AUGUST 28, 2018

Dodger Stadium 1975 – Game On!

You had to be there.

Across an autumn weekend in 1975, Elton John performed two career-cementing, sell-out concerts at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, the first musical act to perform there since the Beatles nine years earlier. These were the largest concert events ever done by a single artist at that time.

On October 25 and 26, over 100,000 people (including Elton’s parents, relatives, office workers, and neighbours…all flown in from the UK for the week on a chartered jet) witnessed history in the making.

You had to be there and we’re pleased to be able to share the stories of those who were.

Compiled by John F. Higgins

The crowd at Dodger Stadium. (Photo: Terry O'Neill)

You have to remember – in October 1975, no one was bigger than Elton John. He was like Elvis at the height of his career. It is impossible to try to explain to people today what it was like – numerous number one albums, touring non-stop, recording non-stop, media, press, television…he was everywhere. Elton still is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met and he gave his all at those concerts

Photographer Terry O'Neill

The concerts followed one day of on-site rehearsals on the 24th – the day on which his album Rock Of The Westies debuted at #1 and the day after Elton received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That ceremony, the first to close down blocks of Hollywood Boulevard in order to accommodate the number of fans attending, launched “Elton John Week”.

In perfect weather, thousands of Elton fans, many in their young teens with parents in tow, began lining up at the stadium gates at dawn on Saturday, general admission tickets in hand. The gates opened at 10 am with Emmylou Harris beginning her opening set shortly after 1 pm, followed by the James Gang, with future Eagle Joe Walsh.

With plenty of time to wait before the headline act was to appear on stage, the growing throng kept themselves busy.

Those of you born after 1979 aren’t really familiar with General Admission – it’s first come first served. No assigned seats…you get there early in the morning (or the night before) and get in line and when the gates open make a mad dash. They were directing folks away from the field by the time we arrived and we were herded into the seats. That didn’t dim anyone’s enthusiasm. Half dressed teens and young adults were partying away, determined to enjoy every minute till Elton appeared. Beach balls and people being bounced here and there, programs and T-shirts being hawked, and the smell of marijuana wafting every which way.

Fan Pat K. from Ohio

Somewhere around 4:30 pm the wide white curtains that hung across the stage parted, revealing Elton alone at the piano playing the opening notes to Your Song as the stage was rolled out towards the audience.

Bob Northington's 'Time' Magazine jacket.

“I had been planning for this day for months! Back then, people were all wearing embroidered work shirts, so I had a friend embroider the cover of the Time magazine from July 7th, 1975 (the one with Elton on it) on the back of a shirt! I got up at 4:30 am and was picked up by a car-load of friends. Breakfast at Spires and I was ready for Dodger Stadium. We sat field level, behind first base. My first concert ever!

“I’ll never forget the anticipation. From behind the curtain we heard the twinkling of some piano keys. The throng of more than 50,000 fans went wild! Moments later the curtain opened and Elton launched into Your Song. I can’t remember when that song had ever sounded so sweet.” – Fan Bob Northington from Torrance, CA.

My first concert! Got there at 6 am. I remember dancing to every song Elton sang and never sitting down. My legs hurt so much from dancing and my cheeks from smiling and laughing so much. I knew then that Elton would always be my favorite singer and I would spend every dollar earned in my teenage years on his music!

Fan Terri Delfosse from Alamo, CA

Elton opened the concert dressed in white overalls and derby hat. Underneath he wore a blue short-sleeve shirt adorned with silver studs that, along with his rhinestone-encrusted glasses, sparkled in the California sunshine.

There is no moment in my life that will ever compare to the moment when Elton first appeared on stage at Dodger Stadium. My whole young being changed in that moment. I had never experienced fans so thrilled to be seeing a performer appear on stage. In that moment I felt one with music and everyone in Dodger Stadium. During the first set, it was just amazing when Elton unexpectedly threw his hat high above and into the crowd. Seeing those thousands of hands lift up high into the sky along with the roar of the crowd is something I will never forget.

Fan Robert J. Weedman from Los Angeles, CA

Elton’s first set:

★   Your Song– solo
★   I Need You To Turn To – solo
★   Border Song (Elton is now joined by his band: Davey Johnstone (guitars/backing vocals), Caleb Quaye (guitars/backing vocals), Kenny Passarelli (bass), Roger Pope (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), James Newton Howard (keyboards), and Cindy Bullens, Jim Haas, Jon Joyce (backing vocals).)
★   Take Me to The Pilot
★   Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future)
★   Country Comfort
★   Levon
  Rocket Man
★   Hercules (With Elton strumming Davey’s “Flying V” guitar before climbing on to his Steinway grand piano – not for the last time – to incite the audience to clap and cheer louder than they already were.)
★   Empty Sky (The 1975/76 tour has been the only one to date to feature Elton’s first song off his debut album.)

