Adam Chester celebrates sushi, Elton John, and Quaranchella
Adam Chester is an exceptionally talented composer, conductor, and arranger. Not only that, he is a husband, father, author, and aspiring TV show producer. A modern-day Renaissance Man!
Recently, I had the great honor of having Adam on the show, and learning about his experiences as a kid growing up in Miami Beach pretending to be Sir Elton John in his living room, all the way to working and rehearsing closely with Elton and the Elton John Band for 17 years, in what many would consider the ultimate dream job!
Adam is the epitome of doing what you love so that you never have to work a day in your life, and his unique connection to Elton goes way beyond simply complimenting each other’s signature eyewear.
In this episode, we talk about how he’s a sushi connoisseur, a published author, a musical prodigy, and an all-around fun-loving guy. We also play a rousing game of Elton John Trivia that results in a ton of laughs, and we get to know Adam on a deeper level with a short segment we call “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.”
Thank you for listening, and I hope you enjoy today’s insightful episode.
In this Episode
[01:06] Jason meets Adam Chester for the first time. Adam’s main gig is being the only stand-in for Sir Elton John in preparation for shows with the Elton John Band. Jason mentions that Adam is also a composer, arranger, author, and sushi connoisseur.
[02:03] Jason dives deep into Adam’s Instagram and congratulates him over a post about a special occasion in Adam’s life.
[03:14] Adam tells us the story of his first date with his wife, Maria, and how he introduced her to “The Sushi Nazi,” referencing the classic Seinfeld episode.
[05:31] Jason asks Adam about his children and how much of a sushi snob he really is.
[06:46] Adam and Jason plan a sushi date so Jason can try sushi for the first time. Adam also tells Jason a story about his youngest son and how he overcame his fish aversion.
[07:33] Jason is intrigued by Adam’s career path and how he landed his dream job of being the “Surrogate Elton John” and rehearsing the Elton John Band.
[08:56] Jason asks Adam how he met Sir Elton. Adam recalls the chance meeting he had with one his band members while working at a record store, which eventually led to meeting and working with Elton.
[11:33] Adam explains the impact Elton John’s music had on his childhood, since the first time he listened to it on the radio at around the age of 10.
[12:14] Jason asks Adam where he grew up, and how long he has been playing piano and making music.
[13:16] Adam describes one of his earliest musical compositions as a teen that was dedicated to his first ever crush.
[15:05] Jason highlights similarities between Adam and Matt Damon‘s character in Good Will Hunting. Adam then shares a story relating his musical intellect to Will Hunting‘s mathematical intellect in the film.
[16:53] Jason asks Adam for more details about Sir Elton John’s preferred way to be called and his experiences working with the musical legend and his band.
[19:18] Jason asks Adam if there is a particular story relating to Sir Elton that seems surreal. Adam recounts a time when his family traveled with the band and how family has had a positive impact on the musician’s life.
[23:48] Jason tries to get more juicy details about Sir Elton that people might not know.
[25:16] Adam and Jason talk about the range of musical artists Sir Elton has collaborated with in the past and present ranging from Ozzy Osbourne to Charlie Puth respectively.
[26:09] Jason and Adam begin a Sir Elton John Trivia game consisting of 15 questions to test Adam’s knowledge of his co-worker’s musical career and personal life.
[33:25] While answering a trivia question relating to Sir Elton’s record of performing at Madison Square Garden, Adam gives us the backstory of the falling out between Billy Joel and Elton John during their time touring together.
[35:22] Jason and Adam discuss songs that Sir Elton and other artists have lyrically collaborated on that he no longer performs, except one with Bernie Taupin.
[37:08] Jason gets back to trivia and tries to stump Adam with a finish-the-lyrics question.
[37:56] Adam tells us a funny story about how the song mentioned in the previous trivia question still springs up a bit of panic.
[39:42] Jason and Adam finish up the trivia game with a few more questions about Sir Elton John.
[42:23] Jason wants to know more about Adam’s childhood, and asks him what it was like growing up in the Chester household.
[44:09] Adam gives us details about the book he wrote which showcases his mother’s letters to him throughout the years: S’Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She’s Mailed Him..
[46:13] Adam gives us an account of a recent meeting he had with TNT execs pitching a show based on his book. Gaffer’s tape and his mom were included in the meeting…
[48:14] Jason introduces Adam to a segment we call “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart” to get to know Adam on a more personal and philosophical level.
[52:08] Jason asks about Adam’s love language during the heat-to-heart and Adam’s response includes his “Quarenchella” neighborhood festival and the positivity it has spread during the pandemic.
[52:51] Jason and Adam finish up “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart” with questions about high-stress situations, superpowers, and mistakes he has learned from, and more.
[57:35] Jason wraps up the interview with Adam by planning a trip to get sushi and a trip to Cleveland in the near future.
Jason Hennessey: Adam, thanks for being on the show.
Adam Chester: Yes. Thank you for having me. This is cool.
Thank you. So, before we get into the whole thing, first of all, you and I have never met before.
I love your energy level right off the bat.
I want to talk about something that’s probably personal.
So, you had a milestone anniversary recently.
Look at you with the info.
Oh, that’s impressive. Yeah, it was 20 years.
20 years with my wife.
Yeah. I gave her a great going away present and I think she’s pretty happy about it.
What’s the going away present?
It was just a parting gift.
And I told her to get out now. 20 years. That’s it. I’m done. Thanks.
20 or so, I think my wife and I, after 20 you lose count, my friends.
Oh, yeah after 20?
I’m after 20.
Good for you.
23 now. Yeah, I think.
Maybe nine. So, I think 23. Yeah.
Very, very impressive.
But it’s okay because my wife loses count too, so we don’t blame each other anymore for that.
