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27 Mar 2011

An Interview With Elizabeth Rosenthal: author of "His Songs: The Musical Journey of Elton John" (Part Two)

Old Rabbit you're surprised! A source of knowledge. Not you, dear, I am referring to Liz Rosenthal. I loved that part when she explains about how "Honky Cat" lifted her spirits, and how she was totally blown away by “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That". Every Eltonite has his hooked day about Elton. It's nice to see how loyal we are since then. And amazing to read Liz became an Eltonite in 1989, and within a month, she had purchased Elton’s entire back catalog. And what about her recommendation? "I always look toward the sky. It’s especially nice that, wherever you are, there are also birds, so you’re never without them!". That's totally true, I had never noticed that. Rabbit, our host is ready again, don't wait any longer, and don't lose your notes!!! We're listening...

Thanks. Well, back again with the incredible Liz Rosenthal. We are continuing our Elton Journey to his life. The blue period and the recovering. Elton as A Single Man – he not only fired Dee and Nigel, but Gus Dudgeon, too, and Davey Johnstone and Bernie left the picture. It seems Elton was lost, as you could tell from his work with a soul producer like Thom Bell, and a disco producer like Pete Bellote on Victim of Love. Do you agree? What happened to Elton?

Elton used his break from the perpetual cycle of recording regular Elton John albums and touring to do some other things he was interested in. He had always wanted to do a genuine soul album. Hence, The Thom Bell Sessions. But when you work with Thom Bell, you allow him to dictate the sound and provide most of the songs. So it was more of a Thom Bell record on which Elton sang. Elton’s decision to record a disco album while ceding complete creative control to Bellotte was a much worse decision. Not only did Elton not even play on the record, but none of the songs except for the old classic “Johnny B. Goode” were any good, and I’m being charitable. On the plus side, you could look at Victim of Love as a simple vanity project. EJ wanted his own disco album, and he got one. It’s just a shame he had to share it with the rest of us! (Elton was perfectly capable of writing and recording his own sort of disco songs, of the type exemplified by “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows.” It’s unfortunate that he didn’t do something like that instead.)

Elton had a difficult business relationship with David Geffen, who rejected songs from The Fox album sessions, requiring Elton to write more songs. Was Elton comfortable with that situation? Could these circumstances have caused him to slip in the new decade? It seems that until Too Low For Zero he couldn’t find the right creative direction. Were the 80s Elton’s worst decade, except for the Sleeping with the Past sessions? On a personal level it was so for Elton: throat surgery, marital problems, never-ending lawsuits in the High Court against Dick James and The Sun, the end of his Geffen recording contract.

I agree that the 1980s started off poorly for Elton. David Geffen was a different sort of record company executive, the kind who meddled in the recording artist’s creative process. As you may know, Elton wasn’t the only one who had that experience with Geffen. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young did, too. And certainly the 80s were filled with bad news for Elton. The benign growths on his vocal cords, which were so painful and generally ruined his singing for about a year, were finally surgically removed, and even then it was uncertain for a while how his voice would heal. Elton’s short-lived marriage to Renate Blauel was another sad circumstance, but he has attributed the marriage to confusion over how to bring stability to a life that was increasingly drug-filled, alcohol-soaked and sexually promiscuous. Things really couldn’t get better for him until he entered rehab in 1990 – and thank goodness he did, for he not only saved himself, but prevented all of us from losing such a remarkable talent.


Regarding whether the 80s were Elton’s worst decade creatively, I suppose a case could be made for that, but so much fantastic work came out of the 80s that it’s hard to be dismissive of the entire decade. I agree that the albums Too Low for Zero and Sleeping with the Past were high points, but they would have been high points in any decade. Too Low for Zero yielded a couple of Elton’s most beloved songs – “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” and “I’m Still Standing” – as well as some interesting experimentation in the title track, one of his best rockers in “Kiss the Bride,” and one of his loveliest melodies in “Saint.” Sleeping with the Past yielded a major worldwide hit in “Sacrifice,” which led to Sleeping topping the charts in many countries. The album was also one of the most thematically consistent of his career in evoking the R & B of the 50s and early 60s, and contained some of his most beautiful melodies, in songs like “Blue Avenue” and “Whispers.” Ice on Fire was also thematically consistent, with a focus on tougher R & B, while giving us one of his best ballads, “Nikita,” and a couple of his funkiest songs, “This Town” and “Satellite.” But let’s not forget about Reg Strikes Back, which is actually one of my favorite EJ albums. It’s the opposite of Sleeping in being stylistically diverse, but it showcases many of Elton’s strengths, in memorable melodies, jazz-inflected toe-tappers, soul, and even a Beach Boys tribute. “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” is one of his best uptempo songs, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters Part 2” among his most adventurous, and “A Word in Spanish” something he really needs to dust off and play in concert again.

Leather Jackets was a disaster, with (mostly) bad songs, arrangements, and production; weird lyrics from several partners including Cher; and Elton suffering from a somewhat unpleasant singing voice due to the growths on his vocal cords that he hadn’t yet addressed. And, despite Bernie Taupin’s assertions to the contrary, Breaking Hearts was more disappointing than satisfying, featuring pedestrian lyrics and pedestrian music to match, even if some of the songs were memorable, like “Sad Songs” and “Who Wears These Shoes?”.

Was it true that Elton and Rod Stewart planned to do a movie comedy in the vein of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon? Why didn’t this come to fruition? Why didn’t they tour together? And what more can we say about the relationship of “Phyllis” and “Sharon”?

Yes, in 1983, there were discussions about filming a comedy starring EJ and Rod Stewart. It was cancelled, possibly due to the fact that Rod had backed out of doing a joint tour with Elton. It’s too bad that nothing came of their ideas for a film collaboration or joint tour, but in those days, Elton was able to fall back on the comfort of the album-tour-album-tour cycle, which didn’t end until after rehab.

The friendship of “Phyllis” (Rod) and “Sharon” (Elton) has certainly been one of Elton’s most enduring relationships. They seem to thrive on “taking the piss” out of each other, as they would say. Then again, Rod can be supportive of Elton, too (and, presumably, Elton can be supportive of Rod). After The Captain and the Kid came out and sold very little, I recall hearing of Rod commenting that he felt sorry for Elton, especially since Elton had told him that this could be the hit album he hoped to have again. (Meanwhile, Rod had been recording album after album of tin pan alley covers with Clive Davis at the helm, racking up some pretty healthy sales without much creative effort.)

