Taupin attending the premiere of The Union at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival
|Birth name||Bernard John Taupin|
22 May 1950 |
Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England
|Genres||Rock, pop, country|
|Occupation(s)||Visual artist, Lyricist, Singer-songwriter|
|Associated acts||Elton John, Alice Cooper|
Bernard John "Bernie" Taupin (born 22 May 1950) is an English lyricist, poet, and singer, best known for his long-term collaboration with Elton John, writing the lyrics for the majority of the star's songs, and making his lyrics some of the best known in music history.
In 1967, Taupin answered an advertisement placed in the UK music paper New Musical Express by Liberty Records, a company that was seeking new songwriters. Around the same time, Elton John responded to the same advertisement, and the pair were brought together, collaborating on many projects since.
In 1971, journalist Penny Valentine wrote that "Bernie Taupin's lyrics were to become as important as Elton [John] himself, proved to have a mercurial brilliance. Not just in their atmospheric qualities and descriptive powers, but in the way he handled words to form them into straightforward poems that were easy to relate to."
Birth and childhood
Much of Taupin's childhood is reflected in his lyrics and poetry. Taupin was born at Flatters Farmhouse, which is located between the village of Anwick and the town of Sleaford in the southern part of Lincolnshire, England. Of French ancestry, Taupin's father was educated in Dijon, and was employed as a stockman by a large farm estate near the town of Market Rasen. Taupin's mother worked as a nanny, having previously lived in Switzerland. The family later moved to Rowston Manor, a significant step up from Flatters Farmhouse, which had no electricity.
Taupin's father decided to try his hand at independent farming, and the family moved to the run-down Maltkiln Farm. in the north-Lincolnshire village of Owmby-by-Spital. Taupin's 11-year younger brother, Kit, was born there.
Taupin attended school at Market Rasen Secondary Modern. Unlike his older brother Tony who attended a grammar school (secondary school), Taupin was not a diligent student, although he showed an early flair for writing. 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 of becoming a journalist. Taupin soon left that job, 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. Taupin 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.
Taupin's mother had studied French Literature and his maternal grandfather "Poppy" was a classics teacher and graduate of the University of Cambridge. They taught him an appreciation for nature and for literature and narrative poetry, both of which influenced his early lyrics. Taupin's upbringing also influenced his lyrics – in songs such as "Lady, What's Tomorrow?", "Your Song" and "Country Comfort". Taupin'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" on Caribou was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a nearby port town often visited by Taupin and his friends. More famously, "Saturday Night'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, imbuing Tumbleweed Connection and 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."
Collaboration with Elton John
In 1967, Taupin answered an advertisement for talent placed in the New Musical Express by Liberty records A&R man Ray Williams. Elton John answered the same advert and although neither Bernie nor Elton passed the audition for Liberty Records, Ray Williams recognized 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, including Alice Cooper, and John worked with other lyricists, including Gary Osborne and Tom Robinson. (The 1978 single-only A side "Ego" was their only collaboration of note during the period, although John/Taupin B-sides such as "Lovesick" and "I Cry at Night" were issued with the respective singles "Song for Guy" and "Part-time Love" from the album A Single Man.)
John and Taupin resumed writing together on (at first) an occasional basis in 1980, with Taupin contributing lyrics to only three or four songs each on albums such as The Fox, 21 at 33 and Jump Up! However, by 1983's Too Low for Zero, the two renewed their partnership on a full-time basis and from that point forward Taupin was again John's primary lyricist. (John often works with other lyricists on specific theatrical or film projects such as 1994's The Lion King, which featured lyrics by Tim Rice.)
Taupin's lyrics include such songs as "Rocket Man", "Levon", "Crocodile Rock", "Honky Cat", "Tiny Dancer", "Candle in the Wind", "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", "Bennie and the Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", "The Bitch is Back", "Daniel", and 1970's "Your Song", their first hit. Hits in the 1980s include "I'm Still Standing", "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues", "Sad Songs", and "Nikita." In the 1990s, Taupin and John had more hits, including "The One", "Simple Life", "The Last Song", "Club at the End of the Street" and "Believe." In September 1997, Taupin rewrote the lyrics of "Candle in the Wind" for "Candle in the Wind 1997", a tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
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.
Taupin and John had their first Broadway musical open in March 2006 with Lestat: The Musical. Taupin wrote lyrics for 10 songs (and an 11th completed non-album track "Across the River Thames") for John's 2006 album The Captain & The Kid (sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy) and appeared on the cover with him for the first time marking their 40th anniversary of working together. ("Across the River Thames" was issued as an Internet-only download as a bonus with certain editions of The Captain and the Kid.)
