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6 Nov 2009

Please, Eltonites, get up, stand up to receive one of the greatest musicians of the world... the incredible... Tam Johnstone!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Eltonites!! This is a very special date to me. I've got here, on my side, one incredible and talented artist. Maybe chamaleonic, with such touches to west coast rock; disco music, as a dj; punk; and also honoring the music from the 70s, 60s, 50s. But me, personally, I like the generalstore music project. I couldn't stop listening those albums. The responsible of that, here. Please, everybody up on their feet, a big applause, Tam Johnstone is arriving!!! Hello Tam, an honour to have you here in allsongslist.

We know, Tam Johnstone was born into music and grew up on music. I smiled when I saw you telling “Tape recorder were (my) first words spoken”. Hahaha I understand that, specially because you were born to singer, Diana and musician, Davey, our full-time guitarist with Elton John since 1972. Maybe that attracted you to music? And also, what was the first instrument you learned to play?

Drums were my first instrument and Nigel was probably the main reason I started playing. There’s a strong musical connection on both my mother and father’s sides of the family so I think music was destined to come out of me somehow!

For sure!!! When Davey was asked to join the Elton John band, for you and your parents, that meant to be on the road for a non-stop tours with Elton, always far away from home, but, in the other side, an incredible celebrity encounters with Groucho Marx, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon. You were only three years old, but which are the family memories of the days with the stars?

I wish I could remember more! I remember going with my dad to Eric Clapton’s house and meeting people like James Taylor, George Harrison and Michael Palin from Monty almost feels like a dream, like it happened to someone else. I have a very strong memory of being at Caribou ranch (either during the ‘Caribou’ or ‘Captain Fantastic’ sessions) and not being able to get down from Nigel’s drum seat. That’s how small I was! Also I remember riding on a horse with Nigel there.

Great!! Also it meant boards aboard the Starship, Elton’s private plane. Do you remember flying on that plane? Any anecdotes you could share with us?

I don’t remember, unfortunately but my dad has recently seen some old film of me on the Starship around that time, playing with Elton. I think the footage is being used for a documentary about Dee Murray.

Wow!!! During that time, Davey recorded a solo album for Elton’s Rocket Records label with legendary record producer Gus Dudgeon: the “Smiling Face” album. It featured three songs co-written by your mother, Diana. Were you the blond boy on the cover of that album, Tam?

Yes! That’s me covered in yoghurt – some things never change! Occasionally, I’ll play a gig and someone will come up to me holding one of those albums.

Hahahaha At your teens, George Martin's AIR studios offered you gainful employment, and by age 17, you were on the road for the first time in support to '80's Norwegian megastars A-ha. Were those your first experiences on music as professional? How did you get involved with that? And who were your early musical influences?

I got my first real ‘hands on’ experience at my uncle Jo’s recording studio in Cornwall. He taught me about different microphones and equipment. Jo was in Elton's band very briefly in the '70's and he also played in my dad's band, China. Even when I was a kid he was always encouraging me because he could see I loved being in the studio. He used to take me along to recording sessions when I was a kid and I remember loving the smell of tape! My first paid job in music was actually making tea and changing guitar strings at Air studios during the ‘Reg Strikes Back’ sessions. It was part of my work experience for college but Elton made sure I actually got paid which was great. I spent my first weeks’ wages on all the Beatles albums!

My early musical influences were, obviously, Elton and I’ve always obsessed over The Beatles. My parents and my uncle also got me into a lot of stuff: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan… As I got older and started buying my own records I got into The Police, David Bowie, Yazoo, Depeche Mode – I really got into electronic music in a big way in the early ‘80’s. In fact, I was a member of the Yazzo fan club! Alison Moyet used to write to me – I wish I still had those letters.

You began working with a wide range of musicians and artists including Guy Pratt, Terence Trent D'Arby, songwriter Cathy Dennis, you also fronted digital funk outfit with Glass Shark and had toured and recorded with French superstar, David Hallyday, former Rialto front man, Louis Eliot and Evan Dando of The Lemonheads. Not forget Eagles singer Don Henley and country music icon Tammy Wynette. Have you been privileged to meet those people, haven’t you?

Very much so. I’ve been around famous people since I was very young but I still get nervous and awestruck by someone I really admire or respect. It’s interesting to see how different artists deal with their fame. So much of it is about the team around the artist.

You also collaborate with Elton, on the Reg Strikes Back sessions. The album was originally recorded at James Newton Howard’s studio 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 album? How did you come to work with Elton?

The sessions took place at Air studios in London where I was working as a tea boy and the idea came up to record a version of ‘Give Peace A Chance’. I think Chris Thomas made a copy of the ‘I Don’t Want To Go On With You Like That’ master and muted everything but the drums. Elton and the band then overdubbed vocals and guitars onto it. They needed lots of backing vocals and that’s how I got involved. It was a very silly session. I think Elton did a few different takes and each one got more outrageous. That whole period was kind of bizarre as Elton was going through all that stuff with The Sun newspaper and there were cameras and photographers outside of the studio a lot. The main thing that stays with me is that this was actually the last time I saw Dee and was probably the first time I saw Dee, Nigel and my dad recording backing vocals together.

Yes, we all miss Dee Murray. Do you know who decided to cover “Give Peace A Chance”, that funny and frenetic version of Lennon’s song? 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”, etc.

I’m not sure who’s idea it was to cover that song but, if you look back over Elton’s back catalogue, there are a few pretty warped B Sides in there! During the ‘Ice On Fire’ sessions I heard a lot of Elton’s piano and vocal demos and ‘Welcome To My Haunted Heart’ was one of them. They were very simple demos but I actually prefer some of those to the finished album versions.

