The Day Elton John Began His First World Tour
On April 21, 1970, Elton John set out on his first world tour as a solo artist. By the time it was over, his entire life would change.
Joined by new bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, John went on the road to promote his second album, Elton John, which had arrived in stores earlier that month. Although he’d made his official debut as a recording artist the previous year with his Empty Sky LP, the Elton John record would be his first to see U.S. release — and fueled by the breakthrough single “Your Song,” it would eventually mark his arrival as a Grammy-nominated star.
That acclaim was still on the horizon when John and company took the stage on April 21, making their public debut at London’s Roundhouse theater the night after a pre-tour performance for BBC Radio. Things started relatively slowly for the tour, which at first found the band playing various U.K. venues during the spring and summer of 1970; it wasn’t until August, when they arrived in Los Angeles for a string of shows at the Troubadour, that things really started to take off.
That leg of the tour, which began Aug. 25, made it clear John’s music was catching on some very influential people — including Neil Diamond, who introduced him to the first of several sold-out Troubadour crowds by telling the audience, “Folks, I’ve never done this before, so please be kind to me. I’m like the rest of you; I’m here because of having listened to Elton John’s album. So I’m going to take my seat with you now and enjoy the show.”
For John, who’d reportedly turned down an opportunity to make his U.S. debut as part of a package tour with Jeff Beck after Beck demanded 90 percent of the earnings, the rapturous reception offered full-scale vindication after years of less heralded and/or less creatively satisfying gigs. It also brought John to the attention of his idol Leon Russell, with whom he’d tour during his return to the States later in the year.
By the end of 1970, John was being crowned the Next Big Thing by members of the press — but to his credit, he resisted the coronation. “The thing I started to hate was when so many people began coming up to me and saying ‘you’re the greatest.’ I appreciated it, but I know I’m not,” he told Circus that December. “I’ve only been singing with the group for about two months. It’ll take us a while to get things really together. About 60 per cent of the people in Los Angeles were from the music business anyway. The kids who buy the records weren’t really there. We’ll have to wait until the next tour to see what they think.”
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