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30 Apr 2009

Please, Eltonites, get up, stand up to receive one of the greatest musicians of the world... the fabulous... David Paton!!!!!!!!!!!

When I was younger, I bought my first record. It was by Alan Parson project. Songs like "Eye In The Sky", "Ammonia Avenue" and "Let's Talk About Me", were some of the most played in my jukebox. One of the members of Alan Parsons Band was a guy called David Paton. When I became an Eltonite, I found that name again in Elton's band as a bassist. Being a member of Elton's band, it was my way to learn more about him and I discovered Pilot, really a great group from the 70s, and it was great to discover that he sings really well. I always wondered why he didn't sing backing vocals with Elton. All we remember the Australian Tour de Force with Elton and his solo bassist lines on "Rocket Man"... Now, we have the opportunity to learn more about him... his thoughts, his memories, his projects... the doors of AllSongsLIst are all wide open to receive one of the greatest bassist of world music and a really talented guy... Ladies and gentlemen... the fantastic... David Paton!!!!

Welcome David, nice to have you here, it is really an honour, and thank you for being my guest in the Week Of Scotland... First, I would like to ask you at what age you decide you wanted to be a musician, David? And what were your musical influences?

I was 11 years old and travelled to San Sebastian with my parents for a vacation. One big impression left on me and a kind of awakening was seeing a Spanish boy about my age playing a guitar. He was sitting on a window sill and I sat on the pavement watching and listening to this beautiful sound. I pestered my parents to buy me a guitar until they relented. It was placed in a cardboard box for the journey back to Edinburgh and amazingly emerged on the airport conveyor belt without a scratch. I sat for months learning how to play from the guitar tutors, and any kind of tablature I could get my hands on ‘The big Rock candy Mountain’ ‘ It’s a long long road a winding’ ‘On top of old Smokey’ just a few of the titles I practised back then.

I remember when I was very young my parents going out for the evening and I was looked after by a neighbour. She played me her Elvis records. I wanted to hear the albums over and over again. Then the Beatles came along and they really had a huge influence on me.

You were starting out in a number of bands including Boots and Christian, but the band that launched your career was Pilot, a truly fantastic pop group, where you were the vocalist. Pilot first hit was the single "Magic" (1974) and had the biggest British hit with “January”, that reached #1 in 1975, without forgetting the fantastic 'Just A Smile'. Both songs written by you, precisely. After releasing four albums, Pilot broke up in 1977... What do you recall from that period? In 2002, with Ian Bairnson, you were re-visiting an old Pilot album "Two’s A Crowd", if I am not wrong...

Billy Lyall (keyboards player with Pilot) and I did spend a lot of time listening to and playing music together. Elton John was a big favourite and we loved his album “Madman across the water”. Pilot signed to EMI and we recorded in Abbey Road, studio 2 with Alan Parsons producing. I was so excited, the Beatles meant everything to me and here I was in their workshop and about to record my own music, using the same microphones, pianos, seats, floor, banister, toilets, canteen, we even had the use of the Mellotron they used on ‘Strawberry Fields’.

I achieved my lifetime ambition so in that respect it was a dream come true. The biggest pity is that it was the best time of my life but it was also the worst. We had many problems with management and they made it impossible for us to continue. The only escape from the management was to finish with Pilot and move on to session work. The reason for re-recording “Two’s a crowd” is that it was deleted and many Pilot fans were asking where they could get it, so we recorded it again together with a few bonus tracks.

In 1975, you joined Alan Parsons in the making of the first of many Project albums up to the 1986 "Stereotomy" album, playing bass most of the albums and doing vocals in some tracks as “Let’s Talk About Me” for example, a favourite of mine. On the “Eve” album, along with other ex-Pilot players, Lesley Duncan, well-known for being the writter of “Love Song” from “Tumbleweed Connection”, featured as vocalist. How it was to work with a producer like Parsons? Why do you think he did a selection of guest vocalists in his albums, from Woolfson, you or David Townshend to Gary Brooker? And why he didn’t go on tour with a band playing live, in your opinion?

Alan is a quiet man, no, reserved, and only spoke when necessary. You could sit for hours with him on a mix and after a while you’d get “any thoughts?” no Alan it sounds great, and it did, very seldom, if ever, did we have any negative comments about the mixes. Alan generally let me play what I wanted to play and always seemed happy with the ideas the musicians came up with. He was very easy to work with and excellent at his job. Having a variety of singers was a good move. A lot of the names you mentioned had a good fan following so they would add to the AP album sales.

