The Elton John Band
Davey Johnstone onstage with the
Elton John Band, 2009
Davey Johnstone — Musical Director, Guitars, Mandolin, Banjo, Vocals
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Davey now lives in California. He became a major force on the British folk scene in the late 1960s and, as a young session musician in London, met Gus Dudgeon who recruited him to play on the 1971 classic album Madman Across the Water. A phone call followed asking Davey to become a full-time member of the Elton John band, along with Nigel Olsson and the late great Dee Murray.
Davey has enjoyed a phenomenal career with Elton, working on most of the albums as well as the hit musical Billy Elliot and many other Elton projects such as the hit animated film Gnomeo & Juliet with his long-time friend James Newton Howard. Movie composer Hans Zimmerh as featured Davey in several of his scores including the Oscar-nominated Sherlock Holmes and the 2011 film Rango. He has also worked with John Lennon, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Nicks, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, B. B. King and John Mayer.
Davey has played well over 2,000 concerts with Elton, and he is as enthusiastic as ever about the impact of Elton’s music played live. He says, “In terms of putting in the hours on stage there is nobody who even comes close. Nobody has that depth of catalogue; nobody is as consistent a performer. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased — there is nobody working today who is as good as Elton, and that’s a fact.”
Matt Bissonette — Bass Guitar, Vocals
Matt Bissonette in 2012
Matt Bissonette was born into a musical family in Detroit, MI. His father was a drummer, his mother played piano and his brother, Gregg, is a drummer. Matt’s early career dreams embraced sport rather than music, but when he was 12 his parents bought him a bass guitar and, effectively, he’s been playing it ever since.
Once he’d learned to play bass, Matt played in a wedding band and went on to join school jazz bands and local rock bands. Despite this early success Matt’s mother insisted he learn to read music and to play the trombone; this was a chore, but he is now extremely grateful to have those skills. Matt’s early live gigs included stints with The Kingston Trio and The Ink Spots, as well as playing the local Detroit scene, including a residency at the Detroit Lions football games.
In 1979, Matt attended North Texas State University, but two years later he left college to join Maynard Ferguson’s band and tour the world. Later moving to Los Angeles, Matt had the distinction of playing five sets a day in the Disneyland Band in Anaheim, a gig he describes as one of the best he ever had.
In Los Angeles Matt played every night in clubs, joined bands, and went on the road with a wide range of artists including Gino Vanelli, Sheena Easton, a-ha, Christopher Cross, Brian Wilson, Rick Springfield and The Captain and Tenille. In 1988, Matt and his brother Gregg joined David Lee Roth’s band and spent the next two years touring the world and recording, followed by a similar stint with Joe Satriani’s band.
In the early 1990s Matt and Gregg formed their own band, The Mustard Seeds, which has stayed together in various forms ever since. Matt is also a published songwriter, and he continues to record and produce other artists.
Kim Bullard — Keyboards
Kim Bullard onstage with the Elton John Band, 2011
Kim Bullard, from Atlanta, GA, has been an active working musician in Los Angeles for over 30 years. He has done arrangements and played keyboards for Yes, Nine Inch Nails, Kelly Clarkson and Phil Collins among others, has produced many artists including Katy Rose, Eddie Money and Tori Amos, has produced and written songs for movies such as Mean Girls, Thirteen, South Park’s Team America, and has scored six feature films and several TV shows. He started his touring career in Paris with Veronique Sanson in the ’70s and continued to tour with many acts including Crosby Stills and Nash, Art Garfunkel and the band Poco, of which he was a member for five years.
In 2009, when Kim was approached about joining Elton’s band he felt that his preceding career had led him straight to that point. “The first question I was asked was, ‘Do you like Elton’s music?’ I love Elton’s music! I grew up with it and I played it in bands. He was a piano player who rocked, and that was very exciting for me as a piano player. But he was also a singer/songwriter, alongside James Taylor, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, all the people I loved. I’ve been blessed to play with people who have these amazing song lists and Elton really takes the cake of the whole thing. To be onstage with Elton and a part of a song like Tiny Dancer — this is the Mount Rushmore of pop music.”
John Mahon — Percussion, Drums, Vocals
John Mahon in Las Vegas for The Red Piano, 2008
“I grew up playing jazz and fusion, my background is improvisation,” says John Mahon, who has been performing with Elton since the 1997 The Big Picture tour. He started out in Canton, Ohio, recording and performing jazz, progressive, R&B and pop music. After moving to Los Angeles, John studied with David Garibaldi, Robert Edwards and at the Dick Grove School of Music. As a lead vocalist and drummer, John featured with the band Windows, and has also toured with Peter White, Al Stewart, Helen Reddy, Rita Coolidge and Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron. As a producer and singer/songwriter, he has worked on a variety of projects throughout the world. He has played on recent Elton John albums and on a Grammy Award-winning album with BB King.
Away from the touring commitments, John and his wife, Pam, are very committed to raising money for Hillsides, a foster care charity creating safe places for vulnerable children and families living in Los Angeles County. “Hillsides tries to get them back into society”, says John, “and they have good success. I bring in different musicians and we play for the kids, and we help with their fundraising. People are so generous if you ask them to help with such a worthy cause.”
Nigel Olsson — Drums, Vocals
Nigel Olsson in Las Vegas for The Red Piano, 2008
Born in Wallasey, England, drummer and backing vocalist Nigel Olsson came into prominence in 1970 as one-third of Elton’s live “power trio” alongside bassist Dee Murray. During the 1970s and 1980s Nigel was a mainstay of Elton’s touring and recording band, playing on all his classic recordings and amassing an extremely loyal following.
In the 1960s Nigel was a member of the group Plastic Penny, who had a hit with the song Everything I Am. As a solo artist, Nigel had three hits in the 1970s with Put On Your Dancing Shoes, A Little Bit of Soap and a cover of the Bee Gees song Only One Woman. That song contains some extremely high notes, and as Nigel explained he had some help to reach them. “Only One Woman was recorded at Caribou Ranch, which is way above sea level. When you’re that high up you can sing almost an octave higher!”
In the 1980s Nigel left Elton’s band for a while to go motor racing with Ferrari, Ford and Aston Martin, and became qualified as a racing instructor. Nigel rejoined Elton’s band for the One Night Only concerts in 2000, and continues to provide the soulful heartbeat so essential to Elton and Bernie’s songs.
Recently Nigel had a new bespoke drum kit created especially for Elton’s The Million Dollar Piano show in Las Vegas. Named The Olsson Aviator Mark 1, the kit was inspired by the design of World War Two Supermarine Spitfires. Nigel asked DW drums to create a kit that looked like the polished aluminium fuselages of these vintage aircraft. He says, “DW couldn’t use aluminium because it would distort the sound, so they built the drums from wood as usual, but made the bass drums bigger and deeper to get a lower tone. They then hand-painted every part of the drums, even the little rivets, to resemble polished aluminium. It took 27 people four months to create that kit.”
The Royal Air Force veterans’ association for Squadron 610, which fought in the Battle of Britain, gave him permission to use one number, DW0, and the squadron logo, and these are now proudly displayed on the new kit which, Nigel says, “Belongs in Las Vegas and there it will stay.”
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