Other things Elton hoped to do never happened: working with Tina Turner on a duet, recording sessions with Cher, a song for a James Bond movie, a musical about Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, a song with Billy Joel. What other non-released EJ projects do you know of?

In 2003, Elton had plans to make a country album involving a number of other country artists, but the project fell apart. One product of the aborted sessions was “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave,” which later appeared on Peachtree Road. Also, there should be a few extra Gnomeo and Juliet songs laying around – not just by EJ and BT, but EJ and Tim Rice, as Rice was the original lyricist for this project many moons ago.

Then there are all the songs from the failed EJ/BT Broadway musical Lestat, which I will discuss later.

By the way, did you know that Cher’s lyrics to “Don’t Trust That Woman,” which Elton put to music for Leather Jackets, were also put to music by Les Dudek, Cher’s one-time boyfriend, a guitarist who has played with the Allman Brothers and other acts? Well, it’s true. You can find it on Dudek’s Gypsy Ride album. And his version of the song is a lot better than Elton’s! (Even so, Cher’s lyrics are horrendous – “You can beat her but don’t mistreat her/…Don’t trust that woman boys/’Cause she’ll hurt you/And turn you into little toys.”)

Loads of demos and other unreleased recordings sit quietly in the vaults.

Precisely, apart from the music charts, I love the outtakes. Songs like “No Valentines,” “Sugar On The Floor,” “Into The Old Man’s Shoes,” “Here Comes Miss Hurt Again” and “Surviving Crash and Burn” are good enough to be on an album. I am not asking Elton to do a B-sides tour, but what could they do with all this material? And do you know of other remarkable outtakes?

You are correct that EJ outtakes abound and deserve attention. There is no way to list them all here. Someday, they could be featured on a deluxe box set, but that really depends on whether Elton would want that (and he might not). Then again, a number of outtakes have appeared in the last few years on the reissued, deluxe versions of the Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection albums, and many of the B-sides and other left-overs have appeared on reissued versions of most of his other albums, up through The One.

Following are some of my favorite outtakes:

•“Rock Me When He’s Gone”: A thumping piano rocker that Elton gave to Long John Baldry for the latter’s 1971 album, It Ain’t Easy.

•“Basque”: An early 80s piano instrumental officially recorded and released only by flutist James Galway on his 1991 CD, Wind Beneath My Wings.

•“Dreamboat”: One of oodles of outtakes from A Single Man. It’s got a debonair, big band sensibility. I would have loved this song as a 14-year-old when all I listened to was big band music!

•“Earn While You Learn”: Infectious, contemporary, instrumental jazz, also from the A Single Man sessions, which features Elton’s playing on a variety of keyboards.

•“Billy and the Kids”: A spunky, extremely catchy, midtempo tune which should never have been just a Leather Jackets B-side!

•“The Rumour”: Elton and Bernie wrote this number for Olivia Newton-John. It appeared on her 1988 album of the same name. You can hear EJ’s powerful backing vocals and rhythmic piano playing on the recording.

•“Did Anybody Sleep with Joan of Arc?”: An arresting, moody number from the Songs from the West Coast sessions.

•“A Little Peace”: My favorite outtake of all time! This one’s from the Peachtree Road sessions. I would never have left this rollicking R & B number off the album! If necessary, I would have (grudgingly) dropped “Too Many Tears” or “I Can’t Keep This From You,” although I don’t know why EJ couldn’t have added just one more song to the official track list.

In the 1990s, at least during the first half, Elton is again in good form. The One, The Lion King, and Made In England were successful and critically acclaimed. But “Candle In The Wind 97” marked a turning point in Elton’s career. On the one hand, it gave him the bestselling single in history, but on the other, did it cause people to tire of Elton? Or did the single help his career? Was Songs from the West Coast, in 2001, the last chance for Elton to achieve both a masterpiece and worldwide success?

I wouldn’t ignore The Big Picture (1997), even though Elton has at least twice publicly denigrated it without explaining why. True, the drum machines and synths should have been left off, but Elton’s melody-making was in full force with songs like the title track, “I Can’t Steer My Heart Clear of You,” and the bopping, midtempo tune, “Recover Your Soul,” not to mention an exciting rocker, “If the River Can Bend.” The Big Picture’s release also marked a new height in Elton’s vocal development.

I also wouldn’t ignore Duets [1993]. I love it when Elton records with other artists. You hear him sing songs he might never sing otherwise.

Anyway, I do think that “Candle ‘97” helped his career enormously. That, plus his live performance of the rewritten “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Di’s almost universally-watched funeral brought him to a gigantic, new audience across the world. He became a bigger star than ever before. That was a good thing.

Songs from the West Coast did do well with the critics and was fairly successful commercially, but it marked the start of a decline not only in Elton’s record sales, but record sales in general. It doesn’t help that he isn’t getting any younger. You know how the music biz is – always in search of the next potential idol, who must be youthful, and definitely not over 50. Elton also received fairly consistent plaudits from music critics for Peachtree Road (2004) and The Captain and the Kid (2006), though they sold little. But at least they are part of his oeuvre and can be rediscovered at any time. As for Elton’s collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union (2010), not only was it widely embraced by critics, but it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard LPs chart, his best U.S. chart performance since 1976! That is nothing to complain about. At least here in the U.S., The Union has received huge acclaim and brought in classic rock enthusiasts and old Leon Russell fans that had lost track of Elton and/or Leon a long time ago. It’s important to gain the attention of the people who make up your natural constituency.

And what about Elton’s musicals – The Lion King, Aida, Billy Elliot, and Lestat? What do you think about the songs? And do you like the new songs on the Gnomeo And Juliet movie soundtrack?

I know that some fans have complained that Elton should just stick to making regular albums, but I’m thrilled that he has branched out into other media. Not only do musicals afford him a new challenge, but they introduce him to yet another audience that may not be all that aware of him. Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, which ran on Broadway from 2000 to 2004, and spawned traveling companies as well as countless American high school productions, probably contains my favorite collection of EJ’s theatrical songs. There is something so emotionally compelling about every number (except for “My Strongest Suit,” which is just fun) that you don’t care how miserable you feel listening to these songs. You have to keep on listening, anyway. It’s unfortunate that Lestat (2006) lasted on Broadway for only about 38 shows, not counting the previews, but it had two main problems. One was the watered-down book derived from Anne Rice’s vampire novels. In fact, the dialog, and most of the staging, was rather bloodless, and I’m not just saying that because it was about vampires. The second problem could be found in Taupin’s lyrics, which were mostly way, way overstuffed with information, especially during the first act. Musically, Elton met the challenge of both the subject matter and Bernie’s wordy lyrics and came up with some of the bleakest but most gorgeous, classically-influenced songs of his career. “Make Me As You Are,” in particular, is stunning. But, despite the fact that Lestat was about the undead, the musical only really came to life in the second act, when the universe of the main character, the French vampire Lestat, expanded to include New Orleans, and a new companion, Louis. Here, Bernie’s words were more economical. The portentous gospel of “Welcome to the New World,” which greeted Lestat upon his arrival, and “I Want More,” the humorous anthem of blood gluttony by Louis and Lestat’s cohort, child vampire Claudia, were special highlights that received the best audience response.

