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25 Nov 2011

Wayne Martin: An Exceptional Mastery Of Puppetry Skills (& Part Two)

So great!!!!! When did you became an Eltonite? Remember the first time you heard Elton's music and what moves you to buy his music?

Music has always been my first love. From my earliest memories, I always had a radio playing and just loved all types and styles of music. If I could have chosen my talent it would have been a piano player, singer songwriter. The piano has always been my favorite instrument and I always looked forward to visiting one of my aunts who owned a piano so I could bang away on it as a young child. Unfortunately, I have no musical talent whatsoever!

I fell in love with Elton's music in the spring of 1970. One of my cousins was on leave from the Army, just back from a tour of duty in Vietnam and was staying with us. I was a very square and shy 12 year old and my cousin was this wild hippy listening to music that I was unfamiliar with at the time. (Mostly underground FM Rock while I was still listening to AM top 40 Pop). One day I walked into the living room as he was listening to a progressive FM Rock station when on came "Border Song." I stopped dead in my tracks and my cousin laughed at me and said, "You like that one don't you?" and he was right. I did!

That fall I would leave for school at 8am each morning and for weeks on end, every morning at 8am as I was turning off my radio, "Your Song" was played. I loved it and as that was the last song I would hear, I would be singing it to myself in my head all day long.

The following year I started Jr. High School and had an incredible choir teacher. One day early in the school year I walked into his classroom and he had a record playing on his stereo that I can only describe as having been a religious experience for me. I asked him who was singing and what was the song. He said the song was "Levon" by Elton John. I asked him who Elton John was and he explained Elton was the singer I liked so much. I didn't know what he meant and he explained that most of my favorite songs that he had been teaching us in class were by Elton John. Your Song, Border Song, Love Song, Holiday Inn, Goodbye... all of these songs that he had been teaching us were all by the same person, Elton John! I'd had no idea! I only knew that I loved these particular songs.

Walking home from school that day I stopped off at the local record store and bought "Madman Across The Water" and like seeing Hattie the Witch on TV when I was three, here I was a decade later having another life-changing experience. With a little research I learned that Elton had released five albums at this point and because my parents frowned upon us kids spending money on records ("That's what the radio is for... you don't need to buy music") I spent the next 4 Fridays buying one EJ record at a time, playing it constantly over the next week until Friday came round and I could buy the next. Remember I was working and had my own spending money, so I could afford to buy them, but to avoid a run-in with my parents, I bought one at a time so they wouldn't notice as much.

From "Honkey Chateau" onwards I've gotten every album on the day of it's release and for the last twenty years or so I've obtained most even before their official release, through contacts I've developed.

What was it like seeing Elton for the first time and how many concerts have you been? Once you said: "Elton's concert in 1976 is considered to be one of the greatest shows in Cincinnati's history”. Why is it that so?

I've seen Elton in concert nearing 150 times at this writing, the first time being in July of 1976. I recently wrote a piece that ran on that I will include here;

"The summer of 1976, and I finally got to see Elton live in concert...not once but twice. First on July 20th in Louisville, Kentucky, and then again in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, at Riverfront Coliseum on August 3rd.

"I say finally because I became a huge overnight fan of Elton upon hearing Border Song in late summer, 1970. Elton and his original three piece band (with drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray) would first play Cincinnati's Music Hall on their second tour of America in the winter of 1971, but I was only 13 at the time and as neither parent was available on that night, they would not permit me to go unattended to a rock concert at this tender age! Elton's next scheduled appearance in Cincinnati would come in the fall of 1974 at Cincinnati Garden's, only to be cancelled just before tickets were scheduled to go on sale.

"1975 of course had Elton playing dates only west of the in the spring of 1976 when tour dates were announced (and I now had my driver's license and the independence that came with it) I was taking no chances and bought tickets to both the Louisville and Cincinnati shows.

"I had seen quite a few concerts by this time, including The Who, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, but on July 20 Elton did not disappoint and, for me, put all of the others in the shade. He sounded even better live than on record (even though he was suffering from a cold) and I never dreamed he could top that night. Imagine my surprise when just of couple weeks later, he did! Not only was he recovered from the aforementioned cold, but I was to learn how even though venues can be similar sizes and layouts, acoustics, ambience and the ever elusive "X factor" can make an artist's performance go from great to truly "magic," which is what happened on August 3rd.

"In 1975 through 1976, you of course could not turn on a radio, pick up a newspaper or magazine or turn on a TV without seeing or hearing Elton. Cincinnati's number-one pop radio station of the day was WKRQ-FM and each night, Monday through Friday from 10-11, the station would play that day's top ten most requested songs. Night after night for the better part of a year, Elton's songs would claim anywhere from seven to nine of the top spots. (I don't recall if he ever scored a perfect ten, but no other artist ever came close to reaching his number in the five years that the station devoted this nightly hour to requests.) Night after night it was essentially the 'Elton John Hour' with the songs Philadelphia Freedom, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Pinball Wizard, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Island Girl, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, The Bitch Is Back, Your Song and of course in the summer and fall of 1976, Don't Go Breaking My Heart leading the charge. On any given night, Elton's guest appearances on songs like Neil Sedaka's Bad Blood or John Lennon's Whatever Get's You Thru The Night might also be heard, thus adding to his dominance of the hour.

