Billy Joel Marks 50 Years as PerformerBy: Courtney Wills - February 1, 2014
Billy Joel will meet a benchmark this year in his career, as 2014 will be the star’s 50th year performing.
It has been nearly two decades since the last time Joel released a new album, but the musician is still headlining sell-out shows; Madison Square Garden recently named a new “franchise” for their company, “Billy Joel at the Garden,” which began running out of tickets within minutes. “Billy Joel at the Garden” is an unlimited-show tour (that began January 27) in which the star will perform concerts at the Garden and other venues across the nation.
Tickets for the nine shows already scheduled at Madison Square Garden were claimed in a record-breaking amount of time. Passes to watch Joel at the other US venues – including Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the Nationals Stadium in Washington, and the three-night Hollywood Bowl – sold-out rapidly, as well.
Joel, 64, says that he got his start as a musician by playing in a piano bar and performing with various bands throughout his teenage and early-adult years.
The “Piano Man” does admit, however, that not many people had much faith in his determination and desire to earn a living while making music.
Joel related to Billboard that when he would say, “‘I’m gonna be a musician,'” people would respond by telling him, “‘You’re crazy, you’re gonna starve, you’re gonna be poor, a drug addict, go to jail, you’ll never make it, there’s too much competition, it’s a terrible business, etc.'”
However, one person made a difference in the aspiring star’s life, as well as in the fate of American pop culture.
According to Joel, “My chorus teacher in high school said, ‘You’ve got what it takes to be a really good professional musician, you should consider it.’ That was an epiphany for me.”
While music – on most any type of instrument – came naturally to Joel, he says that being a “rock star,” did not; in fact, he attributes the majority of his success in the industry to the singer/songwriter phenomenon that was happening when he was first pursuing a career as a musician.
“I started just concentrating on songwriting when I was abut 20; I’d been in rock bands six or seven years, kinda got that out of my system. I said, ‘Okay, you ain’t gonna be a rock star, you don’t look like a rock star, it probably ain’t gonna happen. So what you should do is write songs and maybe other people will do your songs.’ I just felt like I had something to write, and the advice I got from the music business people that I knew was, ‘Okay, now you should probably make an album of your songs.’ Get a record deal, make an album. This just happened to coincide with the era of the singer/songwriter. You had James Taylor, Jackson Browne, JD Souther, Joni Mitchell, singer/songwriters. So I got a record deal—a terrible record deal—made a record, and then the advice I got was, ‘Now you should go out on the road and perform and support the album.’ There I was, still 20 years old, so I went out on tours, didn’t get paid nothin’, but played, and it kinda turned into this ‘Billy Joel pop star/rock star guy,’ which to this day is still kinda funny to me, because that’s not at all what I set out to do. I’m not gonna disown it, it’s the best job I ever had, but it ended up happening kind of randomly.”
Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, was released in 1971, and met with a disappointing amount of success. However, Harbor would later become the prologue to a staggeringly-successful career; Piano Man, Joel’s sophomore record released in 1973, earned the musician a Top 20 single, landing Joel on the musical map.
Billy would go on to make numerous albums throughout the next three decades, and earn many different honors denoting success in his career at events such as the Grammy Awards and the People’s Choice Awards.
In 1999, Billy Joel’s all-time record sales surpassed $100 million, an achievement few musical artists are ever able to attain; in December 2013, the singer was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors, a title that is reserved for an elite, select-few number of professionals who have experienced monumental success.
In addition to the national “tour” Joel is embarking upon, he also recently appeared in a televised special on Showtime, Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust – The Bridge to Russia, a documentary about Joel that depicts the frenzy that surrounded his 1987 trip to the former Soviet Union. The film premiered on Showtime on January 31.
Main image courtesy of minds-eye via Wikimedia Commons.