Elton John- A Concert Memory From 1976

July 29,  1976 @ The Chicago Stadium

You never forget your first ever concert and that is certainly true for me.  I was a fan of Elton John’s music since 1973.  Hit songs like “Daniel”, “Crocodile Rock”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and the title track of the magnificent double album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” were all over the radio and I loved them all.

I really got hooked into Elton in Junior High when I saw a TV special called “Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things.”  It was a documentary or “rockumentary” if you will, that told  much of the story of Elton the singer and his lyricist Bernie Taupin up to that point.  I learned lots from this show and bought Elton’s earlier albums to catch myself up on all of his music.

In 1976 nobody was bigger in pop/rock music than Elton John

Anything and everything I could read or know about Elton John was my away from school focus.  I was in the eighth grade school chorus and convinced our music teacher to let me sing “Pinball Wizard” during the spring concert.  She did and it went over pretty well.  Elton covered that Who classic for the movie “Tommy” in which he played the Pinball Wizard character.  Even Time Magazine did a cover story on the piano pounding rocker titled “Rock’s Captain Fantastic” which helped promote his semi-autobiographical album “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

Fast forward to the spring of my freshman year in high school when a series of Elton John concerts at the Chicago Stadium was announced for late July of 1976.  My sister Marianne, also an Elton fan, took me and friends to stand on line at Ticketron to gets tickets for what was to be his final Chicago show set for July 29th.  We ended up with good seats and to show you how long ago this was, our tickets were around ten dollars, service charge included!

The night of the concert, I was out of my head with anticipation. While we all counted down to the day of the show to see our favorite rocker, the balding guy with the wacky specs was also on the minds of millions of fans.  In the summer of ’76, Elton John was at the peak of his popularity and THE live act to see.  He sold out all four of his Chicago Stadium shows and was even offered the chance to play more but he had other towns and dates to do.  This tour was called “Louder Than Concorde, But Not Quite As Pretty” and before the show I dutifully bought a couple of Elton T-shirts and a tour program.  Our seats were in the 2nd row of the mezzanine directly across the short side of the stadium to Elton as he faced us.

After a forgettable opening act of some long haired guy with an acoustic guitar and songs nobody ever heard before, it was time for E.J.  The Chicago Stadium lights went out all at once and the 20,000 fans started screaming with excitement.  The band played “Grow Some Funk of Your Own”, a cut from the “Rock of the Westies” album and Elton came out to bigger roars sporting large plastic white framed glasses like the kind you’d wear to watch a 3D movie.  He had red high top gym shoes, navy blue track pants and an emerald green glittery jacket over a striped polo shirt and a giant silver banana dangling from a necklace.  Fill in your own Freudian interpretation on Elton’s banana.

Shiny jackets and dangling phallic symbols were part of Elton’s wardrobe during that 1976 tour.

I had never been in the same building as such a big star in my life. Here was my favorite rocker singing to us!  It was a little unnerving and I didn’t really grasp everything until song two of the show which was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” He sang popular hit singles and delved into cuts from “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” which we fanatics knew backwards and forwards.

The summer song of 1976, in fact the biggest radio song of the whole year, was “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”, a duet between Elton John and Kiki Dee.  Kiki was on this tour with Elton and came out midway through the show to sing that current single and “I Got The Music in Me” which was her hit a couple years earlier.  At the time I remember thinking Elton and Kiki looked and sounded so good together that maybe they’d end up marrying.  (I had plenty to learn about lots of things at the time)

So the night played on, hits like “Island Girl”, his cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Philadelphia Freedom” rang out and then it was time for Elton’s encores.  In the darkness of the cavernous Chicago Stadium thousands of fans lit matches and lighters which illuminated the whole place.  Remember, this was decades before cell-phones with lit screens.  Elton came out with a change in his jacket, now sporting an Uncle Sam styled red white and blue glitter get up and he and the band rocked out “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”  The best part of the night for me was when he howled “Saturday night’s alright, alright, allll-right.” The next part of the song is singing the “Woo ooh oohs” and the stadium crowd covered that part.  This chorus singing by over 20,000 fans gave me a shockwave of chills that I still remember to this day!

Elton rocking his fans in a spirit of ’76 sport coat. 