The Billy Elliot: The Musical songs are very stylistically diverse, and include everything from hymns to labor anthems to music hall to rock to classic Elton John balladry. Of course, Billy Elliot has been a crowd-pleaser for years in London, New York, and Sydney, and is opening in more cities all the time. It seems to encompass the perfect combination of a story offering humor and pathos, exhilarating dance numbers, ridiculously talented kids, versatile adult actors, and the right music for every scene. My one wish would be for the boys who play Billy and Michael to receive more vocal training to bring out the best in songs like “Electricity” and “Expressing Yourself.” However, I understand that the reason for the boys’ merely workmanlike vocals is that Elton wanted them (and many of the other characters) to sound “real,” to match the grit of their northeastern England mining town. Still, given all the other talent on display by everyone in Billy Elliot, they might as well have asked the audience to suspend disbelief to allow the kids great voices, too.

You didn’t mention The Road to El Dorado (2000), the Dreamworks animated musical that flopped. It didn’t flop because of the music. Here, too, some of EJ’s best melodies, set to Tim Rice’s clever lyrics, have gone unnoticed. One hopes they will surface again in another format at some point.

I understand that Elton is already at work with Lee Hall, who wrote the book and lyrics for Billy Elliot, on a musical adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, and can’t wait to see it!

Of the two new John-Taupin songs on the Gnomeo and Juliet soundtrack, I am most impressed with “Love Builds a Garden,” another classically-tinged ballad that seems like a cousin to “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” from the Captain Fantastic album.

Elton and David Furnish surprised the whole world when they became parents of a child named Zachary Jackson Levon. Few people knew about this ahead of time. It was highly surprising to hear Elton change his in-concert explanation of the meaning behind “The Greatest Discovery.” Before, he always explained that the song was about the birth of Bernie’s youngest brother, but now he said, “This is a beautiful song about the birth of a young child,” and nobody realized he was talking about his child. Furnish explained that they “want to be active parents.” Does that mean the end of Elton’s never-ending tours?

What a surprise it was to learn of Elton and David’s parenthood! Elton as Daddy – from our perspective as bystanders – is yet another dimension of his humanity that we will have to get accustomed to. And as EJ and David are the most famous openly gay male couple in the world, they are also trailblazers in the fight against anti-gay bigotry, for which they must be saluted. (By the way, Zachary is the spittin’ image of the former Reg Dwight!)

But will Elton ever retire? No. He even declared that he would never retire in one of the many interviews he’s given lately. And I believe him.

Hope so! Elton has touched pop, country, rock, folk, ballads, blues, disco. Looking back on Elton’s catalogue, which of his songs are arguably the greatest he has ever written? And the worst? Finally, could you tell me your five favourite EJ songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, in which I try to discover the best Elton songs ever?

EJ has also tackled R & B, gospel, jazz, and classical. I have a very hard time ranking Elton’s songs and generally don’t like to come up with lists of favorites. But I’ll give it a try. As I write this (meaning that, at some other time, I might feel differently), I think that Elton’s “greatest” are:

“Rocket Man”/“Your Song”/“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/”Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/”Tiny Dancer”/”Candle in the Wind”/”Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”/”Harmony”/”Funeral for a Friend-Love Lies Bleeding”/”Daniel”/”A Woman’s Needs”/“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/“Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”/“I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues”/“Empty Garden”/”Blue Eyes”/“The One”/”Philadelphia Freedom”/“Recover Your Soul”/“This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore”/”I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That”/”A Word in Spanish”/”Live Like Horses”/”Nikita”/”Blessed”/”Freaks in Love”/”All That I’m Allowed”/”Electricity”/“The Bridge”/“You’re Never Too Old”/“Mandalay Again”/”The Panic in Me”/”Blues Never Fade Away”/”Take Me to the Pilot”/”American Triangle”

At the moment, his “worst” are:

“Wednesday Night-Yell Help-Ugly”/”Billy Bones and the White Bird”/“Street Kids”/“Dear God”/“Memory of Love”/“You’re So Static”/“Slow Down Georgie”/”Don’t Trust That Woman”

My 5 “favorites” for now:

1)“Bennie and the Jets”
2)“Hey Ahab”
3)“Honky Cat”
4)“And the House Fell Down”
5)”Give Me the Love”

Thanks. What kind of place do you see for Elton John in the history of rock music?

A very high place! He is now regarded as a giant in music, among the top rock stars ever, after quite a long time of being disregarded. I hope that, eventually, he will be viewed as the greatest melodist of the rock era, the greatest piano player of the rock era, and the greatest all-around singer of contemporary songs. We’ll see!

Apart from music, what are your other interests? What do you like to do with your off time?

I like to watch and learn about birds, read about Abraham Lincoln, and talk politics and history with my husband.

Do you want to add any observations or suggestions, or is there something you want to say to other Eltonites?

Notice, appreciate, and care about your natural surroundings; keep enjoying Elton; and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Thanks so much Liz for sharin' your time with us. It was my pleasure to listen one of the most rellevant voices on Elton and I am sure eltonites loved it.

To Be Continued

26 Mar 2011

An Interview With Elizabeth Rosenthal: author of "His Songs: The Musical Journey of Elton John" (Part One)

Hello Eltonites. I've been behind this interview since a long time ago. I thought about dedicating The Weekend Of... to her maybe one year ago, more or less. She's one of the most fantastic persons I've ever met. If she taught me what I needed about Elton when I bought her book, the preparing of the interview made me "discover" Peterson and the most incredible world of "Birdwatchers". That's really interesting, believe me. Bernie's "Birds" lyrics come to mind time after time: "These words can't explain what I feel inside". Old Rabbit get ready! Ladies and gentlemen, get up and stand up to receive one of the bests eltonites out there: Elizabeth J. Rosenthal!!!!

