Before you delve into this pithy biography, may I suggest a little background music? I recommend downloading Bernie's latest collaboration with Elton John, produced by T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board.
Downloading? Good. I'll wait for you to pour yourself something fabulous, be it consumed in a mug or glass, and I'll start from the top.
"Bernie Taupin to me is the greatest lyric writer that ever lived on the face of the planet."
- W. Axl Rose
"Without Bernie, basically, there wouldn’t have been an Elton John. I mean, without that stroke of good fortune and kismet as it were, Elton John probably wouldn’t have happened. I’m just a purveyor of Bernie’s feelings, Bernie’s thoughts.
- Elton John
Umpteen million fans
200 million records
60 million albums
...Only one Bernie Taupin
How does one attempt to sum up one of the world’s most amazingly talented men in a website bio?
I’ll stick to the highlights...
Flatters, a farmhouse with no electricity, between the village of Anwick and the town of Sleaford in the southern part of Lincolnshire, is the birthplace of Bernard John Patchett Taupin. It was May 22, 1950, the black and white world of post war England, a time when the world was expecting and the baby due was called rock and roll.
His father, Robert, a former soldier in the English and French armies, was employed as a stockman by a large farm estate. His mother, Daphne, a former social bohemian, lightning rod maverick and unconventional nanny, stayed at home to care for Taupin and his older brother, Tony. The boys attended Catholic school in Sleaford continuing there after the family relocated to the nearby village of Rowston. There they lived in Rowston Manor, a welcome improvement in comfort since the manor had electricity, beautiful grounds and in time a small wonder called television.
Eager to be independent, Robert decided to farm on his own, and the family relocated again, this time to a run-down property called Maltkiln Farm in the north Lincolnshire village of Owmby-by-Spital. Here in March of ‘62 a third Taupin boy, Christopher, was born, 11 years Bernie’s junior. Always ahead of the trends, Daphne was 40 years old at the time.
Bernie credits his mother and paternal grandfather for instilling him with an appreciation for literature, nature, history, music and poetry. Although Bernie didn’t have much interest in traditional education, he demonstrated an uncommon flair for writing. Throughout his childhood, he was fascinated by the history and romance of the American West, a boyhood enthusiasm that is still present in his life today. Frustrated with school and the depressing future he sought to evade, at age 15 he dropped out. He highlights this time period in his autobiography A Cradle of Haloes which chronicles his life as a free spirited teenager in rural England. Just two short years after he dropped out of school, and after a series of dead end jobs, he decided to drop a letter into a mailbox. Not just any letter, it was an answer to an advertisement out of London that led to his collaboration with a certain Reginald Kenneth Dwight.
Bernie’s poetry arrived at the desk of Liberty Record's Ray Williams and the rest is history. Reg and Bernie quickly discovered their shared passion for movies and music and became instant friends. In fact, they were inseparable. Each week, the two would eagerly anticipate the newest American imports at Soho’s Musicland record store, using what little money they had to buy the latest recordings of everyone from Love to Leonard Cohen to Charles Lloyd and Paul Horn. The musical landscape was changing so rapidly in the 1960s, and Bernie was smack-dab in the middle of it all. He and a morphed "Reg into Elton" would later contribute to more changes to take place in the coming decade.
Bernie cites Marty Robbins as one of his biggest influences and still plays “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” on his personal jukebox at least once every two weeks. Images of the Old West permeate many of his songs, and as a young lad in northern England, his life long dream was to fully experience the life of the American cowboy, or something close to it.
Before he knew what was happening, he had a chance to embark on the fulfillment of that dream - the year was 1970. He and Elton had worked together since 1967 and had composed a collection of unsuccessful material until “Your Song” came along. Movie buffs will remember this song was central to the romance in Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge.” Hopeless romantics worldwide have claimed this song as “their song” making it the top digital download for Bernie and Elton to date.
This 1970 arrival in the U.S.A. is chronicled on their 2006 album The Captain and the Kid. The first cover in their 40 year partnership to include Bernie (on horseback, no less), the album was hailed as one of their best ever. Succinctly, it is a “let’s pick up where we left off” of the multi-platinum Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. It starts with the young artists cruising around LA as neophytes to the excessive music scene, staying the course through years of drugs, tantrums, and alternative creative expressions, and ending as they reflect on their friendship and career at Elton’s chateau in Nice, France. Check it out on iTunes.
