Nigel Olsson with his brother Carl, 1979: One of My Favorite Photos

Nigel Olsson with his brother Carl, 1979: One of My Favorite Photos

"All I've got is this photograph, and I realize you're not coming back anymore…"

Karl and Nigel Olsson, photographed by Murray Silver, 1979Nigel Olsson turned 65 recently. He will forever be remembered as "Elton John's drummer", but there was a time when he pursued a solo career after the Big E cut him loose in 1975. Nigel turned up in Atlanta, where he became enamoured of racing cars and Ilene Berns, who had inherited the Bang Records label from her husband, Bert. It was then that I met up again with Nigel, whom I had met many times prior while covering the Elton tours since 1972.

We threw a party for Nigel's 30th birthday at Bang Records studio. At this party was his baby brother Carl, who had moved to Atlanta and found a job working for a record distributor. Nice kid. Impressionable. Great sense of humor. Happy to be here. I brought my trusty camera with me to this party and took rolls of film in order to make a gift of the photos to Nigel as a birthday present. Turns out this was the best photo of the evening– and one of the most important photos I've ever taken– and here's the reason why:

Shortly after this photo was taken, Carl Olsson drowned in a freak accident at Lake Lanier. He went boating with a bunch of pals, dived into the water, and never surfaced. Gone. Just like that. Worse, his body was never found, which caused great distress to his mother back home in England.

The Olssons asked me to head up a recovery search for Carl's body. I could find only one diver with knowledge of Lake Lanier and who told me to forget it: there's man-eating catfish in that lake, there's nothin' left of him by now…at least, nothin' I care to risk my life to go after. And so I delivered the bad news to Elsa Olsson, that finding her son was a lost cause.

But then I remembered this photograph, and I sent it to her. She sent me a beautiful thank-you letter (this was before computers and emails, friends, when people wrote letters and put a stamp on them and mailed them), telling me that this was the only portrait of Nigel and Carl taken as adults. She framed it and kept it in her sacred space, where it remained all the days of her life. 

Nigel Olsson has been photographed 47 million times. and I'm sure he has a wall filled with framed favorites that mean the world to him. Having meant the world to his mother, this one means the world to me.

My advice to you, friend: get a camera. Use it often. You never know.

To check out more incredible photographs and stories, you'll have to resort to my memoirs, "When Elvis Meets the Dalai Lama"…I've run out of time and space here.

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