Nigel Olsson speaks from the heart. In fact, there seems to be nothing he does that doesn’t revolve around his heart. As he plays and sings on stage with Elton John, he uses his entire body to complement the artist’s temperment and the song’s moods. From the raucus tone of “Crocodile Rock” to the bounce of “Tiny Dancer” and the groove of “Benny And The Jets, “you are made aware that he is feeling the music. On “Levon, ” it’s the spaces he leaves in the beginning that paint the musical picture, just as his signature fills create the color for the canvas. As he plays the cymbals with only slight bass drum punctuations on the long beginning of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, “there is an emotional con- tent evident in his playing. After speaking with Nigel, it comes as no surprise that his favorite Elton John tunes are ballads, for the sensitivity that lives within Nigel emerges unabatedly on those dynamic songs.
While he’s had success with his own solo projects, Nigel loves the closeness of the family of musicians—Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone and Elton John—with whom he has been working on and off (mostly on) since 1970. In fact, even though he continues to develop his own talents as an artist, Nigel can’t imagine not playing with Elton. It’s been an enriching situation for him and he certainly gives as much as he gets.
RF: What would you say is required of a drummer doing Elton John’s material?
NO: Playing from the heart. I never considered myself a technician at all. I can’t do a roll yet. I like to play descriptively—put fills where they accentuate the lyrics. Usually, the drummer tends to play with the bass player. I play with the piano. The music is obviously the total inspiration. The way Elton plays piano is just like on the record, so I tend to go with that.
RF: What’s the difference between playing with the bass player and the piano?
NO: I think that playing with the bass player is stricter. When you’re playing with the piano, it’s more free. That’s the way I see it.
RF: Your fills are probably your identifying mark. Is that something you developed?
NO: I didn’t practice. I hardly ever practiced. When we start a tour, we usually rehearse for a couple of days, but we don’t do long, involved rehearsals. It’s only like an hour or an hour and a half, so we can remember the chords. The rest of practicing for me is just being on stage and doing the real thing. I love playing in the studio. In fact, the studio is my favorite part, because of experimentation and sounds.
RF: Did you ever have any lessons?
NO: No. I just listened to records. I used to sit at home, put a record on and play along with it. I started out as a singer in a band— I was about 17 or 18—in my hometown in England. One day our drummer left and I could keep the time, so I went back there.
The town I grew up in was really rough, so if you didn’t play the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, they used to beat you up. I thought it was great being in the back, hiding behind the cymbals. From then on, I stuck it out. I just sat down and played with records. That’s basically how I learned.
RF: That was not young to begin playing. Were there things you worked on in your initial years as a drummer?
NO: I didn’t realize how important timekeeping was—to hold it back and keep it. I consider myself a metronome, but I’m not a technician. I hate doing drum solos. I’ve hardly done any drum solos on stage. I’m just not into that. I like to play with melody and lyrics, rather than doing rock ‘n’ roll—as in “Crocodile Rock” or “Saturday Night’s Alright.” I’d much rather play songs like “Candle In The Wind” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” I like to feel and play descriptively and leave out what’s not necessary. It’s quality, not quantity. Elton’s music is so easy to play because it’s full of emotion. When we get up there, especially if the audience reacts, it brings the emotion out.
RF: You have a definite style. Do you know how that came about?
NO: It just happened that way. I didn’t plan it. I try not to plan how I play. It just comes out. When I’m in the studio, I don’t like to do more than five or six takes of one song, because after that, it gets a bit stale. I’m not saying that I never play the same thing twice, but I try to make it different each time. If you go over and over a song, you can burn out very quickly.
RF: Who are some of the drummers you dig?
NO: Ringo Starr is my favorite drummer of all time. I also love Russ Kunkel, Bev Bevan, Buddy Rich, Phil Collins, and Levon Helm.
RF: Tell me about your kit.
NO: I designed the drumkit ten years ago and had Slingerland build it for me. They built six kits for me, two of which I still have. But I had it all oversized—outrageous sizes. All wooden rims because in recording, particularly, the wooden rims cut down a lot on rattles and stuff.
RF: Your set the other night in concert didn’t have wooden rims, though.
NO: The stage kit has the metal rims, because they are a little bit louder and they travel better. When they built the kit, after they had done the six, they destroyed the molds so there is no chance of any more. There’s one studio kit and one stage kit.
RF: Why oversized drums?
NO: Just for tonal quality really. I wanted them as deep as possible because I’ve always gone for that deep sound. The note carries on longer than a regular drumkit. The length provides the tonal quality.
RF: You’ve been with Slingerland for ten years.
NO: In fact, eleven-and-a-half years. They built a snare drum for me out of a log on my tenth anniversary, which was a couple of years ago. Occasionally when I break a snare head, I’ll use that on stage. They’ve been very, very good to me. I love Slingerland. We had our problems in the beginning, and I left them at one stage because they weren’t coming through with stuff on the road. Something would break down and they would take a couple of weeks to get it to me. But it was straightened out, and now hardly anything breaks on the drumkit, other than heads. It’s good to have a good rapport with the company.
RF: Is your stage kit the same as the studio kit in sizes?
NO: Yes. The extended toms are to get that tone I am talking about. They’re the standard sizes, but just the elongated shells. The bass drum is like a cannon. It’s very, very deep, but not big around. It’s only 20″. The length gets that big, big sound.
RF: Didn’t you originally use a huge, double bass drumkit?
NO: When I first came out here, I had a double bass drumkit with all these weird and wonderful tom-toms all over the place. It was just flash. Then I grew up a little bit. [laughs]
RF: I noticed that you don’t have any electronic drums in your setup.
NO: I don’t like electronic stuff because it has no feeling. When I say I’m a time-keeper, I can slow down or pick it up, go from light to shade and use color. Electronic drums that you can hit with pads don’t talk back to you. They are hard and dead to me. I like something to feel. I like to get response out of it. Plus, I think that, in the studio, it’s a waste of time trying to get sounds out of those things. Some people can use them to their best, but I don’t feel that I can, so I’m not going to use them. We’ve used a lot of drum machines on the last couple of albums, which I play along with. That’s fun and I like to do that.
RF: Was that difficult to adjust to?
NO: No. You just have to listen to that click. But I found that, if I concentrated too much on listening to a click, it really screwed me up. It’s fun because you can get a few different ideas by using the machine, but I don’t like playing electronic drums.
RF: A real traditionalist.
NO: The basics. Our band is now back to the basics. We brought in Freddie Mandel on keyboards. I think he’s going to be a permanent fixture, because he plays descriptively too. The old band is back together, though, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great feeling to know that your family is there—family meaning band.
RF: Speaking of a larger band, you’ve worked with Ray Cooper on and off through the years. How does playing with a percussionist alter your playing?
NO: It’s fabulous. I enjoy it. In fact, we were trying to get him for this tour, but he’s now doing movies and producing with George Harrison. It was amazing to be able to play with him because he is a timekeeper as well. We did a couple of songs with two full drumkits, and I love having two drummers. In fact, on one of my albums, we used two drummers on a track called “Kathy Blue” and “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.”
RF: What drummer did you use?
NO: Mike Baird. He’s a lovely bloke, and I love the way he plays.
RF: How does your approach to the drums change when you’re playing with another drummer or percussionist?
NO: I love two drummers to play exactly the same thing because it sounds great. It’s such a big, fat sound. But if we don’t do that, one of us can do the fills and one can keep rhythm. That’s what Ray and I used to work on—playing together with one doing fills and one keeping time.
RF: What was your role?
NO: [laughs] The fills.
RF: When Ray was playing percussion, did you work out any of it ahead of time?
NO: Not really. It would come together at a rehearsal or a soundcheck, and then we’d work on it day to day. After the gig, we would pick things apart. If something had come up, we’d say, “Oh, keep that in. Let’s do this together here,” but we wouldn’t sit down and write down what we would do.
RF: Do you have a preference for working with or without a percussionist?
NO: I don’t really have a preference. It would be nice to have Cooper in again, though, because I enjoyed working with him.
RF: You wear headphones when you play.
NO: Yes, and I have a 24-channel Model 15 Tascam mixer and echo chamber, which I feel keeps me much tighter with the band. In some auditoriums, the echo is incredible. You hit the drum and hear it two seconds later. So I have it all there in head- phones. It’s like having my own studio on stage and I can mix my own sound. What we usually do is have it all set up with all the EQ’s and stuff. Then when we get on stage, if I need to hear it a little bit louder, I don’t have to call out to the person on the side doing the monitors. Because we don’t have roaring stage monitors on the drum riser, we get a much tighter sound out of the drums.
RF: You also wear gloves.
NO: Yes. It keeps the blisters down, some- what.
RF: You don’t find it difficult keeping a grip on the stick?
NO: No. It’s easier to keep a grip. I’ve been wearing gloves for about 12 years and it saves the hands.
RF: How did the gig with Elton come about?
NO: I started professionally with a group called Plastic Penny. A bunch of studio musicians made a record with a producer, released the record, it was a hit and the record company had to put a band together very quickly to promote the record. I did the audition and got the gig. We were handled by Dick James Music Publishing company, which had the Beatles, Spencer Davis, and the Hollies. Elton and Bernie were writing for Dick James Music. I was with Plastic Penny for about two years and we struggled to get another hit, which never happened. Spencer Davis called me and asked if I would come to America for about a nine-week tour. I had known Dee Murray also through Dick James Music from a band called Mirage. Dee was with the Spencer Davis Group at the time, so I joined, did the tour and came back. Nothing happened for a long, long time. I was sort of poverty stricken at that point. Then a guy named Roger Hodgsen called me up and said they had this guy who was backing them. They were rehearsing to go into the studio and then on the road. They turned out to be Supertramp eventually. I only rehearsed with them. Then, out of the blue, I was asked to join Uriah Heep. I was with them for nine gigs when Elton asked me to do a promotional gig at the Roundhouse in London, to promote his album. It was supposed to be just a one-off gig. So we started rehearsing for that and something clicked. It was like, “Wow, this is magic. This is what I want to play.” It really all happened from there. We did a very slight tour in Britain and Dick James sent us over here to play the Troubadour in L.A., the Troubadour in San Francisco and a club in Boston. All hell broke loose. It was amazing. It’s like a fairy tale. It was only Elton, Dee and myself in the band, and Bernie [Taupin] used to come with us all the time. It was unbelievable, and it still is. It just went like crazy. We still can’t believe it sometimes when we get on stage and the crowd’s reaction is so amazing. We just look at each other. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. There’s the money, the houses and the cars, but it gets tough out there sometimes when you’re traveling around, never unpacking your suitcase and missing the family. I have a son two-and-a-half-years old, and have been married three-and-a- half years, so I miss my family. But I wouldn’t want to do anything else
RF: How do you reconcile being away so much?
NO: I don’t know. My son, Justin, is as close to heaven as I’ve ever been. He’s fabulous. He’s a funny little guy. He understands that when I go away to work I’m playing the drums with Elton, Dee and Davey [Johnstone]. If mom comes out, he’ll be on the phone saying, “Mom is with daddy because daddy is working, and mom will be home soon and daddy will follow soon.” He kind of understands. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll baby. And he has fun on the road when he comes. Everybody makes a fuss over him and it’s great. It’s a very family-oriented group of people.
RF: How do you deal with being on tour when you want to be home?
NO: Sometimes I have to cut it off, because if I let it get to me, it can be a disaster. I’m a very emotional person, and if I let it get to me, I go into a deep depression. It frightens me sometimes. I want to be with them, but I owe it to them to be doing what I’m doing. That’s when it gets real tough. But my wife is very understanding and so is Justin.
RF: You mentioned before that you love the studio. When you first went into the studio with Elton, how much studio experience had you had?
NO: Hardly any at all. On the earlier albums, up to Honkey Chateau, the group wasn’t used. Elton used studio players. Dee and I only played on a couple of songs on the earlier albums.
RF: How did you feel about that? It’s such a common problem.
NO: In the beginning, the band was so new and he had always used studio players. It was kind of a drag that we weren’t used. We used to make all our records in London, but then suddenly when we went away to record at the Chateau in Paris, where we lived together, things changed.
RF: What was your initial reaction in the recording studio? Were you scared?
NO: Yes, I was. It sounded so different when I went into the control room and listened back. In the beginning, I overplayed. This is when eight-track recording first came about and you could get the drums in stereo. I realized that, if I did a fill around the tom-toms, I could hear that traveling across the speakers. So I did fills all over the place. And Gus Dudgeon said, “You have to calm down.” So I guess Gus was the man who put me onto the road of leaving out and I love him for that. But I remember, I used to get crazy—stereo freak.
RF: What about time-wise?
NO: I felt it hard to keep the time. I guess it was just the excitement and getting that adrenaline from finally being in the studio with Elton. Once I started thinking too much about it, I lost the time. Now I don’t have any problem.
RF: What are some of the songs that you really enjoyed playing back then?
