“If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.”– Billy Joel
William Martin Joel was born on this day in The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA in 1949. Today is his 64th birthday.
Billy Joel is the oldest child of Karl and Rosalind Joel. He was raised in the Levittown neighborhood of Hicksville, Long Island. Karl was a classical pianist and both parents insisted that Billy take lessons on the instrument. For his part he would have much rather been playing sports. He was bullied for playing piano rather than playing a sport. As a teen he remedied that situation by taking up boxing. Joel was an amateur Gold Glove winner — winning 22 bouts — before giving up the ring when his nose was broken.
He went to Hicksville High School, but by then his parents had divorced and Joel was playing piano at bars to help make ends meet at home. So he didn’t always make it to school the next day. The results being he didn’t have enough credits to graduate.
Instead he followed his dream and began his musical career in earnest. He started with the cover band the Echoes. Then through the mid to late 60s he worked with a number of bands (or reworking of bands) including: the Emeralds, the Lost Souls, The Hassles and Hour of the Wolf . In 1969 Joel and Wolf drummer Joe Small broke away to form Attila. Attila focused on a heavy metal sound and had some traction in the music scene. They and pressed an album in 1970 before Joel launched his solo career a year later.
His first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor came out in 1971. The album had problems, not the least of which was it was recorded at the wrong speed so his voice seems shaky, strange and too high. The record contract also heavily benefited the producer, Ripp’s Family Productions, and Joel got little of the money made from the record. But regardless of the problems there are some lovely songs on this freshman offering, like She’s Got A Way and Tomorrow is Today.
He toured and landed on the West Coast. (Where he played at the piano bar in The Executive Room and met the real life inspiration behind the song Piano Man.) But it was a Philadelphia radio interview and in-studio recording of Captain Jack that really launched his career. The radio station promoted the song (and singer) and Joel suddenly had an underground following. Columbia Records came calling at The Executive Room and signed him to a contract.
His first album with Columbia was Piano Man. The title song became his signature song, and the song he ends almost all his live performances with. The LP was his first gold album.
He’s won six Grammy Awards (including 5 on a hot streak from 1978 -1980) and has 16 Platinum records. An Innocent Man, Glass Houses and 52nd Street garnered 7x Platinum status. The Stranger nabbed 9 Platinums. His Greatest Hits Volume I and II earned a whopping 20 x Platinum rating.
Rolling Stone calls him the “bard of everyday suburban dream and disappointment” adding that “his forte is the romantic ballad, epitomized by his signature tune, Just the Way You Are.” [Rolling Stone.com]
He now writes both jazz and classical music as well as rock and roll, and was most recently in featured at April’s New Orleans Jazz Fest.
And so it goes (on)…