Frozen in Time: Elton John, Caribou studios, Colorado, June 1975

A frugal breakfast for the star and friend during the recording of Rock of the Westies, photographed by Terry ONeill

At his 1970s peak, with seven US No 1 albums in four years, Elton John was a regular at Colorados Caribou Ranch studios. In 1974, he recorded Caribou in the winter snows, returning in August to make Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. John had begun work on the music in July on a voyage to New York on the SS France (after which he popped down to Philadelphia to play tennis with Billie Jean King). In a cable to his PR at Rocket Records, Caroline Boucher, he told how he was summoned to see the captain after throwing a tantrum when his Yves Saint Laurent bow-tie fell apart: Looking quite the perfect English gentleman (except for my green hair) I swish up to the Riviera Bar for drinks. I decide to break my no-alcohol rule and have a glass of Mumms excellent. Someone says in a rather grand voice: That man over there is Elton John he is famous but I have never heard of him.

When told on a ship-to-shore call that Caribou had gone platinum, another dietary restriction went overboard: I break my no-carbohydrate rule and I have one pretzel.

Ten months later he returned to Caribou to record Rock of the Westies. He had ditched almost his entire band, and the carbs also seem to be back on the table here, with John looking rather uneasy in his hat a recent addition to cover his hair loss. He hated being photographed, Terry ONeill later said. The costumes were what he hid behind.

The frugal breakfast wasnt entirely in keeping with the diet at the studios. Johns lyricist Bernie Taupin once said it was all Jack Daniels and lines on the console during this recording. Jim Guercio, Caribous owner, later recalled John taking a trip in a limo to a burger joint in Boulder in pink glasses and a pink fur coat. I said, Elton, if you want to be discreet, this is not the right wardrobe.

This was one of the most downbeat shots of the many of Elton that ONeill took in the 70s. The two shared a love of football and a similar sense of humour. But, as Boucher recalls, he nearly didnt get the gig. Id originally wanted Patrick Lichfield but he never rang back. So I got hold of Terry and he<a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”> worked solidly for us during Eltons big hit period.

The shots co-star is Frank, the studio cat. I dont know what hes doing there, says Boucher. Elton always preferred dogs.

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