After blowing the roof off the place with that rocker, Elton came back for his next encore, this time in a bright pink glittery jacket as he quieted the crowd with the classic “Your Song” which then was followed by the night’s last song, “Pinball Wizard”.  Elton and his band turned that hit into an even more frantic and wild rave-up than their recorded version.  We were all screaming the words and going nuts and as the band wrapped up the instrumental close of it, Elton John waved goodbye to the crowd, walked off the stage and was gone.  About a minute later, while still screaming and cheering in the dark, the house lights went up and the show was over.

I count myself lucky to have seen so many incredible concerts in my life and for Elton John’s 1976 hits filled marathon blow-out to be my first, was even better.  In the following years I couldn’t help but hold that first show as the gold standard for other concerts I saw.  That might not be fair but when you have such a memorable event to recall as your virgin concert happening, it seems natural.  Over time I’ve seen Elton John live many times but my fondest and most dear memory was from that mid-summer night in Chicago.  Thanks Elton, you’re a once in a lifetime star and you brought me a once in a lifetime experience.

What a first ever concert experience for me to have!

POST-SCRIPT– I originally wrote this rock n roll memory back in 2013.  In November of 2014 my sister Marianne who took me and my friends to our first ever rock concert, passed away after a long battle with an auto-immune disease.  When delivering her eulogy I recalled all the fun we had together in our lives with a special accent to the Elton John concerts we two shared.  I closed off Marianne’s memorial service by playing Elton John’s “Your Song.”  My dear Marianne is missed to this day but whenever I hear an Elton song or hear talk about him, I smile and remember those wonderful times with my sister.



The Eagles- A Concert Memory from 1995

February 18th, 1995 United Center Chicago, Illinois

I grew up an Eagles fan.  My sister Marianne, who was four years older than me, listened to their music on her stereo and with her bedroom next to mine, I did too. When their debut album came out I was eleven and songs like “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” had that country sound I leaned toward.  My favorite singers as a kid were Hank Williams, Roger Miller and Charley Pride so I appreciated the country tinged flavor of the Eagles.  The Eagles’ so called ‘California sound’ was an early soundtrack of my life. Marianne had a cassette of the “On the Border” album and she played it often on her 1973 Plymouth Duster tape player that was under the dash to compliment her factory installed AM radio. “James Dean”, “Best of My Love” and “Already Gone” were big with me. I started buying my own Eagles records with “Hotel California” and “The Long Run.”

The Eagles line-up before they took a 14 year beak.

In 1980 when the Eagles broke up or as they would put it years later, ‘just stopped working together’, I felt that pang of regret for never having seen them in concert.  Not that they were known for wild flamboyant live performances, just the opposite in fact.  But I wanted to hear them in person.  It also was vexing because the group’s members worked on solo projects that distanced themselves from their days as Eagles. Working in radio, I got to meet Glenn Frey twice and saw him play solo and also caught several of Don Henley’s solo shows in1985 and 1990.   Both Frey and Henley would perform a few old Eagles songs in their sets which just made me want to see the whole band together that much more.  Then Hell Froze Over.

Don Henley often said the band would play together again when “Hell freezes over.” Their first reuniting took place in 1993 on a video for Travis Tritt’s version of “Take It Easy” for the “Common Thread” Eagles tribute album done by country artists.  After that video shoot, the late 1970’s incarnation of the Eagles, Henley, Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt realized maybe they didn’t hate each other so much anymore. Eagles manager and music mogul Irving Azoff had large dollar signs in his eyes as he was waiting for this day to happen and the Travis Tritt video was the start of a second act for the band.

Travis Tritt’s “Take It Easy” video was the catalyst for the Eagles to get back together as a band.

A live recording and a TV special with past hits along with some new tunes happened in the spring of 1994; that release and the tour to follow was appropriately titled “Hell Freezes Over.”  This tour ran for the next two years and when a co-worker of mine had extra seats to sell for the Eagles’ show in Chicago, I was all in.

My date that night was my good friend and frequent concert cohort Dana who was as much a fan of the Eagles as I was. It was a Saturday night and I was up for a long show of well played songs.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Our mezzanine or one hundred level seats were about twenty rows from the stage but we had a clear view of all that was to happen.  The set looked like a post apocalyptic mess with metal props, pipes, wreckage and structures that made it seem as if the band was playing in front of the ruins of a factory.