Yeah, man, you have done your research.
Yes. Well, it’s public, right?
Yes, it is.
And how could I not see how special of a post you created on your Instagram? Right?
Oh. I don’t even remember what I put.
So you put a nice story about your first date.
With the Sushi Nozawa.
Tell that story.
Oh, it’s a great story. So that was my jam. I loved going for sushi at, it was called Nozawa Sushi before Chef Nozawa owned SUGARFISH. And he had this tiny little hole in the wall that even Seinfeld ripped with the, “No soup for you.” Yeah. “The Soup Nazi.”
So Nozawa was “The Sushi Nazi.”
And if you asked for too much wasabi, he’d kick you out of the restaurant. His wife was the hostess and she was very nervous about you asking for a California Roll or anything like that. And it was a great first date. And I told my date at the time who’s my wife now, I said, “Maria, listen. The deco in this place is all neon. It’s really scary looking, but the food is great.”
And she’s like, “Oh, okay.” So we went there, had an amazing time, and it just became our go-to restaurant. So cut to 20 years later, I ended up playing a party for the CEO of SUGARFISH. I was playing piano and his name’s Jerry. And I said, “Jerry, my twenty’s coming up and I want to do something special. Is there any way to have Chef Nozawa come out and cook for us.” And he says, “No, he’s in retirement, but I can probably get you a video of him saying happy anniversary.” So, he got that for me and it’s Nozawa and his wife. She’s speaking, “Happy anniversary to you and your wife.” Yeah, and then Nozawa doesn’t say anything. So the wife hits him. “Oh, oh, oh, happy anniversary.” And it was just so, such a perfect example of marriage and a great, great little passing gift.
So special man.
Yeah. It was cool. It was really cool.
But the bummer is neither he or his wife said, “Happy anniversary, Adam and Maria.” So, basically anybody can use this tape now.
See, there you go.
I’ve given you the “in” here.
Oh, I love it man. You might have your side business here.
Nozawa wishes you happy anniversary. Yeah. It’s very cool.
So cool. So 20 years, how many kids have you got?
Two. We have two boys: 18 and 15.
Oh. So it’s their world. You’re just living it at this point.
Yeah. It is their world. I came here to rest.
So do you consider yourself a sushi snob or what?
Pretty much. I’m a snob when it comes to everything. I’m a snob with glasses. I love wearing cool glasses.
As you have on right now.
Thank you. I’ll never get that eye surgery because to me, glasses are a way to change your personality a little bit.
I’m a snob when it comes to orange balls that I squeeze, which sounds wrong on the audio here. But I’m squeezing an orange ball here that says, “Find your fire.” And I wouldn’t have touched this if I didn’t like it.
See? Here it is.
Yeah. I’m a snob when it comes to everything.
We change lives here at Hennessey Studios.
Did, did I say I’m a snob when it comes to orange balls? That’s so messed up.
That’s a sound clip.
Right. That’s brilliant.
Have you ever been to, like, Japan? Have you ever been?
I Haven’t been to Japan.
Furthest I got west was Australia and that was beautiful. I could have stayed there.
So, I’ve never tried sushi. I don’t even eat fish.
So maybe I will break that mold and we’ll go have sushi one day.
You would love it.
Yeah. That would be like my wife and my kids have tried to get me to eat fish for like 20-plus years and I’ve never done it.
Okay. So, my youngest son Marcello, he’s 15, and he didn’t like sushi. And he never tried it. He just decided he didn’t like it. And so, we got him an eel roll because they have to cook that or they sear it or smoke it or something. So, he’s eating it and then he says, “This shit is good.” And he was five at the time. So, it was all good. You got to just give it a whirl.
I like his style.
So let’s get into what you do for a living because it’s a little unique.
And I need to know what I do for a living because I’m not sure at this point in my life.
I would say there would be people that would consider this a dream job.
It is. It’s very much a dream job.
Yeah. So, tell the listeners who have never heard of Adam Chester, what you do and who you are.
So, I sit in for Sir Elton John at the piano and I sing and play his parts for rehearsals so he doesn’t have to rehearse the band.
Oh, just that.
Just that. And then I conduct for him on occasion. I arrange for him, we share jokes together. On occasion he’ll compliment my glasses. And as I do his, and it’s pretty cool for a kid who, and I say kid, because I was like eight years old when I found Elton and I was like, “That is awesome.” That music. So, it’s really weird that I’m doing what I do because I’ve always been a fan. And it freaks my friends out that they call me the “Surrogate Elton John.” So, I’m Sur Elton with a ‘ur’ instead of sir with an ‘ir.’
It’s pretty awesome.
So I want to hear the story of how this came about. How did you meet Elton? How did this all happen?
Well, you want the X-rated version or the clean, the clean version is this. I went to USC for music school and I graduated with a music degree and I thought, “Well, what am I going to do now?” So, I got a job in a Music Plus, which was a big record store out here in Los Angeles at the time. And one of my customers one day walked in and I’m like, “Holy shit. That’s Davey Johnstone.” And Davey has been Elton’s guitarist since 1971. And he came in with his wife at the time and I was like, “Oh my God.” And I grabbed an album because CDs were new at that time. I’m dating myself, but screw it. And I said, “So what do you think of this crap?” And he says, “I think it’s pretty decent music.” And his wife who had been coming in a lot introduced me and we built a friendship and soon Davey and I, he was playing gigs for me. He was playing on my original tracks.
And cut to 2004, he said, “Hey, we need someone to rehearse the band. Would you be into it?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” So that’s how it began. And then they got a CD of what we were rehearsing here in LA to Elton, and Elton heard and said, “Hey, why don’t we bring him to Boston and New York and he can rehearse us there.” And that’s where it all started. And I met Elton actually in Boston.
