Elton John performed three songs from his upcoming album "The Diving Board," appropriately at the famed Capitol Studio inside the label's tower building. Coming out September, it will be his debut on Capitol Records.
Calling it "nerve wracking" to play new songs, John was ably assisted by the musicians who appear on the album -- drummer Jay Bellerose, Raphael Saadiq on bass, a four-member brass section and three back up singers -- as he tackled "The New Fever Waltz" and "Home Again."
John performed "Mexican Vacation" with the the rhythm and section and after a 20-minute Q&A with Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli, delighted the audience with a solo rendition of "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues."
T Bone Burnett, who produced the album, said he asked John to revisit the early 1970s and "make it about you." That led to John re-listening to his own records for the first time in a very long time and revisiting other music of the era, drawing inspiration from his own "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Mad Man Across the Water" plus a record that change his life, "Music From Big Pink" by the Band.
Add to that one more recent release -- Bob Dylan's bluesy 2006 release "Modern Times."
"'Modern Times' was the template," John told the audience, which included his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin and manager Johnny Barbis. "I want to try to make records like that. (Dylan) is the person we aspire to be. The advantage of having Bernie is that he's always been a cinematic writer and working with him is still as exciting as it was in 1967."
For John's part, the writing and recording work was done in two creative bursts of less than a week each. Burnett told Billboard that was true, but finding "the tone" for the record was a months-long process. The album has been finished for a few months.
John made the point "I won't be kicking Nicki Minaj off the charts" and figures radio airplay for the new album is unlikely. Exposure is more likely through film and TV and the audience was ripe with music supervisors and executives, among them Sony Pictures' Kier Lehman and powerhouse supervisors Julia Michels and Nora Felder.