Welcome Liz, so happy to have you here, thanks so much for the acceptation.

Thanks to Miquel for a great opportunity to chat about Elton!

It’s really an honour to have you here. What are your most beautiful memories of your childhood? How was it growing up in Manhattan?

Although I was born in Manhattan, I grew up in the Bronx (one of the other New York City boros) and Rockland County, a suburb of the city. The Bronx was full of bricks and concrete – an ugly place. But it was home! And we could go everywhere by subway. It was the 1960s, and the golden era of American TV. Every week, I enjoyed some of the best TV ever – The Jackie Gleason Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and Star Trek (the original, with William Shatner). In Rockland County, we were far from shopping and movies, but it was safe, quiet, and picturesque.

You have said, “During most of middle school and high school, I refused to listen to contemporary music, limiting myself to the big band tunes of my parents’ generation.” Why was that so?

I was a weird kid! Also, most young people have a difficult time adjusting to adolescence. I responded by escaping into the popular music of a different generation.

Hahahaha Do you remember the first time you heard Elton’s music? What made you become an Elton fan?

I first heard Elton’s music in early 1974 when I was about 13, in Chorus – a class in which we learned to perform songs as a group. Anyway, one day, before the class started, the radio was on, playing “Crocodile Rock.” Kids had a great time singing along to it. I wasn’t interested. Then, the next year, in high school, my English teacher asked us to bring in lyrics to popular songs – and recordings of the songs – so that we could analyze the lyrics. A classmate copied the lyrics to “Philadelphia Freedom” onto a sheet of paper and brought that in plus the record so we could listen. Again, I was not impressed! All through high school (1974-78), one wall of our social studies classroom was decorated with a giant Elton John poster. But it wasn’t until later on in high school that I began listening to rock (after years of listening to big band music). By then, Elton had come out with his bisexual statement. His current single, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” was appealing, but didn’t dominate like his earlier hits. Other people had risen to the top. My favorite singer became Barry Manilow. However, by the time I was in college, at Syracuse University, I had acquired a copy of Elton’s first volume of greatest hits – a magical record for the casual fan! It was one of my favorite albums. I recall hearing the infectious “Honky Cat” blaring from someone’s dormitory window on a spring afternoon. This lifted my spirits, as it would do for anybody. Ironically, I had a friend at Syracuse, also named Liz, who was a huge Elton fanatic. She showed me Elton’s latest album, A Single Man, and played some of it for me. I remember thinking that he looked strange without glasses. I remarked that Elton sounded different. “No, he doesn’t!” Liz exclaimed, defensively. (But he did – his voice was deeper!)

In ensuing years (early to mid-1980s), I mainly concentrated on the rock stars who were most popular at the time. Elton wasn’t one of them. I did like “Little Jeannie,” “Kiss the Bride,” and “Who Wears These Shoes?” but didn’t feel particularly motivated to buy any of his new records. Finally, in 1988, I was totally blown away by “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That.” It probably helped that the song was on the radio all the time. And I loved the video, in which Elton looked like a cool cat with his fedora hat, smart suit, and mode of playing his Roland piano while standing, spread-legged. “What a great piano player!” I thought. I resolved to see Elton in concert as soon as possible. My wish was fulfilled when he came to Philadelphia (near where I now lived in New Jersey) on September 30, 1989 for two shows. My husband and I attended the first one. I was hugely impressed - again – by Elton’s piano playing, so versatile and aggressive, and found his singing even better than I’d expected. That was it. I was hooked! Within a month, I had purchased Elton’s entire back catalog, including his latest, Sleeping with the Past.

You have one of the largest collections of Elton memorabilia. Which of your Elton items do you appreciate the most, either for being hard to find, or for the pleasure from owning it?

That’s a good question! I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite pieces of Elton memorabilia tend to be magazines and newspapers featuring him on the cover (with content inside, of course). Collectively, they offer a chronicle of his entire career. And the earliest ones, from 1970-71, are exciting to have because they reflect the excitement of Elton’s rise to the top of the music industry.

I really enjoy old press photos, from UPI, the Press Association, Agence France Press, and other agencies, which do a great job of chronicling his career visually. I have an original print from a photographer who was at the Troubadour in August 1970, too, which may be my favorite picture.

Great!!! What is Elton like personally? Which people related to Elton have you met?

Elton is wonderful to meet, whether on the street, or backstage. I met him twice, once as an anonymous fan, and once as myself, the author of His Song. As anonymous fans, my friend and I were lucky enough to run into Elton in Atlanta in late 2000 when a collection of his photography was being exhibited at the High Museum of Art. Since we had gone to the exhibit, he asked us what we thought of it! We just mumbled self-consciously that we had really enjoyed it.

My second meeting was backstage at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Elton was very welcoming, affectionate, and ready with a quick quip. I was petrified, but only because of who he was. He could not have been friendlier. And he made a joke at his own expense. After Bob Halley had taken a couple of photos of Elton and me together, Elton remarked to my husband, who was standing nearby clutching my handbag, “You shouldn’t be holding that [handbag] – I should be probably! Ha-ha!” He invited Stan to be part of the third photo. I’m not sure who was holding my handbag at that point!

I’ve met members of the band – Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson, Bob Birch, and Guy Babylon, plus Gus Dudgeon – at Elton Expos I attended in 1994, 1996, and 2000. Davey impressed me the most, as a truly regular guy who happens to have amazing guitar skills. In 2000, he graciously treated us fans to a guitar-only concert of EJ hits in which various brave souls would take turns at the mike to try singing along.

While I have not met Elton’s Mum, I did hear an interesting story about her from a manager of the Elton John Store at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. As you may know, His Song was the only EJ biography sold at the Elton John Store. When I was in town for the Red Piano shows, I autographed all the copies of my book in the store. Apparently, Elton’s Mum was shopping in the store not that long afterward and purchased a copy of His Song that I had inscribed: “To one EJ fan from another.”

Fantastic!!! Well, His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John (Billboard Books, 2001) is the best reference book ever published, a perfect chronicle of Elton’s life and music, with reviews of his albums, performances, songs, everything. I highly recommend it. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Thanks for the kind words about His Song! I decided to write it when I couldn’t find any biographies of Elton out there that concentrated on his music – on record and in live performance. Since I have a background in journalism, and love to write, it seemed like the project for me to undertake!