For the first time?
For the first time in 2005. And I’ll never forget it. It’s one of those moments that’s burnt into my memory because I was scared shitless. I really was. Because he was my hero and it was just one of the most pleasant, “Okay. That’s done.” And it was really, really cool. And then my job just kept getting bigger and bigger as the years went on. And it’s been awesome just to hear him say, “Hi Truman. Hi Marcello,” to my kids.
And even though those aren’t my kids’ names and it’s like, it was really cool just to get emails from them, whatever. It’s amazing. But that’s how it all started.
Wow. So you said he was like an idol of yours since you were eight years old.
Totally. I mean, I remember listening to “Funeral for a Friend” for the first time on the radio. I was maybe 10 years old, maybe 11. And it was just one of those songs that wasn’t your typical song because it was like 12 minutes long. And that was unheard of back in, I guess it was ’76 when I first really started getting into them and I was just addicted. I was looking for bootlegs and live recordings. I was pretending to be him on the keyboard in my apartment that I had with my mom.
And where was this? Where’d you grow?
This was in Miami.
In Miami. Okay.
I grew up in Miami Beach. Yeah, moved from Jersey. When my dad passed away, my mom and I moved to Miami to be close to her parents. And so, I really consider Miami kind of my old-time home, but that’s where it all started to, chasing down live bootlegs and learning his stuff and just an absolute fan without being freaky.
So now when you were young, eight years old, were you playing the piano?
Yes. Yeah. I was playing piano when I was four.
Yeah. But not really. I was more of a composition prodigy than a playing piano prodigy because I would write songs even when I was four or five and as simple and goofy and stupid as they are, it was really cool.
It’s probably like songs that had the word poop in it and right?
Yeah. Did you hear some of that stuff?
I’ve heard all your tracks from back then. Yeah.
There’s one really goofy tune that, it didn’t even have lyrics, but I thought it was genius, and I mean, it was just fun to come up with your own ideas, and then it was a fun way to get girls and meet girls at the time. Because you’d write all these songs and I digress, but it’s a great story. I wrote this girl, Sarah, a song and I had such a crush on her. I was 13. I was getting bar mitzvahed and she came to my bar mitzvah and she hated me.
And I didn’t realize Sarah hated me, but I wrote her this stupid love song. And I wrote the lyrics down on a paper and I gave it to her at her bat mitzvah, which was like two months before my bar mitzvah. And all Jewiness aside, she made me the laughing stock of the entire school the next day. And I thought, I just wrote a song for the girl. It was the cutest thing and she made me out to be this villain. So, I have pictures of her at my bar mitzvah with her giving me this face like, and I look at that today and I laugh and she won’t talk to me now. It’s very funny. Wants nothing to do with me and I get it. I have that effect on people.
Well, Sarah will hear this. We’ll make sure Sarah hears this.
No, you won’t, crazy family.
Oh, that’s so cool. So you’ve been playing piano since you were a kid.
Since I was a kid. Yeah.
Wow. And just, it became a passion of yours and you, kind of, yeah.
Yeah. It was just something that I always did. It’s how I function. It’s how I communicate. I’d be lost without-
Well, there’s a scene in… You ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting.
Great movie, right?
There’s a scene where the grilled-
Minnie Driver. Yes.
That’s it. So there’s a scene where Matt Damon is talking to Minnie Driver.
Right? And she looks at him and he’s doing her math because he wants to go on a date with her. Right? And he’s just like here, like this, “Let me just do this for you.” Right? And he just does her math real quickly. She’s been struggling.
I got to watch that again.
Such a great movie, right?
So then she says, “How do you do that? I don’t get it.” And he goes, “Just imagine it’s like when Mozart just sits on a piano,” he just like to me and you, I just see white and black chords. Right? But to him he just plays. Right?
Was that you?
Yeah, that’s me. You just reminded me. It was one of, when Maria and I had moved into my apartment together. There was a Ben Folds Five CD that I had to buy and I bought it, and we listened to it and I said, “You want to see something scary?” And she said, “Yeah, sure.” And I put the song on and then I walked over to the piano and I played it. And she said, “How do you do that?”
And I said, “I have no idea.” And it’s just something that I inherently do. I can hear something and play it. It freaks people out but I find it rudimentary. Is that the right word?
No, that’s the right word. Yeah.
Thank you. I haven’t used that in a sentence in a long time. So, I don’t know. It’s just something weird. It clicks in me and I can literally sit and play for hours and not repeat a song because I’ll just sit there and start writing stuff. And it’s fun for me. I just wish I could make money on it. That’s another story.
So as far as working with Sir Elton, do you call him “Sir Elton”?
No. I call him “E.”
You call him E. Everybody who knows him calls him E?
Yeah, yeah. E or just Elton or whatever.
So if I see him in a music store like, “E.” He won’t appreciate that.
I wouldn’t do that, yeah, no. Probably not a good idea. Have you been talking to Adam? No, fuck off. I’ll kill you.
So do you have to know every single song?
Every. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah. Yeah, because the band relies on me, and so I like to tell people I’ve been told this before. They’re like, “Why don’t you go on the road and do an Elton John impersonation show?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s not what I ever, ever want to do.” A, because it’s not me. I mean, there are people out there who imitate Elton so much better than I do. And it’s not about imitation. It’s about, I play his music as if I wrote the songs. And so, there’s a sincerity that comes across when I do this stuff. And plus, I sing in his original higher voice because I’m a high tenor and he doesn’t hit those notes anymore or which is fine. But it’s like when I go to rehearsal, I’m so energized by the fact that I’m sitting there with these heroes of mine, the Elton John Band.
