Immediately after the release of the “Captain Fantastic” album in 1975, Elton made the career-changing decision of reshaping his backing band. He would drop Nigel and Dee and retain Davey and Ray. That was bad enough any way you looked at it, but the worst thing might as well be how he did it, notifying his loyal drummer and bassist over the phone. Hard feelings were to linger for a couple of years before the “classic” band reassembled itself during the early ’80s. For (make no mistake) the “new” band that debuted on “Rock Of The Westies” was no match for his previous outfit. It was incredibly tight and professional, but the chemistry was no longer there. In addition to drummer Roger Pope and bass player Kenny Passarelli, he was to bring a second guitarist in, someone that (like Roger Pope) had already played with him as a session musician: Caleb Quaye. But what was most tellingly was that he brought in a second keyboardist too, James Newton Howard. It is agreed that Howard (who was also to double as an arranger) would be too distracting during his stint as a member of Elton’s band, shifting the focus from Elton’s piano for no real reason.
This expanded band was to be the one Elton used to tour “Captain Fantastic“, and then brought over to Caribou Ranch to record “Rock Of The Westies” (a silly pun, but nowhere as silly as the biographical notes for each band member’s profile on the booklet). Having two lead no-nonsense guitarists on the band made for a considerable change of sound, as out of nine tracks only one was to be a piano ballad. “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)” (yes, Bernie and his fixation with American themes again) was to be one of the high points of an album dominated by loud rockers which (to be frank) were not that memorable. Leaving aside “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own” (a song that recalled The Rolling Stones at their cockiest) and the closing “Billy Bones And The White Bird” (a composition that put a Bo Diddley beat to an imaginative use), those rockers were to sound rote and by the numbers. That was the case of “Street Kids”, “Hard Luck Story” and most of the opening medley “Yell Help”. Continue reading