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August 21, 2018

Elton’s Onstage Collaborations…a Look at the Musicians Who Have Joined Him in Concert

A year ago we took a look at Elton’s studio partnerships with other artists. Now, in honour of Elton's upcoming Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, we thought it appropriate to turn our attention to his live collaborations.

Amongst the more than 4,000 performances Elton has given over the past 50 years, there have been many where he has shared the stage with other musical stars and superstars. Some have been instances where he has appeared on stage for a song or two with zero prior warning to the audience. To cherry-pick one or two of these per decade, Elton has done “walk-ons” with:

   ★   Average White Band (1974/1975)
   ★   The Rolling Stones (1975)
   ★   Wham! (1986)
   ★   Lionel Richie (1987)
   ★   Squeeze (1993)
   ★   Ryan Adams (2001/2002)
   ★   Prince (2007)
   ★   Ed Sheeran (2013-2015)

Miley Cyrus joins Elton on stage at the 60th Grammy Awards on January 28th, 2018.

Elton was one of many announced musical guests on the evening at revues like Sting’s Rainforest Benefits at Carnegie Hall and the Prince’s Trust Benefit concerts that took place during the 1980s in London. In these and other similar instances, Elton has shared the stage with a wide variety of artists, including:

   ★   Don Henley            ★   Jessye Norman
   ★   Mick Jagger            ★   Luciano Pavarotti
   ★   Lulu                        ★   Smokey Robinson
   ★   Paul McCartney     ★   Bruce Springsteen

In addition, Elton has invited nearly 50 performers to the stage on his own tours. Singers, piano players, classic artists, and newcomers to the music scene – even a tennis legend and a comic actor – have all RSVP’d in the affirmative for one (or, in some cases, more) of Elton’s concerts.

1970s

The first guest Elton brought up on stage was the American singer Odetta, who shared the bill with him at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on November 15, 1970. The legendary vocalist and activist was on the verge of releasing her cover of Elton’s Take Me To The Pilot so Elton brought her up to the microphone for his encore of that song, which she had already included in her opening set.

Five nights later, Elton joined forces with his idol Leon Russell for a series of shows at the Fillmore East in New York City, as well as another few gigs elsewhere in America afterwards. During Elton’s opening set, Leon joined in during Burn Down The Mission. Later on, during Leon’s set, Elton returned the favour on Roll Away The Stone. (Elton and Leon would reunite in 2010 for the album The Union and its accompanying US tour, which lasted into April 2011.)

Elton’s close friendly rival, Rod Stewart, first performed with him on March 17, 1973, in Bournemouth, UK. After seven other appearances, the pair joined on Sad Songs (Say So Much) when Rod presented Elton with the inaugural BRITS Icon Award on September 2, 2013. This 40-year spread wins the prize for the duration between first and last-to-date guest appearances.

Stevie Wonder has shared the stage with Elton five times in all – twice as his guest: Boston, MA in September 1973 and at the Wembley Empire Pool on November 3, 1977, where he sang and played tambourine while sitting next to Elton on his piano bench during the final song, Bite Your Lip (Get Up And Dance).

Kiki Dee also performed at the Empire Pool concert and has been Elton’s guest at over 25 other gigs, the most of any solo artist other than those with which he has co-headlined tours. Kiki appeared at Elton's five-year American anniversary shows at the Troubadour in 1975, various UK and US concerts in 1976 (singing their #1 smash Don't Go Breaking My Heart), Live Aid in July 1985, and his One Night Only concerts at Madison Square Garden in October 2000.

Rounding out the decade, we have Gregg Allman playing guitar during Elton’s encores in Athens, GA in October 1973 (Gregg would return to sing a verse of Gone To Shiloh at Madison Square Garden in March 2011), Lesley Duncan harmonizing on her own Love Song at the Royal Festival Hall in May 1974 (this can be heard on Elton’s live album Here & There), and even tennis star Billie Jean King singing backing vocals during select songs at Dodger Stadium and a few other shows in 1975.

Elton and the band with John Lennon backstage at Madison Square Garden. (Photo: Sam Emerson)

But no guest appearance in that decade, or any other of Elton’s career, is more notable than the evening John Lennon joined him on stage at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. Lennon came on stage for three songs – and an encore – in what would become the last concert performance for the former Beatle.