And it is just so crazy that I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m psyched. So, I’m singing the hell out of these songs and the band gets charged by that. And it’s almost more fun to work with me they say, than it is with Elton because I so enjoy what I do.
There’s no way not to enjoy it. And we were supposed to go to Copenhagen in August and I had never been there, and I was so looking forward to trying a real Danish, the pastry.
And he canceled it because he was having a hip replacement surgery. And so now we’re supposed to go to New Orleans in January. I’m like, New Orleans? That’s not Copenhagen.” And I’ve been there. Oh, for God’s sake. But you got to be appreciative for everything you get.
Of course you do.
And if it’s a week trip or a month trip, it’s any time with that band and with Elton, that makes it all worthwhile.
Of course. So I’m sure you probably have so many stories, right? But is there one that stands out that comes to mind where you’re like, “Wow, pinch me, is this really happening right now?”
There’s too many really. But the one that comes to mind is when I was in London, my wife made me change my business class ticket to coach, so she and the boys could go. And so, we all flew coach, the rest of the band’s in first, and I’m like, “This is great. Right?” And so, we get to London and I composed and arranged the instrumental portion for Elton’s single called “Home Again.” It was off of an album called The Diving Board. So, I was flying out there to teach the Royal Academy of Music choir I had written and then rehearse them, rehearse the band, rehearse Elton, and then just enjoy the show. So, I got out there, I was having the time of my life. And when that choir sang what I wrote at my piano, I just wanted to cry.
And then Elton came in and played the song with the choir. And so we went to lunch, in the lunchroom, and I’m sitting literally across the table from where you are right now to Elton. And I said, “So what’d you think of that dissonance I did there when you heard those two voices?”
And he said, “I loved it. Absolutely loved it.” And we just had this conversation eye-to-eye about music and we go out there to play again, and my kids come to visit with my wife, and my kids, Truman and Marcello, who are little at the time, he starts playing “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” And my kids start dancing all over the place and screaming and I’m like, “I’m going to get kicked out of here. I’m going to lose my job. I’m fucked.” And so, Elton is looking at them, pointing and cracking up and I’m like, “Oh, thank God. He seems happy.” And I mean, we took a family photo, the four of us and I still have it. It’s such a great photo. And it was just probably the best couple of days of my life with Elton and-
So sharing that moment with your family and your kids.
With my kids, with my wife. I mean, it was just so amazing that, I mean, it was proof that I was really doing this because it’s always a pincher. Yeah, sure. You work with Elton. But the fact that this happened, it just made it all real. Yeah, so that’s one of my favorite stories.
That’s cool. And I’m sure we could probably do a whole podcast on just your stories.
And I told David something, David, Elton’s husband. I said, “Some magazine once offered me $10,000 to give ’em any dirt on Elton I could give them.” And I said I wouldn’t do it if they offered a million. And he said, “Wow, thanks Adam.” I said, “2 million maybe. A million, I’m not doing it.” But they know to trust me because I’m never going to talk shit about them.
Sure, sure. Well, that’s why you’ve been with him for so long.
And why he respects you just as much as you respect him.
I hope so. Yeah.
So what would you say is something about working with Sir Elton or as I can call him E.
Yes. I knew you were going to say that.
Right? That might surprise people.
Well, he’s changed a lot and I would assume people could imagine this, but before he had kids, he seemed much more easily agitated with things that went wrong on stage or whatever. And I think since he’s had the kids, he’s definitely become a lot more Zen with everything and maybe winding down his career to his final farewell tour that is going on forever because of the pandemic. I just think he has much more of an understanding of where he falls in the scheme of things. But I, I don’t know if that would be news to anyone.
What’s one interesting tidbit about him that most people might not know?
That I could share? Does anybody not know that that’s a freaking wig at this point? I mean, I know he doesn’t like to be seen without his wig. I’ve never seen him without that piece on. It’s an awesome looking hairpiece. I got to tell you. Okay, so at the London bit.
Here we go. I’m getting–
You getting it out of me.
So, he walks into the room. It’s the first time I saw him and he literally was a bone. This was in 2013. He was thin. And I said in the mic in front of everybody, “Holy shit, you look great.” And you could hear a pin drop. And it was like, I mean, did I say something wrong? But I guess he had some sort of a stomach virus, some shit that he went through. He lost a hell of a lot of weight. It wasn’t under good circumstances, I guess. But he looked amazing, and that’s the picture I have with thin Elton. He’s put on a few, but hey, so have I.
We all have.
I’m fat. I don’t know what to do, but anyway, so I don’t even know why I brought that up.
I like it.
What did you do? Is there something in this Avion water?
Channeling my inner TMZ here. Right? There it is.
Oh, okay. Fine.
So he has had some interesting collaborations that you wouldn’t think Sir Elton would have, right?
Like Ozzy Osbourne, even Eminem.
Yeah. Charlie Puth most recently.
Is that right?
Oh yeah. He’s got a new tune called “After All.” Yeah. It’s a great tune. He’s working with all the young artists.
I know Lady Gaga he does a lot with, right?
Oh, that’s the godmother of his kids. Yeah.
Is that right?
Yeah. She’s very cool. I got to work with her when we did the Grammy salute to Elton John, that was 2018 at the Garden and I conducted the choir and the string section for Lady Gaga, singing “Your Song.” So, I met Gaga and she was so sweet. Just so sweet. Met a lot of great people at that show. Yeah. It was fun.
Well, it’s great because you’ve transitioned into an Elton John trivia game that we’re going to play.
Oh, I know nothing. Nothing.
And so Jenna, a great producer here, she came up with 15 questions.
