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Business News/ News / How an Ad in the Local Paper Led Bernie Taupin to Elton John

Bernie Taupin, 73, is an Oscar-winning lyricist best known for his songwriting partnership with Elton John. He is the author of “Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me" (Hachette), a memoir. He spoke with Marc Myers.

My first bit of serious writing as a child had nothing to do with song lyrics or poetry. When I was 12, I attempted to write a book on Wyatt Earp. I loved the American West.

My book on the lawman was just three pages long, but I was enterprising. I looked in another book, found a publisher’s name and sent it off. At least I received a rejection letter, which was quite something then.

Fortunately, the person who wrote me realized the pages had come from a child. The letter was sympathetic and broke the bad news gently.

I was born at home in the middle of nowhere about 10 miles from Sleaford in Lincolnshire, England. My older brother, Tony, and I lived with our parents in a primitive, semidetached farmhouse. My younger brother, Kit, would be born later.

My father, Robert, was employed by a farm estate adjacent to our home to raise livestock. My mother, Daphne, was a homemaker, but that doesn’t give her enough credit. She was a bohemian and incredibly artistic. She had spent World War II in Switzerland and had many literary friends. She gave up that life to join my father on an adventure in farming.

Her sacrifice was a testament to my parents’ love for each other. She was the rock we all leaned on and was an extraordinary woman.

I was an incredibly solitary child. The literary, imaginative things I enjoyed weren’t the pastimes of local kids. They focused on soccer and cricket.

When I was 8, we moved to a spacious 18th-century limestone manor in Rowston, Lincolnshire, where my father became a farm manager. At the manor, I saw a television set for the first time.

My grandfather, Poppy, visited often, and I spent a lot of time on his knee. He recited narrative poetry by heart. Poppy was a walking encyclopedia of all things literary.

When I was 10, my father decided to try his hand at independent farming. So we moved again, this time to Owmby-by-Spital. Only 300 people lived there in the village. Our house was a bit of a comedown. Within a year, my father moved us into a solidly built redbrick bungalow that he’d put up.

Books weren’t easy to come by. I got ahold of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn," which led to American West histories, including Stuart Lake’s “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal."

As the years rolled by and I became more educated in the West, I realized that American TV shows were romanticized hogwash. Films were different. On TV, I saw a few John Ford Westerns and Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon." Gary Cooper was stoic and wonderful.

In school, I was a terrible student. There was nothing that interested me. After I was tossed out of school, I took a dull job in the print room of our local newspaper. One day, I didn’t show up at work.

For the next couple of years, I hitchhiked around the region on the weekends with friends. It was an adventure. Soon, I took a job on a poultry farm. It was ugly work. One weekend, I headed out to the local Royal Air Force base to visit an old school friend. When we heard country music coming from a neighbor’s window, my friend apologized.

I said, “Are you crazy? That sounds unbelievable. I have to meet the guy." His name was Vince, and he was from Kentucky. He turned me on to raw, authentic country music.

In June of 1967, when I was 17, I was at my family home reading the New Musical Express when I noticed a quarter-page ad from Liberty Records aimed at anyone seeking employment. I figured if I sent them song lyrics, maybe I’d get hired.

The move also was an act of desperation. I loved writing. It was the only thing I was good at. I sent in my attempt at lyrics, and they replied with an invitation for a follow up interview.

The next thing I knew I was paired with Reg Dwight, a pianist and composer in need of a lyricist. He liked my work. Reg, of course, would soon be known as Elton John.

Today, I live with my wife, Heather, in California’s Santa Barbara County. We moved into our small Spanish-style house about five years ago, after selling the cowboy ranch where I lived for about 30 years.

We wanted to downsize. Our new home is secluded, cozy and beautifully decorated. We have a garden and fruit trees out back, and the interior is light and airy. I love the patio, where we sit and enjoy the evenings.

My first set of lyrics for Elton was something called “Scarecrow." Hearing my first song come to life in Elton’s hands was breathtaking. I long dreamed about the songwriting process. Being a part of it was magic.

Bernie’s Tunes

Fave home space? My office. It has all my music, kitsch ephemera and signed baseballs. It’s like having old friends around me.

Cool thing? I bought some of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. I’ve been looking for them for some time.

Still read poetry? No. I’ve read all the good stuff. I’d rather read a good biography.

Like what? I’m reading Barbara Leaming’s “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story."

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