With the latest Elton John album being released, it is sad that a few days earlier his original drummer Roger Pope passed away. Now I always feel sad when I hear about people who have played with my favourite musicians, but to be honest it is not as if I followed the person who has passed on once they were not with the said artist. Shallow, but I reckon lots of other people are the same. So, in a belated tribute to Roger Pope, I picked one of the albums he played with Elton John on, and I have chosen Sir Reggie's third release - Tumbleweed Connection. After his second album (called 'Elton John') was released in 1970 only six months later he came out with this slice of Americana which was recorded in that well known American city - London. To be honest Elton John and his song writing partner Bernie Taupin have never made a secret of their collective obsession with America and this was the first of many records that have been influenced by the land across the Atlantic.
As with most of Elton's earlier works, the list of session musicians used is amazing; Dusty Springfield on backing vocals, Herbie Flowers on bass, Caleb Quaye on guitar, Dee Murray also on bass guitar - there is a fantastic amount of people who played on this record. Recorded back in a time when you did not wait over two years for the next record and done within a month, this album shows Elton John back when he was not the polished pop star that everyone knows now; this is an album which had no singles released from it (a few of the tracks were used as b-sides for material on the 'Elton John' album) and therefore it is a rare album in that it can be viewed as a whole, and not just a vehicle for a few good tracks and some filler.
'Tumbleweed Connection' is concept album with the Country & West/Americana overtones that would be revisited in other releases (most prominently with 'The Union' his joint collaboration with Leon Russell (which will be cleverly linked here once I re-do the blog). For a piano based rock album to have such a deep Americana root it feels so naturally done, but at this point Sir Reggie was just getting into the swing of things. Starting with "Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun" with its boogie guitar and piano, with the harmonic gospel backing - it comes out with a swagger that was only available in the 70's and has been weakly copied by others ever since. Following on from that, the album is took in a different direction with "Come Down In Time", a beautiful little ballad about a first love and the lady is waiting (or gentlemen is - but he keeps saying she, so you never know).
The other thing about this album is it is so deeply embedded in Southern America (ie - Texas and those states); it might as well be Southern fried. The middle section of "Son Of Your Father", "My Father's Gun" and "Where To Now, St Peter" capsulate this album at its best. A great mixture of sound and textures, with some fantastic story telling about a time long gone. Out of the eleven tracks from the original release there is not one track which is out of place or feels like filler; it is wonderful. When this album was re-released in 1995 an early version of "Madman Across The Water" with guitarist Mick Ronson who is most famously known for his work with David Bowie and Morrissey; it is a great version of the track, but it does not mesh well with the rest of the album and I can see why it was left off the original release.
So overall the feeling of this album is of a grand concept that has actually been done correctly. The 70's must have been a great time for this sort of thing, but I also reckon this could be a shining beacon in a sea of meh; they say the good stuff rises to the top after all. This is essential for anyone who is interested in 70's rock, let alone Elton John; in his career, this is a high tide mark which he did manage to surpass but it was his first stone cold classic. The work of everyone on this release (as well as the late Mr Pope) is exceptional. Rest in peace Mr Pope; hope you are wherever your forefather call home.
10 out of ten - This is proof that there is a God
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Elton John website here
You can listen to the normal album on Spotify here
Live version of "Come Down In Time" with Ray Cooper from 2009