NO: “Candle In The Wind” has always been my favorite. Yellow Brick Road was my favorite album and still is, and Captain Fantastic. As I said earlier, it is basically the ballads that I love. I’m not really into the heavy rock ‘n’ roll. I hate heavy metal music. I can play more descriptively in the ballads. Rock ‘n’ roll has been done all the time.
RF: Do you have creative freedom in the studio?
NO: That’s the great thing about recording with Elton. When we’re in the studio, once the guys get the chords together, we basically play it the way we feel it. That’s again why we like to do it in six takes: It’s fresher that way. We’re never told what to do. In fact, when we finish the tracks, Elton usually leaves and we finish the backgrounds, guitar overdubs and such. The backgrounds are an integral part of our band. We have our own background sound. I love doing that—again, from the heart.
RF: Can you recall any particularly difficult or imaginative tracks?
NO: There was a track on Fantastic called “Better Off Dead” that we recorded at Caribou Ranch. On the rest of the album, the sound of the drums was great, but I felt I wanted a different sound on that. I talked to Gus about it and said, “Let’s put an effect or something on the drums.” So we used a harmonizer when harmonizers first came out, before Syndrums or electronic stuff. We put the drums through a harmonizer so it had like a delay on it. He just played the track down to me and I was fooling around, testing stuff. We got to the end of the song and Gus said, “Come and hear that” and I said, “No, let me do it again.” He said, “No, don’t do it again. Listen.” This effect was so amazing, that even though it was a run-through for me, we kept it. That felt really good.
We learned a lot in the studio just through trial and error, and being able to experiment. That’s the beauty of this whole thing. Elton doesn’t have the major say. We all have a part in it, and it turns out for the best. Most of the stuff we’ve done has been cut within the first six takes.
RF: Which songs were one-takers?
NO: “Candle In The Wind,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” and “Daniel” were first takes. “Daniel” was written in 15 minutes and recorded in two hours. It’s that magic that he has. It’s a unit—a family—and it’s great. We’ve had the same crew for about nine years.
RF: Can you recall any other interesting anecdotes about tunes you’ve recorded?
NO: On “Passengers,” from the latest album, we recorded the background outside in a field with all the chefs and people who help out at the studio. We set the microphones up outside near the swimming pool in a field. It was just done that way to get a vocal effect, which I guess, you wouldn’t get the gist of unless you heard the record through headphones. It’s the lunacy of the record industry.
Also on “Passengers,” we didn’t close mike the drums. Usually, we have them close and underneath, but on this one, we just used two microphones—one on the snare drum and one on the bass drum. It just opened up the sound. It’s not that closer sound we usually have. It was just to get the African-type atmosphere.
After doing “All The Girls Love Alice” from the Yellow Brick Road album, I got a call from Gus Dudgeon, the producer. We had come back from France where we had recorded it, and he was mixing it down in London. I was out at the farm when he called me up and said, “Can you get a stereo tape machine and a microphone, put the microphone at the back end of your car and record the car pulling away, then at high speed, then stopping and starting again? ” So I had my little brother hang out of the back window of my car recording these sounds while I was roaring down a country road. In “Alice,” when you hear the ambulance coming and all the roaring and screaming, it’s my car that you hear.
RF: Was it hard for you to deal with the parting of the ways in 1976?
NO: Not really, because I always wanted to do my own stuff, so it gave me a push to say, “Okay, it’s your turn now, Nigel. You have to go out and fend for yourself. You can’t hide behind the cymbals anymore.” So I made a record for Rocket Records, which didn’t do very well. Then we joined up again.
RF: Why was Rock Of The Westies dedicated to you and Dee?
NO: I don’t know. I never found out. I never found out really why he split the band up. But he’s impulsive, and when he goes for something, that’s it. The second time we split, I went to Atlanta and recorded there for Bang Records. I had two-and-a-half hit records. I say half because one didn’t do as well as the others. It was fun doing that. I was putting a band together to tour and had a real bad car crash, which did me in. The other guy died, so it was rough. I still think about it. That stopped me from putting a group together. I’m basically afraid of being the frontman. I can be a frontman if I’m on American Bandstand in front of cameras, but on stage ….
RF: I expected you to be a lot less shy from press I’d seen on you.
NO: I’ve always been . . .
NO: Yes. I’ve always been a schiz. I like to sit back and take in what’s going on. I’m a watcher and a listener. I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes. I’ve always been basically shy, though. I’ve never wanted to be the frontman on stage. I like coming out front when we do “Too Low For Zero,” but anything more than that, I like to be back there, keeping the time.
