If you are attending Elton’s 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour' concert at the XL Center in Hartford, CT tonight, please be sure to wish percussionist Ray Cooper a very happy birthday!
Ray is out on a world tour with Elton and the band for the first time in 23 years (in the interim he was featured on the Million Dollar Piano residency in Las Vegas as well as select band shows in the US and UK as well as "Two-man" concerts with just Elton) and will be performing his 810th show with Elton tonight.
His first Elton concert was at the Royal Festival Hall in London on February 5, 1972. On November 27, 1973, he went out on the road in earnest, playing through the 1973/74 world tour and beyond, including, most famously, an eight-show tour of communist Russia in May 1979.
“I first met Elton in, I think, 1968. He and I were session players so I used to meet him on sessions, where he was a pianist or a backing vocalist. I played on sessions when he and Lesley Duncan and Kiki Dee and Madeline Bell were backing vocalists, and we’d have a cup of coffee or go on tea break. He was Reginald then”
On the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Elton and Ray have been performing Indian Sunset, a holdover from the Million Dollar Piano setlist, as a spellbinding duo. The song is from the Madman Across The Water album but Ray is not found on the studio version even though he did play percussion on three other songs from that album, his first with Elton.
Ray has played on 97 of Elton’s songs, appearing on 12 of his studio albums (most recently, Wonderful Crazy Night) and three live albums. His percussion credits include tambourine, congas, castanets, vibes, watergong, kettle drums, maracas, shaker, triangle, finger cymbals, and many other instruments.
In addition to his extensive work with Elton, Ray has worked with Pink Floyd, Jools Holland, Ravi Shankar, Maynard Ferguson, The Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler, Cleo Laine and many others. His playing on MTV's Eric Clapton Unplugged in 1992 got a lot of notice and he also appeared in and produced the 2002 Concert for George, a tribute to deceased former Beatle George Harrison, with whom he was close friends.
“George was in complete admiration of Elton. In fact, because he was a friend of mine, he several times came to the original two-man show in 1979. He stood off the side of the stage at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, with his fairly new wife then, Olivia. Just in amazement. He said, “You know, I can’t believe what you two guys do!” “And Elton, he never stops working, it’s incredible.” He said, “I get out of breath even looking at you!” He loved the shows.”
It was through George that Ray met and began working with filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who cast him in his films Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. This may make Ray the only person to perform in Brazil the country and Brazil the movie. Yes, that is he who opens the film as the technician who sets chaos in motion whilst swatting a fly.
But only wonderful things come from Ray swatting the tambourine, in a variety of callisthenic configurations, during the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour – on songs like Bennie And The Jets, Levon and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Or playing the congas on Take Me To The Pilot…and all manner of other instruments during the course of the nearly three-hour show, much to the audience's delight.
“An amazing musician and an incredible human being…and a great character, as you will have seen by the way he plays. He’s been with us, off and on, since 1973-74. I’ve toured with him in Russia and all over the world – just the two of us. And he’s an amazing, amazing guy. He’s played with the best there is to play with on record and on stage. On percussion, the amazing Ray Cooper! ”
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