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Billy Joel articles in NY Newsday

Sun Dec 01, 2013 6:38 pm ... -1.6506032

Billy Joel's reaction to Kennedy Center honor: 'Why me?'

Originally published: November 27, 2013 11:04 AM
Updated: November 29, 2013 3:01 PM

Billy Joel during his memorable July 16, 2008

Photo credit: Myrna Suarez | Billy Joel during his memorable July 16, 2008 concert at the historic Shea Stadium arena prior to its demolition.

Billy Joel views his upcoming honor from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts the way he views most incredibly positive things in his remarkable life -- with skepticism.

"I always find myself wondering, 'Why me?'" Joel says. "I think it's even in my music. Whenever I talk about something good happening, there's always a little knife in the song that says, 'Watch out. Something bad's gonna happen.'"

He says his wariness only increases when he's given some sort of award for his career achievements. "I've already gotten my award and my reward for making a living doing what I love," he says. "It's like an abundance of good fortune. There's a part of me that goes, 'Wait a minute.'"

It may take more than a minute to digest the enormity of the Kennedy Center Honor -- the nation's highest award given to performers, the American equivalent to knighthood in Great Britain or the Legion of Honor in France. Before Joel is honored at a gala on Dec. 8, he and the rest of this year's Kennedy Center class -- opera singer Martina Arroyo, musicians Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana, and actress Shirley MacLaine -- will also be guests of honor at a State Department banquet and a White House reception. (The gala will be taped to air Dec. 29 on CBS.)

"It's kind of knocked me for a loop," Joel says. "I think there's a lot of worthy artists in the country they would pick before me.... But I really do appreciate it. It's an honor."

Joel and his fellow honorees were selected for lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. "Billy Joel's melodies have provided the soundtrack of our lives for over four decades, making him one of pop music's most prolific and memorable singers and songwriters," says Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein.

Rubenstein says Joel and the others spent their careers "elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world."


That certainly applies to Joel. The Hicksville native has sold more than 150 million albums around the world and is the third-biggest-selling solo artist of all time, behind only Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks. His

"Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 and 2" album is the third-biggest-selling album of all time, behind only Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the Eagles' greatest hits collection.

Legendary concert promoter Ron Delsener says he had tears in his eyes when he learned Joel was going to be honored by the Kennedy Center. "He's the greatest symbol of America that we have today," says Delsener, who began supporting Joel in 1970, when he booked Joel's band The Hassles in Central Park.

"He's George Gershwin," Delsener adds. "His lyrics touch everybody. He's a poet, much like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon -- Billy's right there with them. And he's a Long Islander! That makes me very proud."

Jimmy Webb, chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the singer-songwriter behind classics like "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman," says that even though Joel has been wildly successful, he is still underappreciated.

"Sometimes, the commercial aspect of Billy's career overshadows the fact that he's this deep musician who has reached into classical music for a lot of the inspiration that drives these pop songs," says Webb, who counts Joel as a friend and a neighbor, since he and his wife moved to Bayville. "And he writes some damn good lyrics."

A song like "Allentown" shows Joel's skill, Webb says, combining a catchy melody with lyrics that explained an important American issue. "It's a masterpiece," he says. "He has earned a kind of universal respect among songwriters for his powerful writing voice -- the persona of the blue-collar hero that everybody here in America admires. And there's a deep connection between him and the working guys. They know when people care about them, and they know when they don't care about them."

Webb, whose collaboration with Joel on "Wichita Lineman" for his 2010 album "Just Across the River" is Joel's most recent pop recording, says Joel "richly deserved" the Kennedy Center honor. "He has an enormous talent as a composer," he says. "He's a composer like Aaron Copland."

Pop culture critic and author Chuck Klosterman says Joel's Kennedy Center qualifications go beyond music. "His influence is much more cultural than musical," he says. "Billy Joel has had more influence in defining the type of culture he has consistently written about --blue-collar intellectuals."

Klosterman says Joel's cultural importance is indisputable. "Nobody is as famous as Billy Joel and as successful as Billy Joel without being great," he says. "It's impossible to make the argument that his success is due to anything besides his ability to create songs that mean a lot to people."

However, Joel's influence stretches beyond pop culture.


Theodore Levin, an ethnomusicologist and professor of music at Dartmouth College, says Joel's six concerts across the Soviet Union in 1987 helped end the Cold War. The tour was the first time most Soviets had seen rock music from the West, and their initial reactions were just like their American counterparts'.

