The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Elton John Takes Off in 1970
Few singer-songwriters have enjoyed a career as enduring as the former Reg Dwight's. Robert Greenfield caught Elton on the way up and filed this report from England. It appeared in Rolling Stone on November 12, 1970——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
LONDON — "If this is the revolution, why are the drinks so f---ing expensive," someone has written on the wall in the toilet of London's Revolution club.
Right next to that message, on the gleaming white toilet bowl itself, is a large round decal that says, "Your Elton John Dealer."
Upstairs, brocaded walls are covered with large square posters. Elton John peering forth sternly in western garb, looking like the son of a preacher man. Over his head the words, "Tumbleweed Connection".
"I'm sorry this has to be so showbizzy," Elton John's press agent explains, "but he's leaving tomorrow for six weeks in the States and we felt we just had to introduce the new album before he goes."
"Why are they only playing Elton's first album?" Snakeskin Vest asks Rings On Fingers.
"Goddamned if I know," Rings On Fingers says, reaching for some more scampi. "It's Stewart's idea."
Every last miniature honeydew melon and chicken wing in cream sauce on the table is in honour of Elton John, who today is wearing a long black shiny plastic maxicoat that just about hits the front tips of his red boots. There's a toy clown on one lapel that lights up when you pull the string. His hair is shorter than it was on his first American tour and his beard is gone. The man the Los Angeles Times called "the first big rock music star of the Seventies" is about to invade the New World again. People are grabbing at him and steering him into corners.
"Some circus, huh?" Bernie Taupin says, sitting down in a quiet corner where you can watch big-hipped record company chicks play no-bra competition games out of the corners of their eyes.
Bernie Taupin writes the words that Elton John sings. The two have worked together for three years, sharing a flat for two of those years, and whatever Elton John is about to become, Bernie Taupin is half.
Bernie's only 20. He speaks softly. "Reg is really being kept busy, isn't he?"
Elton John, born Reg Dwight some 23 years ago, in Pinner, Middlesex, England. "Reg," still the name all those close to him use. Began playing piano at the age of four. Enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in London when he was 11.
Then his mother brought home some records by Bill Haley and Elvis Presley and little Reg gave up classical forms for the aesthetics of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, how to continue playing piano while on your knees, etc.
He joined a succession of local bands and left school to work for a music publisher. At the age of 18 he began playing organ for Bluesology, a group that backed up touring soul acts like Long John Baldry.
After two years of that, Reg Dwight — Elton John — answered a record company ad in a trade paper for prospective songwriters.
"I saw that ad too," Bernie Taupin says. "It was back in '67 and I had been writing poetry. It was all psychedelic, canyons of your mind stuff. I couldn't play any instruments, and I still can't, but I can hear melodies in my head when I write. So I wrote a letter saying I needed someone to do the music for my words.