continues his The Million Dollar Piano show in Las Vegas at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
Elton will be playing a series of UK & European dates beginning June 3rd. https://tour.eltonjohn.com
John is currently writing the music for the Broadway adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada with Paul Rudnick. And there is also Rocketman, the
upcoming Elton John biopic which will star Tom Hardy. The movie chronicles his life through his 1990 stint in a rehab facility.
In 2019 Henry Holt & Company, an imprint of Macmillan will publish Elton’s autobiography. The still-unnamed memoir will be co-written by music journalist Alexis Petridis.
(Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 42 years and is the author of 10 books. On April 18, 2017, Sterling will publish Kubernik’s 1967 A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love).