When Elton John was nearly punched by Keith Richards onstage

elton john

When the 1970s got going, it appeared like Elton John had taken up the mantle that the previous decade’s rock titans had left behind. While not typical rock music, John’s superb music behind Bernie Taupin’s lyrics captivated audiences worldwide. It eventually reached the same level as other glam rock icons like T. Rex and David Bowie. Though  Elton John was usually grateful to be in the company of his heroes, he did have an unfortunate encounter with one of the most famous rock bands of all time.

When he was younger, John was regarded as an obsessive music nerd. Throughout his book ME, the iconic artist spoke at length about how hard he worked to stay on top of the charts. He did so knowing every single album that came on the radio for whatever week it was. The Rolling Stones were right in the thick of his ongoing adoration of Elvis Presley and Beatles recordings.

Working as the Fab Four’s moral opposites, both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had molded themselves into suitable competitors to John Lennon and Paul McCartney as composers. They record smash album after hit album. They recorded it via works like Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St… Even they had to agree that John was becoming a big enough act to run with them as they were coming off the release of Goats Head Soup.

When they were playing in the same region, John remembered one concert. It was the concert where he got to play with the rest of the band. While the combined performance of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ went off without a hitch, John stayed a little too long. It generated conflict between him and Keith Richards.

“For a while, I thought Keith Richards kept staring at me. He did so because he was awestruck by the brilliance of my improvised contributions,” John says. After a few songs, it dawned on me that the expression on his face was not one of musical delight. He appeared to be preparing to perpetrate heinous violence on a musician who had overstayed his welcome.”

Although John was able to flee before anything went wrong on stage, it did little to calm the seas between him and Richards. Throughout the rest of their careers, both John and Richards would poke fun at each other in the press. They did so with Richards believing that John spent much of his time posing.

Not one to make light of a bad situation, John returned the ball a few years later. He remarked, “It would be terrible to be like Keith Richards.” He’s a pitiful, poor thing. It’s like a chimpanzee with arthritis trying to seem youthful on stage.”

There was no ill blood at that Stones show to impede John’s career from developing. Over the following several years, the releases of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Captain Fantastic, and The Brown Dirt Cowboy would become cornerstones of his career. Whereas The Stones would alternate between albums ranging from the flamboyant It’s Only Rock and Roll to the lukewarm Emotional Rescue. Keith Richards is now a living legend. But John learned an important lesson that night. No matter how big you think you are, steer clear of Richards when you’re on his stage.

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