Hamilton, Ohio – Strange is their middle name. Or at least the middle of their name.
However, Just Strange Brothers music director Danny Manning said there is nothing strange about the love for the songs he and his musical mates selected for the Fitton Family Theater stage on Saturday, May 21, in their Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: A Tribute to Elton John show.
“For me as a young piano player growing up, Elton John and Billy Joel were the top,” Manning said. “That’s the music you heard on the radio. That’s the music you wanted to play.
“My sister had a stack of 45s and that’s where I first heard it. ‘Crocodile Rock’ was my first Elton John song. I’ve been playing him ever since. Elton is as big a part of my makeup as anyone.”
It shows in his respect for the music. Just Strange Brothers present arrangements familiar to fans, but Manning said John’s songs allow room for musicians to shine with fills, flourishes and solos that might not exist on any recordings.
Not simply a solo singer astride a piano bench, JSB’s seven-piece band with four vocalists offers additional opportunity for harmonies even Elton never imagined.
“We can’t wait to share this show with the Fitton Center audience,” Manning said “We love playing this music as much as they will love hearing it. It’s going to be a big party.”
“This is more than a concert, this is an experience,” said Fitton Center Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley. “It’s great music, yes, but it’s great musicians performing great music with great sound, great lights and all the energy a live audience brings to the theater.
“Just Strange Brothers are fan favorites here. They are a big part of what changed the Fitton Center for the better. They brought this incredible energy and musicality to the stage in their first show here in 2016. All these years later it’s the same incredible energy and musicality, but in an entirely different package.”
Which is how the band got its name in the first place.
“Just Strange Brothers has been around 16, 17 years,” Manning said. “The core of the band has been together 21 years, but we have a lot of different people playing with us for different shows.
“We’re all brothers playing in different bands, so we’re kind of musical strangers when we get together for one of our shows. That’s the fun for us - taking the different pieces and making the whole thing come together.”
It starts with “Funeral for a Friend,” the electrifying 11-minute first track on the landmark 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double album. Some definite set pieces stand ready – look for 2021 Hamilton Citizen of the Year Brad Baker to join the band on “Pinball Wizard,” for example – but who knows where else the evening night lead?
“The biggest thing with Elton is his willingness to change,” Manning said. “You look at him as a hit machine all through the ‘70s and ‘80s and then… totally new direction. He writes the Lion King. He writes Billy Elliott, which a lot of people don’t even know he wrote.
“He changed his music, changed his sound, which is how you have a 50-plus-year career. We are excited to pay tribute to that.”
The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.
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