"To say Cincinnati was ready for Elton is an understatement. The media was camped out at the airport for his arrival late that hot summer afternoon and even though they couldn't get close, telephoto shots showed him getting into a limo with Kiki Dee... with the local evening news reports immediately speculating that the two were to announce their engagement at that night's show!


"For those too young to have experienced a major rock concert in the 1970s, it was a very different experience than it is today. First of all, everything was festival seating (no assigned seats) – at least in Louisville and Cincinnati. The first fans to arrive filled the main floor (standing) until the legal fire code numbers were met and then the rest began filling the seats. The smell of marijuana and alcohol was everywhere. Before and after the opening act's set, large beach balls would be batted about the arenas, and local radio stations would drop enormous balloons with their call letters from high above to be tossed around all evening long. Also, seemingly everyone brought flash cameras in with them; when Elton first came on stage to a 'dark' room, there would be 20,000 flash bulbs going off for the first few minutes, which made the absence of stage lighting obsolete and generated excitement like you can't imagine. The closest I believe you can experience this excitement today is at Madison Square Garden, but even there, cell phones just don't have the same punch as our old flash bulbs.

"To add to this environment, only minutes before Elton took to the stage August 3rd, there was a huge explosive sound, causing the building to shake and rumble. We would later learn that the glass wall lining one whole side of the building had been knocked in when hundreds of fans unable to buy scalped tickets to the sold-out event had lifted the concrete benches lining the greenway and hurled them through the glass wall and then rushed into the building. No one was injured, but a year later the Coliseum would be the site of the infamous Who concert tragedy where numerous people were trampled to death as the Coliseum, in an effort to avoid another Elton wall-smashing incident, had bricked over the windowed wall, tightened security and opened fewer doors. The concert-going experience in this town, and many others, would never again be the same.

"When Elton took to the stage that night the roar of the crowd was deafening, the 20,000 flash bulbs blinding, and there were even small 'cherry bomb' firecrackers ignited by some of the people in the audience. Elton swung from the light and sound cables that night, throwing plastic cups of water at audience members and any crew member within range. He wore multiple baseball caps and would taunt the audience by putting on a cap of another city's team, at which point the audience would boo, only to remove it revealing another team's cap hidden under the first (to another round of boos) before removing it to reveal the beloved Cincinnati Reds cap to thunderous applause! (This was the height of the 'Big Red Machine' with the dream-team players Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, etc., many of whom were said to be in the audience. He did this throughout the two and a half hour show, and came out for one of the encores wearing over six caps at once. It was great fun.

"I honestly thought the roof was going to collapse when he introduced Kiki Dee to duet on Don't Go Breaking My Heart and sing her own hit, I've Got The Music In Me. Kiki was a surprise, unannounced guest at this and a couple of other dates leading up to Elton's record-breaking week-long stand at New York's Madison Square Garden a short time later. Following Kiki's departure, one wondered how he could possibly sustain the momentum, but he did by playing Philadelphia Freedom but with a twist: instead of singing 'Philadelphia', it became 'Cincinnati Freedom, with Elton of course wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap once again. This is still talked about to this day and is mentioned in every local review whenever he returns to Cincinnati to perform.

"Elton's concert in 1976 is considered to be one of the greatest shows in Cincinnati's history. Since that night I've been to hundreds of Elton's concerts around the globe, and while it took me six years to see him live those first times in '76, boy was it worth the wait!"

East End Lights brings me some nice memories. It was the pre-Internet Era and it was so difficult to find information about Elton, fanzines like this fill that gap. I still remember waiting for my issues. Great names, like Tom Stanton, Claude Bernardin, You, Mary Anne Cassata, John F. Higgins, Liz Rosenthal or the incredible Jim Turano, taught us about Elton’s World. How do you value that experience?

East End Lights was one of the best and exciting things that has ever happened to me as far as Elton John fandom goes. Thanks to Tom Stanton, he brought us all together before there was an internet and the friends I made in those first years of the publication are my best friends to this day. It took twenty years, but I found the friends I'd always hoped to have, thanks to Tom and EEL.

What kind of place do you see for Elton John in the history of rock music?

He will be remembered as one of the greatest singer/songwriters and "Rock and Roll" pianists the world has known.

Name one other artist that has remained relevant and as productive as Elton has for as long as he has. You can't. He's arguably in a league unto himself. He may never be the critics darling, but numbers don't lie and his record sales alone secure his standing in the history of rock music right alongside Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles. He's also unique in that he crosses all age and economical barriers with his record sales and concerts.

