August 25, 1970: Elton John Plays First US Concert

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eltonjohn_eltonjhonIn July of 1970, English singer, pianist and songwriter Elton John – named Reginald Kenneth Dwight at birth – released his first album in the U.S. simply titled Elton John. It was in fact his second album; his U.K. debut, Empty Sky, would not be issued in America until 1975.

He was booked for his U.S. performance debut to play a six-night stand at The Troubadour, a 300-seat club in West Hollywood, starting on this day, sharing the bill with singer-songwriter David Ackles (one of his favorite artists). The venue at the time was renowned as the premier Los Angeles showcase room for singer-songwriters. Elton’s label, Uni Records, had decided to go all out in promoting its new act.

elton John Has Arrived LA 1970The artist now known as Sir Elton John had flown into L.A. five days earlier, and was met at the airport by an English double-decker bus with a banner on it that read “Elton John has arrived.” That evening the artist visited the club he was going to play and saw the bluegrass band The Dillards with the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle – future Eagle Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther – opening.

Over the next few days he would go shopping at the famed Tower Records store on Sunset Boulevard, visit Disneyland, and be introduced to his labelmate Neil Diamond.

Though tickets were $5, not many in the crowd actually paid for their seats, as management filled the venue with celebrities. Said to be in the audience for his first show were Leon Russell (a major Elton musical influence), Linda Ronstadt, Beach Boy Mike Love, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot and Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, who had recently recorded the Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs “Lady Samantha” and “Your Song.” Diamond introduced Elton, whose set backed by bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, was enthusiastically received.

The evening’s setlist included such future classic rock favorites as “Border Song,” “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Burn Down the Mission.”

The performance was featured prominently in the 2019 biopic, Rocketman.

Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn wrote of the show, “Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning. He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.”

Here’s a clip from just a few months earlier…

[Also celebrating its anniversary is the self-titled debut album, Elton John. In celebration of this golden anniversary, a limited edition Record Store Day exclusive deluxe gatefold 2-LP version of the record was made available on August 29, 2020.

Elton John with some of the VIPs following the opening night concert

Pressed on transparent purple vinyl, the first disc features the 2016 remaster of the original album, while the second contains a selection of bonus tracks off the 2008 CD Deluxe Edition, never released on vinyl, as well as two previously unreleased demos of “Border Song” and “Bad Side Of The Moon.”]

Elton’s single “Your Song” was released that October and eventually hit #8 on the Hot 100 and was certified gold for sales in excess of one million copies. The LP Elton John was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. And the rest is classic rock history.

John began his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour on Sept. 8, 2018. It continues well into 2023. Tickets are available here and here.

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  1. BobD
    #1 BobD 25 August, 2021, 08:31

    Elton Johns first USA show was actually opening for Poco at Glassboro State College in New Jersey .

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  2. martyh
    #2 martyh 26 August, 2022, 16:17

    I attended the Friday night show for EJ’s Troubadour appearance. Back in the day, after paying to get in, one only had to buy two drinks per set, and there were three sets! Pretty cheap, to say the least. I stayed through all three sets as I knew that EJ was going to be huge (I had a radio show on UCLA’s KLA Radio, from 10pm until 2am, Saturdays and Sundays at the time), and I wanted to be there at the beginning. By the third set, around 1am, there were so few people in the audience that I was able to move up to a table right in front of the raised stage — so close that I could reach up and touch the leg of his piano. Gawd, those were the days….

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