Paul Gambaccini

Tributes to Gus from friends and colleagues

Paul Gambaccini

Broadcaster and writer

It wasn’t until I became knowledgeable about record production that I could appreciate what Gus had done on his records. Also, once I’d witnessed at close hand his work on those records; the incredible amount of time he put in on making every second sound right. He labored for so many hours over each of these tracks. I’m sure that almost every Elton fan thinks that they could sit at the feet of Nigel Olsson playing the drums indefinitely. I assure you, this is not the case, and Nigel would agree, because he is the guy who actually had to give the drum sound to Gus, which could take forever because Gus was such a perfectionist. I don’t think the general public ever could appreciate the role he played.

It’s something so humbling to be in the presence of true interaction, true cooperation. I never recall a moment in the recording studio where Gus got big-headed and said, “I make these records sound good.” He just wanted to make each one sound as good as he could.

A good producer can make a wonderful performance sound everything from adequate to brilliant. With Gus and Elton, it was almost always brilliant. It was the perfect combination. I’ve always thought that Elton was very blessed to be surrounded by a group of talented individuals who each made the decision that this would be a worthwhile way of spending their lives. They would get behind the songs of Bernie and Elton and they thought, yes, I’ll do this. Elton has been blessed. Gus was one of the people he was blessed with.

I was at the Ivor Novello Awards in 2002, at which Gus was a judge. This was just two months before he died. Gus was there and he said to me, “I don’t feel good about John Walters dying.” John Walters had been John Peel’s producer and indeed mine for my first couple of years on the radio here. He had recently died in his sleep at age 62. So Gus said to me, “I thought we were all going to peak in our careers at the same age, when we were about 60, then have a few years at the peak, and then have a few years of retirement. Then we would all die between 75 and 80…and that’s not the way it’s turning out.” I’m not one to believe in premonition, but looking back, I can’t help but think that he had become aware of the possibility that he, or indeed any of us, could die that year rather than on the year of his 70th or 80th birthday.

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