"The Billy Joel concerts had a major impact," says Levin, who helped organize the exchange. "It really was a symbolic opening to the West and to Western culture. Until then, Western-style rock had been underground. It had been ideologically verboten. It had been promoted as a symbol of a sick society, musically degenerate. Suddenly, here was an official embrace of a major Western pop star and everything that went along with that. This was absolutely a turnaround."

Joel became part of a movement of "citizen diplomacy," where residents of both countries would get acquainted through various cultural exchanges and learn that they were more similar than different, Levin says. The hope was that citizens in both countries would then pressure their governments to normalize relations.

By hosting Joel, the Soviet government hoped to show its people and the rest of the world that they could produce a first-class concert tour as well as anyone in the West.

Joel shouldered more of the risk. There was no telling how the Soviets were going to react -- or if they would even come -- to a rock concert. And some American groups questioned why he would want to entertain people who were, at that point, seen as enemies, Levin says, adding that when the tour was announced, a handful of people protested. "It was very courageous of him to do this," Levin says. "No one knew how this was going to play out."

Joel recognizes the concerts gave him a strong bond with the people of the former Soviet republics, but he sometimes forgets how deep it goes.

"I was in Florence, Italy, last week, and I was having dinner," Joel says. "This guy who was the director of a Russian ballet company saw me and freaked out. He couldn't contain himself. He was jumping up and down."

"Oh, my God, I saw you when you played in Moscow in 1987," the ballet director told Joel. "Everything changed. You changed entire country. Now, we do whatever we want. We are free. And you helped do this."


"I was really taken aback," Joel says. "I knew it was a momentous point in their history. I don't think it was because of me, necessarily."

Joel says the excitement was more because a Western performer was bringing the same kind of concert Americans would see at Madison Square Garden to the Soviet Union.

"It was palpable that something was going to happen," he recalls. "It felt like America in the '60s... . The people in the street were buzzing with change. Kids were looking like we looked in the '60s. They were at the edge of transition."

Before Joel's shows, concert fans in the Soviet Union weren't allowed to stand during performances. When Joel played, that became impossible to enforce. "The audience was as good as we've had anywhere," he says. "They went crazy. They wrecked the chairs. All of a sudden, the rules changed.... It was a very exciting series of shows -- maybe the most exciting shows I've ever done."

It ranks with his Berlin concert the night of German reunification and the night he played in Cuba in 1979. "There were armed guards with AK- 47s surrounding the stage, and the kids just pushed right past them," Joel says. "That's when I realized this is powerful stuff. It's not just me. It's popular music. It's popular culture, rock and roll."

He saw it in the Soviet Union, where American culture was popular -- blue jeans, Coca-Cola, Hollywood movies. "That was a bigger influence to them than politics," Joel says. "Popular culture is politics."

Such international acclaim is confirmation of Joel's musicianship and the strength of his catalog, Klosterman says. "When you see an American succeed in other countries, it suggests that they are actually dealing with the art directly as opposed to filtering it through the media's perception of someone," he says. "To say you're a huge Billy Joel fan in the United States has a specific meaning. In other countries, that's not how it is. In other countries, it's actually just the songs, especially in countries that are not predominantly English-speaking."

That's heady stuff for a guy who took boxing lessons in order to protect himself when he first started taking piano lessons, especially when it wasn't always clear that he showed promise.

Morton Estrin, who taught classical piano to Joel, says he remembers the then-11-year-old's interest in Beethoven but doesn't recall thinking his student was anything out of the ordinary. "He was OK for the elementary level," says Estrin, who still teaches piano in Hicksville, though he has cut back on his own performances. Estrin says he does see bits of classical music training in Joel's work. "He borrows melodies from great composers and applies them into his own style," he says. Asked if he was surprised by Joel's career success, Estrin says, "Well, it happened."


Joel, who will celebrate his 50th year in the music business next year, has generated intense, divergent opinions about his career that few superstars can match. "What makes him different is how literal and straightforward the lyrics are," Klosterman says. "When your words mean exactly what they say, it makes someone who is looking for art to be strange or art to be complicated to be disappointed and think, 'This is schlocky' or whatever. To the average person, who is looking for art to inform their life, when they hear a song that is straightforward, they think, 'I know what this means, and I know how this feels.' That might be part of the dissonance between how audiences respond to Billy Joel and how critics and hipsters do."