RF: How were you going to set up your own group?
NO: My producer James Stroud is also a drummer, and he was going to come out. We were going to use two drummers. Half of the time I would play with them, and the other half I would get up front and sing. It was almost to rehearsal. Anyway, I’m glad that it didn’t happen. I don’t know how good it would have been. I didn’t have the confidence to be a frontman and be the one who had to make all the decisions.
RF: Do you find it difficult singing and playing at the same time?
NO: Yes. There are still some things that we can do in the studio, background-wise, that I can’t do on stage because it’s an intricate vocal part and I have to do a fill over it. It’s hard with your feet going one way, your arms going another and your mind going yet another way. It can really screw you up. But I like to sing. I enjoy singing from the heart. I’m no Frank Sinatra, but I like it.
RF: You also play piano.
NO: [laughs] Only the black notes. Just a little bit. If I’m writing a song, I start off on the piano just to get inspired, but I can’t play it to any extent.
RF: What did your solo project fulfill that Elton could not?
NO: It’s great to be able to go in and create something for myself with my name on the front. It’s a bit egotistical, I guess, but it was a challenge. I enjoyed doing it and working with different people of my choice. And Elton is always there to help me out if I need him to come in and do anything. I’m looking forward to the next one.
RF: Are there plans for a next one?
NO: When the tour is over, I’m going to meet with James Stroud in Nashville. Apparently, he has another 400 tapes in his office that I have to hear. Also, I’m starting to write again. I don’t know when I’m going to record the album, but I’m getting inspired to do one again.
RF: What inspires you to write?
NO: I write better if I’m in love or just over a relationship, but now it’s being on the road and missing people.
RF: How did the group come back together?
NO: Elton just called me and said, “I want to put the band back together. I’ve talked to Dee and Davey, and we’ll bring another keyboard player in to play the electronic stuff. What do you think?” And I said, “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll be over.” That’s basically how everything comes together in this organization—just a phone call. We recently came off a tour where we started in Australia and played all around Europe, through the Eastern block countries, which was just great. We had six weeks off and then I got a call from our tour manager saying, “Your flight leaves …” It wasn’t a case of “Do you want to do another tour?” I’ve never even signed a contract. It’s all done out of trust, which is great. It’s great being with your friends together as a family.
RF: Where do you live?
NO: In Raleigh, North Carolina. My wife is from there, but I’ve always liked the South. I lived in L.A. for five years and it just got to me with the business, backstabbing, and plastic people. Then I moved down to the Marina, which was even more intense. So I moved down there, and it’s great because I have a built-in large family.
RF: You keep mentioning the family feel- ing of the band, and I wonder if you could ever find yourself being a session player?
NO: I was in the L.A. session circuit when the band split up way back, which I enjoyed and made a lot of money doing. I was pleased with what I did.
RF: What were some of the projects you did?
NO: Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, I did a couple of things for Leo Sayer, and Rick Springfield. Dee and I did an album with Rick when he first came out here, called Wait For Night, which is a fantastic album. I’m so, so happy for Rick because he’s a wonderful guy. It took him a lot of years to make it, but he finally did. He’s a great bloke. I’m proud to have been involved with that. I played with Neil Sedaka on his comeback, so being part of history is a great feeling.
RF: Do you recall any non-Elton records that were particularly challenging or fun to do?
NO: The Rick Springfield album. We recorded the drums by miking them straight into the tape machine, not through the board, which was the strangest way I’ve ever recorded. It took a long time to tune them right, because there wasn’t the EQ on the board. It had to be more intricately tuned. The sound was amazing, though, and with the echo, it was humongous. That was one of the weirdest, but more interesting ways, I’ve recorded and it turned out great.
I’ve really enjoyed doing other projects though, because they gave me a chance to work with other musicians and different styles of playing. I enjoyed the Rod Stewart thing and Linda Ronstadt was great.
RF: When you did sessions, didn’t you have to read?
NO: No. I told them up front I couldn’t read, so I just played it the way I felt it.
RF: Is there anything that you haven’t done that you would like to do?
NO: I think I would like to produce a record or do a movie score. I’d love to do a movie score. I have lots of ideas on tape just from playing around on the piano. And I’d love to be in a film. I’d just like to see what it’s like and to be behind the camera as well. But there aren’t any movies in the works, [laughs] No scoop.
