Elton John was born in Pinner, Middlesex on 25 March 1947, and christened Reginald Kenneth Dwight by his parents. His father Stanley, originally from Buckinghamshire joined the RAF, and at the end of World War II met and married a dark-haired, petite girl named Sheila.
Stanley Dwight, with his young bride went to live with Sheila’s parents in Pinner Hill Road where their only one child Reginald, the future Elton, was born. Although Stanley had played in the Bob Miller Band, he was a military careerist and a flight lieutenant, and was often absent overseas on RAF service, and in fact was away the day Sheila went into labour. It was well known that Elton was suppressed by and often petrified of his father and the only major source of common interest within the family seems to have been music.
Young Elton’s childhood was fairly restricted. In the absence of his father his first years were spent almost exclusively in the feminine company of his mother and grandmother, and would grow up being encouraged to bang the keys on the household piano, while his mother and grandmother busied themselves with everyday chores. By the time Elton was four years old in 1951, he could play Skaters Waltz. His other activities during his early formative years were confined to occupying himself in the council house garden playing with his many toys carefully and conventionally.
During later years Elton’s two main interests were music and football. He began to retreat himself into a musical fantasy while the worsening domestic situation increased, but he did occasionally accompany his father on excursions to watch Watford FC, but one of the great loves in the Dwight household was the collection of big breakable 78 rpm records, and the American stars of that pre-pop era. People like Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Kay Starr, and Billy May. ‘My first favourite was Winifred Atwell . . . I was knocked out by her,’ he remembers. ‘Then my mother came home with two records, ABC Boogie by Bill Haley and Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley. I’ll never forget that. One was on Brunswick and the other on HMV. I really freaked when I heard them, and I went on from there.’
Elton’s schooldays were spent at Pinner Wood Junior Primary, Reddiford School, and by the time he started at Pinner County Grammar, Stanley and Sheila’s failing marriage had led to separation. It was around this time that the young Elton excelled at music by winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he would study every Saturday morning for the next five years. He had very little aptitude for academic subjects and was why he would play truant to stay at home playing records, or skipping off to watch a game of football. After his parents had divorced, Elton continued to live with his mother and throughout this period she would encourage his musical ambitions. ‘He was being forced to play classics when he wanted to play popular tunes,’ she once said. ‘It wasn’t until he was 11 or 12 that I found him a new teacher who let him play pop tunes, and from that time on, this was all he was interested in.’
On 5 March 1965, just two weeks before Elton was due to take his GCE A level in music, he left school to work as a messenger for Mills Music, a west end music publisher. At night he worked playing piano in the bar of the Northwood Hills Hotel in Pinner. ‘I sang and played piano there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a whole year,’ he recalls. ‘And, during that whole period, I don’t think that I ever missed a gig. I used to sing Jim Reeves songs, Cliff Richard songs, anything that was popular – and also play things like Roll Out The Barrel, cockney songs, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling . . . you had to play When Irish Eyes Are Smiling otherwise you’d get a pint of beer slung over you. Al Jolson songs were also very popular. I used to have a box which used to be passed around at the end of the evening. When I first started my residency, nobody used to go into the public bar but eventually people started to come in and, after a while, it was packed out every weekend. With the money people used to put in my box I was earning about £25 a week, which was great.’
It was from the proceeds of the Northwood Hills Hotel residency that Elton could afford to buy the electric piano that he would play in his first group The Corvettes, whom he had formed with Stu Brown, a friend of his cousin. The band named after a shaving cream played scout huts and similar gigs, but after the novelty began to wear off, they disbanded, only to reform around a year later renaming themselves Bluesology, after a record by French guitarist Django Reinhardt. Their line-up comprised of Mick Inkpen on drums, Rex Bishop on bass, Stuart Brown on guitar and vocals, and Elton on electric piano. Their initial repertoire centered on soul material. ‘We played Jimmy Witherspoon numbers like Times Are Getting Tougher Than Tough and When The Lights Go Out. Our lead singer Stuart Brown was Jimmy Witherspoon crazy, so that’s what we used to play. I can remember playing the South Harrow British Legion Hall when all these rockers rode right into the place on their motorbikes and said that if we didn’t play rock ‘n’ roll they’d smash our gear up. I was into that, because at the time all I really wanted to do was play like Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard.’
By 1965 Bluesology were playing dates in London’s clubland, and became one of a score of London based bands to be signed to the Phillips record label, and soon after this turned professional to back US R & B artists playing UK club dates. People like Patti Labelle & The Blues Belles, The Drifters, Doris Troy and Billy Stewart, and although they were lined up for Wilson Pickett’s tour, Pickett’s guitarist was not impressed with them and subsequently Pickett pulled out of the deal. It was shortly after this that they were signed up to tour with Major Lance, who later recommended the band to other R & B artists in the States. A recording session for their first single followed, and they recorded Come Back Baby at the Phillips Studios in London which was later released on the Fontana label.
Towards the end of 1966, in November, Long John Baldry had become the Bluesology front man, and expanded the group into a nine piece set, adding American guitarist Caleb Quaye, and Elton Dean on sax, plus Peter Gavin, Mark Charig and Neil Hubbard. Now they became known as “The John Baldry Show” and moved onto the cabaret circuit. ‘It’s the graveyard of musicians, I’d rather be dead than playing cabaret.’ said Elton. Disillusioned by this, he auditioned for Liberty Records, on 17 June 1967 who were establishing an independent London office, and advertised for artists and writers at Regent Studios in Denmark Street, London.
Elton sang the Jim Reeves songs I Love You Because and He’ll Have To Go. ‘I went for the appointment,’ remembers Elton. ‘I said I can’t write lyrics and I can’t sing really well, but I think I can write songs.’ Too nervous to do any of his own compositions, he failed but was given some lyrics sent to Liberty by lyricist Bernie Taupin. They began to write by correspondence, but did not meet until they had completed at least twenty songs between them. Taupin was born in Lincolnshire on 22 May 1950, who started writing scraps of poetry from an early age. He displayed a gypsy image with long hair, a single earring and tattered clothes and had spent two years travelling around England doing casual work, but finally decided that he had to do something that he enjoyed. That something was writing. He too had come across the Liberty ad in the New Musical Express although it was his mother that had encouraged him into replying. On 7 November that same year, Elton and Bernie were signed to Dick James music publishing as staff writers, and so began a creative songwriting partnership between Elton and Bernie that would go on to reflect a career of remarkable achievement…