Since opening in 1957, the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood has helped launch some of contemporary music's popular entertainers. James Taylor and Tom Waits performed there early in their careers, and Elton did his first U.S. show there on this date in 1970.
But the club's Doug Weston paid Elton's trio a meagre $500 for a week of gigs.
"We'd flown to Los Angeles," Elton remarked later, "thirteen hours over the pole in this jumbo jet, and we arrived to find this bloody great bus ..'Elton John has arrived!' and all that sort of thing...and it took another two hours to get to the hotel. Once we'd booked in, we were hustled out again and off to the Troubadour where the Dillards were appearing...they were incredible, just knocked me out completely."
Then, the night before the first concert, Elton's manager, Ray Williams, found him "sulking-- and petrified." Convinced that he was too inexperienced to play for a sophisticated Los Angeles crowd, Elton was in a state of panic.
"He said he wasn't going to play the Troubadour date," remembered Williams, "and was getting on the first plane home. I basically had to fight with him."
Luckily, Ray prevailed but Elton's anxiety wasn't reduced when he arrived at the venue to find that "It was packed to the brim with people from the record industry, who expected me to come on with this 15-piece orchestra and reproduce the sound of the album, which had recently been released there."
So, when a still-terrified Elton finally hit the little stage (introduced by Neil Diamond) that Tuesday night, he was seen by Beach Boy Mike Love, Bread's David Gates, and singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, as well as Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini.
Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times remembered Elton's shaky opening.
"He started going through his songs in a somewhat distant, businesslike manner. He looked scared, keeping his eyes on the piano."
The crowd virtually ignored the Briton until four numbers into the set when he snapped.
Composer Don Black, also in the house that night, recalled that "He stood up, kicked away his piano stool and shouted 'Right! If you won't listen, perhaps you'll bloody well listen to this!' Then he started pounding the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis." By the end of the set, America was Elton's for the taking.
Rolling Stone magazine rated that night as one of the all-time greatest rock performances and, the following morning Elton received a telegram from promoter Bill Graham, offering him $5,000 to play at the Fillmore East in New York--the largest sum ever offered to a first time act.
In retrospect, Elton has said, ''I think the start of all the success was the Troubadour thing. It was just amazing. It's an incredibly funky little place, the best club of its kind anywhere, and all it is is some wooden tables and chairs and good acoustics.''