On 25 March 2007, Taupin made a surprise appearance at John's 60th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, briefly discussing their 40-year songwriting partnership. Of Taupin's importance to their careers, as recorded on the Elton 60 - Live at Madison Square Garden DVD, John told the audience that without Taupin there probably wouldn't be an Elton John as the public has come to know him. Taupin and John also composed several songs for "The Union", a collaboration album between Elton and his longtime hero Leon Russell released in October 2010. They also collaborated on five original songs for the Miramax movie Gnomeo and Juliet, released in February 2011.
Collaboration with other artists
In addition to writing for Elton John, Taupin has also written lyrics for use by other composers, with notable successes including "We Built This City", which was recorded by Starship, and "These Dreams", recorded by Heart (both of which were collaborations with English composer/musician Martin Page). In 1978, he co-wrote the album From the Inside with Alice Cooper. Taupin has also produced American Gothic for singer-songwriter David Ackles. Released in 1972, it did not enjoy big sales, but the album was highly acclaimed by music critics in the US and UK. The influential British music critic Derek Jewell of the UK Sunday Times described the album as being "the Sgt. Pepper of folk." Of Ackles' four albums, it was the only one recorded in England rather than in the United States. Taupin and Ackles had become acquainted when Ackles was selected to be the co-headlining act for Elton John's 1970 American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Taupin was mentioned specifically as being one of the reasons American Gothic was selected by the writers and editors for inclusion in the book, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. He also collaborated on the book Burning Cold with photographer Gary Bernstein.
In 2002, Willie Nelson and Kid Rock recorded "Last Stand in Open Country" for Nelson's album The Great Divide. The song was the title track of the first album from Taupin's band Farm Dogs (see below). Nelson's album included two other Taupin songs, "This Face" and "Mendocino County Line". The latter song, a duet between Nelson and Lee Ann Womack, was made into a video and released as the album's first single. The song won the 2003 Grammy for best vocal collaboration in country music. In 2004, he co-wrote Courtney Love's song "Uncool", from her 2004 debut solo album America's Sweetheart. In 2005, he co-wrote the title track to What I Really Want For Christmas with Brian Wilson for his first seasonal album. In 2006, he won a Golden Globe Award for his lyrics to the song "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from the film Brokeback Mountain. The music of the song was composed by Argentine producer and songwriter Gustavo Santaolalla.
Works as a performer
With Farm Dogs
In 1971, Taupin recorded a spoken-word album entitled Taupin, in which he recites some of his early poems against a background of impromptu, sitar-heavy music created by some members of Elton's band, including Davey Johnstone and Caleb Quaye. Side One is entitled "Child" and contains poems about his early childhood in southern Lincolnshire. The first poem, "The Greatest Discovery," which looks at his birth from the perspective of his older brother Tony, was also set to music by Elton John and included on Elton's eponymous second album, Elton John. There are poems about Taupin's first two childhood homes, Flatters and Rowston Manor, and others about his relationship with his brother and grandfather. Side Two includes a variety of poems of varying obscurity, from a marionette telling her own story to a rat catcher who falls victim to his prey. Taupin stated in interviews that he wasn't pleased with the album.
In 1980, Taupin recorded his first album as a singer, He Who Rides the Tiger. Although he demonstrated a more-than-adequate vocal ability, the album failed to make a dent in the charts. Taupin later suggested in interviews that he didn't have the creative control he would have liked over the album. In 1987, he recorded another album entitled Tribe. The songs were co-written with Martin Page. "Citizen Jane" and "Friend of the Flag" were released as singles. Videos of both singles featured Rene Russo, the sister of Toni, his wife at that time.
In 1996, Taupin pulled together a band called Farm Dogs, whose two albums were conscious (and successful) throwbacks to the grittier, earthier sound of Tumbleweed Connection. While Taupin wrote the lyrics, the music was a collaborative effort among the band members. Their first album, 1996's Last Stand in Open Country, received critical praise but little airplay. As mentioned above, the title track was later recorded by Willie Nelson and Kid Rock for Nelson's 2002 album The Great Divide. In 1998, Farm Dogs released its second and final album, Immigrant Sons. The album was unsuccessful despite a tour of small clubs across America.
In 1973, Taupin collected all his lyrics up through the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album into a book entitled Bernie Taupin: The One Who Writes the Words for Elton John. In addition to the lyrics from the albums, this book contained the lyrics to all the single B-sides, various rarities, and Taupin's 1970 spoken-word album. The songs are illustrated by various artists, friends, and celebrity guests such as John Lennon and Joni Mitchell. The book is in black & white except for the cover.
