ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

Elton John is on his ‘Farewell Tour of the US’. But wait, that could change. The multi talented French star, Maurice Chevalier, enjoyed his first farewell tour of the US so much he took two more farewell tours after.

I worked many Elton John concerts in arenas, theaters, and even a private show for the managers of Best Buy stores. The finest was at the U of MN’s Northrop Auditorium. The 1st half was John on piano and Ray Cooper, the fine percussionist from the UK, on a variety of things including a large gong. He was actually on the gong at one point, hanging on and beating time. The 2nd half was Elton going alone. The sound system was a new package of the Clair Brothers, the top audio company on the road. What a concert!

I worked Elton John’s 1st US tour when he came to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Sue Weill, promoter extraordinaire of the Walker Art Center booked him, and I handled the lighting. Gosh, thinking back I can’t get over how shy and polite this young man was then. Little did anyone realize he would be the UK’s biggest star after the Beatles.

Here’s a reblog from March 2013 of that experience from the Old Hand.

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:
http://jorff.com/

http://jorff.com/rock/EltonJohn.html

EltonJohn

For his farewell to the Twin Cities he is playing the Xcel Center, an arena in St. Paul. While I worked his 1st Concert here, I won’t be working his ‘last’ one.

MR. LEON REDBONE!

L redbone

 Leon Redbone died.

Who?

Leon Redbone! You know, the artist formally know as Dickran Gobalian.

What! He a wrestler or something?

Noooo. A singer.

Oh, he sings. Does he sing like, ah, Chance The Rapper or more like, ah, Garth Brooks, or …

No! More like Fats Waller or Jimmie Rodgers.

Who?

Ah, never mind. They’re all dead anyway.

No they’re not! Heck Garth was just in town doing some shows at the football stadium and Chance…

I know, I know. Subject change. Hey, how about the way those Twins are doing!

Baseball’s boring. Now football… Go Vikings!

 

Yes, we lost Leon Redbone and he passed without too much fanfare. Some of the major news sources never reported his death. He reached his peak in the mid- 70’s, just a few years after Bob Dylan discovered him in folk festival. He had his first album produced, did a few Saturday Night Lives, several Tonight Shows, Johnny Carson became a fan, both of Redbone’s music and his stage persona, not that this persona changed on stage or off stage. Redbone was Redbone, take him or leave him.

His customary look began with a Panama hat and dark sunglasses. His face was impossible to light when he was on stage, no way could you get any light beneath the hat and coupled with the dark glasses… Like I said Redbone was Redbone. His shirt was always buttoned completely, and he wore a bow tie some times, a string tie some times. His costume change between acts or between shows often consisted of replacing the one type of tie with the other.

I feel special because I actually worked a Redbone concert where he wore a different costume. He was a big fan of singer/songwriter Jimmie Rodgers, the ‘Singing Brakeman’, the first musical star of radio and recordings. Leon came on stage dressed in the traditional bib overalls and cap associated with railroad workers. He had on a white shirt and bow tie, associated with Rodgers and Redbone, and the dark sunglasses, solely associated with Leon. The concert was dominated by Jimmie Rodger songs and Redbone’s unique yodeling.

His instrument never changed, a straight forward acoustic guitar. He was a good guitarist playing mostly up tempo no matter what the song. He had a compliment of various instruments on most of his album tracks,, but they were studio musicians. He never had a band. He did travel at times with a clarinetist, Dan Levingson. Even in the days of split bills with the likes of John Prine, Loudin Wainwright III, Bonny Raittt, he disdained the use of a complete group of backup musicians if the other act were using any. Any amplification needed to reach his audience in the particular venue was to be kept to a minimum. He was acoustic in both his music and his life.

His voice was a fine instrument, oh, not in an operatic sense, but in a Redbone sense. The Washington Post said ‘he sang in a deep, guttural voice that seemed to have come from a traveling medicine show, vaudeville or the back alleys of old New Orleans.’

In an article in the Rolling Stone, his voice was described as being ‘so authentic, you could hear the surface noise of an old 78 rpm’.

NPR said his voice was ‘casually lovely and always wry’. That is wry, w-r-y, his sense of humor shows up in his song delivery, not a rye, r-y-e, quality, a rasping delivery like Tom Waits has; although it had been known that sometimes rye, the bottled rye, played a part in a Redbone show.

His songbook was almost all older than the Oldies, some from the 19 Century, most from the 1910’s, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. He sang an eclectic mix of songs, everything from vaudeville, old country, Mississippi Delta Blues, ragtime, folk, jazz, Tin Pan Alley Songs to sing, not dance to. He said he was less interested in the music than he was in the history.

His stage setting was also minimal, a stool for himself, a stool for his clarinetist. A small table for any objects he might have brought on stage with him.. Objects he may or may not use. For instance at least once he had a tomato on the table, and he sang all his songs to the tomato. He always had flashlight which he loved to shine on the audience with quips like ‘See how if feels to have a follow spot in your eyes.’ He shined it in his face and said, ‘See lady, I am not Frank Zappa. You can tell us apart. I’m the handsome one.’ He loved to blow soap bubbles at the audience, or take pictures of them.

