Drummer John Mahon with Elton JohnJohn Mahon loves working with Elton John. He got the gig in 1997, originally to supply simple percussion parts and background vocals. Over the years, though, his percussion rig has grown. “I’m not trying to duplicate what Ray Cooper did with Elton,” Mahon says, referring to the pop superstar’s long-time percussionist. “Try to fill Ray’s shoes? I don’t think so. But I want to bring what I do to the table.”

Being a percussionist and a vocalist has its own challenges, including how to sing and use a large setup at the same time. “I had to design my setup so I could always be focused around my microphone,” Mahon says. “Vocals are so important. I’ve been lucky in that singing has always been a door to work for me. I’ve never gotten into a band situation where someone didn’t ask me to sing. I tell every musician, if they can, they should learn to sing.”

The gig with Elton involves some electronics and standard percussion as well, and Mahon plays both with aplomb and style. “Of course, a lot of the music is basic congas, plus a lot of tambourine parts and shakers,” says Mahon, who adds that he loves playing along with veteran Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson. “Some of my favorite songs in the world are songs we play,” Mahon says, “like ‘Levon,’ ‘Tiny Dancer,’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down.’ And Nigel helped make those songs with his drum parts. He has his own style, and it’s so easy to play around him. He gives me a lot of opportunities to play. And when he’s getting into his fills, I let him go.”