She ran these questions by one of her friends who’s like a die-hard Elton John fan. And she said, “What do you think of these questions?” And-
Let’s move to the next one.
That’s one of them right? Of course it is.
Jenna Kirshon: I got rid of that one.
Oh, you did.
She got rid of it.
So there it is. Yes.
Everyone knows that.
So she said, “What do you think?” And he said, “Oh, get rid of six and get rid of nine.” And this one’s too easy. Right? And so-
What if I don’t know? What do I win? That’s what I want to know.
You win an orange ball.
Yes. An orange ball.
You notice how I took my mouth away when I screamed. I just want you to know that.
We’ll get that replaced if you win this. All right.
So you talked about Lady Gaga.
Being the godmother of his children.
Number one. Which member of The Beatles made Elton John the godfather of his son.
Oh my God. I would hope it’s… The godfather of his son?
Good Lord. Is it Ringo? I hope. Is it Ringo?
It’s not Ringo.
No. I hate this game.
You can’t call him E anymore.
Oh, it’s not John.
It’s John Lennon.
Oh. That’s why Julian can be a dick. I get it. All right. Now it’s all making sense to me. I’m kidding Julian seriously.
Elton has won five Grammy awards, two Academy awards, and a Tony award.
Do you remember what the Tony award was for?
Yeah. It was for Lion King.
Ada? No. Is that right? You’re telling me Lion King didn’t win a Tony?
If this information that Jenna gave me is true.
Oh my God. That’s insane. Not even Billy Elliot?
Not even Billy Elliot.
Wow. Okay. So far so good.
All right, here we go. And they get harder.
That’s good. Good. I’m here to help. Where’s my orange ball I’m not taking now.
Elton is the only musician to have two consecutive albums debut on the US Billboard 200 Chart at number one.
Two albums. What were those two albums if you remember them?
It’s a trick question.
It might be.
It’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and no. What the hell was it? It’s two albums number one at the same time.
Well, okay. It wouldn’t be anything recent.
Well, I don’t know if it was the same time. It was consecutive albums.
Oh, consecutive. Okay.
That debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number one.
Okay. So, my guess would be, let me think here a second. What was after Don’t Shoot Me. Yeah, I’m going to be wrong. So, screw it. Let’s go with Captain Fantastic and Caribou.
You are 50% correct?
Oh, what was the other one?
Captain Fantastic is true.
Yes. Rock of the Westies?
Rock of the Westies.
Oh, that’s wild.
Yeah. So, okay. That would’ve been my second guess.
I’ll give you the point there.
I got one right.
The gigantic Doc Martens stilt boots that were worn by Elton John as the Pinball Wizard in 1975 musical film Tommy.
Do you know where those boots are now?
In my closet. Prove me wrong on that one. Go ahead. The Smithsonian.
I don’t even know if it… The Northampton Museum?
Oh, it’s in England.
It’s in England.
Yeah. They were sold by Elton in 1988 and purchased by the R. Griggs Group who own them today.
Right. Was my third guess actually.
Elton John sported his signature eyewear because as a teenager, he wanted to look or like American singer songwriter. Who would that be?
Phyllis Diller. No, that’s not right. God, and no one knows who Phyllis Diller is anymore. Who did he want to look like?
Oh, fifties guy. Oh.
Was in an airplane with La Bamba.
I’m giving you a bone here.
What’s his name? La Bamba. Oh, come on. It’s-
Come on, “Buddy.” You got this. You got this “Buddy.”
You got this Buddy, Buddy. You got this Buddy.
Was it Esai Morales? Buddy Holly.
Yes, I knew it. I knew it.
I knew you had it in you.
See I’m just that good man. I’m smart.
Elton John has sold how many hundreds of millions of records? This is going to be a guess, right? Multiple choice. 100 million, 200 million, 300 million or 400 million records worldwide.
I’d say 300 million.
That’s a winner right there.
Yeah. There you go. Thank you.
1994, Elton John wrote the song for which animated film with lyricist Tim Rice.
Oh, that was… It’s not Aida. It’s Lion King.
It’s Lion King.
You got that one right. Yeah.
Yeah. Okay. I’m doing better now.
See? You getting your groove. According to Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Taupin, in the song “Hercules.”
Which type of life do some men like?
Is this a multiple choice?
Damn it. I’d have to go to the lyrics.
“Some men like the,” blank, “life. Some men kneel and pray.”
“Some men kneel and pray.” Somebody-
“Some men like the,” blank, “life.”
The… I give up. What the hell is it?
“The Chinese life.”
Chinese. I didn’t know that. I was trying to think of the last time we played that song “Hercules” and it was probably 2010.
Yeah. It’s been a while.
So I’m thinking. I don’t remember that lyric at all. I’m like the Chinese? Yeah. Okay. Fine.
At what age did Elton first play the piano?
Three years old.
Oh three. I was close.
Three years old playing the piano.
He wasn’t really playing.
He wasn’t. No.
How many performances has Sir Elton played at the Madison Square Garden?
Oh, that was a big bone of contention.
I’ll tell you about that.
Do you want me to give you multiple choice or you got it?
Okay. So the multiple choices here are 41, 38, 64 or 87.
I think it was 64. Am I right?
You’re right. But what’s the backstory?
Okay. So the backstory is, and this is a great story. So, Elton and Billy Joel were playing tours together quite a bit. And they had a falling out, which I’m not privy enough-
[car horn honking]
That could be my ride. Can you guys wait a minute? Thank you. Doing an interview here. Jesus.
See, that’s the first time we won’t edit that out, right?
No, you got to keep that, yeah.
Yeah. We’re going to keep that.
Yeah. So they were doing this tour together, The Piano Man Tour, both of my heroes in one place. Really awesome tour. They had some sort of falling out, which I won’t even begin to wonder what literally happened.