Historians will show that along with creating a huge catalogue of timeless music, he also brought fun and "showbiz" back onto the world stage at a time when most popular artists were wearing jeans onstage and taking themselves and their music a bit too seriously. While Elton was a truly soulful artist and took his music seriously, he stood out from all others through his outrageous stage wear and his acrobatic approach to and percussive playing of his piano; His humor and need to share fun. And again, his music was and is timeless. No one other artist from the last 50 years has produced as much music that still holds up and is played on as many different radio station formats worldwide as Elton's. And none of his tunes sound dated. Even the oldest remain fresh sounding and relevant today. No other artist that broke in the seventies can say that.

I use some of his lesser known music in my touring act; a lot of his instrumentals and pieces the general public are unfamiliar with. Audience members are always coming up after a performance complimenting me on my choice of music and asking who's music it is. Nine out of ten times it will be Elton's music they unknowingly are asking about and when I tell them they can't believe it. It just proves how universal his melodies are and how they move and touch people in ways they aren't even aware.

On the down side, time is a cruel editor and when you are as prolific as Elton, so much great music that he has created will unfortunately be forgotten and lost to the masses. Lesser known albums and songs will occasionally be rediscovered, as "Are You Ready For Love" was a few years back and older tracks will find new life when you least expect, like "Candle In The Wind" and "Tiny Dancer" have. But the big hits are so big, numerous and ingrained in the publics consciousness that its a given that many of his other equally great works will get lost.

But that said, his position at the very top is secure.

Looking back on Elton’s catalogue, which of his songs are arguably the greatest he has ever written? And the worst? Finally, could you tell me your five favourite EJ songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, in which I try to discover the best Elton songs ever?

This is impossible for me to answer. There are so many songs that I believe are truly great that I just can't comfortably do it.

I will list my favorites by decade though.


Favorite Albums: "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" & "Blue Moves"
Favorite Songs: "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" & "Tonight"


Favorite Albums: "Two Low For Zero" & "Sleeping With The Past"
Favorite Songs: "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" & "Sacrifice"


Favorite Albums: "The One" & "Aida Demos" (Though not an official release I love it!)
Favorite Songs: "A Woman's Needs" & "Live Like Horses" (I feel the official release of this song is over-produced, but remains one of the most beautiful songs Elton & Bernie have ever conceived and is breathtakingly performed solo by Elton in concert)


Favorite Albums: "Songs From The West Coast" & "The Captain And The Kid"
Favorite Songs: "This Train Don't Stop Here Any More" & "The Bridge"

2010's (So far!)

Favorite Album: "The Union"
Favorite Songs: "Hey Ahab" & "Mandalay Again"

Favorite Elton John Tour: 1979's "A Single Man In Concert With Ray Cooper"
Favorite Song Live In-Concert: "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"

Least favorite albums: "Leather Jackets" & "The Big Picture" (Although both these still include songs that I love, it's just the albums as a whole I'm not fond of)

Least favorite song: "The Wide-Eyed And Laughing"

Thank you! I really like your official website, specially the “special promotion” section. Could you explain us, please, what we fans could find there? That’s on

My website gives visitors a brief background of my career and an idea of the types of productions that I offer. It also includes numerous photos of my puppets as well as some promotions I've done over the years.

I hope to update the site in 2013 and plans are to add video clips among other new and enhanced features.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue doing what I do. I love my work and the life my wife Marilyn and I have created. We also plan to continue to travel and of course to see as many Elton John concerts as we can!

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

Just that I hope they are as appreciative, grateful and respectful as I am to follow an artist and humanitarian as gifted, talented and productive as Elton John is.

And to enjoy the music! Because in the end, it's all about the music!

Well, I couldn't say it best. That's a wonderful epilogue to this sensational interview. First, I would like to thank our guest for being here, for collaborating and for sharing his time with us. It was a great honour to do this interview with you, Wayne, thanks so much by heart. But, before you go, I have someone here that would like to say something about you, he's a good friend, and accepted to be here today:

Tom Stanton, editor, teacher, writer: "Of the more than one thousand people I came to know through Elton John and East End Lights, Wayne Martin rates among my favorites. He is a fascinating, incredibly talented, humble, kind-hearted man who just happens to be one of Elton's most knowledgeable fans. I associate Wayne (and Marilyn) with some of my fondest Elton moments. But even if we didn't have Elton fandom in common, I would still treasure him. Our personalities click. When I think of all the wonderful gifts that East End Lights provided me, I count Wayne Martin among them".

Thank so much for being here, Tom, and you Wayne, I wish you all the best and keep go doing your great work, bringing fantasy to this world.

Pictures courtesy by Wayne Martin
Special thanks to Marylin Martin

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