Posts Tagged ‘davey johnstone’

Last night I had the privilege and pleasure to see Elton John and Billy Joel in concert. That in and of itself was absolutely phenomenal, and seeing these two in concert together – two of my favorite musicians – was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me! But what had me going even more was the fact that Elton had two of his original bandmates playing with him: Nigel Olsson on drums (my favorite drummer of all time for his heavy beats), and one of my all-time favorite guitarists and guitar influences, Davey Johnstone.

As Elton John’s musical director, Davey Johnstone enjoys a prominence in a big-name act that most of us would die for! Yet despite his longevity with the band (he has been playing with EJ for over 37 years), and his reknown in the music industry in general, he is seldom mentioned in the guitar community, which has always puzzled me. He has a wholly distinctive sound, and his instincts as a guitarist are quite simply hard to match.

In any case, when the show started, I didn’t know if Davey would be playing – or any of the original band for that matter – but I whooped out loud when the lights came up and there he was standing coolly composed in front of his amp as he always has since the first time I saw Elton in concert (I’ve seen EJ in concert 3 times since 1980). In his hands he held the custom “Captain Fantastic” Les Paul that he had commissioned by the Gibson custom shop. It’s pictured in the photo I provided at the top. Don’t know the specs, but that is one freakin’ cool guitar!

As the concert wore on, I took note of the axes he slung. Sorry, didn’t capture the songs he played with them. I was too busy singing along. 🙂 Here’s what he played:

  • Custom Captain Fantastic Les Paul
  • Double Neck Ibanez
  • Takamine Acoustic with a single cutaway
  • Black Les Paul with three pickups
  • Ovation Elite
  • Dark Burst Strat
  • Double Neck Gibson EDS-1275
  • Cool red guitar (couldn’t get the make from where I sat, and the jumbotron shots never showed the headstock. (click on the pic for a larger view)
  • Red Gibson Explorer
  • Honey Burst Les Paul
  • What looked like a R9 Les Paul

As far as his amplification, I could only see one amp onstage, and it had the size and shape of a California Blonde acoustic amp (though it was definitely not that). He ran two tilt-back 4 X12 cabs – probably in stereo – on either side of the amp. From the diminutive size of the amp, it was clear that this wasn’t a high-powered amp. I suppose he was just getting stage volume, and relying on the PA to project to the audience which, by the way, was absolutely incredible. He’s yet another musician who realizes the power of using a lower wattage amp. It saves your ears, and it really allows you to get great pushed tones!

As far as Davey playing, he’s the ultimate sideman. He has got licks and tricks up his sleeve that don’t necessarily stand out – because his guitar takes a back seat to Elton’s piano – but weave in and out of the songs and fit perfectly. Even when he was playing rhythm in Billy Joel’s tunes last night, I was watching what he was doing. He was all over the neck, playing little single or double-string embellishments that you could actually make out in the mix, but blended so well, that if you didn’t know what to listen for, you’d never hear it! That just blew me away! To me, that just demonstrates incredible instinct as to what to play when and where, but also an incredible humility and awareness that he doesn’t have to be a “star,” but mixed with a confidence that he has nothing to prove.

Make no bones about it. Elton John’s hits are nothing without Davey Johnstone’s guitar. He has had artist credit on every hit Elton has had. With the exception of the addition of the great Caleb Quaye doubling on guitar on “Blue Moves,” Davey has been THE Elton John guitarist. Last year, he celebrated his 2000th show with Elton. 2000!!! How’s that for a defining career?!!!

If you’re an Elton fan, you probably know of Davey Johnstone. But I would highly suggest in any case, to give some of Elton’s hits a listen, and you’ll see the absolute mastery of Davey Johnstone’s guitar playing!

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