When Bernie Taupin accepts his Musical Excellence Award at the 38th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Nov. 3 in Brooklyn, it won’t be the first time he’s mounted that stage.
When Elton John was inducted back in 1994, he called his longtime lyricist to the stage, saying that, “I’m kind of cheating standing her because without Bernie there never would have been an Elton John at all… and I would like him to come up and I would like to give this to him. We’ve been together for a very long time. I love him dearly.” Now, with his own Rock Hall honor on the horizon, Taupin tells Billboard from his home in California that John’s magnanimous gesture had an unintended consequence.
“That’s the big thorn in the paw because in a lot of people’s minds, that’s the reason I was not inducted before now, because certain elements of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame didn’t like the fact Elton brought me up on stage… and gave me his award,” says Taupin, who had the trophy “for years” before returning it to John. “So they just assumed that I already had the award so I didn’t need to be inducted myself, which is pretty puerile, if you think about it, and pretty childish and churlish at the same time.
“But, hey, that’s all in the past. What’s gone is gone and it’s all forgotten now and God’s in his heaven and all is good.”
Taupin is, in fact, fully stoked to be receiving the honor this year, joining fellow Musical Excellence Award winners Chaka Khan and Al Kooper. “Obviously it was nice nice news,” he says. “It’s always good to be appreciated. I certainly appreciate it. At my age I don’t get excited (by) that much, but this is certainly something I’m very appreciative of.” He adds that “those around me” have been pointing out his exclusion from the Rock Hall over the years. “They say things like, ‘You’re not in there already? I just figured you were in there’ or ‘You should have been in there long ago,’” he notes.
“I don’t put a tremendous amount of thought into it. I don’t really reflect much on what I’ve contributed. Do I feel I belong in there? Yeah, probably. I think I’ve contributed enough that it gives me credence to be in there, certainly.”
Born in Lincolnshire, England, Taupin graduated from the University of Cambridge and met John (then Reginald Dwight) in 1967 after both auditioned for Liberty Records and John, who did not write lyrics, was given some of Taupin’s poems to consider. Famously writing separately, the pair has worked together on more than 30 albums and enduring hits ranging from “Your Song” in 1970 and all of John’s greatest hits to tracks on John’s Wonderful Crazy Night album in 2016.
“It’s funny because I don’t refer to myself as a songwriter,” Taupin says. “I’m just basically a guy who writes stories. In our early days I was featured on the album covers, and there weren’t many people that really wrote songs the way Elton and I did, where I wrote first and the melody came after. There are a couple people of that ilk, like Keith Reid (with Procol Harum) and Robert Hunter (for the Grateful Dead), but I think if I did anything I took it to another level and become more of a part of the band — not to say I was a rock star at all. That’s laughable. But I became in the eyes of a lot of people, say, an artist in my own right for what I contributed to the Elton John canon.
“So, yeah, I think if anything I’m unique in that sense. I’m not saying unique in the sense that I’m great, or good. That’s for other people to assess. What I’m saying is I think my whole career has been different to what the perceived concept of a songwriter is. I’m a contributor, basically.”
In addition to John, Taupin has also written songs with and for Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Melissa Manchester, Heart, Starship, Peter Cetera, Richie Sambora, Marianne Faithfull and others. He’s tried his hand as a performer as well, with three solo albums and, during the 90s, two with a band he formed called Farm Dogs. “When I was original told I’d been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I thought, ‘Oh, is that in the non-performer (Ahmet Ertegun Award) category?’” Taupin says. “I’ve made five albums and performed on stage, so (a Performer induction) wouldn’t have been wholly correct in their assumption of what I am.”
Taupin says he’s heard from John several times during the week (“He’s ecstatic.”) and credits his longtime partner as well as John’s husband David Furnish and Universal Music Publish Group Chairman and CEO Jody Gerson for “putting some leverage into the voting committee” as it determined this year’s recipients. “I had a lot of people pushing for me and having my back,” Taupin acknowledges. “I’m grateful to all of them.”
Taupin’s induction will come after the September publication of his memoir Scattershot. He spent two years working on it — including editing it from an 800-page draft to “just under” 400 pages — and he’s received the initial galleys for it this week. “I think people will be surprised by it,” Taupin says. “It’s not a conventional rock slog biography It’s not an A-to-Z life story. It’s non-linear. It’s more vignettes of my life… I’m not comparing it to Dylan’s Chronicles, but it has the same sort of free-form feel to it. I couldn’t be tethered to any restrictive autobiographical code. I just had to write it as I felt it.
“It’s pretty exciting, I have to say. I never pat myself on the back about things. I’m my own worst critic. But I’m absolutely thrilled with it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s incredibly satisfying, and… I’m looking forward to having it out.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Nov. 3. Ticket information will be announced in the future.