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Tonight’s all right for reggae

Dennis Henderson of Elton Jah.
Dennis Henderson of Elton Jah.

Elton Jah pays unique tribute

When it came to starting a local band that specializes in reggae covers of Elton John hits, the name forced the concept.

Elton Jah was just too irresistible.

When founding frontman Dennis Henderson tells people the name of his newest project, he is met with reflexive grins and giggles.

“The name is intriguing,” said Henderson, who dons blond dreadlocks and Sir John’s signature shades when he assumes his role onstage. “The idea itself is pretty easy to like. Reggae is happy and nonthreatening and easy to like. And we like to play the hits. The material has already sold itself and portraying it from a different angle with costumes and a light show and motion graphics only helps.”

As far as Henderson knows, Elton Jah is the world’s only Elton John reggae tribute band. Tonight at The Knitting Factory marks only the third show in less than a year of existence for the Spokane-born band. Elton Jah’s second show in February drew more than 700 partygoers to The Knitting Factory, where they sang along to favorite songs as the lyrics crawled across giant screens, karaoke-style, with custom-cut video choreographed to the music.

“The show is interactive. If you want to sing along and were kinda wondering what the words are you can look up and see it,” Henderson said. “When the hook comes in, they know it even if they don’t know it, they’ve heard it so many times.”

While listeners can instantly catch on to reggae-inflected Elton John songs, making the conversion was easier said than done for the band, as it took some convincing for Henderson to get the rest of his crew on board.

“It was my enthusiasm initially; the rest of the guys agreed just so I would shut up,” Henderson said. “Most reggae songs are two or three chords. It’s all groove. But Elton John compositions were also a tough sell when it came down to learning the songs. It was daunting. There are a lot of chord changes and the arrangements weren’t typical pop arrangements. I wanted to stay true to the key and tempo. I never want to do a song and then three minutes in it’s like, ‘Oh, this is that song!’”

After tonight’s concert, Elton Jah sightings are likely to be rarer since Henderson has relocated to the West Side. Despite leaving behind drummer Juan Paris, bassist Jimmie Denny, and multi-instrumentalists Zac “Z-Funk” Fawcett and Paul “Poncho P” Flores, Henderson will continue to play with the band, although they will be together only in a touring capacity, as they have gigs booked in Seattle, Portland and Reno, Nev.

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