To atone for producer Gus Dudgeon’s curious refusal to utilize his extraordinary road band in the studio during his early career, Elton John released 11-17-70 which is among the essential live albums of any era in rock. Bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson distinguished themselves as an elite rhythm section comparable to Entwistle/Moon and Bruce/Baker.
However whereas those aforementioned players were often self-indulgent, extending compositions beyond recognition – Murray and Olsson served the song. And they were gifted backing vocalists who arranged their own harmonies – which were a major dynamic in Elton’s chart-topping successes. When Elton canned Murray and Olsson in 1975, his career tanked artistically and commercially. When he rehired Dee and Nigel in the early 1980s, his career enjoyed a remarkable resurgence. Since Dee passed in 1992, Elton has waxed many fine records – but not any great ones ….
I’m sure a young Jaco Pastorius was inspired by Dee’s groundbreaking use of a volume pedal, natural distortion, bass chords, harmonics, and phrasing. Dee played with a strong rhythm & blues feel with passages that glided over the bar line. According to Dudgeon, Dee usually nailed his parts in a few passes.
To my ears, all of Dee’s work with Elton is essential, especially Honky Chateau (1972), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), and Too Low for Zero (1983).
Dig Tony Senatore’s rendition of classic Dee tracks:
In 1972, John re-recorded the song with his band (Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone) during the sessions for Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. The new recording used piano instead of harpsichord, and strings and oboe arranged by Paul Buckmaster.
Originally issued as the B-side of the hit-single “Daniel”, it first appeared on CD in 1988 as part of the DJM issue of the Lady Samantha compilation album, then a few years later in the US and abroad on the 1992 Mercury release Rare Masters, and as a bonus track on the 1995 reissue of Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.
The 1972 version of “Skyline Pigeon” appears again on the third CD of John’s 2017 compilation box set Diamonds.