You don’t normally think of Elton John and Iggy Pop together, but the two highly expressive musicians do know each other and did enjoy at least one noteworthy incident, when Elton pranked the Stooges by dressing up as a gorilla and interrupting a gig halfway through, without any prior notice. Remarkably, the prank came about as part of what seems to have been a serious bid to sign the Stooges to Elton’s Rocket label, which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
The year was 1973. The venue, Richard’s Club, in Atlanta, Georgia. According to diehard Stooges fans Per Nilsen and Jim Lahde, in mid-October 1973 the Stooges played Richard’s on several dates over the course of about a week—it’s worth noting that the energetic Stooges were playing two shows a day during this stretch! Elton was in the middle of his own rather more remunerative U.S. tour at the same time. On October 19 Elton John played the Georgia Coliseum in Athens, Georgia, but that show actually occurred a few days after the Stooges were done in Atlanta. It seems likely that Elton flew in on a free day expressly to prank the Stooges.
The legendary Detroit-based magazine Creem seems to have been involved with the prank on some level, and the whole thing appears to have been at least partly motivated by a desire on the part of Elton to sign the Stooges to his label, the Rocket Record Company, the lineup of which featured Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka, Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, and the Dutch band Solution.
There’s been plenty written about this so I’ll turn the topic over to the more accredited chroniclers.
Let’s start with Paul Trynka, whose Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed tells the story as follows:
Several of the band’s fans, including Ben Edmonds of Creem, conspired to raise their morale with endorsement by Elton John. Elton was sweeping across United States on a hugely successful stadium tour that significantly outgrossed the performances by his friend and rival David Bowie, with whom Elton was engaged in semi-friendly sniping. Elton decided to signal his support for the Stooges, plus his own general zaniness, by renting a gorilla suit and planning a one-ape stage invasion during the Stooges’ stint.
Creem had prepared a photographer for the stunt. Unfortunately no one had prepared Iggy. Indeed, the previous night he had disappeared off with the usual local “Rich Bitch,” to use the Stooges’ term of endearment. Early in the morning she brought him back to the band’s hotel unconscious; she’d gobbled down her entire supply of Quaaludes. Scott Asheton and a friend of the band, Doug Currie, were called to lift his dead weight out of her Corvette; carrying him into the hotel, they dropped him and were overcome with a giggling fit, seeing him peacefully sleeping, sprawled over a spiky Mediterranean bush.
Jim was still hardly conscious that evening when Doug and Scotty carried him into the club (“God knows what the poor club owner thought!” laughs Currie), and after a quick discussion of what to do, Doug announced that he had some speed. James Williamson managed to find a syringe, and they duly shot their singer full of methamphetamine sulphate in order to get him onto his feet.
Unsurprisingly, during the performance for which Elton had planned his jolly jape, Iggy was “unusually stoned to the point of being barely ambulatory, so it scared the hell out of me,” he says. For a couple of seconds, as Elton emerged from the wings in his gorilla suit, Iggy thought he was hallucinating, or else a real gorilla was raiding the stage. The Creem photograph documenting the event is hilarious, showing James Williamson transfixing the uppity ape with a malevolent glare that signals, he says, his intent to “take him out. He lucked out, because he was smart enough to take his head off to let people know who he was, just in time.”
Once Elton had discarded the ape mask and revealed his cheery face, Iggy realized what was happening, and he danced around with the fur-clad Elton for a song or so. The event was duly plugged in Creem, with Iggy telling the magazine “Elton’s a swell guy.” (Off the record, he would tell people that Elton only pulled the stunt because he wanted to get in tough-guy guitarist James Williamson’s pants.) Yet, although there would be ongoing discussions with Elton’s manager John Reid, and his record imprint, Rocket, the encounter failed to lift the Stooges’ spirits, and soon the band was becoming more obviously frazzled.
Here’s the picture of the moment, as it appeared in Creem just a few weeks later:
This next bit comes from Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop, by Joe Ambrose:
At a Stooges show in Atlanta, Elton John showed up with his pop star retinue, commandeered The Stooges dressing room, and walked on stage wearing a gorilla suit. Iggy was in pretty bad shape when Elton chose to join him. He’d spent the previous night taking a mountain of downers and sleeping in the shrubbery. When he woke up in the bushes he couldn’t speak a word. “A doctor had to shoot me full of methedrine just so I could talk,” he said. “I was seeing triple and had to hold on to the microphone stand to support myself. Suddenly this gorilla walks out from backstage and holds me up in the air while I’m still singing. I was out of my mind with fear. I thought it was a real gorilla.”
Chris Ehring: “I went back to the dressing room when someone tried to physically stop me. I said, ‘This is our dressing room!’ Someone from the club said, ‘Elton John is in there.’ ‘Big fucking deal! What’s he doing in there?’ I go in and there’s Elton John getting into a gorilla outfit. ‘He’s going to go up on stage and sing with Iggy.’ I just laughed. ‘Fine. Maybe I should warn the boys?’ ‘Oh, no, she wants it to be a surprise. He wants to come out during ‘Search and Destroy’. He was supposed to scare Iggy! Scare Iggy in this gorilla suit? ‘You don’t seem to understand what these guys are about. They are from Detroit. They’re not going to let you up on the stage!’ Moments later, out of the dressing room comes Elton dressed as a gorilla, and he goes up on the stage. The band all look at him. ‘Who is this?’ James looks at me and shrugs his shoulders. Iggy looks over and walks away. The gorilla starts chasing him, pushing him away. It’s really bad.”
“Elton’s a swell guy,” gushed Iggy after the incident. “Be nice to see this mutual admiration turn into something more concrete,” said Creem.
After the performance out and told Creem: “I simply can’t understand why he’s not a huge star.”
Continues after the jump…