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Writer Talks About Elton, ''Tommy,'' And The Starship

Written by Chief Editor.

Chris Charlesworth first heard the call of 'rock 'n' roll at the age of ten: Little Richard singing 'Tutti Frutti'. Seeing the Beatles in 1963 inspired him to buy a guitar but he wound up becoming a music journalist who has interviewed rockers ranging from Black Sabbath to Elton. He recently shared a few career highlights with Eltonjohnworld.com.
 
EJW: You and several other writers recently teamed up for Rock Stars at Home, which features items like Elton at Woodside near Windsor Castle and Neil Young at Broken Arrow Ranch in California. Among your contributions is ''All Aboard the Starship.'' How did you wind up being invited to accompany Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and Elton on this private plane?

 

CC: At the time I travelled on the Starship (Alice in 1974, Led Zep in 1975 and Elton in 1976) I was Melody Makers American editor based in New York. My job involved writing about rock music and rock stars and sometimes this meant I went on the road with them for a few days at a time. Elton, Led Zep and Alice all used the Starship, so I found myself on it too. In those days access by writers to big stars was much more easily available than it is today. We were discreet. There were no NDAs (or lawyers waving them at us).

 

EJW: Who else was on board when you flew with Elton, and what was the experience like?

 

CC: The whole band, some management and staff from the tour promoter’s company. I think Kiki Dee was the only woman on board apart from the two stewardesses. I was the only press person, probably because I'd been writing about EJ for a while and he trusted me. Elton had a boyfriend on board too, but I didn’t mention that in my Melody Maker article. They were fairly short trips, Chicago to Cincinnati and then to Cleveland. The beauty of the Starship was that you didn’t have to check in, so the caravan of limousines just drew up alongside the plane and you simply boarded from the tarmac. I remember Elton liked Kentucky Fried Chicken in those days and had asked the crew to get lots in. On one of the flights I sat down with him and did an interview, which was when he told me he was retiring, or at least cutting back on touring. He also told me about his interest in Watford Football Club.

 

EJW:  Another book you've been involved with is Tommy at 50 (which you co-wrote with Mike McInnerney and for which Pete Townshend penned the foreword). It  includes a bit about Elton who played the Pinball Wizard in the  movie, isn't that right? Also, how did you get to know the Who

 

CC: Yes, Elton and the Who seemed to coincide a bit during the seventies and eighties. I saw Elton supporting them at the Roundhouse in December 1970, before Elton was well-known and in dedicating that night’s performance of Tommy to him, Pete Townshend said he had a bright future ahead!

 

I remember that I'd gone to a Who concert and hadn't been at MM for three months. Although I'd written positively about a few other acts, none had called to thank me. Now here was Keith Moon, a  member of a band that was far and away the most skilled, successful and popular of all the groups I've reviewed, calling to thank me or a good review. Neither he nor the Who actually needed a good review to help their career at their stage.

 

The next time we met, Keith invited me to be his guest at a Who concert at the Hammersmith Palais. That night, I met the other three members of the Who for the first time.

 

EJW: There's a movie about Melody Maker now. What would you like music aficionados to know about this?

 

CC: Melody Makers, Should've Been There is a documentary about the music paper where I sowed the seeds that nourished me thereafter. The film was followed by a Q&A session in which I took part and for which I prepared myself by spending a pleasant two hours in the morning leafing through a dozen or so old copies of MM that I bought from a trader in old newspapers many years ago. I don't often do this but whenever I do, it becomes very moreish and I don't want to stop because when that period of my life, from 1970 to 1977, comes back into focus, I wish I could turn back the clock, if only for a day.

 

The film has that effect, too. It started life as a celebration of the work of our chief contributing photographer Barrie Wentzell, who now lives in Toronto, the home town of its director Leslie Ann Coles. Somehow the two met and Leslie was shown Barrie's archive {which includes Elton}, without doubt one of the richest rock photos archives, at least for the period when he worked principally for MM, which was 1965 to 1975. Leslie proposed making a film based around his photographs, and Barrie suggested expanding the project to tell the story of the rise and fall of MM.

 

I think it's important for fans to realise that the UK's weekly press, be it MM or New Musical Express of any of the rest was once an important strand of the music industry. Staggering as it seems today, when none of the weeklies survive in print, in its heyday, Melody Maker was top of the heap selling 200,000 copies a week; NME wasn't that far behind, with 180,000; Sounds third with 100,000; and the two also-rans, Disc & Music Echo and Record Mirror, sold 50,000 each.

 

Read more about Chris and Elton at