Klosterman says another part of the problem some critics have with Joel is that he may be too nice. "In pop music, figures who are more villainous, like Lou Reed, tend to be appreciated more because they're more interesting," says Klosterman, whose most recent book, "I Wear the Black Hat," focused on the idea of villainy. "With Billy Joel, the issue seemed to be that he was perceived as being uncool. No one said he couldn't play. No one said he couldn't sing. It was 'He's not cool.' His attempts to be cool seemed to be more damaging. But over time, nobody cares about that. Cool is definitely a present- tense thing."

After Joel's recent tour of England and Ireland, critics were calling for a reappraisal of his career, because, as Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian wrote, "it was obvious that he has been the victim of an injustice."

However, Joel says he's not really interested in that. "There will always be revisionism," he says. "If something lasts and has resonance throughout time, there will always be reappraisals. I gave up trying to second-guess what critics want a long time ago. I never really understood what the problem was in the first place. Everybody's entitled to not like my stuff. Maybe it's my voice. Maybe they hate the subject matter. Maybe they just don't like the way it's produced. Who knows? There's a million reasons why. I can't figure that out, and I gave up trying."

And the reappraisals may have to wait, anyway, since Joel's career isn't over yet.

He has developed a new show, mixing classics with songs he hasn't often played live before and booked a string of area dates including his first concert in Brooklyn, at Barclays Center on New Year's Eve. His planned return to Madison Square Garden, where his 12 shows in 2006 set a record for longest sold-out run, has already been extended to four shows running into April.


Joel says he hasn't decided whether he'll do shows in other parts of the country, aside from a run of January concerts in Florida. "I have said I'm tired of touring and that I may not tour again," he says. "The reason for that is I wonder if I'm still any good at it. I don't want to do it if I suck. If I'm no good at it, I'm gonna take myself out of the lineup. I would retire."

His friends, like Delsener, who saw Joel at a rare, intimate show at the Paramount in Huntington in October, have told him to keep going. "He doesn't have to do it," Delsener says. "His fans demand it. And he's happy with his life now, so he's coming out to do something."

Joel says the fun he had at the Paramount and the reaction he got at the "12-12-12" benefit for victims of superstorm Sandy last year encouraged him to return to limited touring.

"When we came off the stage , we looked at each other and said, 'OK, that was all right.' We didn't think we were that good. But the reaction was 'Oh, my God, you were so good! Are you gonna play again? Are you gonna play again?' I guess people really liked what we did. I thought, 'Maybe I should give it a try.'"

At this stage in his career, Joel knows why he keeps performing. "If I can't do it well, people would probably still come to see me," he says. "People would probably come to hear the songs. But if I'm not good at it, I don't see the point in doing it, even if I could make money. That's not what it's about. That's never been what it's about. It's about the fun and the joy of it and knowing that the audience is feeling good and that you made a lot of people happy. That's a great feeling."

Yes, after all these years, after all these accolades, The Piano Man keeps going because he gets us feeling all right. He knows we want him to sing us a song. ... -1.6506129

Billy Joel, the quiet Long Island philanthropist

Originally published: November 27, 2013 11:17 AM
Updated: November 29, 2013 4:01 PM

At an East Hampton summer camp for gifted

Photo credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas | At an East Hampton summer camp for gifted music students, Billy Joel took a few moments to speak to reporters before he began to teach a master class to the students. The camp is called Hamptons Summer Music, and is directed by Toby Perlman, the wife of violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was also present . The two week music camp is held at the Boys Harbor Camp in East Hampton, L.I..

Unlike so many wealthy, powerful men, Billy Joel doesn't have a lot of Long Island buildings or programs named after him. Unlike so many music superstars, including his friends Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, Joel doesn't let a lot of people know about his thoughts on politics and social causes.

"I have my own political views, but I don't think I'm the guy to tell people what to think," Joel says. "I'm a piano player. God forbid I should influence anybody to vote for someone. What if I'm wrong?"

That's not to say that Joel is uninvolved, especially on his beloved Long Island. He just generally goes about things quietly, though his actions still generate widespread impact.

The head of a local organization, who asked not to be named because of fear of embarrassing Joel, remembers coming to Joel with a proposal of creating a scholarship to help teach music to Long Island kids who couldn't afford lessons. The plan was to name the scholarship after Joel in return for his donation that would fund the program.

