Back when cassette tapes were a thing, Greg Bickley discovered his love for Elton John.
Bickley and Tokyo Joe Productions are bringing “A Tribute to Sir Elton John” to the Charlotte Performing Arts Center on Feb. 6, and to the Venice Community Center on Feb. 14.
Bickley and his band go beyond the music, thrilling fans not only with an elaborate light show but also the many costumes Elton John made famous during his decades-long career.
“I always thought it would be cool to do a tribute (to Elton) and get to play all these great songs,” Bickley said. “I went to great lengths to have duplicate costumes made of some of the most outrageous things he ever wore.”
Bickley said he has used different costume makers over the years but most recently one in Greenville, South Carolina.
“I send her pictures and say, ‘make this costume’,” Bickley said. “She doesn’t cut corners. I tell her I want it to be as close to what he actually wore as possible and we’ve gotten the costume changes down to a science.”
Bickley tries to wear four different costumes each show and can change in about 90 seconds.
“Elton started wearing the costumes himself because being a ‘front man’ trapped behind a piano there’s only so much you can do,” Bickley said. “The costumes and lighting add a lot.”
At the end of the day; however, it’s all about the songs.
“That’s what people want to hear,” Bickley said.
Bickley fronts the band Tokyo Joe, a South Carolina-based rock group that not only performs tribute shows but also creates their own music, having recently released their seventh original album around a year ago.
This will be Tokyo Joe’s first trip to Florida performing their tribute to Elton John.
“We’ve played Raymond James Stadium (as Tokyo Joe) a few times and discovered that even when there’s not a football game going on, they will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intro video and fire off the canons,” Bickley said. “You can jump (pretty) high when those things go off and you’re not expecting it.”
Bickley and Tokyo Joe do have some relation to Elton John other than the tribute.
“What’s really cool to me is that when I really got into Elton’s music in the mid- to late-1980s, he had a drummer in the band named Charlie Morgan,” Bickley said.
Morgan was in Elton’s band for 13 years, according to Bickley.
“It’s amazing to get to play with him after listening to him so many times and how he still performs the songs the exact same way he did on all the videos and records I listened to. It really brings a lot of authenticity to the show,” Bickley said.
Bickley debuted the tribute to Elton John in the summer of 2005 at the end of one of their regular Tokyo Joe shows.
“It was a total surprise to the crowd,” Bickley said. “With about 30 minutes to go, I left the stage and changed into costume and we rolled out a grand piano and played the intro to ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.’ I came out in costume and we did a 30 minute set of Elton hits. The crowd loved it. We did our first full show in June of 2006 at Newberry Opera House in Newberry, South Carolina.”