A multiple Grammy-winning legend and flamboyant superstar, Elton John is the most enduringly successful singer/songwriter of his generation and Davey Johnstone has been his guitarist throughout, some 2,000 shows to be specific.
As well as being Elton’s guitarist, Davey is also his musical director and has co-written many classic songs, including I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues. He also penned tracks with Elton for The Lion King soundtrack, worked with him on Aida and Billy Elliot.
When asked which of those 2,000 gigs with Elton was most memorable, Davey does not have to think too hard.” The biggest stand-out is way back in 1974, when we did Madison Square Garden in New York and John Lennon came on with us,” Davey recalled. “John had been recording with us and traveling with us the whole year so we were great mates. He loved to hang out with us.”
“Elton had made a bet with John that he would have to get onstage with us at Madison Square Garden if Lennon’s single at the time, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, which Elton played piano on, got to No. 1. John said no problem because he never thought his single would top the charts. But it did get to No. 1. That night of the concert, John said he was too nervous to go on, but he managed to force his way out and the audience went completely nuts”.
“After the show, I was in the New York Plaza hotel and Elton called me up and said, ‘Listen, John’s here with me and he wants to come over and hang out with you. Is that OK?’ I remember saying, is that OK? Of course, it’s OK. Send him over.”
“One of my greatest visual highlights is looking through the spyglass on my bedroom door and seeing John Lennon walking up the hall, with his black flat hat on, the shades and black gear. John hung out with me and we talked until eight in the morning. I played him some music I was into.
Davey goes on to discuss his longstanding professional relationship with Sir Elton. “I am very fortunate. As musical director, I will get with Elton to discuss the set for an upcoming tour. It’s a very cool position to be in. He totally trusts me as far as what I am going to do with his arrangements. I pretty much have a free hand, which is a great position to be in. We are still selling out concerts after all this time.”
“Elton’s a hard worker. That is what keeps us going. We are at his mercy because he is a slave driver. It is great to have the work but the work we do is ludicrous. People ask how we do it. “It’s all right for Elton. He gets to sit on his ass and play piano. I’m up there wielding a 25lb guitar. The wear and tear is starting to kick in. The reason we all keep doing it is because we love it.”
Turns out there may well be a well-deserved hiatus on the horizon for Davey. Sir Elton has been tipped as the favorite choice to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol when he leaves to launch The X Factor in the US next year.
Davey Johnstone plays an assortment of Ovation guitars and mandolins, even a mandocello. He also incorporates some Takamines. But his current favorite touring guitar is a W598 Adamas 12 string that he says is an absolute cannon.
It should also be noted that John Lennon recorded many of the tracks appearing on the Acoustic Album with an Ovation 1651-7.