"He gave us the money," the organization leader says. "He just didn't want people to know. He just wants to help."

Jim Faith, co-founder of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, remembers how supportive Joel was for the hall's first induction gala in 2006, though he wanted it to remain behind the scenes for as long as possible. "We knew he was coming, but he didn't want people to know," Faith says. "He's been so good to us. He's donated one of his pianos to the museum. He's given us a bike to auction off. He's been very, very responsive. He just doesn't want a lot of attention. He's a humble guy."

Helping out Oyster Bay

Walter Imperatore, vice president of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce, says Joel is so influential he doesn't even need to say anything. He can let his actions speak for him.

Though 20th Century Cycles, Joel's motorcycle shop in downtown Oyster Bay, doesn't bear his name, it doesn't really have to. Whenever newcomers stop by Cruise Nights -- the tradition that draws car and motorcycle enthusiasts and plenty of spectators to downtown Oyster Bay on Tuesday nights in the summer -- the first question is usually, "Where's Billy Joel's motorcycle shop?" Imperatore says.

Joel's decision to open that shop on Audrey Avenue in 2010 has helped reshape downtown Oyster Bay. "It's been a great thing for the area," says Imperatore, adding that attendance and participation in Cruise Nights has been up since the shop has opened. "That part of the street was an inactive part of the hamlet. People sometimes wouldn't go down that street. Now that he's come into town, he's made it that much better."


Joel says his Oyster Bay home has become increasingly important to him, so much so now that he still isn't sure he wants to spend long stretches away from it to do national tours. "I've become a homebody," he says. "I get very, very homesick. I miss my home. I miss my dogs. When my girlfriend's not on the road with me, I miss her. I'm only looking at touring in very small increments. Even doing gigs on the West Coast would take at least a few weeks. I don't know how I feel about that yet."

Oyster Bay has become one of the few causes Joel is willing to publicly support. He joined Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, along with the North Oyster Bay Baymen's Association and Friends of the Bay, as well as town and county officials, for the 20th annual Oyster Bay Harbor Cleanup Day in September. He also has raised millions for the East Hampton Baymen's Association, which has struggled with commercial fishing bans, and even wrote "The Downeaster 'Alexa' " about their plight.

In 2001, he publicly supported those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, memorably performing at both "The Concert for New York City" and the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon, where he transformed "New York State of Mind" into an international anthem of support. Joel also supported victims of superstorm Sandy last year by playing at the "12-12-12" benefit, where his performance was so well received it encouraged him to return to touring this year.

In preparation for his European tour, Joel began rehearsing at the Paramount in October, which led to a show at the Huntington venue to benefit Long Island Cares. "Some people were upset they couldn't get tickets, but you can't let that stop you," he says of the surprise show that marked his first Long Island concert in 11 years. "We wanted to do a fundraiser."

Perhaps no one was more surprised by the fundraiser than Paule T. Pachter, executive director of the Hauppauge-based charity founded by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.

"He had always supported us quietly," Pachter says. "His support goes back to the late '70s, back to the 'Glass Houses' concert he did at Nassau Coliseum and gave all the proceeds to charities. He always obliged us when we needed something, but he never wanted his name put out there."


That's why when Joel said he wanted to publicly announce that proceeds from his show at the Paramount would go to Long Island Cares, Pachter says the group was thrilled but shocked. "We were used to his helping in his own way," he says. "We're still coming to terms with how much he has helped us now."

Pachter says the attention Joel brought to Long Island Cares is difficult to measure, though they do know that the earnings from the concert bought more than 113,000 meals for people in the area at a time when demand is up over previous years. "We've gotten donations from all over the country," he says. "Our online donations are up. We've gotten a lot of phone calls from people wanting to volunteer. It was absolutely amazing. We're still seeing a residual effect based on the concert."

Pachter says that even as the group distributed Thanksgiving turkeys more than a month after the concert, Joel's name kept coming up.

"People would ask me, 'Was this turkey bought by Billy Joel?' " Pachter says. "I tell them, 'A lot of turkeys were bought by Billy Joel.' He has used his status as a musical icon and really helped a lot of people."

Re: Billy Joel articles in NY Newsday

Sun Jan 26, 2014 5:48 pm

This was in the 1/26 NY Post: ... piano-man/

How Billy Joel became ‘The Piano Man’

By Larry Getlen

January 26, 2014 | 4:56am

Billy Joel performs at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Friday, January 17, 2014 in Tampa.

