1 Nigel 1Nigel Olsson, the drummer with Elton John’s band, is unlikely to be looking for work in the near future but if he was, he would have a very impressive CV.

Amongst others, Nigel has drummed with Spencer Davis, Uriah Heep and Plastic Penny.

He has also had a distinguished career as a session drummer. Over the years he has worked with the likes of Rod Stewart, Neil Sedaka, Leo Sayer, Linda Ronstadt and Kiki Dee and many more.

In addition, Nigel has released several solo albums and has had hit singles, such as A Little Bit Of Soap and Dancing Shoes.

Nigel now lives in California, over 5,000 miles away from Sunderland in the UK where he served his musical apprenticeship.

I first met Nigel in 1964 when he was with a young band called the Fireflies that played at youth club dances at St Barnabus Church Hall in Hendon, Sunderland. I played sax in a rival band called the Conrads. Initially Nigel was the vocalist with the Fireflies but later he switched to drums. By the Spring of 1965 the Fireflies, with new personnel, had progressed from the youth club and were playing in clubs and dances around Sunderland.

The Fireflies in March 1965

The Fireflies in March 1965

In April 1965 Nigel left the Fireflies to join a band called the Fallout with his guitarist friend, Mick Grabham. The band, featuring organ and sax, played regularly at the popular El Cubana and Blue Note clubs in Sunderland. In July the Fallout changed their name to the Jazzboard.

Later that year I joined the Jazzboard, replacing their sax player, Ron Sweeney. Mick Grabham had left the band and moved to London by then but Nigel was still the drummer, occasionally swapping places with the vocalist, Bruce Lowes, who was also an accomplished drummer.

At the time, I don’t remember thinking that Nigel was an exceptional drummer but there was no doubt about his charismatic personality and his good looks. He always ended up with the best looking girls, got invited to the trendiest parties and mixed with people with wealthy connections.

When I first knew Nigel, he lived at his parents home just off Durham Road in the Otto Terrace area of Sunderland. At one time he worked on a pilot boat at the Port of Sunderland. I think his father had nautical connections – possibly he was a sea captain. The Jazzboard had a big following in the Sunderland area and in 1966 started playing regularly in the Teesside and Newcastle areas sharing the bill with the likes of the Who and the Small Faces.

3 jazzboard with Bert

Nigel (seated centre) with the Jazzboard

Nigel singing with the Jazzboard

Nigel singing with the Jazzboard

record iconListen to Nigel Olsson singing Here Me Calling Your Name

Early in 1967 Nigel left the Jazzboard and formed a band called the Enterprise with Jazzboard’s bassist, Peter Watson and guitarist Mick Grabham. Later that year in September after the Jazzboard broke up, I started playing again with Nigel in a seven piece band called the James South Syndicate.

After three months of playing in James South, Nigel got his big break when he and his friend Mick Grabham were asked to join Plastic Penny. Plastic Penny had a hit in December 1967 with ‘Everything I Am’. The single was recorded by a vocalist named Brian Keith who at the time was performing in a cabaret band called Chris Lamb and the Originals. He had recorded ‘Everything I Am” as a solo singer with some help from some of the musicians from the Originals, including future Plastic Penny keyboard player, Paul Raymond. Plastic Penny was put together as a performing band after the single started climbing the charts. Nigel’s first appearance with Plastic Penny was in a Christmas holiday screening of Top of the Pops. The band was a bit of a one hit wonder and split up in August 1968.

Nigel and me in December 1967 just before he joined Plastic Penny

Nigel and me in December 1967 just before he joined Plastic Penny

Nigel then joined Mirage bassist Dee Murray and guitarist Ray Fenwick in a reformed version of the Spencer Davis Group (without Stevie Winwood) touring the United States with them in Autumn 1969. The band split up after the tour.

Elton John who knew Nigel through the Dick James Studios session circuit, pointed him in the direction of singer David Byron who was looking for a drummer for his band, Uriah Heep. Nigel joined the band, playing nine live dates with Uriah Heep and playing on the track “Dreammare” on their debut album “Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble”.

While he was involved with Uriah Heep, Nigel had also been performing on Elton John’s studio demos. Nigel’s first performance 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 along with his Spencer Davis buddy Dee Murray. The trio debuted at the Roundhouse in London on 21 April 970. Nigel became Elton’s permanent session drummer in 1972 with the release of “Honky Chateau” and stayed on until May 1975, when Elton changed the line-up of his hugely successful band by replacing Nigel and Dee with Roger Pope and Kenny Passarelli.

Early Elton John Band

Early Elton John Band

In 1971, Nigel produced and released the solo album “Nigel Olsson’s Drum Orchestra and Chorus” on Universal Records, featuring Dee Murray and early 70’s Elton John guitarist Caleb Quaye. In 1975, after his split with Elton John, Nigel released his second solo album on John’s Rocket Record label. This album featured a minor hit in a cover of the Bee Gees’ “Only One Woman”. The album, produced by Robert Appere, contained few rock numbers but mostly echoed the emerging mid 70’s “Philly” sound of Gamble and Huff.