The recordings got off to a great start and I was very impressed with Eric Woolfsons song writing and piano playing. He had a happy way of putting over his music to us, sitting at the piano playing one note and saying “right guys, what can you do with that?” We did spend a lot of time reshaping the songs and arrangements. We had a great working relationship and most of the times the music went well. I remember recording the thunderclap for “Tales of mystery”. Eric and I were outside the back door of studio 2 with an umbrella and an android head on a stand with a mike built into each of its ears. We were in the middle of one of the best thunder storms London had seen or heard in a long time. Alan was up in the control room with the tape running in record and waiting for the ideal thunderclap. It came and was so spectacular that Eric and I looked at each other and burst into uncontrollable laughter, like a couple of school kids. Needless to say we ruined the recording. Alan was none to chuffed and stormed down the stairs very angry, a rare sight. We did capture another clap just a few minutes later and all was forgiven, Eric and I always had a smile on our faces whenever we listened to the playback.

I tried my hardest to convince everyone that it would be a great idea to take the Project on the road, my voice fell on deaf ears, Alan and Eric didn’t have much enthusiasm for live work at that time and the band wouldn’t make a move as they thought Alan and Eric would object. I knew it was possible and was very frustrated with all of them. It wasn’t until record sales tailed off that Alan approached me to do a one off gig in Antwerp in 1990 with the original line up. It could have happened 15 years earlier when the Project was going strong.

You also played guitar on the McCartney classic 'Mull of Kintyre', a very Scottish kind of track...

No, I sang on “Mull of Kintyre. I’d met Paul a couple of times and he invited me to sing on the track.

You had the challenge of working with more variety of main stream artists through the 80's and 90's, from Camel to The Pretenders, from Kate Bush to Chris DeBurgh, Jimmy Page or Chris Rea, to name a few. What about all those experiences?

It’s the variety that I enjoyed and the challenge of working in different styles of music. I never really wanted to commit full time to one particular band. Working with such talented people is a joy. They are at the top of their profession because they are really good at what they do and for me to be invited to play for them is an honour. There is nothing better than working with people you have great respect for and knowing they like my playing.

Could you tell us please, how you got involved with Elton and how you ended up recording and touring with him? Also, how do you value that experience from a personal point of view?

I was asked to do the session by Rocket records. I think Gus Dudgeon might have had something to do with it as I’d worked with him before. I was in the studio setting up my bass when Elton appeared. He said hello and sat down at the piano. I was tuning my fretless bass at the time and Elton started to play a sequence of chords. I played along with him for about 20 minutes. He stopped and said “I think you’ve got it, the chords he’d been playing were for “Nikita” and we were going to record that song first. Elton is a wonderful person and he knew I was a bit tense and he went out of his way to make sure I felt relaxed and comfortable. When he had the playback for “Ice on fire” he invited my wife and I along. When “Nikita” was played he jumped up and said to everyone ”a big round of applause please for an excellent bass player”. I felt on top of the world as the room was full of notable musicians. My time with Elton was like a fantasy world. Every whim was taken care of and the concerts and music were wonderful. I was asked to continue with the band after the world tour in 1986/87. It couldn’t be done for one reason or another. I think Elton was angry with me for not being able to rejoin the band so I was delighted to play when he asked me back in 1996. He did make it plain to me that Bob Birch was his bass player now and I was only there to fill in until Bob was better, I was happy with that. I signed Bob’s get well card and genuinely wished him a speedy recovery.

Have you been an Elton fan before? Remember the first time you heard Elton’s music and what moves you to buy his music, in that case?

I was always an Elton fan. As I said earlier, Billy and I listened to “Madman across the water” many times together. It was the skill of his songwriting that attracted me. I was learning how to write my own music and was attracted toward good song writers. Also the production and orchestrations were fantastic for that time.

The “Ice On Fire” sessions were under the influence of so many problems with Geffen Records. Because Chris Thomas wasn’t available, they ended up with Gus Dudgeon and also, Elton decided to change the rhytm section, with a new drummer and a new bass player. But it surprised the diversity of musicians who recorded the album: Charlie Morgan/Paul Westwood, Roger Taylor/John Deacon, Mel Gaynor/Deon Estus or Dave Mattacks/David Paton... Do you know the reason? Was it difficult to replace Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson as the original band members? On “Tell Me What The Papers Say”, “Candy By The Pound” or specially “Nikita”, your bass licks were simply brilliant...

Well I know that Elton was looking to replace his rhythm section and he chose Charlie and myself. I don’t know the reason why he chose me but I suspect it was for many reasons. I’d always liked Dee’s playing and it was a great thrill to play classic bass parts like “Rocket man” with Elton. I find I play better when I’m working with great players. The better the song is the better the performance from me. I was inspired by Elton and wanted to play well for him. The quality of the songs demand a quality bass part and I gave my best.

