Elton John’s first USA tour was in 1970. One of his stops was the Guthrie. Like all these concerts at the theater in those days, the sound was provided by a local company and the lighting by the Guthrie. Sometimes the acts brought in a lighting designer; but most of the time, I was the designer as well as the electrician. Even if a lighting designer came with the act, I usually ended up designing the show because very few designers knew how to light on a thrust stage.
When Elton came for sound check, I asked him about his lighting needs. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know and would leave it up to me. He said that he didn’t require anything fancy. Such a polite ‘chap’. He always called me ‘sir’.
As usual, we did two shows that evening. Both were sold out. Elton put on two great shows. In the last show, he loosened up and did things that he didn’t do in the first show. He really attacked the piano. Hands, feet, standing up, spinning around on the bench.
His manager sat next to the lighting board up in the booth. He clued me in on what the next song was going to be so I could think of what kind of ‘look’ would work. At the end of the last show he asked what I thought of Elton. ‘What do you think? Do you think he’ll make it big? I mean really big.’
‘Well’, I said, ‘He puts on a good show, that’s for sure. I really like his Jerry Lee Lewis piano playing. Good voice. Should do good. Except – those glasses. Get him contacts. Nobody is going to make it really big wearing glasses.’
We were tearing down the sound and Elton came on stage and thanked us. When he shook my hand, he mentioned his manager had told him that I liked the shows. Nothing was said about my not liking the glasses though.
I worked him many time since, but never again at the Guthrie. He outgrew small venues quickly and played the big arenas like TargetCenter. Like any arena show, big effects were added, often at the expense of music. Nothing like the pure concert he did at the Guthrie.
Although, well after he made it big, he did forego the arena shows and did an acoustic tour. He played at Northrop, at the U of MN. He reverted back to his ‘not requiring anything fancy’. It was minimal, great sound system, and basic lighting. The first half, Ray Cooper, the great percussionist, joined him. The second half it was just Elton. Certainly one of the best concerts I have ever worked. In spite of the fact he still was wearing glasses.
A while back, a very talented cartoonist, Joel Orff, had a weekly cartoon,Great Moments in Rock and Roll, in a local paper called The Pulse. A stagehand, Rich Labas, suggested to Joel that he get together with me and do some of my stories. I asked him to use the name Old Hand on our stories. That’s the Old Hand in the hat. He did several, Elton, Prince, James Brown. And then the paper folded. Joel does his magic for a paper out in California now. Here’s his cartoon of my story.
Joel’s work can be seen at much better at: