Rich DiGiacomo On The 50th Anniversary Of Elton John’s Breakout Troubadour Show

Defying Gravity:
Chris Walter / WireImage
– Defying Gravity:
“They got rock ‘n’ roll, handstands, a singer wearing boots with wings on them,” Elton John said of his breakout show at the Troubadour on Aug, 25, 1970.
On Aug. 25, 1970, Elton John, at just 23 years old, played the first of eight shows over six nights at The Troubadour in Los Angeles that would change the course of his career. John, backed by drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray,, in that moment conquered America. Neil Diamond introduced him and David Ackles opened the show.  Major musicians including Quincy Jones, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Brian Wilson and Randy Newman all came to the shows as did John’s “hero,” Leon Russell. 
Writing in GQ this week on the landmark performance John said, “It was a folky club, they were used to sensitive singer-songwriters, and after listening to Elton John [his second album from 1970 which Universal is releasing this week as a deluxe edition] that’s what they thought they were getting: something like a male Carole King. Instead, they got rock ’n’ roll, handstands, a singer wearing boots with wings on them. We tore into songs such as “Sixty Years On,” improvising, the three of us following each other instinctively until they sounded nothing like the album. I was running on adrenaline again, like a greyhound being let out of the traps.”

In the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 27, 1970, critic Robert Hilburn called Elton “staggeringly original … there was no question about John’s talent and potential … He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.” On the 50th anniversary of that seminal show we discovered our own Rich DiGiacomo, a senior account executive at VenuesNow (Pollstar’s sister publication), was there. Sometimes the story you’re looking for is no further away than your weekly Zoom call. Here then, in his own words, are Rich’s memories from that night and the Los Angeles music scene.  

L.A.’s famed Troubadour (Marushka Media / Rich Fury / Getty Images)

I’m originally from the East Coast and moved to Los Angeles in high school. I lived in Studio City and went to North Hollywood High. In 1970 I was 17 years old and at the time, they didn’t check IDs like they do now. It was around when Tumbleweed Connection debuted and they played some songs off of it. His songs didn’t get much saturation on AM radio, it was mostly on FM. There was a station called KPPC and that’s where we got most of our music from. 

I was working at Sunset Sounds, which at the time was a 24-track studio. I was pretty much pushing the broom. We had a lot of talent coming through there, especially around that time. I did it as a summer job. There were always tickets floating around for shows in LA. So I grabbed this one ticket and said, “This looks kind of cool.” It was right down the street from where I was living in Studio City. To be honest with you, there was one song of Elton John’s they played on the radio, “Your Song,” which was what brought me there. 
Myself and this guy named Louie, he was a sound guy, went. We took it all in. It was an amazing concert. It probably had a lot of A&R guys there and he was just trying to make a good impression as much as he could. It was close to about two hours long. It may have been the second night, I’m not sure. I just know going through those doors, it was impactful. I go, “Oh my God, I’m in the Troubadour.” The Whiskey was one thing, but the Troubadour had a flair to it. 

Winning Friends,  Influencing People:
– Winning Friends, Influencing People:
Rich DiGiacomo, “probably in some club,” circa 1971 in Los Angeles.
When I started reading about it later, I didn’t know it was going to be, “The biggest show he’s ever had.” He was climbing the charts fast. It was just amazing to be there, now that I think back on it. It was an impressive show. I wish I had the ticket. I keep most of my tickets or at least the ones when I started getting smart. It’s like, “Oh my God, I was at that. And, I was at that.” 
I saw so much music around town and everything was pretty amazing, if you had the money to get into it. We were pretty broke. I got lucky. Earlier in my teens I went to see Big Brother And The Holding Company [with Janis Joplin] at the Hollywood Bowl. There was so much going on in the scene in L.A. We were always sneaking into the Hollywood Bowl. We were always at the Greek Theater, trying to sneak into that, too. And, then we were at the Forum. I saw Led Zeppelin at the Long Beach Civic Center and the opening act was Jethro Tull. When I went back again, years later, they did an upgrade to the Long Beach Convention Center and when you walked into the bathrooms, they have all these posters of past groups that showed you how much the tickets were. I think they were like $4 to get in. That was an amazing show, too. Jimmy Page was just on that night. 
Elton John also later played at the Santa Monica Civic Center, which isn’t around anymore. That’s when he started wearing the crown and the capes and all that. That was a great place. It was small, maybe 3,000 people or a little smaller, but the way it was set up was really nice. They tried to redo all the acoustics, which I think they did. And then the city didn’t want to be in that side of the business. There was a lot of stuff going on. It was a pretty interesting time to be here.  
I don’t know if Elton John was my first show at the Troubadour or not but I saw Carly Simon opening for Cat Stevens and that was about the same time. There was so much exceptional talent in L.A at the time. Who knew Elton John was going to. be around, 50 years later?