Then & Now: From Pub Pianist to Pop Icon— How a Young Elton John Evolved Over the Years

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Little known fact: Sir Elton John legally changed his middle name from Kenneth to Hercules in 1972. It seems that John knew he was destined to have a mighty voice and far-reaching adventures. But before his new name, his adventures started around 1962 when a young Elton John—at 15 years old—was hired as a pianist at a local pub in his hometown. Over the years, this young musician evolved into an internationally beloved and acclaimed entertainer.

What happened between then and now? Let’s find out together.

Read below as we take a look at Sir Elton John’s career from wide-eyed staff songwriter at DJM Records to global superstar.

Elton John performs “Your Song” for his second appearance on Top Of The Pops, airing on January 14th, 1971.

A Young Elton John & The Elton John of the ’70s

Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in southeast England on March 25, 1947.

Growing up, music was often played in the Dwight household with John’s parents both being regular record buyers. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”

Inspired by the tunes he heard, a young Elton John began playing his grandmother’s piano. Several years later, John would form his first band, Bluesology, with some of his friends. Jumping ahead once again, in the late ’60s, John was introduced to his longtime lyricist and songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin. Together they worked as songwriters and composers for Dick James’s DJM Records.

Soon after, John and Taupin began writing songs for John to record himself. Clearly, that proved to be a good career move. Between the years 1972 and 1975, John released seven consecutive records that all became number one albums. (Honkey Chateau (1972), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Caribou (1974), Greatest Hits (1974), Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975) and Rock of the Westies (1975) for reference.)

This was a type of success that was unheard of.

Elton John (R) photographed with his longtime songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin (L), around 1971 in London, England. (Photo credit: Ed Caraeff / Iconic Images)

Knighthood

In 1998, Elton John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his work in music and charity. He was soon given the title of Companion of Honour, the English system of honor’s highest title.

This award came after John had released hit songs like “I’m Still Standing,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Bennie And The Jets,” and others. He also helped write songs for the 1994 Disney animated film The Lion King. John has also founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that has raised millions of dollars for HIV relief efforts and education.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Sir Elton John (L) and Bernie Taupin attend the 27th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party sponsored by IMDb and Neuro Drinks celebrating EJAF and the 91st Academy Awards on February 24, 2019, in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAF)

An Old Dog With New Tricks

Today, Elton John has released dozens of albums and has almost as many awards. And the Rocket Man hasn’t slowed down, either. In 2021, John released a star-studded collaborative album titled The Lockdown Sessions. The opening track for that album, “Cold Heart—PNAU Remix” features pop icon Dua Lipa and was John’s first U.K. number-one single in 16 years.

Elton John has also built up quite a musical legacy. He’s become an inspiration for the next generation of pop artists in addition to having 10 godchildren (one of which is Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono).

Keep playing, Rocket Man. We’ll be at each and every one of your farewell tours.

Elton John
Elton John performs during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour which began in September of 2018. (Photo: Ben Gibson)

(Young Elton John) Photo Credit: Ed Caraeff / Iconic Images
(Older Elton John) Photo Credit: Greg Gorman

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