Nigel Olsson (born 10 February 1949) is an English rock drummer, best known for his long-time affiliation with Elton John.
A dynamic drummer and backing vocalist, Olsson helped establish the Elton John sound as a member of John's original power trio alongside bassist Dee Murray. When not working with John, Olsson has taken up the role of a session musician. Olsson has composed, recorded, and produced albums for his own solo career.
Olsson was born in Wallasey, Merseyside, England. He began his musical career playing the guitar in small bands, and took up the drums at a gig where the drummer did not show up. His first appearance on a record album was in the band Plastic Penny, which released Two Sides of a Penny on Page One Records in 1968. Olsson was spotlighted on one song on that album, "I Want You," performing both lead vocals and a drum solo. In 1969 he played drums on the "flower power" pop single "Mr. Boyd" b/w "Imagine" by Argosy, a one-off group which also included Reginald Dwight (later known as Elton John), Caleb Quaye, and Roger Hodgson.
Olsson also served a brief time with the English hard rock band Uriah Heep, playing drums for some songs on its 1970 debut LP, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble. Subsequently, he played drums on one track on Elton John's debut album, Empty Sky, and the next year, as a member of The Spencer Davis Group with bassist Dee Murray. The pair joined John on the road as his touring band, and played with John during his debut tour in the United States at the Troubadour Club on August 25, 1970. Only permitted at first to play on one track of John's studio albums, Olsson and Murray were added, along with guitarist Davey Johnstone, who was newest to the band, and all teamed up to play and sing backing vocals on Elton John's early 1970s albums.
Joining the Elton John band
With Johnstone, Olsson and Murray on board, John enjoyed a string of critically acclaimed albums and hit singles. The albums include Honky Chateau, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Caribou. Shortly before the Captain Fantastic studio sessions, percussionist Ray Cooper toured as a sideman in what was billed as The Elton John Band. Olsson played during all of John's original American tours and confesses that he still gets nervous before going on stage.
In 1971, Olsson produced and released his debut solo album Nigel Olsson's Drum Orchestra and Chorus on Uni Records; featuring Murray and Hookfoot guitarist Caleb Quaye, who had played on John's early albums. Olsson also teamed up with the Liverpool trio, The Big Three, for their reunion album Resurrection (1973).
In April 1975, Olsson and Murray were dismissed from John's band following the release of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which, upon release, hit the charts at #1. Olsson's second solo album, Nigel Olsson, appeared that year on John's own record label, The Rocket Record Company, and featured a cover of the Bee Gees' penned "Only One Woman", which featured the combination of John, Johnstone, Murray, and Cooper. The album was produced by Robert Appere.
Olsson 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 U.S. pop chart with "A Little Bit of Soap" and "Dancin' Shoes", the latter of which cracked the Top 20 at #18. "Dancin' Shoes" was originally written by Carl Storie, and first recorded by his Faith Band.
In 1980, he released the album Changing Tides on CBS's Bang Records, but the album failed to achieve chart success. That same year, Olsson returned to Elton John's band to begin a four-year tenure, appearing on John's albums 21 at 33 and The Fox. He rejoined former bandmates Murray and Johnstone for the tour behind John's 1982 album Jump Up!, and stayed with the reformed band through the next two albums and tours for Too Low for Zero (1983) and Breaking Hearts (1984). Following another line-up change, they would rejoin only one more time in 1988 for backing vocals on Reg Strikes Back prior to Murray's untimely death on January 15, 1992.
In 1991 Olsson reunited with Johnstone in the band 'Warpipes', releasing Holes in the Heavens. Although the album was critically successful, it failed commercially when their label, Artful Balance, went bankrupt, and the band was unable to tour to support the record. Olsson also sang on Davey Johnstone and Guy Babylon's production of Addison Steel's Stormy Blue that year.
On March 31, 2000, Olsson sang backing vocals alongside Billy Trudel and Ken Stacey as part of John's band when John was promoting the soundtrack to the film The Road to El Dorado by appearing on The Today Show. On April 3rd, Olsson played drums on three songs at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit saluting John at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. By the time of John's "One Night Only" concerts in New York City on October 20 and 21, Olsson was alternating with and playing drums alongside Curt Bisquera. In January 2001, Olsson took over the full-time drumming chores when Bisquera left to pursue other projects.
In 2001 Nigel released another solo album entitled Move The Universe on 81 Records. Davey Johnstone and Guy Babylon produced the record and played on all of the tracks, along with Bob Birch on bass, Elton John alumnus Fred Mandel on piano, John Mahon on percussion, and Billy Trudel on backing vocals. Kiki Dee sang lead vocals on "Naked Without You", and Olsson's brother Kai sang lead vocals "When I'm Dead an' Gone." "Building A Bird" was written by Elton John & Bernie Taupin, which had been written in 1994 during the sessions for Elton's album "Made in England," but never recorded. Nigel dedicated the album to the late Dee Murray.
In the studio, he played and sang backing vocals on several tracks on John'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 Johnstone, Bob Birch (bass), Kim Bullard (keyboards) and John Mahon (percussion).
Nigel Olsson Drumstick Collection
Current Drumstick Count in Collection: 4.