Duets were rumored to have been recorded during these sessions and it was talked abounded that Elton would release an album of them... Do you have any info in particular? Tina Turner rejected “Act Of War” while George Michael and Elton recorded a Roy Orbison’s cover of “Dream Baby”. Elton’s alliance with Cher, on that time, yillded several songs... Were you involved in those sessions? If so, do you have in mind the name of some of the tracks they were recording? And you know why these projects didn't come out?

I wasn’t involved with any of these sessions. I did an award show in New York in 1996 and Tina joined Elton on stage, that was fun. I met many stars while I was with Elton, Roy Orbison, George Michael, Tina Turner, there are too many to list here but it was always a great thrill to meet these people. Elton made a point of introducing us to Princess Diana. I think he knew how much a thrill it was for us and that gave him pleasure.

Leather Jackets sessions were in the middle of Elton's worst drugs days. Lot of material from those sessions weren't as good as Gus Dudgeon should expected, and Elton's mood was up and down. Also Elton wrote songs not only with Bernie’s lyrics, Gary Osborne was there too... What do you remember about that period? And how it was to work with Elton recording in the studio?

I lived fairly close to Elton and he’d phone me when he’d written a new song and ask me round to demo it with him at his house. He’d be at the piano when I arrived and when we stopped for lunch he’d still be at the piano. When I left to go home in the evening he’d still be at the piano. Such dedication is rarely seen. Elton could muster more enthusiasm then younger guys I know. But that’s what sets him apart from the others. I arrived at Air studios one day and Elton was at the piano in the studio. He’d just written “Heavy Traffic” and motioned me into the studio. I listened and thought it was excellent. He said “I need another verse, will someone get Bernie on the phone”. They got hold of Bernie in LA and I could hear Elton saying to him that he needed another verse. Elton motioned and said “pen, pen” Bernie dictated another verse to him over the phone there and then. When the others arrived we recorded the song, written and recorded in the same day.

If that wasn't enough, Elton began to have serious problems with his voice, at the America's leg of the Tour. How the band received Elton’s announcement of his throat problems and he had to been operate? It should be hard when he collapsed in the middle of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra introduction on december 9, 1986...

He had to cancel a couple of gig’s at MSG in New York. Yes it was worrying from a health point of view.

Renata called me while we were in New York and asked me to come up to their penthouse with my video camera. Elton was dressed as Harpo Marx, complete with wig, trench coat and Klaxon horn. He also had an etcha sketch and he wrote on it “follow me” I followed him along corridors as he knocked on various doors and looked at the surprised faces when they were confronted with Harpo Marx.

Elton’s live performances were reminded for its band, with a new brass section since 1974 Muscle Hornets, new backing vocalists since 1976, and because Ray Cooper was back. Also for Elton’s costumes, one time dressed as Tina Turner, other time with a facsimile of Mozart... Do you remember one show in particular for some of Elton’s wigs? And how it was to play live with a full orchestra? A lot of rehearsals, I suppose... Any experience playing live with Elton you could share with us, David?

I particularly remember the Australian gigs. The Mozart look was very impressive. I’d watch him on the monitor backstage as he performed with the orchestra. He is fantastic and it really was an important part of my musical career being with him, I only have happy memories. We also had some great jam sessions during rehearsals. When we performed “rocket man” in Australia I didn’t realise that Elton was saying “Play a little bass Davie Paton” The song would run for about 20 minutes and he wanted a bass solo. I was improvising, well all of us were, but I never really heard what he was saying so didn’t really launch into a solo. It wasn’t until the tour was over and I heard a monitor mix of one of the gigs, then I heard him “play a little bass Davie Paton”.

“Reg Strickes Back” marked a new start for Elton in a personal point of view. He was separate from Renate, he battled against the tabloids for untruth reports, ... The album was originally recorded at James Newton Howard’s House in L.A. and twenty-two songs were recorded, in addition to older material already selected for the album. How it was the recording of that new album? Was really Bernie writing in the same room as Elton, for first time? And do you know the name of any Elton’s unreleased track that you were working on and didn’t see the light? “The Ballad Of William Howard”, “Welcome To My Haunted Heart”...

Sorry I don’t remember much about extra tracks and Elton and Bernie writing together in the same room.

In 1995, while “Made In England Tour”, Bob Birch crushed his legs and his lower back was broken when a truck spun out of control while he was walking down a Montreal sidewalk. You replaced him and you had to boarded from Scotland to Detroit... Should it be a surprise when they called you for joinin’ the band again, really? Remember what you were doing then and how it was to reunite with the band again?