Precisely, George Michael and Elton recorded a Roy Orbison’s cover of “Dream Baby”. Do you have in mind the name of some of the tracks they were recording in the Ice On Fire sessions?

I don't know anything about those tracks but I was in the studio the day George Michael came in to record 'Wrap Her Up' - that song was originally called, 'Dream Baby.' They recorded those sessions at The Sol studio which used to be called, The Mill. 'A Single Man' was also recorded there.

Certainly. Oh, You have been an Elton fan before, haven't you? Remember the first time you heard Elton’s music and what moves you to buy his music, in that case?

It was just around me so much that, I guess, it’s in my blood. I can remember my dad bringing home rough mixes of songs like ‘Step Into Christmas’ or the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ album. I’d probably still be an Elton fan if my dad didn’t work with him as like a lot of the really early stuff – the EJ album, Tumbleweed…

You recorded your debut album as The General Store, ‘Local Honey’, released by revered American power pop label, Not Lame, in 2002. I read it was recorded at home on a 4-track machine! Why? Recently I bought the album, and I really love "Stay", a very beatiful ballad from the album. It seems it was your intention to pay tribute to 70s music pop. Is that so?

Definitely. Why did I do it? Well, making that album was therapy, really – I’d just split up with a long-term girlfriend and I needed a distraction. I also wanted to see if I could make an album in a week, on my own. ‘Stay’ is one of my favourites, too.

The follow-up, 'Mountain Rescue' (Brewery records) was released in 2008. The songs are so consistently good. “Girls From the Mall”, for example, seems a splendid Beach Boys homage, with great harmonies. Also, “Mountain” was dedicated for Dee and Gus (Elton's bassist Dee Murray, died 1992, and producer Gus Dudgeon, died 2002). Why this dedication to them? Also, Bob Birch had credits as technical mastering, I think.

Yes, you’re right – Bob did master the album. I wanted to dedicate the album to Gus and Dee because their spirits loom large over this record. Gus’s production was a big, big influence and I’m actually playing Dee’s old Fender Jazz bass on the record. The producer of the album, Paul Reeve and I talked a lot about the sound of records like ‘Madman Across The Water’ and ‘Yellow Brick Road’ – we really wanted to capture the feeling you get from those records.

What would you like the future to have in store for you? What other recent projects have you become involved with? And what’s the FiftyAmpFuse project?

Fifty Amp Fuse are a tribute band from Detroit. They play everything from 60s pop and 70s funk, right through to modern rock and their attention to detail is incredible. They do a version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which is all live - no tapes - and it sounds amazing! I moved over to the U.S to join them and help build a show that we hope to put into theatres around the country. It’s a really interesting and exciting project for me to be involved in.

You appeared on the Lupin Hill Benefit this year, joinin’ Elton John Band. How do you value this experience? Also, they were Charlie Johnstone playing drums for Rick Astley on Lady Madonna, and Ben Babylon playing keyboards on the Who's Baba O'Riley sung by Billy Trudell.

It was such a buzz playing a gig with not only my dad but also my step-brothers and sister. I think the Johnstone family kind of freaked everyone out that night, especially the younger Johnstones – there’s a lot of talent there. We had a lot of fun with that concert and it was great that so many people were willing to give up their time for such a wonderful cause.

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?

Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Rocket Man
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Elton’s Song

Thank you very much, Tam. It was so nice for me doing this interview. I am sure eltonites loved it. Oh, precisely, would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to other eltonites?

Just keep up the good work! I really enjoyed reading David Paton’s interview and being an EJ fan myself, I’m sure other fans are enjoying your site, too.

Oh, thank you very much for your kind words. Eltonites, please check out to learn more about him. Truly recommendable the "dj sets" section, "for your pleasure", and the blog section, with Tam in Las Vegas' experience to see Elton, with a great picture of him and Davey.

Well, Tam, a big thank you. I am in such all of your generosity. I am so happy you share your time with us. Oh, before you go, here I have some people they would love to tell you some words. They all love you, for sure!!!

Dan Johnstone, brother: "(Tam Johnstone)'s music is unlike any other artist nor any other songs ever to write or to listen whatever is on the whole face of this music generation. To me, I believe he has what it takes to create an open genre of music, like being in a new century to come, like a new generation is born anew. The more music he writes and plays, the more part of his life is heard out from whatever intrigues and inspires both heart and spirit of the music that one being to another will unplug their ears to, the music that fills most like home to be in and to always remembered by, no matter how far it will take him, he will succeed!"

Charlie Cowper, film director and editor: "Tam is a sonic ball of energy that seems to endlessly reinvent itself and never go stale. Just being around him is exciting. Personally i'm quite a passive chap, and Tam is one of those people who really makes you feel inspired and excited about yourself and what you can do. i used to love hanging out at airfield studios and really regret that we didn't work together more. He's dripping with good vibes!"

Ricky Molina, drummer: "I never had the chance to meet Tam, until a couple of months ago. . . when we play a gig with The Elton John Band for a charity concert . . . we had a lot of fun that day, it was great to share the stage with Tam, his passion to music is incredible. he really loves music. . . . because he plays with such an inspiration. Tam, keep doing what you do and never, never forget that music with be with you forever. Regards."

Diane Johnstone, singer: "Tam is , as you say, a really wonderful human being, a fantastic son and wise friend, he's also hugely creative and talented and deserves success with his amazing songwriting and production... I am so proud of him and looking forward to the week of Tam Johnstone!"

Thank you, Dan. Thank you, Charlie. Thank you Ricky. Thank you Diane. I am sure we made Tam smile. That was the pretention. Good luck in your projects, we all follow them.

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