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Bernie Taupin the Voice Behind Elton John

Today in 1973 music lovers fell in love with Elton John and ‘GoodBye Yellow Brick Road’ so it seemed fitting to learn more about the man behind the lyrics of some of music histories most notable songs.

“My favorite thing is coming up with titles. The majority of the songs I’ve ever written. I’ve always thought of the title before I’ve written the song.”

Elton John’s long-time song writing partner Bernie Taupin  was born in 1950 at Flatters Farmhouse in the southern part of Lincolnshire England. He was not a diligent student but showed an early flair for writing. His maternal grandfather a classics teacher and graduate of the University of Cambridge, his mother studied French Literature, his father a farmer.  They taught him an appreciation for nature and for literature and narrative poetry, both of which influenced his early lyrics.  At age 15, he left school and started work as a trainee in the print room of the local newspaper The Lincolnshire Standard with aspirations to be a journalist. He soon left and spent the rest of his teenage years hanging out with friends, hitchhiking the country roads to attend youth club dances in the surrounding villages, playing snooker in the Aston Arms Pub in Market Rasen and drinking. He had worked at several part-time, dead-end jobs when, at age 17, he answered the advertisement that eventually led to his collaboration with Elton John.

In 1967, Taupin answered an advertisement for talent placed in the New Musical Express by Liberty Records man Ray Williams who was searching for new talent. Elton John answered the same advert and although neither Bernie nor Elton passed the audition for Liberty Records, Ray Williams recognised their talents and put them in touch with each other. The pair have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date. The team took some time off from each other for a while between 1977 and 1979, while Taupin worked with other songwriters, and Rod Stewart, Cher, The Motels, John Waite, Starship and Alice Cooper all recorded Taupin’s songs.

Bernie’s unique blend of influences gave his early lyrics  a nostalgic romanticism that fit perfectly with the hippie sensibilities of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Taupin sometimes wrote about specific places in Lincolnshire. For example, ‘Grimsby’ or ‘Caribou’  was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a nearby port town often visited by Taupin and his friends. More famously,’Saturday’s Alright For Fighting’ was inspired by Taupin’s experiences in the dance halls and pubs of his youth. More often he wrote in more general autobiographical terms, as in his reference to hitching rides home in “Country Comfort.” These autobiographical references to his rural upbringing continued after his departure for London and a life in show business, with songs such as ‘Honky Cat’, ‘Tell Me When The Whistle Blows’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, in which he thinks about “going back to my plough.”

Taupin’s most important influence was his interest in America’s Old West, Tumbleweed Connection found in recent songs such as ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’. When Taupin and Elton decided to write an autobiographical album in 1975, Taupin dubbed himself “The Brown Dirt Cowboy”, in contrast to Elton’s “Captain Fantastic.”

“Basically it takes me very little time to write a song. If I find myself taking more than an hour to do it I usually forget it, and try something else. I like to work quickly; I never like to waste any time. I never write half a song and come back to it later at all. It all has to be done at once. I lose interest if it doesn’t.”

The 1991 film documentary Two Rooms described the John/Taupin writing style, which involves Taupin writing the lyrics on his own and John then putting them to music, with no further interaction between the two. The process is still fundamentally the same, with John composing to Taupin’s words, but the two interact on songs far more today, with Taupin joining John in the studio as the songs are written and occasionally during recording sessions.

It has been 49 years of music collaboration for Bernie Taupin and Elton John and the world would not be the same with out the beautiful music they have made together.

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Blow Out All Those Candles

‘If you pour some music on whatever’s wrong, it’ll sure help out.’  

– Levon Helm – May 26 1943

 a stevie nicks

‘I was not going to be a stupid girl singer. I was going to be way more than that.’

– Stevie Nicks – May 26 1948

a lenny kravitz hat

‘I am not trying to change the world. I am just offering my gift that God gave me, and if somebody is moved by it, that’s beautiful.’

– Lenny Kravitz – May 26 1964

a isaac slade

‘If you’re a painter, paint but you don’t have to put Jesus in every picture, and if you paint well enough they might ask you why you did that.’

– Isaac Slade – May 26 1981

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Duke Lives On At Ellington

‘Duke Ellington didn’t consider himself a jazz musician.

He said he was a musician who played jazz. And what a musician: pianist, bandleader, composer of more than 1,000 songs including standards like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Satin Doll” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

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Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born 116 years ago today in Washington, D.C. And it may just be that Ellington lives on most profoundly, every day, at a public arts high school that bears his name. The goal of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts is to give a free arts education to very talented students in the D.C. area — young people who might never have the benefit of private lessons. The school celebrated its own 40th birthday last weekend.