7 Nigel cansNigel continued working as a studio musician, releasing another self-titled album that was produced by Paul Davis on Columbia in 1978. Although that album brought no Top 40 recognition, in 1979, he released the album “Nigel” and enjoyed some mild success as a solo artist, scoring a pair of Top 40 hits on the US Pop charts with “A Little Bit of Soap” and “Dancin’ Shoes,” the latter of which cracked the Top 20 at 18.

In 1980, he released the album “Changing Tides” on CBS’s Bang Records, but the album failed to achieve chart success. The same year, Nigel returned to Elton’s band to begin a four-year tenure, working with John for sessions on albums such as “21 at 33” and “The Fox”. He re-teamed with band mates Dee Murray and Davey Johnstone for the tour behind Elton’s 1982 album “Jump Up!”, and stayed with the reformed classic-era band through the next two albums and tours for “Too Low for Zero” (1983) and “Breaking Hearts” (1984).

Following a lineup change, the band mates would rejoin only once more in 1988 for backing vocals on “Reg Strikes Back” prior to Dee Murray’s death in January, 1992.

Later, in 1991, Olsson teamed up with former band mate Davey Johnstone to form Warpipes. Warpipes was fairly short-lived and disbanded soon after cutting its debut album. Nigel then spent the next few years relaxing in California with his wife Schanda and son Justin, and racing vintage cars for fun. He still lives in Los Angeles.

Nigel returned to Elton John’s band for good in 2000 as part of his touring band, alternating between drums and backing vocals on certain songs. (The songs he did not play drums on, typically the newer songs, were handled by Curt Bisquera.) Nigel took over the full-time touring drumming chores when Bisquera left the band.

In the studio, he played and sang backing vocals on several tracks on Elton’s “Songs From the West Coast” (2001). He then played all drums on “Peachtree Road” (2004) and “The Captain & The Kid” (2006), as well as continuing in the touring band along with Davey Johnstone, Bob Birch (bass), Guy Babylon (keyboards) and John Mahon (percussion).

8 nigel jubilee

Nigel performing with Elton John at the Jubilee Concert on 4th June 2012

For lot’s more information about Nigel, check out his excellent official web site and fan club.

  1. Stewart - South Africa

    July 3, 2016 •

    Heck, Master. N. Olsson, well I never!

    I met Nigel Olsson in maybe 1968 or 69. He was chasing a girl from up the road, a friend of one of my sisters ( I have three!) and somehow was dragged to our house on Sunderland Rd., Cleadon by that sister, maybe to meet up with the object of his desire, who did visit our place, who knows?

    Later of course he became famous and rich with Elton John but then he was, like most of us, a scrappy youth in an anorak and jeans with long, really long hair who then, he told me, was working on the River Wear in some capacity but mentioned something about doing 'gigs' and playing drums.

    Seemed like a nice kid a couple years younger than myself. Now I am sure he's a nice old geezer and stll a couple years younger (and a lot richer) than myself!


  2. David Outram

    May 13, 2018 •

    Nigel went to our high school Bede in Sunderland during the early 60s along with the Airey Brothers and Dave Stewart. Not a bad school band eh? All still playing making great music and what a reunion they could put on at the SoL!


  3. Terry fromson

    May 17, 2019 •

    I went 2 thornhill school wiv nigels younger brother wayne they lived around thornholme road. Think one of there brothers was, a r. a. f pilot and another into acting. Remember wayne getting picked up from school in nigels black mini cooper when his music career took off with elton


  4. Eileen Wafer

    October 26, 2019 •

    I remember Nigel from Redhouse Comprehensive school 1963/5 He always went by Ollie which I could never understand, because Nigel is a lovely name (though he once told me his full name was Peter Nigel Paul Olsson (I'm not sure if it's actually true)... He was always quiet and well spoken, and a charmer with the girls. When he was in the Fireflies they played the school Christmas dance. He's certainly had a very long successful journey since then.... I've seen him live in Perth (Australia) with Elton John and I felt really chuffed for him.


  5. Derek Turnbull

    February 9, 2020 •

    I was the drummer in a band from Sunderland called Revolutionary Spirit. We knew Ollie and hung out at the "Biz Bar" a coffee bar in Sunderland. When I moved to Canada in 1966. Ollie filled in for a while playing my black Priemer kit.
    I've followed his career ever since.


  6. Ray Thirlwell

    April 18, 2020 •

    I sat next to Nigel at Barnes school and we ended up knocking about with each other. We stayed at my house at posh Pennywell and his at poor Beechwood Crescent! He left to go to the Naval College at Red House Comp, then he worked on the Pilot Cutter at the South docks. We stayed mates with Micky Grabham who lived at Grindon. They both left to go onto better things in London.


