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Only a rollicking rascal, daring enough to play Jerry Lee Lewis melodies at school functions, could have evolved into the mythic persona that performs under the name Sir Elton Hercules John. Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, Elton John borrows his name from Bluesology members, Elton Dean and Long John Baldry—a band in which Elton John performed during the onset of his career in the mid-1960s. It's of little surprise that a rock 'n' roll icon—with five Grammy awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Tony Award, to boast—cannoned out of a fiery seven year old, with an attention span that barely allowed for his formal piano lessons.
Typing his first notes at the age of three, Elton John was born into a world of music. But his father, a trumpet player, dissuaded Elton John from entering show business and preferred that his son take interest in a more practical field like finance. Earning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at age 11, Elton John decided against his father's advice and instead left school six years later to pursue a career as a musician. Although, Elton John has accolades his father's authoritarian approach, saying "[his] wild stage costumes and performances were his way of letting go after such a restrictive childhood." By the age of 15 Elton John was booking gigs at pubs nearby his hometown, Pinner, England, and creating his setlist from a wide array of genres like Irish tribute songs, old pub favorites, country, contemporary, and material he had written himself. Around the same time that Elton John, performing as the unassuming "Reggie," was a regular at the Northwood Hills Pub, his first band, Bluesology, began backing touring for musicians like the Isley Brothers, Major Lance, Billy Stewart, Doris Troy, and Patti LaBelle. And this period of Elton John's life may have influenced his eclectic style, which draws from gospel and boogie-woogie music.
Kicking over his piano bench and performing handstands atop his keyboard, Elton John's stage presence is even more eccentric than the brightly-colored suits that are synonymous with his name. Elton John's onstage antics distinguished him from the myriad of rock 'n' roll performers during the 1970s whose music centered on guitars, unlike John's piano orchestrations.
Though it took Elton John two decades to conquer the UK charts, his second single, "Your Song," made the US Top Ten immediately after its release. The song, taken from self-titled, Elton John (1970), established the rock legend's formula of gospel-chorded ballads. Three years later Elton John released Honky Chateau (1973), his third album, to mainstream acclaim. The album, one of his poppiest, featured hit singles "Rocket Man (I think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)" and "Honky Cat." But Elton John's greatest feat, in the eyes of the public and music critics, was his seventh album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) which featured breakout tracks like "Benny and the Jets," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Candle in the Wind," "Saturday Night's Already for Fighting," "Funeral For A Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding," and "Grey Seal." With album sales exceeding 16 million, he's one of the greatest selling artists of all time.
Though Elton John's career saw its commercial peak from 1970-1976, Elton John still sells out venues and composes music today. During a 2008 interview with GQ, Elton John said, "I'm going on the road again with Billy Joel next year," exciting fans for a reunion between modern music's most prolific pianists. The tour, entitled Face to Face, sold out around the globe.
With a discography that stretches over 50 albums (including studio, live, soundtracks, scores, theater, and compilation albums), Elton John has secured for himself a position at number 49 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time." Over his four-decade career, Elton John has sold over 200 million records and crafted more than 50 top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No.1 US albums. And his success has contributed to the piano's continued prevalence in rock 'n' roll music.