The Rocket Man splashes down in Jerusalem

Yermi Kaplan pays tribute to his musical hero Elton John.

Yermy Kaplan as Elton John: 'He is made of something else.' (photo credit: ELDAD SHUSHAN)
Yermy Kaplan as Elton John: 'He is made of something else.'
(photo credit: ELDAD SHUSHAN)
Yermi Kaplan has appeared and performed in many settings and collaborations over the last 25 years as one of Israel’s most energetic rockers. But this week, he’s realizing one of his life goals by taking on the oeuvre of one of his childhood heroes  – Elton John.
 The 58-year-old Kaplan made aliyah with his family in 1969, from Chicago, at the age of 8. A couple of years later Kaplan got to wrap his young ears around John’s music for the first time as the singer/songwriter was breaking out in the US and England.
“Sometime around 1971-1972 a cousin of mine, whose husband is a musician, came to visit from New York. They brought with them Elton’s first record,” Kaplan recalls.
The album in question is Elton John, the singer’s second album which was released in April 1970 and contains several numbers which became some of John’s most beloved creations, like “Your Song,” “Border Song” and “Take Me To the Pilot.”
Kaplan was sold on John from the word go, but did not have anyone with whom to share his musical epiphany. “I was totally gone on his music – especially after hearing Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water, but no one here knew him. It was only after [1973 double album] Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that people in Israel got into his music.”
It was only a matter of time – actually a lot of time, over 40 years – before Kaplan got to put his musical love where his talented hands and mouth are, on stage, in the form of a tribute show to John taking place on January 8 at Zappa Jerusalem.
 In the interim, Kaplan honed his burgeoning professional skills across a wide range of artistic vehicles. When he was in his early 20s, he collaborated with Rami Kleinstein on the latter’s debut release, Beyom Shell Petzatzah, to which Kaplan contributed one song, “Bamakom She’ani Ommed,” and also chipped in with backing vocals. There were also stints with pop-rock outfits such as The Dopfler Phenomenon, Taarovet Ascot and Nitzolei Hapitutz.
 By 1995 Kaplan was ready to lead from the front and he set up his band The Flowers (Perachim). After releasing Yermi Kaplan V’haperachim the band hit the road, with Kaplan establishing himself as a genuine performer. A couple of solo albums followed, with Kaplan’s public profile climbing several notches when he wrote and performed the theme song for the highly successful TV drama series Hafuch. 
 There have been more solo projects, as well highly successful confluences with Eliran Evyatar-Levy, and producers Matan Spenser and Uri Rosso, with Kaplan maintaining his front grid status in the local pop-rock sector throughout. But he never consummated his childhood musical love of Elton John, until now.
 Kaplan is totally immersed in Sir Elton’s music and spirit, and that will not only come across in Kaplan’s vocal delivery. He also gets up to some eye-catching calisthenics, and, although it is not quite as out there as Elton, his sartorial elegance for the occasion is reminiscent of John in his strutting pomp.
Kaplan got to see the megastar in the flesh at Hechal Hatarbut, in Tel Aviv, in 1979. I caught John’s act, at the ICC in Jerusalem, on the same tour here, and it was a superb performance. While not quite dressed in duck feathers – I recall he wore a flowing kaftan-style garment with a turbanesque head covering – John pumped out the decibels, electrifying piano riffs and kilowatts of energy. He was joined by irrepressible percussionist Ray Cooper in the second set and, together, they blew our collective and individual minds.
Kaplan also puts it out there, clambering onto the piano mid-song, and working his way through three pairs of outsized spectacles per show. You can also bank on him opting for some – to put it mildly – unconventional attire for the Jerusalem gig.
It’s not just about the music. Kaplan also entertains his audiences, between numbers, with anecdotal snippets about John’s life and some of his performances over the years. One of the intriguing tidbits of information he conveys concerns “Tiny Dancer,” the delightful track from 1971’s Madman Across the Water. Younger pop and rock fans may know the song from a later juncture in time.
“It’s amazing. ‘Tiny Dancer,’ which is one of my favorite songs from Madman, did not succeed in the charts when it came out. Then, in 2000, it had a sort of resurrection, because of Almost Famous,” Kaplan says, referencing the Oscar-winning Cameron Crowe movie comedy drama about his younger teenage reporter self who follows a rock group around the US for a story in Rolling Stone. One of the most memorable scenes in the film has the group and entire entourage joyously bellowing “Tiny Dancer” on the tour bus.
“That is so cool, that the song suddenly became known by a whole younger generation. In my show I have this sentence I say – ‘the ways of Elton are mysterious.’  It’s amazing that someone records a song in 1972 and, in 2000, it turns into this craze with young people due to the movie, but it’s a song that really grabs people.”
Kaplan also talks about how John hooked up with Taupin, whom he calls “the Bob Dylan of pop.” Lady Luck certainly had a hand in getting the musician and lyricist together, when John randomly picked out an envelope with some lyrics, at the record company he was with at the time, and it just happened to be one with some material wishfully sent in by Taupin. The history of pop and rock might have been very different without that serendipitous turn of events.
John has enjoyed a huge resurgence thanks to the hit 2018 film Rocketman, which brought his music to a new generation – an eventuality that delights Kaplan.
“Elton John is made of something else,” Kaplan enthuses. “For years and years he continues to produce music, great music. Just think of ‘Goodbye Norma Jean [Candle in the Wind],’ which he reissued with a new text. That’s incredible. And he won an Oscar. He’s a magician!”
 The former refers to John’s rendition of the track from Yellow Brick Road, with new lyrics written by Taupin, and which John performed at the memorial service for Princess Diana, at Westminster Abbey in London, in 1997. The subsequent recorded version became the second highest-selling physical single of all time.
Kaplan will provide his audience with a pretty broad overview of Sir Elton’s work, mining some of his nuggets from the Seventies, but also featuring one of Kaplan’s personal favorites “I Want Love” from 2001. “The show is for everyone, and there are so many hits to choose from,” he says. “But I’m definitely not leaving out ‘Take Me To the Pilot’, and there’ll plenty more – “Crocodile Rock,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Sacrifice” [from 1982 album Love Songs], [John’s cover of Beatles’ number] “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
Expect some great music, and not a little in the way of onstage antics at Zappa Jerusalem this week.
For tickets and more information: *9080 or here.