In 1977, Taupin collaborated with rock photographer David Nutter on "It's A Little Bit Funny", adding text and helping chronicle Elton John's year-long, "Louder Than Concorde, But Not Quite As Pretty" world concert tour. The now-collectible book was published in hard and soft cover editions by Penguin Books. It collects the better part of one year's worth of personal adventures and memories of Elton and the band, aboard his private plane, on the beaches of Barbados, at backstage gatherings and in some quieter off-stage moments with friends (including some famous faces that Elton and Bernie met and palled around with in their travels).
In 1978, Taupin also appeared in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew Meet Dracula, singing backup to Shaun Cassidy. In 1988, Taupin published an autobiography of his childhood entitled A Cradle of Haloes: Sketches of a Childhood. The book was released only in the UK. It tells the tale of a childhood fuelled by fantasy in rural Lincolnshire in the 1950s and 1960s, ending in 1969 as Taupin gets on the train to seek his fortune in London.
In 1991, Taupin self-published a book of poems called The Devil at High Noon. In 1994, Taupin's lyrics up through the Made in England album were collected into a hardcover book entitled Elton John & Bernie Taupin: The Complete Lyrics, published by Hyperion. However, it doesn't appear that Taupin was intimately involved in this project, as it contains multiple misspellings and outright misrenderings of the lyrics. It is also missing some of the rarities and B-sides found in the earlier collection. As with the 1973 collection, the songs are illustrated by various artists, this time in full colour throughout.
In 1992, Taupin was asked to produce a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles. The event featured no songs written by the composer, instead opening with an acoustic set of performances of material chosen by the performers followed by selections from the musical West Side Story, chosen for its "timeless message of tolerance that is relevant to every decade."
Visual Art Career
In addition to his music, much of his time is spent creating his visual art. Taupin began displaying and selling his original artwork in 2010. Consisting of large, mixed media, contemporary works, the art has been shown in select galleries and art fairs across the United States. Taupin on his art: "I don’t feel brighter colors necessarily constitute upbeat feelings although without contradiction they can accomplish the job if the emotion is one of simple joy. However, in much of my work darker colors such as blacks and deep blues might convey the depth of musical genres such as the Blues and Jazz or old school Folk and Country. These musical forms are the blueprint of much of what I create so it could be said that their emotion and passion, which is exhilarating, brings a deeper style of muted exuberance."
Taupin has been married four times and divorced three: Maxine Feibelman (1971–76); Toni Lynn Russo (1979–91), sister of actress Rene Russo; Stephanie Haymes (1993–98), daughter of entertainers Dick Haymes and Fran Jeffries; and Heather Kidd (March 2004–present), with whom he has two daughters, Charley Indiana and Georgey Devon.
Taupin moved to Southern California from England in the mid-1970s. Since the 1980s, he has been living on a ranch north of Los Angeles near Santa Ynez, California. He co-owned a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called "Cicada" with then-wife Stephanie Haymes. He co-owned a PBR bucking bull named Little Yellow Jacket, which was retired as an unprecedented three-time world champion. Little Yellow Jacket died in 2011.
- Billboard 4 October 1997, 30 Years of Music: Elton John with Bernie Taupin Billboard Magazine
- Bernie Taupin Biography Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Valentine, Penny (28 August 1971). "The Record Rise of a Superstar Called Reg". Sounds. Spotlight Publications. p. 6.
- "Flatters Farmhouse – On his Very Spot". Onthisveryspot.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Elton John, Philip Norman, Fireside, 1991
- A Cradle of Haloes, Bernie Taupin, Aurum Press, 1988
- "Maltkiln Farm (former site) – onthisveryspot.com". Onthisveryspot.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Aston Arms Pub – On This Very Spot". Onthisveryspot.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- The songwriters idea book. Writer's Digest Books p.103.
I thought it was very important to project it from a nation's standpoint. I wanted to make it sound like a country singing it. From the first couple of lines i wrote [ which began "Goodbye England's Rose"], the rest sort of fell into place.
- "Photo: Gary Bernstein". The Village Voice. 22 May 1978. p. 59. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Bernie Taupin: The One Who Writes the Words for Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Jonathan Cape, 1973
- A Conversation with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Paul Gambaccini, Flash Books, 1974
- "farmdogs.com". farmdogs.com. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Galbraith, Jane (18 November 1992). "Stars Turn Up The Power for AIDS Benefit". Newsday.
- Market Rasen Today: News, Sport, Jobs, Property, Cars, Entertainments & More
- Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies & Bull Riders by Josh Peter, Rodale, 2005, pg 156.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bernie Taupin.|
- Bernie Taupin – personal website
- Spots related to Taupin's life and career
- Bernie Taupin's art career
- "Bernie Taupin: 'Lyricist? I think of myself as a storyteller’," The Telegraph, 16 September 2013