His Song was your first book. Your second is a well-researched bio of one of the most interesting and famed ornithologists, Roger Tory Peterson, who died in 1996. Peterson changed the way people thought about birds and wildlife in general. Why did you decide to write this book and what impressed you the most about him?

Thanks for asking about my current book, Birdwatcher: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson (Lyons Press, 2008). It’s now out in paperback. I decided to do research about Peterson in 2005, after several years of watching birds myself. For some reason, I began to notice birds around 2001-2002 and became an avid reader of books about birds, a participant in field trips to look for birds, and a feeder of birds in my backyard! Noticing and admiring birds - of which there are nearly 10,000 species globally – really opened up a whole new world for me. Before, I had my nose to the concrete. Now, I always look toward the sky. It’s especially nice that, wherever you are, there are also birds, so you’re never without them! Anyway, my first field guide to birds was a Peterson guide. As you know, Peterson was an artist, writer, amateur scientist, and adventurer. He invented the field guide to birds in 1934. His various field guides to birds and wildflowers, and his editorship of a whole line of other Peterson guides to all forms of wildlife, revolutionized people’s appreciation of birds and nature around the world. The guides helped kick-start modern environmentalism. Peterson was at the center of conservation issues from the time he was in his 20s – helping to spur the growth of the National Audubon Society, co-founding the World Wildlife Fund, and bringing attention to such diverse wild places as the Galapagos, the Coto Donana in Spain, Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and the Antarctic. He was at the center of the pesticide controversy of the 1950s and 1960s and urged environmental activism wherever he went. For decades, then, he was the birdwatching, nature, and conservation guru for people on every continent, and he influenced and inspired a generation of field guide authors and bird artists.

As of 2005, there hadn’t been a biography of Roger Tory Peterson since 1977, when he was still alive, and that one was badly written and rather one-dimensional. So I consulted archives at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, and the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, reviewed people’s personal papers, and interviewed 116 of Peterson’s friends, family members, colleagues and protégés from all over the world, to write a comprehensive life story of this multi-faceted man. People can find out more about Birdwatcher by going to

“And everywhere I look there's something to learn .... How come birds don't fall from the sky when they die? How come birds always look for a quiet place to hide?” For sure you know I am talkin’ about Bernie’s lyrics. Bernie’s love for nature is well-known. He’s a “Brown Dirt Cowboy,” the “country comfort’s in his bones.” His “Skyline Pigeon” is an imprisoned bird searching for open skies. And his “High Flying Bird” has flown out of his arms. Could he be a perfect birdwatcher?

Bernie Taupin clearly appreciates birds. There have been many, many references to birds in his lyrics over the decades: “Bad Side of the Moon” (hummingbirds), “Love Lies Bleeding” (bluebird), “Come Down in Time” (nightjars), “The Best Part of the Day” (mourning doves), “Philadelphia Freedom” (whippoorwill). I could go on and on. Taupin grew up in Lincolnshire, England, on a farm, and now lives on a ranch in southern California. He’s the “country mouse” to Elton’s “city mouse.” So it makes sense that Bernie would notice birds. I saw a recent photo of him sporting a tattoo of what looked like a falcon on one of his arms!

What do you think of Bernie as a lyricist? Which of his lyrics are perfect? And why were his lyrics misinterpreted in the early days? Old Jack Rabbit is Spanish and when he learned the English language, the first thing he did was translate Bernie’s lyrics. What surprised him most was to find that Bernie’s love songs don’t only say, “I love you, you love me.”

Bernie’s lyrics were likely misinterpreted in the early days because they were so cryptic. What in the world is “Madman Across the Water” about? Or “Border Song”? “Take Me to the Pilot”? Even “Levon” is mysterious. There are reasons that Taupin wrote the way he did, emulating his own favorite lyricists, evoking a mood or a scene from a novel he was reading, or choosing from phrases that he had earlier filed away for later use. So he left fans speculating on what the songs were about. His writing tended to be much more straightforward by the 1980s, often to the detriment of John-Taupin song quality. Bernie is at his best when he writes about life or whatever is on his mind, rather than something merely radio-ready. Unfortunately, the lyrics really sink an album like Breaking Hearts. “Slow Down Georgie” (“You’re just a steppin’ stone to someone else’) and “’Lil’ Refrigerator” (“Get away from my soul/Llil’ ‘frigerator, you’re so cold!”) feature some of the most pedestrian lines that Taupin has ever penned. Basically, Bernie went from writing lyrics that didn’t make sense to lyrics that made too much sense! What could Elton do with them but write pedestrian tunes to fit? Then again, maybe Elton could have shelved those lyrics and asked for something different. But he didn’t.

Taupin’s best lyrics? Among my favorites are “Nikita” (“I saw you by the wall/Ten of your tin soldiers in a row/With eyes that looked like ice on fire/The human heart a captive in the snow”) and “Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream,” which features perhaps Bernie’s best lines ever. “Carrie, don’t wait up for me/The brakeman’s going west/In this room all alone I dream of you/In this drawer I found someone I never knew/So I pop a top and stay up late with Gideon/And fall asleep to visions of Meridian.” They tell you an enormous amount about the song’s protagonist, the Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers. As a brakeman on the railroad, he’s away from his wife, staying at night in lonely motels along the route, occupying himself by quenching his thirst with beer and reading the house tome, the Bible, which nevertheless doesn’t alleviate his homesickness. Wow.

When Bernie is at his best, you can actually read his lyrics for enjoyment, without the music. I hope that he someday revisits the idea of a compilation of all of his lyrics in book form, and that this time he not permit its publication until he proofreads the contents. Back in the 1990s, a gorgeous book of his lyrics came out, called The Complete Lyrics, and fans snapped it up, only to find loads of typos and errors, and the lyrics weren’t even “complete”!

“After years that were long and lean / We're finally on our way,” Bernie wrote in “Postcards From Richard Nixon.” Elton and Bernie didn’t have an easy start in music, experiencing frustration and depression along the way. Did Dick James have faith in Elton from the beginning? I read that Elton recorded his songs because no one else did. Who was the most important person in Elton’s early career? Dick James? Gus Dudgeon? Steve Brown? Russ Regan? “Richard Nixon overseas”?

Without the support of Dick James, Elton wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. James, who published the Beatles’ catalog, was the first music publisher and record company executive to take a chance on the John-Taupin songwriting team and on Elton as a recording artist. James supported Elton and Bernie through three years of obscurity until they got their musical bearings, pushing Elton to take his trio, which included Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray, to the United States for a major opportunity at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. The rest is history.