The house lights go out, the five Eagles take the stage and opened the first set with their signature song, “Hotel California.”  I mean who kicks off a concert with THE song that totally defines the band?  Henley, Frey, Felder, Walsh and Schmidt do, that’s who! To me it was like if Springsteen opened his show with “Born to Run”, which maybe he has done but probably not often. Being this bold the Eagles were telling us, ‘Yeah, here’s your big hit but we’ve got plenty more to bring you.’ Don Henley was perched at his drum kit for this show opener but for most of the night he would be at the front of the stage with the rest of the group playing rhythm guitar. Speaking of guitars, Don Felder’s 12 string and Joe Walsh’s six string guitar tandem/duel on “Hotel California” was one of those jangling assaults that was best to see and hear in person.

The Hell Freezes Over TV special and album came first, then the major band tour.

The five Eagles were backed up by additional players including an extra drummer, keyboardist and a small horn section.  That first set brought out faithful versions of songs like “Victim of Love”, “New Kid in Town”, “Wasted Time” and “Lyin’ Eyes.”  Timothy B. Schmidt did his falsetto tinge to “I Can’t Tell You Why.”

As much as the whole group was well received, the show stealing crowd pleaser was the now clean and sober and always affable Joe Walsh. He sang “Pretty Maids in a Row” from “Hotel California” and later donned a huge hat made up of folded balloons when he performed “Ordinary Average Guy.”  Walsh was a re-born person and onstage player but still the joker and a great visual and audio treat. I maintain since getting clean Joe has played and keeps playing the best guitar of his life, and for one as gifted as he, that’s saying something. The first set closed with one of my very favorites, “One of These Nights” which was followed by a twenty minute break.

The second set opened with Frey crooning “Tequila Sunrise” and there was room and time for solo hits from him, Walsh and Henley.  Glenn would use the backing horn players for an elongated version of “You Belong to the City”, Walsh rocked out “Funk 49” and Henley led them through “The Heart of the Matter” (another personal favorite of mine) and “The Boys of Summer.”

The Eagles weren’t much for onstage banter but the low key Don Henley got one of the biggest crowd reactions of the night when they launched into “Dirty Laundry.”  You see the O.J. Simpson trial had been running five days a week for the last six weeks on CNN and it’s all that you saw or heard anyone talk about seven days a week.  So as the lurching tribal drum beat and ominous organ notes of “Dirty Laundry” kicked up, Henley approached his microphone and asked the crowd, “Are you sick of this trial yet?”  All twenty thousand plus in the house screamed their approval with a resounding “Yeahhhh!”  Here’s the best part of that quick exchange.  This was February 18th, 1995, the O.J. Simpson trial would go on for almost eight more months.

The horn section earned more of their pay as the Eagles rounded out set number two with “Heartache Tonight” and a rowdy “Life in the Fast Lane.”  Encore songs included the newly written “Get Over It”, Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”, Don Felder’s country rocking guitar busted hard on “Already Gone” and Henley did a spot on read of “Desperado.”

The Eagles in action playing their long list of hits.

For the last song of the night, they played “Take It Easy”, the song as Frey would often say, ‘Started it all.’  With the last “Ooh woos” wrapping up that familiar hit, the band took their final bows and were done.  I finally saw the Eagles play live together as a group and it was a fantastic show.

As I noted earlier, these guys didn’t go for gimmicky laser lights, stage effects or flamboyant anything. This show was about something Frey and Henley said the band aimed for; “Song power.”  Song power is what it was that night, simply full of music from my youth and twenty thousand other fans.  These songs were played like we remembered them, the singer’s voices still sounding strong and resolute.  Glenn Frey was once quoted as saying “Perfection is not an accident.”  Looking back all these years later on that night, I get what he was saying.

-Glenn Frey Postscript-

Glenn Lewis Frey died on January 18th, 2016 at the way too young age of 67.  He succumbed to a long history of intestinal issues compounded by rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia.  During my years in radio I met many famous people who have since died but Glenn’s passing was a rough one to take.  We met twice and he was more than kind to me and others with me.   He was just as normal as you or I.  The only difference being Glenn Frey and the music of the Eagles was a big fabric of my growing up years and beyond.  Thanks again for all of that and more to Glenn and the rest of the band.

He Said, She Said…Now I Said…

The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court crap-storm is over; for now, at least. For the record I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. But I digress.


