Elton John early in his career was terrified to go to America for the first time. Jerry Heller, the music manager and booking agent who helped bring Elton to the United States in 1970, said the up-and-coming young artist had serious reservations about crossing the Atlantic.
“A friend of mine in England had told me about him,” Heller explained in a newly discovered interview shared by the Tuna on Toast with Stryker podcast. “I loved what he was doing.”
The singer-pianist was reportedly very worried that American audiences would shun him because he couldn’t recreate live the songs from his 1970 self-titled LP, which included lush arrangements by Paul Buckmaster.
“I talked to him on the phone,” Heller recalled. “He was terrified to come here because Paul Buckmaster and Cynthia Buckmaster had 100 synthesized strings on that record. And he said, ‘Jerry, how can I come here with a trio?’” Heller was reassuring: “I said, ‘You just some here. Everything will be fine.’”
John’s first official performance in the United States was on August 25, his legendary concert at the Troubadour. Heller notes that by then Elton John had already played “sort of an impromptu thing” at Peter Asher’s house.
“And, of course, the first night at the Troubadour, he was a superstar.” Elton John did not need that cascade of strings to be more than convincing, brilliant on stage.
Heller in a flash got more dates for his best talent. Derek and the Dominos had a tour that “wasn’t doing fabulously well” at the time, so they quickly added Elton John to the lineup.
“I put Elton on with Derek and the Dominos and immediately the tour started to sell out,” Heller said.
Despite the very positive reaction John was receiving from fans, Heller soon opted to turn him over to assistant Howard Rose, who has remained his US agent ever since. Still, Heller’s next talents were pretty impressive in their own right: Pink Floyd, no less.
“Nobody had heard of them here,” Heller explained, before pointing out that “there was an incredible buzz in England going on about ‘The Floyd.’” Heller brought the band stateside, and once again his instincts proved correct. “The first date at Santa Monica Civic sold out in 17 minutes, and the promoters had never even heard of them.”