Of course, Gus Dudgeon produced the album, Elton John (and all of Elton’s subsequent releases, through 1976), that caught Russ Regan’s ears in California, but the main strength of the album was in the songs, and the reason that Elton became a star was because of his tremendous ability as a live performer.

The fall 1972 tour solidified Elton’s reputation as a flamboyant act. He explained, “90% of my act is music, but the 10% theatrics is fun.” His 70s concerts were a fan phenomenon, with girls screamin’ for Elton, although he was not physically a Mick Jagger or a David Bowie. Did the costumes detract from the music, or help get him attention? How has Elton kept his fans over the years?

A lot of rock snobs were extremely turned off by Elton’s wild and whacky costumes, and by his onstage antics. They preferred the less flamboyant Elton of 1970-71, and claimed that he didn’t take his music seriously, while he retorted that he certainly did take it seriously but was having fun, too. The costumes may have made his entire persona more accessible to his teenage fans, who responded very positively to the concert spectacle he created. On the other hand, you couldn’t see his costumes on the radio, and Elton’s songs, a perfect marriage of catchiness and intelligent originality, were all over the radio. I’m glad he stopped wearing the costumes. He’s proved that his vibrant presence and musicianship are enough to keep packing ‘em in, year after year, decade after decade.

In the 70s no one could go out without hearing Elton’s music. John Lennon told him: “When you die, I will have to throw my radio out the window,” because then EJ’s music would be played even more frequently. Bryan Forbes described Elton as the legend he had always wanted to become. Let’s talk about his then manager, John Reid, the fabulous “Beryl.” How do we value the importance of John Reid to Elton’s career? What was Reid’s relationship with Bernie and Dick James?

John Reid’s business acumen got Elton the record-breaking North American record deal that he signed in 1974. In general, Reid’s talents as manager were vital to Elton’s accumulation of great wealth. Reid also shielded Elton from the seamier side of the music business, and the hangers-on and wannabes. Dick James lost Elton as a management client to Reid, who eventually concluded that James had not been entirely honest in his contractual relationship with John and Taupin, leading to a lawsuit against James that was traumatic for all involved. Ironically, about 13 years ago, Elton faced a similar situation with John Reid himself, which led to Reid’s dismissal and Elton establishing his own management company.

Shown on the picture sleeve of the “Philadelphia Freedom” single, Elton’s former, classic band included bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson, guitarist Davey Johnstone and percussionist Ray Cooper. How important were they to Elton’s success? Were they the perfect band? It’s strange to see Elton calling them “The Elton John Band,” with even the single being credited that way, and then, months later, firing Dee and Nigel. Was that a bad decision? Also, is it true that Davey, Dee and Nigel recorded as a trio for Rocket Records but the work never saw the light of day?

Many people consider the Johnstone/Olsson/Murray combination Elton’s best band and the one most responsible for the classic Elton John “sound.” In particular, their backing vocals sounded unlike anything else out there and gave Elton’s 1972-75 recordings a certain wistful sheen that, combined with Elton’s liberal use of falsetto in those years, made for an unmistakable aural experience. Nigel’s drumming style was distinctive in providing some very interesting emotional accents to the songs. Elton once observed that he gets choked up when he hears Nigel’s climactic but restrained use of drums and cymbal on the recording of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Even so, Elton was entitled to change bands if he wanted to pursue a different musical direction, which is what he did after they recorded Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. But Elton himself would agree that he handled the firing of Nigel and Dee very badly. I don’t know of a recording featuring the trio of Johnstone, Olsson, and Murray, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

The new band of Rock of the Westies and Blue Moves may have been Elton’s most accomplished one, however. Roger Pope was a better technical drummer than Nigel. The combination of all the new musicians – Pope, Caleb Quaye (guitars), Kenny Passarelli (bass), and James Newton Howard (keyboards) – plus hold-overs Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper, produced a funkier, looser sound. Unfortunately, Elton reacted to their combined prowess by neglecting his piano playing.

I love the band Elton has now, with Davey Johnstone on guitars, Bob Birch on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums, John Mahon on percussion, and Kim Bullard on keyboards (replacing the late, great Guy Babylon). In a way, the current members give Elton the best of both worlds: excellent musicianship plus the fairly unadorned live sound that his original band provided. And Elton’s piano playing gets better and better, which is incredible considering the heights he has already reached.

In “Bitter Fingers,” Bernie perfectly described the stress and the pressure of writing songs: “So much to prove, so few to tell you why.” Recording albums in just a few days, promotin’ the albums, goin’ on tour, et cetera, seemed like so much to do in so little time. That’s a pity, because in that period Elton & Bernie penned their best albums, and the albums could have lasted longer in the public mind than they did. Songs like “Harmony” and “High Flying Bird” could have been released as singles and led to more chart success, maybe helping to turn Grammy nominations into Grammy Awards. How do you analyze the end of Elton’s golden career?

As Elton has pointed out, he was contracted to record two albums a year for most of the 1970s, which is the reason for the great volume of work. But he also loved writing new songs and had the tremendous energy necessary to put out as much superb material as he did. I’m glad the John-Taupin partnership was as prolific as it was. Who would want to be deprived of those songs? Given these circumstances, it would have been impossible for any one EJ album to be wrung dry through the endless release of singles as the record companies did with Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson in the late 70s and early 80s. And why do that, anyway? The less familiar songs are all the more precious precisely because they haven’t been pummeled to death on the radio. Having said that, it is a terrible shame that so many early songs, like “Harmony,” haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. But the same can be said of songs from any period of Elton’s career. The modernistic jazz of “Too Low for Zero” could use an airing, as could the bluesy “Fascist Faces,” the funk of “Satellite” and the beauty of “Blue Avenue.” And those are just a few examples from the 1980s, Elton’s supposed lost decade. Meanwhile, his entire output of the last 10 or 11 years remains virtually unknown to the general public, which is an even greater tragedy, as they feature songwriting that most definitely rivals that of his 1970s oeuvre – and maybe surpasses it.

I don’t think that more hit singles would have translated into Grammys for Elton, given how the Grammys worked in the 1970s (they were essentially anti-British).

How was the songwriting process affected by Elton telling Bernie how and what to write? I am referring to “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” whose titles were both suggested by Elton. Gary Osborne, Elton’s next lyricist, started with a title and a few words provided by Elton, as well as the melody coming first, which was the opposite of how Elton and Bernie’s creative process normally worked.

