"Suddenly, this madman appeared," laughs Davey Johnstone. "He was doing handpresses and jumping up on the piano. I was like, 'who is this guy?'."

That guy was an up and coming, piano playing pop star named Elton John, and those are the thoughts that were going through Johnstone's head the very first time the guitarist joined him onstage at London's Royal Festival Hall on February 5, 1972.

"It was nerve wracking and I didn't know what to expect," he continues. "But it was awesome. And quite obvious that we were going to have a lot of fun."

Since then, he's toured with John extensively, "I passed 3000 shows last December," he says. "That's a lot of shows."

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Johnstone was first hired to play guitar on John's fifth studio album Honky Château, and after the pair hit it off, "we both have a warped sense of humour," he says, was invited to join the tour.

He's been with him pretty much ever since, providing the fretwork on most of John's biggest hits, including the energetic I'm Still Standing, the sublime Funeral for a Friend, the crunchy rock of Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) and John's iconic signature tune Rocket Man.

"One very important aspect of Elton John's music is that you can't lose sight of the songs themselves," he says when asked how he tackled adding guitars to John's predominately piano-based hits.

"I don't think along the lines of 'how can I fit my guitar in?'. I do it in a sense of, 'how can I make this song better?'. I'm not looking to put myself in the limelight. I'm looking to make the song as best as it can. That's my job."

Tomorrow night John beings his three night residency at Mt Smart on his send-off tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road, before, like Bennie, he jets off for good. It will not, Johnstone reassures me, be a night of mournful goodbyes.

"Many people think it'll be a quiet evening of Elton John ballads or something," Johnstone says, with a hint of bemusement.

"Nothing could be farther from the truth. We get out there and we hit it really hard. We rock very, very hard. A lot of people who come to the shows are quite surprised by just how hard this band rocks."

They've been on this yellow brick road for a year and half and Johnstone says they have about the same to go before the sun go down on the rocket man.

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"I'm not gonna miss too much about it, I'm going to enjoy being with my family," Johnstone answers when asked about the tour ending. "I think Elton will miss it a lot more than anybody else will. Because he's the consummate stage performer."

You really think this is it? The end of the road?

"Well, he's really only retiring from touring and world touring. Elton's already coming up to 72. So he's getting to be an old guy."

Then, he grins and says, "But I mean he's not gonna stop. Elton John will stop playing when he falls off his piano stool. That's how I think the end will come."


* Elton John plays Mt Smart Stadium Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights. Very limited tickets still available for each show from Ticketmaster.co.nz.