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BACKSTAGE: Roger Pope, the party’s not over
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Roger Pope hammers home to George Matlock about his early years in Elton’s music
18 March 2001 @ 2:55

By George Matlock

It’s March 10, 2001, and after several false starts, we manage to catch busy rock and roll’s Roger Pope for an interview from a region he’s never left since he was nine years old, the south coast of England.

Phew! We thought we’d missed him from ou Cavern Club Souvenir Programme! No chance! Roger wants to make up for lost time, and get to know the fans. Heck, he’s even made a point of coming to the UK Fan Convention at Cavern Club, Liverpool on March 24, 2001. Welcome Roger!

Some people have misspelled his name as “Rodger”, but we wonder why this drummer-with-attitude has also become labelled “rogue-er”. When you chat with Roger, you realise this man who lived fast in the music years is now getting a grip on his life again. He’s no rogue! He’s just a solid character in a rock music industry dominated by PC-types, policed by the marketing Men In Black from the record companies.

He’s even been the subject of some light-hearted ridicule. The late Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show character puppet drummer was reputedly inspired by a combination of drummers Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and Roger!

But his real past, one of great drumming, is again being recognised in high places. After years of absence, Roger is now talking to Elton again. In June 2000, Roger was able to meet Elton backstage in Broadlands, UK, again on his beloved south coast turf. And in October 2000, Roger and his supportive partner, Sue, flew over to see Elton perform the Greatest Hits Live at Madison Square Garden, New York.

They say everyone is the author of their own fate. But colourful Roger’s only syntax error came when he spoke his mind, and ruffled a few feathers. And that’s exactly what the fans would expect of a rock star! Geez! He’s had some great stories in his Elton time, which he wants to share with the fans.

The song now making a comeback, Tiny Dancer, reincarnated for the soundtrack to new film Almost Famous, was actually recorded in, well, let Roger tell is as it was…

“I was in Hookfoot, a band created for the very first Elton album, Empty Sky. We had to pay our mortgages, mine was £22 a month, and we got £5 a day working on a main drainage system in Andover (south coast) as they were building a new housing estate, making the town an overspill for London. We’re down the sewers, and I ask the gaffer whether we can get off early to go get an album recorded in London’s Air Studios for Elton John [!]. This was for Madman Across the Water.We actually did four songs that night. I was also working this bloody big Hopper [a cement mixer]. I was covered in Ceement.”

GM: What was that? Semen?

RP: “Ha! Cement dust! So, we start recording in the studio, and the cement was still in my hair. As I sweat, so this stuff is getting harder! I even still had my work clothes on. No time to get changed! Dave Glover was with me on the working site, and he was the bassist!”

Elton and John Reid were in the studio, but nobody noticed. Roger got £36 for that night’s recording. He admits he cannot believe he passed up on taking a royalty, given that Tumbleweed Connection, had been a hit. Roger took a fee instead.

RP:Elton was a friend. I wasn’t doing it for the money. I’d even have done it for free. And yet I am a risk-taker who could see the album might do very well!”

Roger wanted to preserve Hookfoot, which also included Glover, Ian Duck, Freddy Gandy, and Caleb Quaye. “It was probably one of the best bands – ever”, says Roger with passion. “But Dick James didn’t really back us.” The only album on CD, available from Germany, isHookfoot Live in Memphis.“It’s a radio show we did in 1973, and the audience were kept subdued. I hardly noticed they were even there!” Roger firmly recommends this CD.

At MSG last year, Roger says he walked out half way through the first night’s show. “I could see Elton’s face, I know them eyeballs, and I knew he was about to quit!” And Roger should indeed know…at the very same venue in 1977, on the penultimate night, former Elton manager John Reid, told the band five minutes before they were going on stage, that the band was being disbanded and Elton retiring. The next night was the last time Roger worked with Elton and a chapter in the Circle of Life closed.

Now it is reopened, thanks to Sue’s decision to get in touch with Elton’s new manager. Roger has never stopped loving Elton, whom he calls “a generous bugger”, and Roger has not lost the attitude: “I saw that So Graham Norton show last night. He was disrespectful towards ‘Elsie’ and I know Elton. He should have punched Norton!” That’s the knock-out sound advice of a man who beats things for a living! “I think Norton should be run over!” Take a bow Roger, and welcome home.

Snap Biog:

Born Whitstable, Kent, 20 March 1947, his father a drummer, and mother a singer. He left school at 15 years, and took to a drum his father bought for £25. Within 3 months was playing in local band The Soul Agents, and within a year went professional. Touring the UK, band met Rod Stewart who was with Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men, and Rod joined. Roger has backed Buddy Guy, and was a member of the Kiki Dee Band. Roger also recorded for albums by Sir Cliff Richard, Hall & Oates, drums and bass for Al Stewart, was on LJB’s It Ain’t Easy (1971), Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson (1971), and China self-titled album (1977). Roger’s work for Elton albums: Empty Sky, Madman Across The Water, Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Rock of the Westies, and Blue Moves. His Hookfoot releases were: Hookfoot (1971), Good Times a Comin’ (1972), re-released, 1971 debut album Chris Darrow back to back with Under My Own Disguise, with Roger on drums and tambourine.

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