They had a falling out still to this day?
Yeah. I don’t think they talk much, but I don’t know honestly, I really don’t. But here’s the kicker. So Billy lives in New York.
I grew up where I grew up, Long Island. A rite of passage, you got to listen to Billy Joel out there. Yeah.
Right. So he decided, I guess a couple years ago, to do a residency at Madison Square Garden. That pissed the hell off of Elton, because now Billy Joel has played the Garden more than Elton. And see Elton wasn’t doing it, how do you say it? Back-to-back. He was playing there one year, another year or another. I mean Billy caught up to Elton in a matter of months and now I think he surpassed him as the artist who’s played the Garden the most. And I know that was something Elton really treasured was having been that artist who played the Garden the most times, and Billy took that record away, I think. But it’s like, Billy is New York.
To me Elton is beyond New York. He’s the planet.
Sure. Yeah. That’s interesting backstory, but Billy and I’m a big fan of Billy.
Yeah. I love Billy too.
But Billy doesn’t have a song that referenced, one of my favorite songs, although I don’t know the name of it, about Johnny in Madison Square Garden, come out and play.
Oh, oh. That’s Elton’s song. That’s “Empty Garden.”
One of the most beautiful songs written, it was on the Jump Up! album in 1982. How about that for a trivia question?
Elton was not working with Bernie Taupin at that point for anything consecutive on albums. And he was working with a guy by the name of Gary Puckett, doing all the lyrics. Gary wrote the song “Blue Eyes” with Elton. “Blue Eyes,” you know that song?
And then he wrote “Little Jeannie.” “Oh, Little Jeannie.”
Right. And then on the Jump Up! album, Elton wrote with Bernie, “Empty Garden.” Hey, Hey Johnny. And that became the classic that it is. He’s not playing “Blue Eyes” in concert anymore. He’s not playing “Little Jeannie.” Sometimes he plays “Empty Garden” because it’s such a classic beautifully, I mean, those lyrics that Bernie wrote are-
Oh my God.
It’s really timeless. Yeah.
I mean, it captured the death of John Lennon so well and so not literally or on the nose, it was all using so much beautiful wordplay and oh, I love that-
Well, I mean, Elton is synonymous with Diana. I mean, right?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean that song was rewritten for Diana, but yeah, they were very close.
Back to number 11 here.
Oh, we’re still on that.
Yes. That was a long answer to that one.
God. Hang on, I dropped my ball.
He was trying to avoid the last six questions here.
Finish the lyric.
“The ones who hold onto the ones they had to leave behind, those that flew and those that fell, the ones that had to stay.”
Can you sing it?
I don’t even know the song.
It’s not the one.
It’s the song from “Oceans Away.”
Oh yeah. No, that’s Diving Board. That’s what I was out in England doing.
Oh, that’s the song. “The ones who hold onto the ones they had to leave behind.”
Oh, it’s the first, oh.
“The ones that flew and those that fell.”
Yeah. I know the tune.
“The ones that had to stay beneath-”
Yeah, I’ll tell you a funny story about that song too. Is it the song “Oceans Away”?
Yeah. Yeah. So Davey, the guitarist and music director for Elton said you got to learn all-they sent me the album and they said, “Be ready for the rehearsals. We’re going to do London.” And this was before I wrote that part to the single “Home Again.” Anyway, so he says, “Don’t worry about the piano songs on there.” And there’s four. One of them was “Oceans Away.” So, we start the rehearsal and Elton doesn’t remember, because this is great. When he writes in the studio, he sits down, plays, he’s done. Never plays it again. So, he didn’t remember how the song “Oceans Away” went. And he says, “Adam, Adam, come here.” And so I’m like, “How does ‘Oceans’ play?” And I looked at Davey and I’m like, “Oh.” That makes two of us.
“Like this.” And I kind of remembered it. And then I remembered it more. And then I was showing Elton the lick on piano. So, there’s a great picture that one of the videographers got for me of me standing over Elton showing him the chord to play for “Oceans Away,” but there was a panic in my life for “Oceans Away” that you just reminded me of.
Posttraumatic stress is kicking in here man.
It was horrible. And it’s my fault for listening to Davey telling me, “Don’t worry about the piano songs. He won’t play those.”
So you know what? We’re going to blame D for not answering this question correctly.
Yes, yes. Good.
The answer was, I guess finishing the lyrics was: “beneath the little wooden cross oceans away.”
Oh, “beneath the little,” yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
This one I think I didn’t know this, but I think it’d be easy to you.
Easy to me. Yes. Yes.
So Blossom, Aretha, Nina, and Diana. What does this collection of names have to do with Elton John?
They’re the names of his pianos.
Yeah. That I know.
Okay. I figured you knew that one.
Yes, which he owns.
Elton’s hometown named what after him? What did they name? A soccer ball, a pair of cleats, a set of bleachers or a field?
Make the most sense to name the field.
You would think so. Right?
It’s not. It’s a set of bleachers. It’s what they named after him.
The guy owns the team. I mean, I’d call the city that. Nobody heard of Watford before Elton bought the team.
Oh, he’s got the bleachers. Right? Not too many people who have owned the bleachers.
Yes. No, I haven’t.
So which ABBA song, ABBA. Which ABBA song was the biggest selling single in Australian chart history until it was overtaken by Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” in 1997?
’97. Was ABBA still around?
That was a good chance, but it was “Fernando.”
“Fernando.” What a dumb song. I hate “Fernando.”
I hate your friend too.
What is the color and make of the car mentioned in the song Elton recorded with The Beach Boys? It was in the song “Crocodile Rock.” Do you remember which car that was?