I had just finished a strenuous tour of Eastern Europe with Fish. It wasn’t a happy tour and the offer to play with Elton was refreshing. Yes I was surprised to be asked to help out but I wasn’t the first bass player they asked, I was the first bass player they asked who was able to do the tour at such short notice. Of course I was delighted. It was a very different tour from the one I did in 1986. Nobody wanted to party! I came off stage after the first gig and I was buzzing. I really expected everyone to say “see you in the bar at the hotel”, it never happened, they locked their room doors and probably went off to sleep. Sleep! That was the last thing on my mind. I went down to the bar and was delighted to see Davey sitting there with his roll-up cigarettes and a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. I didn’t really feel a part of the band in the same way I did on the world tour in 85/86. Well it was understandable. I just made the best of it. John Jorgenson and I got on well and had a couple of nights out together but all in all it was quite a solitary experience. I shopped a lot on my own. Sorry, I do have a habit of telling it like it is. But don’t be mistaken, it was still a lot of fun for me, I loved touring in such luxury and for that brief moment I was the bass player for Elton John, an honour.

In 1991, you released the first solo album called "Passion's Cry", which was in the style of traditional Scottish music. Why the best tracks were re-recorded onto 1997's "Fragments" album? I listened your “The Search” solo 2003 album, where you played all the instruments on it... A really peace of art...

I had recorded the Scottish songs with my father in mind. He was a singer and would sing in clubs around Scotland. When he died I recorded the songs as a kind of tribute to him, he was very happy that I was a successful musician and I know he would have been delighted to hear me sing these Scottish songs. I was proud of “Passions cry”, the initial pressing sold out and when the record company decided not to re-press the CD I asked them if I could licence it from them. The said “no we have plans for Passions cry”. I felt anger with that response. The songs were recorded with passion and they wouldn’t let me release them. So, I recorded them again as “Fragments”. I’m happy to hear you like “The Search”. I’m not searching any more, I have more in my life than I ever dreamed would be possible.

What about your future projects, David? You’re a singer, songwriter, producer... what it will be next?

I toured Australia and Japan last year as Pilot and had a great time doing it. It helped blow away all the bad memories and I felt good singing all these songs again. I have my own record label and I’m writing and recording for my next CD to be released at the end of the year. I’m gigging and working as much as I want to, I have been married to Mary for 37 years and we are very happy together. There is nothing more to wish for I’m in a very happy place.

I really like your official website... specially the David’s live studio diary. Could you explain us, please, what we fans could find there? That’s on

I write about what is happening to me now. I include mp3’s of the songs I’m writing and who I’m working with. Many CDs are available on the site. My other web site is and here is my past, my history as a musician, discography, etcetera.

Oh, finally, could you tell me your five favourite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, where I tried to find the best of Elton’s songs ever?

I’m still standing
Blue eyes
Madman across the water

Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to the eltonites?

Maybe I already said enough. Thanks. must go.


Well, it was fantastic to be in touch with you, David. You were so kind with me, and, before we go, I would like to give you a little surprise. I have here three dear friends of you, that they left me some words in your honour... Please, read it, and if we make you smile, then, I will be very happy... Thanks for your patiente and, specially, for being in the music...

Kenny Herbert, musician: ”Over the last few years David Paton has supported and helped me improve both my writing and musical ability. We have formed a great friendship and through his musical talent and help I now have a catalogue of self penned songs that I really love, as being able to make your own music is the greatest reward. Davie has been a real inspiration to me time and again and working with him is a real joy and something that I always look forward too. For me it is the fulfilment of a life long ambition to play with someone as talented as Davie, long may we continue". Davie is a great friend and someone that I wish I had met many years before we did"

Charlie Morgan, drummer: “David Paton? One of the best bass players out there! What a great singer, too. I really enjoyed the time we had together in Elton's band. We were very close friends. One of the nicest people in the Music Business!"

Eric Woolfson, songwriter / musician: "David Paton is one of the great un-sung heros of The Alan Parsons Project. He is a multi-talented individual - songwriter, singer and bass player. His work with PILOT was an important milestone - not only did they have a number 1 chart record, but more importantly from my point of view, it brought him into contact with Alan Parsons. When The Project began, David was the natural choice as the bass player Alan most wanted to be involved. David played bass on nine of the ten Project albums, sang lead on several tracks and backing vocals on many. I have nothing but the highest regard for David's talents, despite the fact that he comes from Edinburgh and I am from Glasgow!"

Thank you Kenny. Thank you Charlie. Thank you Eric...

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