The title “Philadelphia Freedom” gave Bernie a lot of leeway. He didn’t have to write about Billie Jean King’s Philadelphia Freedom tennis team, and, in fact, he didn’t. He turned it into what seemed to be a patriotic American anthem and Elton, who did not have lyric input here, gave the words a quintessentially American feel, by paying tribute to the smoothly soulful, string-laden Philadelphia sound. The compatibility of music and lyrics here may be among the most perfect in the John-Taupin catalog, even if “Philadelphia Freedom” wasn’t reminiscent of tennis in the least.

Elton came up with the titles and a large quantity of the words in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and instructed Bernie to convert the nascent song into a duet. The result may have been somewhat saccharine, but it was flavorful saccharine. Then again, one John-Taupin song that is pretty hard to beat in quality is “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” and, there, too, Elton started out with a melody and a bunch of words before turning it over to Bernie to finish the lyrics. Also, this was the way Elton regularly worked with Gary Osborne, and some good stuff came out of it – for example, “Little Jeannie,” “Chloe,” “Blue Eyes.”

To Be Continued

25 Mar 2011

"And away we go!", Liz Rosenthal

"I discovered Elton John in 1989. Over a decade after his commercial heyday. But better late than never. Besides, there was lots of music of his to discover. To this day, I keep discovering it." Elizabeth J. Rosenthal's passion for Elton is well-known. More than 70s concerts on her shoulders: "I act like a 13-year-old, climbing over seats to reach the stage at the appointed time". But more than this, she has knowledge enough to talk about Elton. The excitement of sitting down and reading about your favorite performer it's hard to explain, you have to be a fan to tell, and no one could write a biography book about him as she did. The book we're referring, her first book, "His Song: the Musical Journey of Elton John", was published in fall 2001 by Billboard Books, an imprint of Watson-Guptill Publications.

That's a very enjoyable and extremely informative book, a must have for dedicated Elton John fans who expected more than Elton's always explained highlights of his life. Focused on Elton's music, we could find everything about concerts, albums, songs, projects, ... but without refusing Elton's personal life: his “coming out” as a bisexual man and, finally, as a gay man or his problems with drugs, alcohol, bulimia, and sexual addictions. It's not casual that "His Song" is the only John biography to be sold in the Elton John Store at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Also, to date, it is the first Elton John biography to be sold in Russia. It's a book to be read twice or third times.

Today, on Elton's Birthday, I thought about dedicating "The Weekend Of..." sessions to Liz Rosenthal as my particular homage to her, and she kindly agree to do an interview with Jack Rabbit. And we found a very extraordinary person. Enrichment talk, always the right words, always discovering something new about Elton. The interview is promising. There will be two parts of the interview, posting on different dates. But, what else we should know about our special guest?

After graduating magna cum laude with a journalism degree from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1982, Liz Rosenthal attended Rutgers-Camden School of Law, from which she graduated With Honors in 1985. Subsequently, she was admitted to the bars of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For the past 20 years, Rosenthal has been a civil servant, writing regulations for New Jersey state government, testifying before the state legislature about pending legislation affecting the civil service system, and serving as liaison to the State Attorney General's Office.

In 2002, Liz became bewitched by birds, since then reading everything about them that she could get her hands on and going on field trips, with New Jersey Audubon and other groups, whenever is possible. "My separate passions for Elton John’s music and for wild birds have led to, respectively, a published biography of Elton John and a published biography of Roger Tory Peterson, the latter, for those who don’t know, being the man without whom birdwatching would have been impossible", she explained. In the "Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson", she explores the life of an icon of ornithology, the man who taught Americans the joy of watching birds and who invented the modern field guide. This is the story of a man who loved nature above all, a collection of fascinating stories told by many of the people whose lives were enriched by his passion for birds. The great thing is that you don't have to be a birdwatcher to enjoy this book, you just need to be interested and love nature. The book has received excellent reviews in the New York Review of Books, Birder's World, and Bird Watcher's Digest, as well as in such newspapers as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and been well-received by various natural history bloggers and birding club newsletters across the U.S.

Finally, Liz is married with Stan, they live in Burlington, New Jersey. Oh, and a favourite quotation, Liz?

"Another old prophet,
perched upon a fence

Ladies and gentlemen, the open doors of AllSongsList are all wide open to receive one of us, one of us eltonites, but one of the bests: Ms. Liz Rosenthal!!!! for more information about the book

21 Mar 2011


We could find Dwight’s surfaces in Buckinghamshore. The Dwight family was comprised mainly of artisans and labourers. William Dwight, Elton’s great-grandfather was a shoe maker, of Waterside, Chesham. He married Janet Palmer and had one child: Edwin. The surname Dwight is a derivation of DeWitt, which originally comes from the Flemish for white or blond. Therefore, it is likely that some of Elton's earliest ancestors came from the Low Countries, and had blond or fair hair. Previously, this lineage was rooted in the land: William's father James was an agricultural labourer, living and working in Ashley Green, a hamlet in Chesham, throughout the mid-19th century.

Edwin, Elton’s grandfather, was a cable factory worker, who moved to join the cable firm of Callander in Belvedere, Kent. The firm had a name for music boasting a brass band that won many a silver cup and rosette in interfactory competitions. Edwin played soprano cornet in the company’s band. The company also offered good facilities for sport, specially football. Edwin married Ellen Shirley. The Shirley family were also agricultural labourers in the same area, although Ellen's father, George, spent some time making chairs in the 1870s and 1880s before returning to the land by 1891. Edwin and Ellen Dwight had six children: five sons and a daughter. The youngest son, born in 1925, was Elton’s father Stanley. One son, Tod, fell mortally ill with tuberculosis at the age of thirty-four. Two of his sons, Roy and Dave, increased Dwight’s family and regarded Stanley as an elder brother. Stanley, as the rest of the family, was keen at football, and realized that young Roy seemed a better than ordinary player; he’d finally played in the First Division with The Nottingham Forest. Edwin taught his son Stanley to play trumpet. Stanley performed with several local amateur swing bands and grew proficient enough to be asked to sit with classy professional outfits like the Lou Praeger Orchestra.

After leaving grammar school, Stanley had gone to work for a boatbuilding firm named Walkers, in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire and became personal assistant of the owner. The Second World War saw Stanley, at only 17, joinin’ up for the Royal Air Force Naval Reserve. Within only months he was selected for officier-training to fly on bombing missions. He also formed his own band in the service under the name of “Star Wight”. One night in 1942, he met Sheila Harris, she was delivering milk for the United Dairires company, as a wartime job.