Oh sure. I remember it was-
There’s a car in that song? “The years went by and Susie–long nights driving, record machine, dreaming of my Chevy and my old blue jeans.”
You’re gold Chevy.
Yes. You got it.
Goodnight everybody. Jesus. This is a tough gig.
That was impressive.
Very tough gig. I had to go through the whole tune.
You recited the whole song in like 16 seconds.
Yeah. We play it all the time.
It’s not easy to do.
Yeah. Yeah. Wow. That was great.
Yes, the ball is mine.
Yes. Enough about-
I want to know about Adam.
Okay. I’m ready for him.
I want to know about Adam. Yes. So what was it like growing up in your household?
Boy, what household? I mean, there’s been so many.
You and your mom, you said, right?
Yeah. I mean my dad passed when I was eight. So I don’t remember a whole lot of that except for my organ that I had and playing it and the neighbors in the parking lot of the apartment building we lived in came out to listen to me play, and started applauding. And I thought, “Well, this is the life I want to live.” And I think I was five.
I don’t know. What was it like? I was always inventing stuff. I created a game. I put an American flag on our couch and I made my friend come over and I had this game I created called Stars and Stripes. It was so stupid. And for each question he got right, it was a star and I don’t remember all the rules, but suffice it to say I was a very strange kid, constantly looking for something to keep me entertained because we didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have computers. It was just fend for yourself. And so I would create games, I would write songs, I’d off girls by writing them songs and find out-
Especially for Sarah.
Screw that. And then I had to put up with a very overprotective mother who I finally made some money from when I wrote a book about her.
Oh, I want to hear. Do tell.
That’s called S’Mother. S’Mother, available on Amazon and every local bookstore. I’ve elected over 1,500 letters that my mom has written me. And they’re really funny, very short letters. “There’s a resistant form of gonorrhea going around, wear a condom. Love, Mom.” Stuff that’s outlandishly odd and I put up with it and I wrote a book about it. Abrams Publishing released it, who did Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And that was really cool. And I’m still trying to get it on television. It’s been options three different times and whatever, it’s a screwed-up entertainment business because I have 18 things going on at the same time. When you ask me what’s life at, at my house life it’s like, I don’t know, because every week it’s a combination of different projects I’m working on, and that’s always been the case. Some people say it’s… What do they call people that do…. A Renaissance person?
I don’t know. I just like trying different things. It’s like Michael Jordan playing golf. Look how well that turned out for him. So that’s me.
Or baseball. Right?
Or baseball. Right. I jokingly in my Woody Allen behavior, except for the sleeping with my kid thing, aside from that I’m very Woody Allenesque. And I think that I’m like, what can I possibly do next to keep me entertained?
So mom, right? Has mom received a copy of this book?
She’s in the car.
She’s the one that’s beeping?
It could be. “Hurry up. I can’t breathe.” But she approves of it because she knows that it’s a potential avenue to make money for me and make me happy.
There it is. At her expense. I love it.
So the best thing happened about a month ago, I had a pitch meeting with TNT and I’m on with these two execs in a Zoom meeting. And I have my computer in front of me and I’m telling them about my mom and my stories, and we’re shooting the shit and about seven minutes into it, I say, “Look, I love my mom, but she drives me nuts.” And I hit the table, which hit the computer and it fell into my lap. I’m like, “Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry.” Pick up the computer. And I positioned it a little bit to the right.
And there’s my mother behind me in a chair tied up in rope and gaffer’s tape on her mouth. And so, the two execs look and they’re like, “Hang on, Adam, is that your mom?” And I’m like, “What? Oh shit. Joan, this is so and so.” And so, she’s like, “Mmm.” Great, perfect. And so, I take the gaffer’s tape off and I thought that meeting would seal the deal.
Totally. How does it not.
Hysterical. And it didn’t because they thought the whole idea was too off of TNT’s base. And I thought, “Let’s give him something to remember because I don’t care anymore.” That’s where I’m at in my life. I don’t care. I really don’t. I care, but I don’t. And that’s what makes it so crazy and spontaneously fun.
That’s what life should be.
That’s exactly what life should be.
I love it. Yes. I got to go tape up. Not my mom, but my kids.
I’m going to try that one. Yeah. When I get home. So S’Mother. You can buy it on Amazon.
Yes, you can.
I’m going to pick that up.
Great for the holidays.
All right. So, we are going to finish off what we call “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.” Just short little questions that require short little answers.
Simple. What do you see as your best character trait?
I think my music is part of my character at this point. So I’d say my music.
What inspires you to better yourself?
Probably my family.
Sounds like your kids.
Yeah. Would you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist?
Yes. Depends on the day.
That’s the most honest answer I can give you. Because some days I’m my worst pessimist. Some days I’m more optimistic than whatever. So I’d say both.
That’s a good answer.
Appreciate the honesty. When were you the most disappointed in yourself?
With your Elton John trivia?
Yes. I thought I would know so much more and, I’m so disappointed. I’m so not okay.
I’ll take that in as an answer. If you could change one thing about the way you look, what would it be?
Oh God. How honest do you want me to be? I would have to say I’m fat right now and I don’t like being fat. It makes me very sad and feel unhealthy. So, I would change my man boobs and my tummy. That’s what I would change.
Do you eat a lot of pasta and pizza?
I do. I like, well, not so much pizza, but pasta. Yeah. My wife’s Italian.
I’m a big pasta guy too.
Yeah, I love pasta.
It’s hard man.
When were you the most proud of yourself?
Boy that’s a good one. I mean, you could say kids, you can say, I mean, but honestly I think when I was looking out from the stage of Madison Square Garden and I thought, “This is good. You can shoot me now.” That was good. I played there five times and I think the first time I did it was the most special. So that’s your answer.