RF: How long is this tour?
NO: This tour is kind of a long one. The roughest part of the tour is doing six in a row. Last night, I found that it was beginning to tell on me.
RF: How do you keep your stamina up on a tour like that?
NO: I can’t say that I sleep well and eat well, because I don’t. I find myself going to bed at maybe 2:00 in the morning, but not getting to sleep until maybe 5:00 or 6:00. I clock watch after that. I wake up, look at the clock, and think, “Okay, I have six more hours to sleep—great. I’ve got four more hours to sleep …” Finally, I fall into a good sleep, the phone rings and it’s baggage call. I like to eat good, healthy stuff, but it usually ends up that I eat in the dressing room—cold cuts, burgers, fries and all that. In some of the places in Europe, the food was so dreadful that Davey, Dee and I would sit down to a plate of french fries and catsup. But we had fun and got through it. We don’t take ultra-good care of ourselves on the road. It’s hard to do because we like to party. But after the sixth day, we need a day off. Most of my days off are spent sleeping and watching Bewitched, which is my favorite TV show. It always has been.
RF: That must say something about you.
NO: I live in a fairy land. [laughs]
RF: You like magic.
NO: Yes, I do. I love all that stuff.
RF: You’ve been with Elton for a lot of years. When you play “Your Song” for the four thousandth time, how can you not be sick of it?
NO: Because of what you just said—the magic is the integral part of this whole family. I’m sick of “Crocodile Rock,” but as soon as we start playing it, the crowd goes mad. I hate that song, but it’s all the interaction. They’re loving it, so I have to give them everything because they’re the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. I like to give back. It’s great to see people smiling. The Eastern Block taught me a lot about life. We can go over there, make people smile and have a good time, and be in a crowded auditorium with thousands of people who aren’t fighting each other. We went to Auschwitz and saw what happened there. It changed my life. The last tour changed my thinking. If I, myself, can make one person happy in that audience, then that’s the whole thing for me. And I mean that from the heart.
RF: What have been some of the career highlights?
NO: Central Park was a highlight and seeing that many people in the daylight. We could really see, but there were so many people it was just a sea of people. Playing for the Queen Mother at the Royal Command Performance was fun. Everything is a highlight really, being with this organization. I’m looking forward to playing the Garden tomorrow, although I’m getting a bit nervous.
NO: I get frightened to death every time I go out. You can’t talk to me before a concert. An hour before I go on, I’m shaking and just pacing the floor. I really don’t know why. It’s always been the same. It’s not that I’m worried that I’ll drop a drumstick or play the wrong fill. It’s just all those people out there. It’s very weird, but I get it every single time we play.
RF: Talking about your playing Madison Square Garden, when you were scuffling in Sunderland and you saw the Beatles start up, did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that you’d be doing that?
NO: I always wanted to, even as a little lad at boarding school. I used to go to boarding school in Wales, which I hated every second of. I was there from when I was five until I was 13. I hated math and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to take Latin unless it was to become a doctor. All I wanted to do was use the school record player and play Lonnie Donnegan or Cliff Richard records. I used to mime to records with a frying pan, pretending it was a guitar. All I wanted to do was be on stage as a performer. I remember the headmaster taking me into his study one time and saying, “Olsson, you’re bone idle and you’ll never go anywhere.” A few years later, I went back to the school and the headmaster said, “Olsson, you’re the only boy I was ever wrong about. We saw you play for the Queen the other week on television and the school is very proud of you.” That was great. I could see that it was killing him to say it, but I taught him.
I remember seeing the Beatles at a dance hall in Sunderland on their first tour when “Love Me Do” first came out. I remember that Paul McCartney threw this guy off stage who was the best fighter in Sunder- land. They were screaming so loud that the Beatles stopped playing and John said, “If you don’t shut up, we’re going home.” That was the inspiration. And then to be able to meet the Beatles and be their friend—I’m good friends with Ringo and I was good friends with John. There was one time in New York just before we did the Garden when John came on stage. I was up in John’s apartment and he said, “You know, the song you should do is ‘When A Man Loves A Woman,’ because you have that high voice.” So I said, “Why don’t you write me a song?” He asked what kind of song I would like him to write for me. I said, “Something like ‘Imagine.’ ” And he said, “If I wrote another ‘Imagine,’ I’d do it my bloody self.” To know those people is so great. What a life! I’m so glad to be blessed with all this.