For 13 years, John Mahon has been traveling the world as a full-time
member of Elton John’s band. A 1973 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High
School, he has played about 700 shows to date.
A backing vocalist and percussionist in the band, Mahon will be onstage
at Youngstown’s Cavelli Center on Saturday night for the arena’s
sold-out Elton concert.
Mahon, a professional musician who had been based in Los Angeles since
1980, was hired for Elton’s band in 1997 after a friend arranged for him
to audition with Elton’s bandleader, Davey Johnstone.
Since that fateful day, Mahon has found himself performing for more
than 100,000 people at the Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, 200,000 people
at the Coliseum in Rome, and 500,000 in London’s Hyde Park. He has met
Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Sting, Cher, Gene Hackman and many other
Back in Canton for a few days this week, Mahon talked about life on the
road with an international rock superstar.
Q. Can you give me a preview of the Youngstown show?
A. This show is two and a half hours and definitely big Elton
John hits all the way from beginning to end: ”Tiny Dancer,” “Daniel,”
“Rocket Man,” “Benny and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Someone Saved
My Life Tonight,” “Your Song,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”
Q. Do you have much contact with Elton offstage?
A. Elton loves to come into our dressing room before the show
and basically hang out with the boys and act stupid. Sometimes we’ll
throw food at each other like little kids. We talk about the previous
night’s show, and Elton loves to talk sports. He’s just nuts about
soccer, which they call football, and he’s a big Atlanta Braves fan
because he lives in Atlanta.
Q. So how crazy is Elton’s tour itinerary?
A. In March, we flew to Dubai for two days, 16 hours nonstop
from Los Angeles, that trip really beat me up. We played with Santana
there, then the next weekend I played in front of the pyramids outside
Cancun. In five days in May, I’m going to play Morocco, Denmark, London
and Poland. I have been gone for almost four months at a stretch, which
is different if you’re a college kid.
Q. It sounds exciting and exhausting.
A. I think I’m in a constant state of jet lag. I really have
to exercise and watch my diet and hopefully sleep. A lot of what takes
it’s toll on you when you’re jumping from city to city is just dragging
your suitcase around and trying to get your laundry done and finding a
nice cup of coffee. Imagine going to a restaurant in Serbia and trying
to figure out the menu.
Q. Is it challenging to play the same songs night after night
and keep it fresh, especially with all the traveling you’re doing?
A. It’s really the audience we feed off of. Some nights you’re
beat up and worn out but when you look out there and see people
screaming like they’ve just won the lottery because you’re playing
“Benny and the Jets,” it definitely gives you a pump of adrenaline
Q. Does your wife (Canton native Pam Tortola Mahon) join you on
the road very often?
A. My wife likes to travel to the cities where she can shop —
New York, London, Chicago. We went to Rome last summer and the winter
before that we went to Paris. We’re going to be married for 30 years
Q. Tell me about your very first concert with Elton John. I
imagine you were a little nervous.
A. The first show was at a castle in Germany, but we’d
rehearsed for four days in Nice. I remember traveling to the south of
France and staying in a hotel on the Riviera and thinking, “I don’t even
need to get paid for this!” Elton came over to me the first day of
rehearsal and introduced himself. He couldn’t have been any nicer or
more cordial. I’d never met a superstar. He was real cool.
Q. Do you take a lot of photos on the road?
A. I do. I have a website — www.johnmahon.com — and there’s a
Q. So ... playing in Elton John’s band is not a bad gig, huh?
A. Like anything, it becomes your job. This is not an easy
route. But I could think of a lot worse things to be doing than making a
good living playing music.