Reginald Kenneth Dwight began playing the piano as a schoolboy to supplement his earnings as a messenger/tea boy at a London music publishing company.
At the age of 16, he was earning £1 per night for banging out bar-room favourites such as Roll Out The Barrel at the local pub, to save up enough money to buy an electric piano so that he could join the semi-pro group Bluesology.
In the early days playing with Bluesology, Dwight earned the meagre sum of £15 per week, out of which came his contribution to petrol and maintenance for their shared van.
The band backed a roster of stars including visiting US acts such as The Ink Spots and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Apparently, the band were once due to do a show with Wilson Pickett but he sought alternative musicians after hearing them rehearse!
By the end of 1966, they were Long John Baldry‘s regular backing band but disbanded less than a year later when Baldry’s bookings became increasingly cabaret-oriented. Around that time, Reg changed his name to Elton Hercules John – his inspiration coming from Bluesology’s sax player Elton Dean, and Long John himself.
Elton concentrated on writing songs with lyricist Bernie Taupin until 1969 when his first album Empty Sky failed to make an impression.
In 1970 Elton’s ballad Your Song hit #7 in the UK to give him his first hit single. It was not to be his last.
Forming The Elton John Band with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, and with the help of a massive publicity campaign, he scored a sensational success in the USA in the summer of 1970, playing in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Elton was so dedicated to his art, or so contractually bound, that he released five albums in 18 months from April 1970 (although one was a movie soundtrack and another a live effort).
He consistently hit the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with Rocket Man, Honky Cat, Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie and the Jets, Candle In The Wind and The Bitch is Back.
Elton re-signed with MCA Records in the USA in July 1974 for a five-album deal worth $8 million to the singer. At the time it was the most lucrative recording contract in rock history.
1975 was an eventful year as Elton attained US Number One’s with Philadelphia Freedom and Island Girl, and reached #4 with the recollection of a suicide attempt, Someone Saved My Life Tonight. The latter was drawn from the two-record set, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – a somewhat self-indulgent and self-important autobiography of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s past hard times.
It went to #1 in the album charts within one week of release and stayed there all summer.
An appearance as the Pinball Wizard in Ken Russel’s film version of The Who musical Tommy (1975) was followed by the release of the underrated Rock of the Westies album. A 1976 double album, Blue Moves, yielded the hit single Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.
Elton and Bernie Taupin split up in 1978. That same year, Elton was so upset when the office boy at his record company was killed in a motorbike accident that he wrote Song For Guy as a tribute. In 1979 he became the first western rock star to tour the Soviet Union, playing eight shows in Leningrad.
More and more of his time was now taken up with the chairmanship of his beloved Watford football club – not to mention his much-publicised hair transplants – and in 1984 Elton surprised everyone by marrying Renata Blauer in Australia.
A 1987 throat operation failed to dim Elton’s powers, and in that same year, the English tabloid newspaper The Sun published front-page stories claiming Elton had indulged in sex and drugs orgies with male homosexuals. Elton sued them for libel and in October the newspaper admitted the stories were false, printed an apology and paid him £1 million in damages.
Elton’s long-time bass player, Dee Murray, died on 15 January 1992 following a massive stroke in Nashville. Murray, 45, had been battling cancer for eight years. Elton commented, “I loved him dearly and will miss him”.