(The Judge Kavanaugh/Dr. Ford story made me do a self-examination)

Between the he said/she said hubbub of the Kavanaugh/Ford story and last year’s birth of the #Me Too movement, a guy can’t help but reflect on his own history of actions around women.  That’s what I’ve been doing lately and here’s what I have to share.

Thinking about my personal and professional relationships with women I can safely say I’ve been a pretty good egg.  I KNOW I’ve never grabbed, groped or otherwise physically encroached inappropriately on any girl or woman.  Being heterosexual, I can say the same for the male species.  (Save for maybe a towel snap or two in the high school showers or a snuggie/wedgie/creeper on some unsuspecting guy back in the day)

I know this because over the years I have had enough self-doubt and reticence about asking ladies out (and fearing rejection) that the idea of forcing an uncomfortable physical interaction is, was and always will be completely off the table for me.  It’s been a bad enough blow to my ego when on occasion I got turned down for a date, so to catch a face slap or other negative reaction from an untoward move would probably kill me of embarrassment and shame.  Besides, my parents didn’t raise me to be a Neanderthal asshole.

As far as unwelcome come-ons or crude comments towards women, I’m sure my record is equally clean.  Now, does that mean I’ve NEVER told an off color joke or said a potentially racy comment in mixed company? No.  Yet I don’t recall catching any sideways looks or received admonishments from anyone regarding my verbal offerings.  Part of my fairly clean slate is due to knowing my audience and being aware of who can appreciate and not be offended by an occasional “That’s what she said” joke.

PERSONAL DISCLAIMER-If I’m forgetting any bad incidents or situations that others may recall, I would like to hear what I did or said that was offensive and then apologize for those actions.  As my friends know, I have a very accurate and detailed personal memory but there could have been a wrong thing done that shouldn’t have happened.

NO ‘RALPH’ ZONE – Many inappropriate actions by men can be born out of being high, piss drunk or even slightly buzzed, which is still no excuse for that idiocy. I actually get a bit more quiet and calm when I’ve had a few drinks, like I’ve been sedated.  And for the last twenty years or so me having more than three beers at one sitting has been as rare as a Kardashian without plastic surgery.

I haven’t gotten sick from drinking since I was twenty two and can vividly remember the bar and who I was with when that happened.  The regurgitated whiskey and fried mushrooms were pretty gross.  Add to that, I haven’t vomited for any reason since February of 1991, and that was due to the stomach flu.

MAYBE I WAS MORE ‘MONEY’ THAN I THOUGHT I sometimes joke I’ve had my share of dates and relationships with women.  It’s just that my share is so little. (Install polite laugh here)  Actually, I’ve done fine.  As written in my radio memoir “Raised on the Radio” there have been enough times when I found myself with a lady who was to quote the Eagles, “Someone to be kind to, in between the dark and the light.”   

Sadly, as I look back on my younger days there were a fair share of missed opportunities and situations for romance that I let slide by.  Why?  Sometimes it was me being too picky; other times I thought there was the slightest chance of getting shot down. I aimed for surefire can’t miss situations. To put matters in a hockey sense, I preferred shooting at a wide open net. A few times it’s been the woman who made the first move on me, which has to be the best feeling in the world.  It’s like the ‘all clear’ sign is given, no mix-ups, misreads or snafus.

I often compare real life scenarios to things seen in movies.  So if I had to match my ways with the opposite sex to a movie character it would definitely be Jon Favreau’s role in 1996’s “Swingers.”   In “Swingers” Favreau’s ‘Mike’ was recovering from a broken relationship and was hesitant to put the boozing & cruising moves on just any woman.  I got the impression that character would’ve acted the same way even if he wasn’t healing from a break-up.   (Spoiler alert: Favreau’s honest approach to the fairer sex did land him a phone number from the lovely Heather Graham)

(Jon Favreau dances it up with Heather Graham in “Swingers”)

As for me and the women I know and future ones I’ll meet, my plan is to stay true to the course of being a straight up, engaging and decent guy.  It’s kept me out of uncomfortable situations and trouble so far and again it was the way I was raised. I’ll never be asked to join the Supreme Court but my conscience is clear.

And who knows?  Maybe next time I’m in a bar, I could find myself chatting up Heather Graham.  Hey, never say never, right?