Together they tore through Lennon’s current single Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Elton had played on the studio track and bet his friend the concert guest spot contingent upon its reaching #1), Elton’s latest chart-topper – a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and the Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There.

One of the greatest moments of my life, not only just my musical life but my personal life, was in this very building in 1974. [John Lennon] came on stage and sang three songs with us and I’ve never heard a reception in the whole of my life like it. It was ten minutes of the most deafening roar.
Elton at Madison Square Garden, October 2000

1980s

Elton’s concerts in the 1980s included onstage visits from Freddie Mercury, Nik Kershaw, Debbie Gibson, Rod Stewart (again), and George Michael.

Michael performed with his idol a total of 13 times before passing away in 2016. The pair developed a friendship and professional collaboration that resulted in three studio singles and the #1 live version of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me in 1991. The song remains a tribute to the former lead singer of Wham! during Elton’s concerts. Of all of Elton’s in-concert guests, it was Michael who perhaps most directly honoured his host with song choices, covering cuts both popular (Don’t Let The Sun…, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, and Candle In The Wind) and obscure (Ticking).

1990s

Elton and Eric Clapton co-headlined (with Bonnie Raitt and Curtis Stigers in support) 10 concerts in the UK, Europe, and the US in the summer of 1992. The June 28th show included Raitt, Stigers, and Queen’s Brian May joining in on The Bitch Is Back.

Elton’s concert at Madison Square Garden on October 11 that same year was a fund-raiser for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. After an abbreviated set of his own, Elton was joined for three songs each by Bruce Hornsby, Lionel Richie, and George Michael. Elton and the band played behind all three artists, with Michael choosing solely Elton songs to perform.

Elton and Billy Joel launched what was one of the most successful double-bill tours in rock history when they performed their inaugural Face To Face concert at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA on July 8, 1994. This tour continued, off and on, until March 11, 2010, resulting in 182 concerts together in North America, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Europe.

In what will most likely win someone an award at Trivia Night someday, Elton surprised the sold-out crowd at his Anaheim Pond concert on August 22, 1998, by bringing actor Jim Carrey on stage for a special duet version of Rocket Man. The idea came to Elton backstage prior to the concert where he was entertaining Carrey, who wore one of Elton’s Versace stage jackets for the performance, and other friends who had flown in with him for the show.

2000s

The aforementioned One Night Only concerts in New York City in October 2000 nearly required the installation of a treadmill to keep up with all of the guest artists going up on stage. Anastacia, Mary J. Blige, Kiki Dee, Ronan Keating, Billy Joel, and Bryan Adams all joined Elton for one song each across the two nights, which were taped live and released on CD and DVD.

2010s

On June 8, 2011, 2CELLOS joined Elton’s band during the summer tour of the UK and Europe. The Croatian duo continued to perform with Elton regularly through October 2015, including during his Million Dollar Piano Las Vegas residency, often serving double-duty as the opening act.

The past four years have seen Elton host both established acts (Ben Folds and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett) and newcomers. On January 13, 2016, Elton’s album launch concert for Wonderful Crazy Night at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles gave Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes, and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump the opportunity to sing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Tiny Dancer, and Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting), respectively, with Elton and the band.

Two months later, Lady Gaga was Elton’s surprise guest at his pop-up concert at the Tower Records parking lot on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, joining him on Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me atop shoes that looked like his piano’s offspring.

In a live interpretation of Elton’s Rocket Hour radio show on Beats One, Christine & The Queens, Gallant, Rosie Lowe, and Parker Millsap accompanied Elton at the Apple Music Festival in London on September 18, 2016, each performing one of his hits as well as having him back them on one of their own songs.

Similarly, Elton and Bernie’s most recent album projects, Revamp and Restoration – covers of their songs done by pop and country artists – were given a live interpretation on January 30, 2018, when I'm Still Standing: A Grammy Salute To Elton John was taped at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Following an evening of over a dozen acts covering his songs, artists like Sam Smith, Miranda Lambert, Kesha, Alessia Cara, Maren Morris, and Miley Cyrus – with whom he performed Tiny Dancer at the 60th Grammy Awards the week before – gathered around Elton’s piano for an encore of the evening’s title song.

As we get closer to the launch of Elton's Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, which opens in Allentown, PA on September 8 and continues for three years around the world, we look forward to the next time Elton surprises us with an onstage guest.

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