Heritage launches Rocket Man piano to new house record
DALLAS, TEXAS – Sir Elton John’s much-loved Steinway grand piano, circa 1972, sold for $ 915,000 on July 17 at the Heritage Auctions Music and Entertainment Memorabilia auction.
The auctions opened at $ 240,000 but quickly took off from there. Aggressive auctions have skyrocketed auction prices as a bidding war erupted between bidders by phone and online. It set an auction house record as the most expensive musical instrument ever sold by Heritage.
Sir Elton signed the piano on the gilded cast iron frame. In permanent black ink he wrote: “Enjoy it as much as I do, Elton John.”
The piano was offered at auction by Curtis Schwartz, a longtime musical engineer whose name appears on albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Lush, Cutting Crew, the Bee Gees and Yes. Schwartz initially had no idea that this was the touring piano that John had taken with him on the Yellow Brick Road throughout the 1970s to 1994.
A decade after buying the piano, Schwartz says he received a phone call from a lawyer who identified himself as John’s archivist, who wanted to know if he owned the Steinway with serial number 426549. Schwartz said yes, at which point he was informed that this piano had been the very one the singer-songwriter used on tour in the 1970s and into the 1990s.
“I was only happy that it was an excellent piano,” says Schwartz now. “I guess Elton John would have a piano in every town, and that was just one of his, like, 122 pianos.”
The Steinway was initially a loan for one of the company’s most famous customers. Three years after its completion and delivery, John bought it and finalized its customization, which meant “re-weighting the keys to provide a very light and responsive touch” according to an April 2021 report from Steinway & Sons London. Technical Services Manager David Widdicombe.
It’s the same Steinway seen in iconic photos of Sir Elton at Dodger Stadium at two sold-out concerts in October 1975, when he performed in front of more than 100,000 people, including his parents. In time, Schwartz learned that this Steinway had been performed for hundreds of gigs spanning two decades, culminating with 91 gigs in its last year of use in 1993.
The piano has traveled the world and even shared stages with two Beatles. John played it that November night of 1974 at Madison Square Garden when John Lennon showed up to pay a bet and play three songs, including their single “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” in what was the last live show from Lennon. And Paul McCartney used that same Steinway in “Let it Be,” the finale of Live Aid seen by billions of viewers around the world in 1985.
It was also used by Freddie Mercury on Queen’s “A Day at the Races” tour in 1977. The piano comes with an email from Peter Hince, Queen’s road manager at the time, who noted that the singer had been frustrated with the endless buffet. mediocre pianos that showed up on the road, and asked to borrow John’s for the ’77 tour.
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