His wry humor extended to off stage. In fact he had that quality that Robin Williams and Jonathon Winters possessed, namely being in a different world of their own. Robin came down to earth though and would carry on an intelligent conversation with you. Winters and Redbone never did.

Bonny Raitt often split toured with him. In an interview with Rollling Stone she said, ‘“I spent an afternoon with him in a hotel room,” Raitt told Rolling Stone, “and I was wondering when he was going to become normal. He never did.”

His web site lists his age as 127. Over the years he has given many different places of birth: Shreveport, Cleveland, Toronto etc.. The truth was finally tracked down. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents lived in Jerusalem, but in 1948 moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, United Kingdom, and by 1965 to Toronto where he had a’ childrens’ TV show. His favorite audiences were children and he played TV shows like Sesame Street every chance he could.

 

He was a kind man and appreciative of all of his fans. Here is an example that was sent by a fan to the talented Joel Orff who created a cartoon of the incident and included it in his series, Great Moments in Rock & Roll.

Redbone.jpg

His vocation was entertaining. Here’s what he said about entertainment: ‘ “I’m just an entertainer, and I use music as a medium for entertaining.” But I’m not really an entertainer either, because to be an entertainer it implies you have a great desire to want to entertain.” This probably explains that after his success in the 70’s his career slowed down. Some recordings, a small amount of concerts, voice-overs for commercial, some singing and composing for TV, etc..

His passion was pool. If he had to choose to live the life of Fats Waller or Minnesota Fats, he would choose the later. Playing pool was one of the reasons his career slacked off.

He was a private person. If someone asked him for his phone number, it would probably connect the caller to Dial-A-Joke. Another might be given the number of a pool hall with instructions to leave the message for Mr. Pugh. His manager told me about how he gets word to Redbone through Bob Dylan.

Here another work of Joel Orff drawn up especially for the Old Hand when he told him about the Dylan Express means of reaching Redbone.

Leon Redbone

And then there was the time at a Guthrie performance when Leon wasn’t the source of the joke, but the butt of it.

John was young shop intern who was given a chance to earn some extra money by being the liaison between the Guthrie and the promoter, Sue of the Walker Arts Center.

John was, is, a theatrical artist. Even in those early years he could works of art whether sets or props for Guthrie shows. He loved his work and in no way wanted to work in any other job in theater. He was shy and when he found out that Sue informed him at half-hour he would do the on stage introduction of Redbone, he panicked. He did not refuse, he just turned pale and began to practice.

He paced back and forth backstage, his eyes on the floor, his hand hitting his forehead, and kept repeating, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’. Over and over, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’ He was still practicing when I left backstage and went up to the booth.

At places’ call Joey B, the deck hand, called on the biscuit from backstage that Leon was ready to go on. Eliot, his manager, and I could hear John in the background still rehearsing, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Leon Redbone!’

We went into show mood. Eliot told Joe to send John out to do the introduction. John came slowly on stage. Even from the booth we could see he was a case of nerves. He reached the bright circle of light I had for him and stopped.

He stood there for what seemed like a long, long time and then finally he said in a very loud voice, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leon Hardbone!’ And then he walked off stage.

Eliot and I lost it. I managed to go black on the stage before I turned my face to the wall trying to stifled my laughing. Eliot had his hands over his mouth and his head on the desk. Some of the audience realized what John had said and they cracked up. For the majority though John’s actual intro went over their heads and they applauded, waiting for Redbone’s entrance.

But one person who realized what John had actually said came on the backstage biscuit almost at once.

Did he say what I thought he might have said?’ asked the wry familiar voice.

‘’Well,’ answered Eliot, ‘If you thought you heard what he said then yes, you heard what he said.’

‘Now how can I follow that act?’ There was a long pause. Finally Leon said, ‘Oh, well! Bank shot. Eight ball in the far pocket.’ And he walked out on stage.

When John got off stage he had just kept walking to his sanctuary, the scene shop. Joey B followed with the intent of cheering John up; but John didn’t need any cheering up, because John had been in such a state of stage fright, he never realized what he had said. He accused Joe of making it all up. To this day John would argue that he never screwed up the intro. Of course it was the last time anyone asked him to go on stage to introduce an act.

And anymore intros for Leon was handled over the audience PA by Eliot from the booth.

I will bet that is not the first or last time that Leon Redbone heard that play on his name. And unlike most people had a name that lent itself to ridicule, Leon could not blame anybody but himself for his name. When he first immigrated to Canada, he took advance of the law that allowed him to change his name. So Dickran Gobalian became Leon Redbone. Like I pointed out, Leon Redbone was one of a kind.

At the end of each performance, Leon always left the audience with these words: Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody.’

And a Good Evening to you, Mr. Redbone.

 R.I.P. Leon Redbone – a talented reluctant entertainer

I would like to thank Joel Orff for the use of two of his cartoons. He no longer does his ‘Great Moments In Rock & Roll’ and is devoting his talent to the art of Graphic Novels, his newest scheduled for publication shortly. I would suggest that you visit his web site at joff.com to see more of his work.

ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

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:
http://jorff.com/

http://jorff.com/rock/EltonJohn.html

EltonJohn