TO RAISE FUNDS FOR HIS AIDS CHARITY, Elton John sold his record collection through a Sotheby’s auction in 1993. The collection contained more than 70,000 items, including singles, albums, 8-track tapes, cassettes, and compact discs. Proceeds from the sale went to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which remains an ongoing concern that has raised more than $400,000,000 over the past quarter-century.
I became aware of Elton John’s proclivities as a collector in the early 1970s when he wrote an article for one of the American music magazines listing his favorite albums. While I wasn’t a particularly big fan of his, I was surprised to see how many of his faves were also my faves. I remember that, like me, he rated BETWEEN THE BUTTONS near the top of his list, a choice that’s even more idiosyncratic now than it was then.
Many of these bootleg albums were superior to almost anything that RCA Victor in the US had ever produced!
And what does any of this have to do with Elvis Presley? All this came to mind while I was looking up something about Elvis bootlegs and I stumbled over an interview with Paul Dowling on the Elvis Information Network from a few years ago. Paul is a bit of a legend in the Elvis world as he was involved in producing and manufacturing many of the finest Elvis bootleg albums ever made. These include but are hardly limited to:
The images avove are is the three volumes of THE ROCKIN’ REBEL series; the two volumes in THE ’68 COMEBACK series; the two volumes in THE BURBANK SESSIONS series (each a two-record album); and ROCKIN’ WITH ELVIS NEW YEARS EVE (also a two-record album). Each of these covers would rank at the very top of the list of the most attractive Elvis covers that RCA Victor issued on an LP album in the US.
Rockin’ New Year’s Eve
These two Burbank albums were each two-record sets that collected all four shows that Elvis performed before a small invited audience in NBC’s studio in Burbank, California, in June 1968. These shows became the backbone for the Singer presents Elvis television special that resurrected Presley from the dead and placed him on the road back to the toppermost of the poppermost!
I rank both volumes of the Burbank session albums as among the most essential Elvis albums ever made. The sound is extraordinarily fine mono and the packaging puts almost every album that RCA Victor in the US ever released! In fact, BURBANK SESSIONS VOLUME 1 is my “desert island” Elvis album.
Many of Dowling’s other bootleg albums were superior to almost anything that RCA Victor in the US had ever produced—both in terms of the quality of the recordings and the design and manufacturing of the jackets. But the two underground entrepreneurs were eventually busted by the Feds in 1982 and the line if superb Elvis albums came to a halt.
Dowling’s albums had a lot of customers, including a few celebrities: “I know Anita Bryant ordered a lot. John Wilkinson also was a good customer of some of our earlier LPs. Some told me that Eddie Murphy the comedian ordered from us but under an assumed name.”
Elton standing in an aisle between the rows of shelves holding his record collection. The red arrow drawn on the photograph points to his copy of the bootleg album ROCKIN’ WITH ELVIS NEW YEARS EVE.
Elton was a big Elvis fan
But there was an even bigger fan of Elvis and of Elvis bootlegs: “A friend of mine sent me this photo of Elton John in his record room and take a look at the red arrow and where it points to,” said Paul. “Yep, my ROCKIN’ WITH ELVIS NEW YEARS EVE. I found out from Erick that Elton was a big Elvis fan and had heard about the show and wanted it bad so [concert promoter] Tom Hullett fixed him up with a copy of the LP.” (Elvis Information Network)
Elton met Elvis at one of Presley’s concerts in Washington D.C. “It was a big moment for John, who idolized Presley. Unfortunately, the meeting was not what John hoped. ‘It was so sad because he turned into this big man with no eyes,’ John told Oprah Winfrey years later. ‘They had sunk into the back of his head and it was pathetic.'”
Elton told biographer Tom Doyle that meeting Elvis had been difficult for him: “It was sad. It was someone who was in a complete drug haze giving nylon scarves away to these fans. And yet it was still, in a way, magical.” (Captain Fantastic – Elton John’s Stellar Trip Through the ’70s)
In 2015, Elton John posted this message online: “I unloaded my entire record collection in 1991. It was the first thing I sold to help set up the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Happy to say that I’ve recently started collecting vinyl again. LPs will always occupy a very special place in my heart.”
Whether or not he’s back to collecting Elvis bootlegs, right now, someone somewhere has Elton John’s copy of one of Paul Dowling’s most famous bootlegs in his or her collection and may not know it . . .