Despite Stanley's chosen career, it was Sheila's side of the family that had earlier military connections. Her father, Frederick George Harris, served as a soldier and was still enlisted at the time of his marriage to Ivy White in 1921. Aged 22, he had escaped the worst ravages of the First World War and by the time his daughter was born, four years later, he had taken up the somewhat less stressful job of tennis groundsman at a club near the family home in Meeting House Lane, Peckham. Ivy's background, in contrast, is shrouded in mystery. She was born in the workhouse on New Year's Eve, 1899, and had two birth certificates dated 12 days apart. It appears that her father, a merchant seaman, abandoned her and her mother at the dawn of a new century, and this was something Ivy never forgot or forgave. On her marriage certificate, she renounced her real father and put down the name of her step-father, Robert Whatling, instead.

The Harris family home was 55 Pinner Hill Road, a semidetached council house in the row just south of the Victorian clock tower which looks over Metroland. Sheila Harris, Elton’s mum, joined the ATS, working as a clerk at Coastal Command’s complex at Northwood in Middlesex. She married Stanley at Pinner Parish Church in January 1945, when she was only 19, and Stanley, 20. They moved with Sheila’s parents at 55 Pinner Hill Road, because finding an own place in those postwar years was really a problem and, also, Stanley’s service duties frequently took him away from home, leaving Sheila with her parents, a younger sister, Win, and her brother, Reg.

Sheila, now pregnant, didn’t like Stanley’s frequent abscences and they thought seriously of leaving RAF and returning to his former job at Walkers, but discarted for the lower paid. By 1947, when the son was born, he had become a flight Lieutenant. It was well-known in the family that Sheila had really hoping for a girl but baby Reg nearly granted her wish. The baby possessed innmunerable changes of outfit and a Shirley Temple massed golden curls. In 1949 Stanley received a two-year posting to Basra, Iraq, and Sheila elected to remain in England. For their first Christmas apart, Stanley arranged a deliver of an expensive pedal car to Reg. With his father away, Reg lived in an almost wholly femenine atmosphere until he was four.

In 1953, Stanley was promoted to Squadron-leader and posted as service suply office to Lyman, Wiltshire. They moved to a four-bedroom house provided by RAF but that didn’t suit Sheila, and within a shorter time, returned back to Pinner. Stanley was a strict, old-fashioned parent, requiring the same order and discipline in his home as he did as a senior supply officer. Sheila, overprotected him, not allowed to run riot with other children, playing in the garden by himself. Reg loving family circle comprises his nan Ivy, his uncle Reg and two cousins, Joan and Cath, and auntie Win with her child Paul. For the Dwights, his grandparents, still living in Beldevere, Kent, delightin’ them by his skills on the piano.

Like his father, Reg became a passionate supporter of Pinners’ local team, Watford FC. He was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and Pinner County Grammar School and then left for GCE A Level examinations for the career in music industry. The first thing Helen Piena, piano’s sub-professor, noticed was his astounding natural ear: “I remember once playing him a prelude by Handel four pages long, as soon as I’d finished, he played it straight back to me just like a gramphone”. She remembers him as a model pupil, hard-working, punctilious and polite: “he’d send me letters with kisses at the bottom” she said. But one Saturday, Reg told her that he might have to give up his scholarship at the Royal Academy for the divorce of his parents.

Sheila had met a local builder and decorator named Fred Farebrother during the war. Stanley quickly married his new love, Edna, and had four sons with her in rapid succession. He was quick to reassure Reg that there was no question of his leaving the Royal Academy and that he could still have his piano. Reg chose to live with his mum, he was only 15: “My father never came to hear me play. Not ever,” said Elton. “He was a tough and unemotional man. Hard. In the RAF. He was dismissive, disappointed and finally absent. I just wanted him to acknowledge what I’d done. But he never did,” he added. Stanley had wanted his son to have a more conventional career and steered him towards banking. Elton said it was their shared love of football that enabled them to "make peace" at last, before Stanley's death in 1992: "I made my peace with my father in the end. We were still awkward with each other. That awkwardness never goes. But he was very proud of me in the end and I was the chairman of Watford, so when I went up to Liverpool and watched Liverpool and Watford, or Everton and Watford, he used to come. (...) I didn't hate my father. I was afraid of him because he was a very strict disciplinarian and he didn't approve of me doing what I did at all."

Reg’s stepfather Fred was more like and elder brother, enthusiastic about pop music and unfailingly amused when Reg addressed him as his name spelt backwards “Derf”. They moved to Frome Court, one of the colonies of maisonettes on the long road between Pinner and Northwood Hills. With the help of Sheila and "Derf", Reg became a weekend pianist at the nearby Northwood Hills pub, playing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. He played everything from Jim Reeves country songs "He'll Have to Go" to Irish tribute numbers "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", old pub favourites such as, "Roll Out The Barrel", hits of the day, "King of the Road", and songs he had written himself. He received a modest, steady income and substantial tips. "During that whole period, I don't think I ever missed a gig", he said later. A stint with a short-lived group called the Corvettes rounded out his time. The Corvettes, name inspired by the Chevy Sport car driven by two American TV heroes on the Route 66 serie, played a mixture of blues and rock’n’roll. Founders were Stuart Brown and Geoff Dyson, but they disbanded after a few unspectacular months.

Reg efforts at the Royal Academy, his classical trainer, his love to rock’n’roll and pop music, his involvement at a more succesful group, Bluesology, and finally, the New Musical Express advertisement, let Reg to fulfill his dreams, with a Lincolnshire local poet called Bernard Taupin. Changin’ his name for Elton and John, “Reggie Jackson” could sounded different he said, he started to go straight at his yellow brick road of success. The roots, for sure, influences our personality. After all, no one could discuss Elton’s love for music could come for a long time ago family member who played the trumpet. And without Elton’s mother love for rock’n’roll music, this legend never could have been the same. It’s funny enough to see how Elton’s passionate of shoes could start with an old family branch of shoe makers, the unforgettable glasses coming from a “desmesurado” love for a Buddy Holly’s look alike, and, maybe, only maybe, his outrageous costumes for his various change of outfits in his childhood. Genuine Elton. Happy Birthday, Sir Elton.

Sir Elton, Philip Norman
Family detective: Elton John, Nick Barratt, 26 Nov 2006, Telegraph family history
I'm so proud of Elton ... but I can't forgive him for missing our, David Powles, 23 Jan 2000, Sunday Mirror