Monday’s Billy Joel show at Madison Square Garden will be his 47th at the venue, and the first in a potentially never-ending monthly residency there. After Elton John and the Grateful Dead — who have played the Garden 64 and 52 times, respectively — Joel is the third-most prolific performer in the venue’s history, including a record 12-show run in 2006.

Even before the residency was announced, his status as a New York institution was already chiseled in stone. Born in the Bronx in 1949 and raised in Hicksville, Long Island, William Martin Joel joined his first band, the Echoes, as a teenager. Since then, he’s sold over 150 million records, received the Kennedy Center Honors and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While Joel is a superstar now, his early days held more than their share of struggle and chaos. We spoke with people who’ve worked with the musician to compile an oral history of his late 1960s and ’70s — when Joel’s New York state of mind was often one of desperation.

Irwin Mazur (Billy’s first manager): My dad had a rock ’n’ roll club on Long Island called My House. So this group comes in, around 16 or 17 years old, doing top 40 songs. I didn’t love the band, but I did love this kid — Billy — and I convinced him to leave his band and join mine, the Hassles.

At the time, Billy was a shy performer who often refused to face the audience.

Mazur: There was always a darkness about Billy. You ever know people who, even when they’re having a good time, they’re not really having a good time? I always thought it stemmed from his dad abandoning his family. [Billy’s parents, Howard and Rosalind, divorced when he was around 10, and his father moved to Europe.]

In 1969, after the Hassles, Billy and the band’s drummer, Jon Small, formed a heavy-metal duo called Attila. When that failed, Billy found himself adrift.

Circa 1977, Joel’s band included drummer Liberty DeVitto, bassist Doug Stegmeyer, Joel and sax player Richie Cannata.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hank Bordowitz (author, “Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man”): Billy was trying everything to earn money. He became a rock critic for a magazine called Changes, writing reviews for $25 a pop, but he didn’t like criticizing other musicians. He tried house painting, he mowed lawns. He worked at a typewriter factory, and on an oyster dredge. One guy [there] told him, “You’ll get a raise when you’re 40, and a pension when you’re 65,” and he thought, “I gotta go.”

Broke, Billy would sometimes crash at a laundromat. It was a place open all night, where he could stay warm. Sometimes, he lived with Jon and his wife, Elizabeth Weber. Around this time, Billy and Elizabeth began an affair.

Bordowitz: The closet in Billy’s room adjoined the closet in Jon and Elizabeth’s room. Jon was a womanizer, and Elizabeth knew it. So Jon would go to work, and apparently, Billy would go to Elizabeth’s room.

Billy Joel and wife Elizabeth Weber were married from 1972 to 1982.
Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage

In time, the guilt of sleeping with his friend’s wife — in the man’s own home, no less — weighed on Billy. He wanted to come clean, but Elizabeth, who had a son with Jon, made it clear that if he told Jon, she would leave them both. The situation was driving Billy mad.

Mazur: He called me one night after midnight and asked me to meet him at a diner. So I go, and he tells me he’s been having this affair, and Elizabeth is threatening to leave everybody. Billy was not in the best of places. I think he was drinking. My wife and I were living in Far Rockaway, and we took him to live with us, sleeping on our couch.

I get up one morning, and on a table are the words to a song I had never seen, called “Tomorrow is Today.” One of the key lines is, “What’s the use of always dreaming if tomorrow is today.” It was like, “Give me the sleeping pills and let me die.” It was like a suicide note. The next thing I know, Billy is in a coma at Meadowbrook Hospital. He drank furniture polish.

Billy spent about four days in the psych ward, but told Irwin that all the polish did was make him “Fool lemon juice.” When Irwin took him home, Billy said he was quitting the music business. He didn’t, but he did eventually tell Jon that he loved Elizabeth. Jon responded by breaking Billy’s nose with one punch. Elizabeth eventually left Jon for Billy.

On the musical front, Billy gave Irwin 30 days to get him a record deal. Irwin managed to get Billy’s demo to Artie Ripp, who owned a small label called Family Productions.

Mazur: Family Productions was distributed by Paramount, which was as good as breathing farts. They were an awful record company. I saw quickly that things were not going to go well with this record.