  7. Michael Eltis

    May 31, 2020 •

    I remember Nigel from the early sixties he lived in a house in Beechwood Terrace, I lived in Beechwood Street, both in the Thornhill area of Sunderland. A group of us fooled about together for a while, Nigel was always popular with the girls that hung about with us!!!
    I have picked up on another name, whilst reading about Nigel, namely, Derek Turnbull who also drummed in Sunderland. We knew each other way back when we were very young, his Father had a greengrocers shop in Thorney Close, Sunderland. Amazing how his name has appeared out of the blue, wonder if he remembers me? I still live in the Sunderland area.


  8. Roger

    May 31, 2020 •

    When I was in the Jazzboard with Nigel, he used to have all-night parties at his house on Beechwood Terrace. His parents always seemed to be away. I knew some of the girls that used to live in that area and were friends with Nigel. A couple of names that spring to mind are Kay Shanks and Katherine (or Kathleen) Johnson. After he left his parents home he went to live in a flat in Ward Street, Hendon.


  9. Michael Eltis

    May 31, 2020 •

    Hi only knew Nigel for a shot time, l moved from the area and eventually joined RAF. The name Kay Shanks rings a bell two others I recall were Glynnis Stone and Rosalind Goldman??? Going back some time now.


  10. Roger

    May 31, 2020 •

    Nigel had a good friend called Ian Stone throughout the period I knew him. Is he Glynnis's brother perhaps?


  11. Michael

    May 31, 2020 •

    Think you are right about that, I vaguely remember a brother of Glyinns called Ian, having to stretch my my memory cells a bit now. Can't believe this nostalgia after all these years, decades even, happy days Michael.


  12. Judith

    August 8, 2020 •

    Just read your piece on Nigel Olsson it took me straight back to my youth club days at St.BARNABUS. AAAHHHH fun days, and the journey of the boys and the bands through the years very interesting..... Sunderland boys did good !!!!!!


  13. Peter s

    November 29, 2020 •

    What ever happened to Nigel's brother, Carl?


  14. Kathleen Clement

    January 23, 2021 •

    I remember nigel from redhouse comp in the 60s. He was in next year up from me and I also remember him in school group. I contacted him recently and got a reply. He said he didn't remember much about his time at the comp. It was a lovely email. He wished myself and family and friends health and happiness. I was really chuffed that he replied.


  15. Peter SCOTTER

    January 27, 2021 •

    I went to thornhill with Nigel’s brother carl and no one can tell me what happened to him


  16. Ron Crosby

    August 3, 2021 •

    I remember Carl or was it Kai from Thornhill School a nice lad.
    I know after he left school he formed a group called Longdancer with another Thornhill lad Steven Sproxton, a certain Dave Stewart and another lad who’s name I can’t recall.
    They signed with Elton John’s Rocket label and I think big things were expected but it never quite happened.
    Don’t know where he is now but Mr Stewart did quite well!



    August 18, 2021 •

    Carl became a spy. I'm Nigel Olsson's second cousin once removed.



    August 23, 2021 •

    @ PETER S Carl became a uni teacher unlike his triplet brothers Wayne and Kai.


  19. Kathryn R.

    September 6, 2021 •

    Carl unfortunately was killed in a boating accident when he was visiting Nigel in America. This was when Carl was young aged about 22 I think. Very sad, he was always a really lovely lad.


  20. Ron Crosby

    September 7, 2021 •

    Looking at the comments now it was definitely Kai I went to Thornhill school with.
    Is he still in the music game?
    Very sad news about Carl.


  21. Kathryn R

    September 7, 2021 •

    Yes very sad news, I read it online about a year ago, it happened in California if I remember rightly while Nigel was there recording. Unfortunately I can’t locate the post that I saw this thread on. Carl was in my year group 1972-1977 at Thornhill and was a really nice lad.


  22. Roger

    September 7, 2021 •

    Carl died on 22/6/80 at Lake Lanier, Georgia a month after his 19th birthday.


  23. Kathryn R

    September 8, 2021 •

    Thanks for the correct information Roger, it seems a lot of people from school and the area were not aware of this. A missed lifetime which I’m sure would have been full of promise.


  24. AnitA

    January 23, 2022 •

    I went to school with Carl through, primary school, Chester Road then senior Thornhill. I regularly knocked about with him. His best friend in primary was Simon and Freddie in senior, wish Freddie had seen this site to make a comment, he knew Carl very well. Carl was a brilliant musician, he was writing songs and music in primary school. He even performed in school when he got the chance. Can always remember him carrying his guitar around. In summer he would often spend holidays in America with his brother Nigel, he used to get so excited and would tell me about his time in Americia with Nigel, Elton and I remember he mentioned one year spending time with Paul McCartney. It all seems so far away now. I lost touch with him after he left school, he was a great friend when I was very young but I knew he would if given the chance go far, his music ability and talent even then was really good. Tragic his life was cut short at such a young age. Rest in peace Carl, ? xx


  25. RichIe Almo

    June 19, 2022 •

    The other member of Longdancer was Brian Harrison. I remember seeing them in the early days at the George and Dragon pub opposite the Fire Station. They were the first band signed by Rocket Records and they supported Elton at the City Hall Newcastle in the early 70s.


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