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24 Apr 2008

Unforgettable People (XVII): Gus Dudgeon

Gus Dudgeon was born in Surrey, England, 30th September 1942. Gus worked with such predominant artists and groups as The Rolling Stones, Magna Carta, Michael Chapman and David Bowie. It was orchestral arranger Paul Buckmaster who suggested Dudgeon’s name to Steve Brown when he was searching for a producer for “Elton John” album.

Gus Dudgeon was the producer who developed a trademark sound for Elton and produced his most successful work and golden era period. They made ten consecutive albums in seven years and arranged hits such “Your Song”, “Rocket Man”, “Candle In The Wind” and “Someone saved my life tonight”, to name a few.

Gus introduced guitarist Davey Johnstone into Elton’s band and cultivated the signature sound of Nigel Olsson’s drums and the backing vocals: “these guys (Davey, Dee and Nigel” were fucking brilliant” told Gus Dudgeon “I’ve done a lot of sessions with backing vocalists (but no one like they). They’d work out the backing vocals and come in. We’d put three or four days aside. Elton would go watch football or go off into the Gobi desert and find a supermarket” (EEL40). Nigel reminded “One memory I have is all of us stomping on a piece of wood board first thing in the morning to get a certain sound he wanted for “Bennie And The Jets”. Then it was Steve Brown call me at my farm to tell me Gus needed a car sound for the middle bit for “All The Girls Love Alice”. I was asked to get in my Mini Cooper with a cassette recorder and tape the microphone to the exhaust pipe and roar up and down the country roads, that a cab would be around to pick up the tape later” (EEL 46).

When Elton changed his musical direction after “Blue Moves”, in 1976, Gus decided to leave Elton. They reunited in 1985-1986 as David Geffen suggestion, the chairman of Elton’s record company, after Elton tried Trevor Horn, who was busy, while then producer Chris Thomas wasn’t available working with INXS.

Unfortunetely, Gus and Sheila, his wife, were killed in a car accident on Sunday July 21, 2002, after Dudgeon’s car veered off the M4 between Reading and Maidenhead and plunged down an embankment. They did not have children. The funeral service took place in Cobham, Surrey, where the Dudgeon’s lived. Elton, who attended, began by reading a message from Bernie: “ (...) we have not only lost a couple who treated a very naive country boy with great courtesy in his younger days, but also an extraordinary talent (...) without those our early records would never have taken on the legendary status they have been so fortunate to attain (...)”. In his heartfelt speech, Elton expressed his love for Gus and Sheila and thanked Gus for all that he had done for him; then he paid a rendition tribute singin’ “High-Flying Bird”. Elton’s floral tribute attached: “Thank you for the glorious times. May you be in Heaven together forever, Love, Elton”.

Rest in peace, Gus and Sheila. We’ve been missing you.

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