Artie Ripp produced Joel’s 1971 debut, “Cold Spring Harbor,” which sank like a stone. In addition to weak support on the business end, Billy has long contended that the album was recorded at the wrong speed. (Artie denies this.) The first time he heard it, he was reportedly so angry that he threw the album out the window. He blamed Artie for the album’s failure. That said, the record demonstrated Billy’s talent for turning his life into memorable, meaningful songs.

Artie Ripp: Most of the songs on that album are about Elizabeth. Look at the titles: “She’s Got a Way,” “You Can Make Me Free,” “Everybody Loves You Now,” “You Look So Good to Me.” There’s a whole cycle of life there, going from “I’m in love with her” to “I can’t have her” to, finally, the reality of “I’m at the end of the road, where do I go from here?” You read those lyrics, you’ll know everything about his love for Elizabeth, including his loneliness.
Billy Joel circa 1978.
Photo: Everett Collection

Billy and Elizabeth moved to Los Angeles in 1972. Billy began playing piano at a bar called the Executive Room, under the name Bill Martin. Elizabeth worked there as a waitress. Billy spent six months there, and wrote his signature song, “Piano Man,” based on that time.

Bordowitz: When he sings, “the waitress is practicing politics,” that was Elizabeth. There really was a Davy who was in the Navy, and probably would be for life. [Another guy,] Paul, was a real estate broker, but he wanted to be a novelist.

Later that year, Billy signed with Columbia Records and hit the road, opening for such acts as Yes, Captain Beefheart and the Beach Boys.

Richie Cannata (Billy’s former sax player): They had us open for the Beach Boys. Think about that combination. A bunch of guys from Long Island with dark shirts and sunglasses, playing outdoor sheds in the afternoon, when the sun is very bright and people are waiting for the Beach Boys. That was hard on Billy. These people couldn’t have cared less. They were waiting to hear “Help Me, Rhonda.” He’s trying to be serious, playing “New York State of Mind,” and he gets hit in the head with a beach ball.

Larry Russell (Billy’s former bassist): I did all this for free. There wasn’t any money to pay the band.

Billy and Elizabeth married in 1973, and she took over as his manager soon after (they would divorce in 1982 and her brother, Frank, would later become Billy’s manager). Billy’s fortunes improved with the next two albums, “Piano Man” (1973) and “Streetlife Serenade” (1974).

Cannata:We were in the south of France, and a promoter took us out to this restaurant. We were throwing plates into the fireplace, and before we knew it there was a donkey in the place. It was absolutely rock ‘n’ roll crazy. Elizabeth organized that. She was very strong.

As Billy gained confidence as a live performer, a surprising talent revealed itself.

Russell: There’s a little bit of the comedian in Billy. He tends to emulate other people’s voices.

Cannata: We did a few recordings at [the now-defunct New York City club] the Bottom Line for WNEW-FM, and Billy, who did these great impressions, said on the radio, “In the house tonight, we have Bruce Springsteen. Come on up, Bruce.” Then Billy did his Bruce impersonation. I think he sang “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

As his popularity grew, one group was not on board: critics.

Billy Joel screaming into the microphone.
Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns

Howard Bloom (Billy’s 1980s publicist): The LA Times’ Robert Hilburn did a piece comparing Bob Seger to Billy Joel, and wrote that one artist is s–t, and the other is a great lyricist. Guess which one he picked as a great lyricist. I was furious before I even met Billy, because Billy at that point was one of the great poets in rock ’n’ roll. And Bob Seger, whose music I adore, was nowhere near Billy’s level [as a lyricist].

Despite the critics, both the song and the album “Piano Man” hit the Top 40 in 1973, a feat Billy would duplicate with 1974’s “Streetlife Serenade” and its song, “The Entertainer.” While 1976’s “Turnstiles” failed to crack the top 100, the following year’s “The Stranger” made him a superstar, producing four hit songs (including “Just the Way You Are,” which went to No. 3 on the Hot 100 and won the Record of the Year Grammy) and earning him a five-night stint at Carnegie Hall. Now, relocated back east, Billy’s striving days were officially behind him. He would wrap up the decade with 1978’s “52nd Street” and its hits, including “My Life,” which also reached No. 3. It wasn’t until 1980 and the song “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” that he finally had his first No. 1.

Cannata: Playing Carnegie Hall was an amazing feeling, and then every place we played was larger than the last. The band was awesome, the music was awesome, the performances were awesome. Everybody was in love with the music. It was just a great time in our lives.