Elton John's Sixties R&B Group Bluesology
"Beyond dreadful!" That's how Sir Elton John describes "Come Back Baby," the debut single released by his band Bluesology in 1965. Even though he was barely 18, the young pianist then known as Reginald Dwight was already an old pro. Having learned to plink out tunes by ear at age three, he began his classical training just a few years later. As a teen he earned money playing a weekly residency at the Northwood Hills Hotel pub in the London suburb of Pinner "every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a whole year. And during that whole period, I don't think that I ever missed a gig," he recalled. "I used to sing Jim Reeves songs, Cliff Richard songs, anything that was popular."
Bluesology began as an offshoot of the Corvettes, a previous band formed with neighbor Stuart Brown around 1960. Brown and John composed the nucleus of Bluesology, which endured semi-regular lineup shifts but stayed loyal to the R&B sounds being spread across the capital by the likes of Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies and John Mayall. Later, inspired by brassy soul records on Stax and Volt, they augmented the lineup with a trumpet and saxophone. Eager to pursue music full time, John dropped out of school in March 1965, just weeks shy of his birthday. "As a semi-pro group we got quite a bit of work, and we were ambitious and dedicated," John recalled. Their rhythm & blues prowess earned them invitations to back American soul artists on their European tours, and much of the next 18 months was spent on the road accompanying acts like the Isley Brothers, Major Lance, and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells.
Back in London, Bluesology were signed to Fontana Records, and John's "Come Back Baby" was recorded as a single. Despite repetitive lyrics, the song boasts a mature melody that floats over the moody piano chords like one of Smokey Robinson's Motown laments. Though he doesn't recall the song with any fondness (he once dismissed it as "beyond tragic"), John warmly recalled the momentous moment of hearing it on the radio for the first time: "I can remember sitting in the car and hearing the record being played on Radio Luxembourg and saying, 'Hey, that's me singing, folks!'"
Neither "Come Back Baby," or its follow-up, 1966's "Mr. Frantic" (which John later called "equally depressing") saw much action on the record charts, but Bluesology continued to play the most exclusive venues in London, including celebrity haunts like the Cromwellian, the Speakeasy, the Scotch of St. James and Sibylla's. "Everybody used to go to those clubs. I mean, we're talking about the mid-Sixties, so you'd get the Beatles and the Animals coming in." One of the notables was the groundbreaking British blues legend Long John Baldry, who had recently championed a young Rod Stewart in his group, Steampacket. Now defunct, he recruited Bluesology as his backing group.
Baldry's arrival signaled a number of personnel and stylistic shifts, and John began to feel his passions drifting elsewhere. Instead, he focused on session work (he played on several recordings by the Hollies) and his songwriting. In 1967, he answered a Liberty Records ad in the New Musical Express searching for new songwriting talent and was paired with a young poet named Bernie Taupin. By the end of the year he had left Bluesology for good, taking with him a new name borrowed from Baldry and saxophonist Elton Dean. "It was done on a bus going from London Heathrow back into the city, and it was done very quickly. So I said, 'Oh, Elton John. That's fine.'"