Upon Bernie’s arrival to Los Angeles, he was pleased to find perfect weather, beautiful women, and pizza at almost any hour of the night. All of this in conjunction with arguably the most pivotal time in American music, history, and politics. To a regular kid raised on a farm in rural England, he thought he had died and gone to heaven.
It is said that good and bad things in your life happen simultaneously. During his meteoric rise to fame, he married at 20 and was later divorced. In spite of this personal setback, Bernie and Elton continued to produce hit after hit. A blizzard of classic albums was released during the 1970s including the groundbreaking Elton John along with Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy - and in case you’ve just discovered this last gem, it was the first album ever to enter the charts at number one.
At this point, Elton and Bernie were at the top of their games professionally. Simultaneously, Elton’s performances were selling out stadiums, and the costumes were getting more and more outrageous. Bernie quietly continued to write and formed alliances with other artists at this time, which became a pattern throughout his career. Aside from his Elton John collaborations, Bernie has co-written with rockers like Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper and country singer John Anderson. Bernie co-composed “We Built This City” for Jefferson Starship and “These Dreams” for Heart, both #1 singles in America. Bernie also contributed three songs to Willie Nelson’s 2002 album The Great Divide, co-composing the Grammy winning lead single “Mendocino County Line.” In 2005 he was handed a Golden Globe for the song “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” from the Academy Award winning movie Brokeback Mountain.
By the way, when you've finished listening to The Diving Board, if you don't already have it, you've got to get "The Union." This 2010 album features a collaboration with Elton, Leon Russell and T Bone Burnett. I love this album. The rich tapestry woven by these musical legends leaves the listener optimistic, reflective and wanting to hit play over and over. This is a must for any music lover. Find The Union on iTunes.
When he isn’t working, he constantly seeks to fuel his passion for history and the American Old West of the 1800’s.To live on a working ranch was a boyhood dream for Bernie, and he made that dream a reality in 1992 when he bought a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in order to raise and show cutting horses. The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah’s iconic film detailing a dying west and men out of time, became an obsession for Bernie in the late 60’s, and to date, is one of his all-time favorite films. He remembers the way he felt as he watched the director’s groundbreaking shooting style. The grit, the filth, the harsh reality of the film made a huge impact on him. He loves a great western and his boyish enthusiasm is contagious to anyone within earshot. Lines like “If they move kill ‘em,’” and “They? Who the hell are they?” are regularly heard but not taken seriously around the Taupin household.
An avid reader, Bernie reads over 40 books annually, ranging from the classics and American history to biographies of jazz, blues and country music pioneers; it is by far his favorite relaxation method. He is also an exceptional cook and loves to host his closest friends and family. We’re all pretty spoiled and in all honesty, the brown dirt cowboy’s barbecue sauce is blue ribbon worthy. Maybe one day he’ll divulge the recipe on this website.
Ever the Renaissance man, he continues to delight and surprise even those who think they know him best. In 2010, Bernie added 'radio personality' to his long list of accomplishments with the debut of American Roots Radio. Thanks to satellite radio, his unfathomable passion for music is now broadcast nationwide twice a month from his Central California ranch. With dogs barking and hens clucking in the background, not to mention his trusty co-host/producer Paca, Bernie enthusiastically showcases his favorite musicians ranging from Willie Dixon and Louis Jordon to Dean Martin, The Louvin Brothers and Lionel Hampton. I’m telling you...this man’s tastes are eclectic. Check the listings on the SiriusXM website and tune in every other Saturday to hear him pay homage to his heroes. A little secret: the playlists will be posted on this website after each show, so don't panic if you don't catch the name of the tune the first time around. Just kick off your boots and enjoy the show.
And finally, something you may not know, but word is getting out. There is the other artist in him, the one with the brushes and non-stop imagination to create some stunning canvases. Abstract blocks and oblongs of tantalizing color to cryptic social commentary captured in multi-media form are just a morsel of his limitless creativity. He has been busy touring with his art exhibitions in addition to everything else. But art needs to be studied, inhaled, consumed...so enough said. Check it out for yourself on this very site.
DJ, lyricist, chef, cowboy, dad, singer, artist, poet, critic, producer, event planner, organizer, author, restauranteur, award winner and husband. The list is ever-changing as is Bernie Taupin, my one and only brown dirt cowboy.
So there you have it. Now scroll back to the top, choose your rabbit hole and get lost in Bernie's world of art, creativity, history and opinion.
-- Heather Taupin