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Why Elton John Was ‘Terrified’ to Come to America

Elton John is a global icon and one of music’s biggest stars, but early on was reportedly terrified to come to America for the first time.

Jerry Heller, the music manager and booking agent who helped bring John to the U.S. in 1970, said the promising young artist had reservations about crossing the Atlantic.

“A friend of mine in England had told me about him,” Heller said in a recently unearthed interview shared by the Tuna on Toast with Stryker podcast. “I loved what he was doing.”

John was apparently worried that American audiences would reject him because he wouldn’t be able to recreate the songs from his self-titled 1970 LP, which featured lush arrangements.

“I talked to him on the phone,” Heller recalled. “He was terrified to come here because Paul Buckmaster and Cynthia Buckmaster had 100 synthesized strings on that record. And he said, ‘Jerry, how can I come here with a trio?’” Heller was reassuring: “I said, ‘You just some here. Everything will be fine.’”

John made his first pilgrimage to Los Angeles in the summer of 1970. His first official American performance would be on Aug. 25 at the Troubadour. Heller noted, however, that by then John had already played “sort of an impromptu thing” at Peter Asher’s house.

“And, of course, the first night at the Troubadour, he was a superstar.” Turns out, the strings were unneeded.

Heller moved quickly to get his budding talent more dates. Derek and the Dominos had a tour that “wasn’t doing fabulously well” at the time, so he quickly added John to the lineup. “I put Elton on with Derek and the Dominos and immediately the tour started to sell out,” Heller said.

Despite the obvious reaction John was getting from fans, Heller soon opted to hand him off to assistant Howard Rose, who has remained Elton’s American agent ever since. Still, Heller’s next clients were pretty impressive in their own right: Pink Floyd.

“Nobody had heard of them here,” Heller explained, before noting that “there was an incredible buzz in England going on about ‘The Floyd.’” Heller brought the band stateside, and once again his instincts proved correct. “The first date at Santa Monica Civic sold out in 17 minutes, and the promoters had never even heard of them.”

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