We have a saying: If you have to be an artist, this is the place to be,” says Davey Yarborough, director of jazz studies at Ellington for 30 years.

Most of the students at Ellington are African-American. They had to pass rigorous auditions and interviews to get in — to study not just jazz, but also classical music, dance, drama and visual arts, along with a full academic program. The graduation rate is 99 percent, and 98 percent go to college, some on full scholarships.

Senior Angela Whittaker is attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston this year.

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“I knew if I went to this school, I’ll come out and be something incredible … and help me shape myself into something I’ve always wanted to be,” Whittaker says. “And I didn’t think I could achieve that. Duke Ellington gave me hope that I actually could.”

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Van Morrison – Perspective

a van morrison

 

The legendary Van Morrison celebrates his 70th birthday today and though he is often a man of few words we managed to gather some of  his thoughts on music and what it has meant to him.

You are a hard man to track down.

I don’t feel comfortable doing interviews. My professions is music, and writing songs. That’s what I do. I like to do it, but I hate to talk about it.

Early inspirations.

In truth I mostly educated myself. To me, school was boring.

When I started studying tenor saxophone as a kid in Belfast, I did so with a guy named George Cassidy, who was a big inspiration. 

The first piece of music that captured my imagination was probably Ray Charles Live at Newport. Hearing the blues changed my life.

I understood jazz, I understood how it worked. That’s what I apply to everything.

Tell us about yourself as a musician.

My thinking musically has always been more advanced – it is difficult to get it down onto paper sometimes, even now. As a developing musician, skiffle became a platform for me to start playing music. Still today, skiffle is a defining part of my music. If I get the opportunity to just have a jam, skiffle is what I love to play.

I’m not a rock singer and I don’t want to be a rock singer. I’m not interested. It doesn’t seem to get across. If you’re a pop singer, you don’t need to evolve. You just get a set together, have some hit songs and play them over and over. I never paid attention to what was contemporary or what was commercial, it didn’t mean anything to me. I never bought the commercial thing, at any stage of the game.

I am about the arrangements and the layers of depth in the music. As far as recording goes – I always recored far more than I can use. There’s probably twice as much recorded as comes out.

It was really strange for me when I started to play concerts in America where the audiences were all sitting down.

Songwriting

My records do not require a lot of thought of ‘What is this?’ and ‘What is that?’ That would be too contrived for me.

You take stuff from different places, and sometimes you stick a line in because it rhymes, not because it makes sense. 

I just need somewhere to dump all my negativity. The future is keeping you out of the present time. You can’t stay the same if you’re a musician and a a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works. 

I put out records to this day that are not necessarily in a sequence of anything. Some could be written a while back, some not. There is no set pattern.

Thoughts about the music industry.

You’ve got to separate the singer and the songs. If it’s what you do and you can do it, then you do it. Music is spiritual. The music business is not. A lot of people who were writing when I came through originally as a singer – songwriter have disappeared. I think when you get past your second album, it all becomes something of a routine. So you have to struggle against that, find a way of making what you do sound fresh and new each time.

These days politics, religion, media seem to get all mixed up. Television became the new religion a long time back and the media has taken over.

Years back,I started playing in clubs and you were more in touch with the people you were playing to. There wasn’t the distance or the separation that there is now. For a long time, I couldn’t actually deal with playing concerts; it was a totally alien concept to me, ’cause I was used to playing clubs and dance halls.

Does fame ever ruffle you?

Well you know I  love to live in Ireland, but I want to live as me, not what someone thinks I am. I lived there before I was famous. A famous person to themselves, they don’t get up in the morning and think ‘I’m famous.’ I’m not famous to me. Famous is a perception.

Being famous was extremely disappointing for me. When I became famous it was a complete drag and it is still a complete drag.

Tell us about the Maritime.

Hearing the blues changed my life. I went back to Belfast and started a club, the Maritime. No one had thought about doing a blues club, so I was the first. April 1964 and the scene exploded.

When you look back what do you see?

There is no black and white situation in life. There are highs, lows and middles. There’s always got to be a struggle. What else is there? That’s what life is made of. I don’t know anything else. If there is, tell me about it.

I’m very lucky, I’m happy with life because my experiences led me to do what I had to do. I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. 

I’ve never felt like I was born with a silver spoon at all, although I’ve felt like howling at the moon a lot of times!

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