By: Cindy Annis – Oct. 2017
Elton John was born on March 25, 1947 in Pinner Middlesex, UK. His birth name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Dwight was raised by his grandparents in a council house until he turned six years old and his parents got married.
Dwight found a friend in music. When his parents would be arguing, he would go to his room and listen to the radio. By age 3, Dwight could play songs on the piano by ear. So, his parents got him piano lessons when he turned 7. Helen Piena, his teacher gave Dwight books to help him catch up with the other students since he could not yet read music. The lessons got him a scholarship at 11 years old to the Royal Academy of Music. He also learned music theory at the academy.
His mother was very interested in what her son was doing with his life. His father, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about his son or his wife. They got a divorce when Dwight was fourteen years old. Later that year, Dwight’s mother re-married a caring and supportive husband named Fred Farebrother.
With a little help from his family, Dwight started playing piano on Thursday and Saturday nights in the bar at the Northwood Hills Hotel. Known as Reggie, the 15-year-old played songs that he wrote and some classics from Ray Charles and Jim Reeves.
In 1962, Dwight formed a band with his friends called Bluesology. In 1965, Bluesology had their first hit with the song “Come Back Baby”. After the success of their first record, Bluesology played backup for groups like the Isley Brothers and Major Lance. After playing with Long John Baldrey at the Marquee Club 16 times, Dwight got sick of playing as a backup performer.
In 1967, Dwight answered an advertisement he saw in the ‘New Musical Express’ magazine. The advertisement was placed by Artists & Repertoire agent for Liberty Records, Ray Williams. When Dwight met Williams for the first time, Williams gave Dwight a stack of lyrics by Bernie Taupin. Dwight wrote music for the song and mailed it to Taupin. This was the start of something big when they both met and recorded the song ‘Scarecrow’. Six months after their first song, Dwight officially changed his name to Elton John. The name is a mashup of Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean, and singer Long John Baldry.
In 1968, the duo joined DJM records as staff songwriters for two years. They worked like an assembly line. Taupin wrote lyrics in under an hour, while John wrote the music in half an hour. Lyrics would get scrapped if John couldn’t write music for the lyrics.
While the duo was writing for everybody else, music publisher Steve Brown suggested that the duo write songs that Elton John could record as a solo artist. In 1969, “Empty Sky” was released. The following year, the self-titled “Elton John” was released.
In August of 1970, John had his first concert in America at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, California. Drummer Nigel Olsson of the Spencer Davis Group and bassist Dee Murray helped with the background instrumentation at the successful concert.
Things didn’t start going good for Elton John until 1972 when Davey Johnstone joined the band on guitar and backup vocals. That same year, “Honky Château” was released and went to number one on the Billboard charts. After that album was released, seven more albums also went to number one.
By 1973, John created his own record label simply called ‘Rocket Records’. Artists like Neil Sedaka and Kiki Dee were signed to the label. John didn’t record himself on Rocket Records, instead he signed a contract with MCA records in 1974. That same year, Elton John rubbed elbows with one of the great performers in music history.
Elton John and John Lennon paired up together and recorded the Beatles hit song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” Later that year, Elton John recorded “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” with John Lennon. The duo performed at Madison Square Garden that year in what would be Lennon’s last live performance.
In 1975, Pete Townsend of ‘The Who’ asked John to be in their movie adaptation of the musical “Tommy”. John sang the song “Pinball Wizard” in the movie.
Later that year, John fired the drummer and bass player of the band. In 1976, in front of a crowd of 75,000 people in Wembley Stadium, John introduced his band of both old and new members. The new bass player was Kenny Passarrelli, and James Newton Howard played the keyboard. Originally, Caleb Quaye and Roger Pope came back with Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper.
Moving on to 1987, Elton John had to have surgery on his throat to remove polyps. After the surgery though, his voice never returned to normal.
The songs of Elton John are known by both young and old audiences. In addition to just recording songs for top 40 radio, John teamed up with Tim Rice to write the soundtrack for the 1994 Disney film called ‘The Lion King’.
All of his charity work for AIDS paid off in 1998. In February of that year, Elton John became the first openly gay musician to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
That’s the story of Elton John. Tune in to Cindy’s Vinyl Vault on 980 WCAP Sunday nights at 10, Monday nights at 11, and Wednesday nights at 10. Get your fix of the best music from the 50s 60s and 70s and even make a request at 978-454-4980. Remember it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds.