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Fred Mandel was in Elton’s band from 1984-1990. He appeared in concert with the singer as well as on recordings like Live in Australia and Reg Strikes Back. He shared his thoughts about those days with EJW–and also spoke about a new special project. . . .

EJW: You were just four when you taught yourself to play piano and eight when you did the same with the guitar. So you learned by playing along to songs on the stereo or radio? No lessons at all?
FM: I grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, where I played by ear and listened to country and rock. It was the fifties so I heard Bill Haley and saw Elvis Presley in the movies. And my parents had a diverse record collection.
I did take a couple of piano lessons, but they weren’t helpful as I knew how to play by then.
EJW: What was your first group like? Did you cover other artists?
FM: I was 13 or 14 years old. We played original material but a couple of covers, like Queen {with whom he later toured} and Eric Clapton.
EJW: You’ve collaborated with Cheap Trick, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Lady Gaga, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Anthrax. Alice Cooper was probably the first big name you worked with. Wasn’t it while co-writing songs with Alice that you met some of Elton’s bandmates?
FM: I was working with Alice Cooper from 1977-1980 and was musical director for a while. It was around 1978 that Dee Murray and Davey Johnstone played with Alice. A few years later, they thought of me, and it made sense for me to join Elton’s band, knowing half of them already.
EJW: One of the albums you appeared on was Leather Jackets. You were on the back cover as well, sitting on a motorcycle (David Paton was on the other.) What do you recollect about the sessions?
FM: I liked the producer, Gus Dudgeon. He was open to ideas. And I thought that Slow Rivers, with Cliff Richard, was underrated.
EJW: While credits often have you on keyboards or synthesisers, you did play guitar for Elton, most notably on Sleeping With The Past’s Stones Throw From Hurtin’. How did that come about?
FM: I just had the idea for solo guitar there. I also played keyboards and organ on the album.
EJW: On another release, Ice on Fire, your credits include ‘composer.’ What was this for?
FM: Wrap Her Up: We all worked on it together. I don’t recall if there was already a basic track; I don’t think so. This was my first album with Elton.
EJW: You were onstage with Elton for Live Aid. The singer told the Guardian newspaper that he had a huge backstage area which he ”kind of decorated” and put in seats so performers could ”have a natter.” What was this like?
FM: I know George Michael came by, and I remember that Bob Geldof provided four RVs for the performers. Queen was in one, David Bowie in another, for around 40 minutes each.
EJW: Although you had left the band by then, you took part in the NAMM Concert Honouring Sir Elton John: A Benefit For Music Education. There was quite a variety of entertainment, with John Mayer doing Sacrifice with Elton, and even Eric McCormack singing. What stood out for you?
FM: I didn’t perform with Elton, but I appeared with five other people, including Vanessa Carlton, Brian Wilson, and Ray Charles. Brian sang Someone Saved My Life Tonight; Vanessa did Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me; and Ray Charles sang Sorry Seems to be The Hardest Word.
I remember Herbie Hancock was there, although he didn’t perform. It was probably a good thing, as I would’ve been too nervous!
I’ve done other things with Elton later: I performed (even played harmonica at one point) at the Old Vic Theatre benefit {where Courtney Love, Sting, Elvis Costello, Craig David, and Sinead O’Connor sang some of Elton’s tunes} and have been called back to help rehearse the band. We are all still friends.
EJW: Another large gathering was called Rockers for St. Jude {the children’s research hospital}. Dick Wagner, who also worked with Alice Cooper, wrote and produced If I Had The Time (I Could Change The World). At least 50 artists participated, including you; Elliot Easton; Jim Dandy; Dale Bozzio; the Angels; Trini Lopez; and Mark Farner. How did the single fare?
FM: I don’t know, but it wasn’t everyone together. When I was leaving, Trini was coming in.
EJW: Quite a few years ago, you joined Bernie Taupin on his solo album, Tribe, which featured Elton as backing vocalist on a couple of tracks. Now you’ve got your own solo album coming out. When is it due? Did you write all the songs and who are some of the Part-Time Rebel players?
FM: I’m hoping this will be released in the next month or two.
I wrote the songs and there’s also my old friend Philip Sayce, Ryan Mcmillan from Matchbox 20, plus Ian Gardiner from Burton Cummings‘ band. And my wife and daughter are on background vocals.
EJW: So some of your family members are musically inclined?
FM: Well, my uncle was a violinist with a symphony orchestra for 44 years.
Another project Fred was involved with was a track for the Restoration CD. Released in 2018, it had country music entertainers performing Elton and Bernie’s music. Fred played piano on I Want Love, covered by Chris Stapleton.
He wrote on Facebook that the piano was recorded at his place, on the Steinway Elton gave him for his birthday in 1988.
”Great present! The late, great Paul Buckmaster did the string arrangement.”
This can be heard at

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