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Nigel Olsson

Nigel began his music career as lead vocalist for the Fireflies in Sunderland, England, where he spent his teen years.One night when the group's regular drummer quit before a gig, Nigel decided to give the drums a go, and thus began his drumming career. When Nigel was 17, he and school buddy Mick Grabham auditioned as drummer and guitarist for the group Plastic Penny, and got the job, leaving Sunderland for Swinging London. Plastic Penny broke up in 1969 after a big hit on the British charts with "Everything I Am" and two albums for Page One Records. Nigel then joined Mirage bassist Dee Murray and guitarist Ray Fenwick in a post-Stevie Winwood version of the Spencer Davis Group, touring the United States with them in Autumn 1969. They were featured on the album Funky, which was finally released in 1997.

Spencer dissolved the group after the tour and Nigel was unemployed until Elton John, a singer-songwriter friend of Nigel's from the Dick James Studios session circuit, told him that singer David Byron's group was looking for a drummer. Nigel joined the nascent Uriah Heep, playing nine live dates with them and playing on the track "Dreammare," on their debut album Very 'eavy, Very 'umble.
While working with Heep, Nigel had been performing on Elton's studio demos. Nigel's first appearance on record with Elton came in 1969, playing on the song "Lady, What's Tomorrow" on the Empty Sky album. Nigel became Elton's tour drummer in the Spring of 1970, forming a hot rhythm section with his Spencer Davis cohort Dee Murray. The trio debuted at the Roundhouse in London on April 21st. Nigel was finally "promoted" to Elton's permanent session drummer in 1972 with the release of Honky Chateau. Nigel stayed on until May 1975, when Elton paradoxically changed the lineup of his hugely successful band by replacing Nigel and Dee with Roger Pope and Kenny Passarelli. This decision is still to this day derided by fans of pop music.

In his time away from Elton, Nigel released 4 solo albums, in addition to Nigel Olsson's Drum Orchestra and Chorus which came out in 1971. A list of these albums can be seen here. In 1974 he had a minor hit with The Marbles' "Only One Woman", which was released by Elton John's Rocket Records, but real success on the pop charts eluded Nigel until 1979 when he released "Dancin' Shoes" on Bang Records and watched it climb into the Top 20, followed by his remake of The Jarmels' "A Little Bit of Soap." In 1980, Nigel and Dee were invited to tour as part of Elton's band once more, and they were part of the now-historic Central Park concert at which 500,000 people were in attendance. Nigel went on to tour and record with Elton until late 1984, when he and Dee were let go once more after the world tour of 1984. Music production and songwriting in Atlanta and Nashville followed, and then he and Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone formed the group Warpipes in 1991. They released one album, Holes in the Heavens, which was sadly lost in the shuffle when their record company (Artful Balance) went bankrupt.

After a self-imposed hiatus from the music business, broken up by the occasional session in Nashville and Los Angeles, Nigel began work on Move the Universe. He was welcomed back into the fold of the Elton John Band in early 2000, playing promotional dates for Elton's The Road to El Dorado soundtrack (on which he sang backing vocals), and making a big comeback on the stage of Madison Square Garden for Elton's One Night Only concerts. On tour again with Elton, Nigel's unique drumming style continues to thrill fans worldwide.

Bio by Noreen Romano
Photo by Susan Myers

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