All photos: Terry O'Neill

I never dreamed that I would be able to go since I was just 16 and we lived 200 miles away but my parents drove a friend and me! By the time we got there, the stadium was packed. We found seats about as far away from the stage as you could get. When Elton came onstage I was in heaven. He played for about an hour before taking a break, so I decided to try and get closer. There really wasn’t any security to speak of, no barriers or ushers keeping people back, so I simply walked down to the front. Suddenly the crowd erupted and I looked up to see Elton, right there in front of me, walking the length of the stage in that blinged-out Dodgers uniform! I raised my Kodak 125 Instamatic and took a photo, then backed up into the crowd so I could see the entire stage. I spent the rest of the show right down front!

Fan Candace H. from San Luis Obispo, CA

Elton’s second set:

★   Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
★   Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
★   Bennie And The Jets
★   Harmony
  Dixie Lily
★   Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
★   Bitter Fingers
★   Someone Saved My Life Tonight
★   The Bitch Is Back (with tennis star Billie Jean King joining the 3 background singers)
★   Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (perfectly timed at around 6 pm as the sun set over Los Angeles)
★   (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket
★   Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
★   I Saw Her Standing There
★   Island Girl
★   Philadelphia Freedom
★   We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains (joined on stage by the 35-member James Cleveland Choir, who remained on for the next two songs)


★   Tell Me When The Whistle Blows
★   Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
★   Pinball Wizard

This wasn’t just a concert, this was an experience. We were all transfixed by the music, the party atmosphere and the sheer joy of being there, knowing that we were seeing something very special with 50,000 of our new best friends. Nothing beat the thrill of hearing 50,000 plus fans shouting ‘Saturday! Saturday!’ back at Elton. I don’t think we came down from the Dodger Stadium experience for a month!

Fan Pat K. from Ohio

I was 15 and brought a neighbor with me who was only 12…just two young girls on an adventure. After the concert, we had to find my mom in the maddening crowd, and we somehow did! It was a great concert, my first, and was filled with extraordinary memories for a lifetime!

Fan Suzette Newlander from Woodland Hills, CA speaks with Rus Anderson, the Elton John tribute artist who was chosen to be Elton’s body double for the Virtual Reality video used for the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour announcement in January 2018.

We did the Dodger Stadium shoot on August 23, 2017 in LA, after about four weeks of rehearsals while I was doing my tribute show at Harrah’s in Atlantic City. We’d rehearse during the day – and make the costumes…my wife and I…our hotel room became like a sweatshop [laughing] – and I’d perform my act in the evenings.

We did a full-day rehearsal in LA – working out the camera movements and the lighting – and then we did the shoot. It was in a big studio in Hollywood…basically a huge warehouse with green walls and a green floor and this little stage with drums and piano. It wasn’t hard for me to pretend I was in front of thousands of people even though there was no audience there at all. We were all playing live to the track of Elton’s original [studio] recording. So we were putting out the same amount of energy as we would if we were in front of an audience. That’s what makes it look authentic.

I think we must have done over 50 takes in all for the Dodger Stadium sequence. When you have that many band members and actors on stage at the same time, you really have to wait for that take where everyone is right on! And they were changing camera angles between every take; they would shoot one using one camera movement and then we would re-set and do it again with a different camera movement. They were giving themselves so many options.

I can remember the take they ended up using very well. I think they liked it, especially because I had a bit of an attitude on that take. They had told me, “Don’t throw your hat for this take.” So, of course, I get up on the piano and I throw the hat! And right away I go, “Damn, I just screwed that up!” So I started out angry and I’m jumping around swinging the bat and everything. And they ended up loving that!

All the takes were high-energy and in one go – no editing. I was covered in black and blues from that! Everything you see is real: jumping on the piano, swinging the bat, jumping off the piano, jumping onto a crash pad…every time!

Originally there was no facing the camera, no throwing the piano bench. A few things were very different at first: they wanted to step up on to the piano from the bench. I didn’t think Elton would do that, so I suggested I run to the side of the piano and jump up on it. They weren’t sure so we started looking at footage from the 70s together…and sure enough!

Nothing was set in stone. We had a general idea of the timeline; I knew where I needed to be at points in the song. The director, Damian [Fulton], was so good. He was so clever and fun to work with. He would say, “Here’s where you need to be…on the “aggravation” line, you need to be here. And on the first ‘Saturday’ you need to be here.” and so on. So I had that in my head. “I have to be down on my knees for this line and up and be pointing at the audience on this line…” and so on. A lot of that stuff was improvised. Damian would say, “Do what you think Elton would do.” We got to put a whole concert’s worth of Elton’s greatest moves in one bit [laughing]. Made it epic.

It must have been an amazing concert to be at!