That’s a good answer. Not too many people can say that.
No, exactly. And that was amazing.
Do you put as much effort and emphasis on inner beauty as you do on your outer beauty?
Absolutely. Yes. Key.
It is. What is something on your bucket list?
I want to go to Tahiti. I want to sit on a beach and do absolutely nothing. That is on my bucket list. So it’s probably not going to happen.
Because me doing nothing, it doesn’t make sense.
Can’t stop your brain.
I can’t. Yeah.
What is a long-term goal of yours?
I’d like to see my S’Mother show get on the air, which now goes by the name of Dear Adam. Yeah. I’d like to see that show come to fruition. That’s a dream.
What is the most important thing? So you’ve been married 20 years, right?
What is the most important thing in a relationship?
I’m not going to say honesty because that’s a lie. Let me think. I say making each other laugh because we’ve gotten through some really difficult times and there are days that I want to kill her and there are days she wants to kill me like today. And I think if you don’t keep laughing, you’re doomed.
And I can see a lot of laughter in your house.
Do you know what your love language is?
God, that’s a good one. Lately it’s acts of service and I’ll give a real quick plug to what we did over the pandemic. We started something called Quaranchella that got a lot of press and-
I think I saw that. I saw YouTube video of you playing outside your neighborhood. Is that what that was?
And members of the Elton Band would come and join me and we did it to raise money for nonprofits and we kept nothing and we raised $10,000. What am I saying 10? We raised $20,000.
For nonprofits. So doing that and doing it with music was crazy fun. Crazy fun.
Do you have any phobias?
Yeah. Because I got stuck in one as a kid and it was freaky. My mother called the entire fire department of New Jersey and got them there to bail me out. And I think from that day on I was afraid of elevators.
Interesting. How do you handle high stress situations?
How do I handle high stress situations? I like a lot of activities. So I think high stress is great for me because if someone says they need a film score by next week, I’m fully concentrated. So, I think high stress helps me. Yeah. Deadlines help me.
I’m the same.
Yeah. I wait until the last minute to do everything and I just kind of, yeah. What has been the most spiritual experience?
Playing for a church and trying to convert them all into Judaism with my music, without them knowing. Come on, sing with me. It’s good. I’ve played piano for a church for 12 years was Unity Church. And I had them singing more Elton John and Billy Joel and threw in some Jewish songs. It was great. That was spiritual.
So I was a DJ in a Mexican nightclub.
Oh awesome. Oh, that’s awesome man.
And I don’t speak Spanish.
Oh, that’s brilliant.
And so, I just had to know how to play the songs and match the beats and stuff and hey, it worked. People would come up, request songs. I’d be like, “I don’t know what you’re saying but I’ll try.”
Funny thing is I knew you looked familiar. That is crazy.
It was there that we met.
Now it all makes sense.
Yeah. Yeah. Totally.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I like that Superman eye vision shit to burn things with my eyes. That’d be awesome. That’d be cool.
If you could teleport anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Cleveland. Only because it’s fun to say Cleveland. It’s the first thing I say when anyone asks me questions about locations, Cleveland.
If you could be an animal for a week, what would you be?
I’d probably be a horse because they shit a lot and nobody seems to mind. They’re just like, “Oh, this is a horse’s shit. Don’t step in it.”
You can be hung like one too. Right? There it is.
Hey now, it’s a whole other show.
Would you rather go back in time to see dinosaurs or jump forward a thousand years to see what the future looks like?
Yeah. I want to go ahead. Yeah. That’d be cool.
That would be cool.
A thousand years.
Thousand years. No dinosaurs for me.
What the heck is going on in the world in a thousand years. You might be TikTok famous by then.
I don’t know man.
I’m just getting into the TikTok.
Yeah? Are you?
The TikyTok. Yeah.
It fascinates me that people stare at the screen and look at what people comment. That to me is not entertaining. I did a TikTok. I didn’t look at the screen.
So I never knew what was going on. I was just playing in the nude and nobody cared.
What’s your TikTok handle?
I think it’s @adamjchester.
I’m going to go follow you. You’ll be like the sixth person I follow.
And you’ll be my seventh follower I think. It’ll be great.
Match made in heaven.
If you can be a character from a hit TV show, who would you be?
Okay. Came out of the blue. You just seem so quick with that one.
I don’t need to think about that.
And what mistake did you learn the most from?
Getting… No, I’m not going to say getting married. Stop it. What mistake that I learned the most from? I don’t know. What have I learned the most from?
That’s a hard question, right?
Yeah. That’s a deep-
What’s your greatest failure, right?
I don’t know. I mean, I hope not my kids. Did I f*** them up by letting them listen to Kanye West too early? That’s what I think. Sometimes I think I screwed up by playing him Kanye West when they were like three.
Maybe that wasn’t smart. My friend tried to warn me and now my oldest, Truman, is a singer and he’s amazing. He’s amazing. But he sings about stuff that he doesn’t know about or at least I don’t think he knows about. And I’m like, “This is all my fault.” Maybe that was my biggest mistake. I don’t know. And I like Kanye West. Kind of. I mean, he’s okay.
I do. Well, this has been such an amazing interview, man. I really appreciate you coming down.
Thank you. This is so much fun.
It really was. Yeah, and so, well we’ve got some things to do. You’re going to have to take me to go do sushi one day.
Hey man, I am all over SUGARFISH.
We can do it.
And the next time you play Cleveland, let me know and I’ll come see you.
Yes. I know they can’t wait for me there, man. It’s going to be great. Cleveland!
Thank you, my friend.
My pleasure. Thank you.
Buy S’Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She’s Mailed Him on Amazon