The Original Piano Man
May 9, 1949
The Bronx, New York, USA
A Personal Note
Billy Joel’s music has such a solid place in my life, as I’m sure it does for so many other people. Sure, it’s overplayed, but who can deny the perfection of “Just the Way You Are”? “You’re My Home” reminds me of old, romantic college days, when I would just let Billy’s cassettes repeat over and over again until I could sing all the words in my sleep. I hope I get the chance to thank him someday for the music and emotion he’s brought to my life. Now, here are a few things even I didn’t know about the man and the musician…
William Martin Joel – otherwise known as Billy Joel – began studying piano when he was just 4 years old and joined his first band, The Echoes, when he was 14. At 18, he joined the Long Island, NY band called The Hassles, who record two albums for United Artists in 1967 and 1968.
Believe it or not, in 1970, Billy formed a heavy metal duo with The Hassles’ drummer, Jon Small. Their only album cover had Billy wearing fur pelts and armor. This was the year he also tried to kill himself by drinking furniture polish – because it didn’t seem as nasty as chlorine bleach. Thank God he wasn’t successful!
In 1971, Billy signed a solo recording contract, released his first album – Cold Spring Harbor – and began a world tour with his band to promote the album. While trying to get out of a bad record contract, he “hid out” by playing piano in a Los Angeles bar under the name Billy Martin. It was from this experience that the song “Piano Man” later emerged.
In 1972, Philadelphia radio station WMMR-FM began playing a live recording of Joel’s new song “Captain Jack.” The song’s popularity caused Columbia Records to track down Billy Martin and offer him a recording contract, which he signed in 1973. He immediately recorded the album Piano Man and in 1974, the single “Piano Man” became his first top 20 single and first gold album.
In 1975 and 1976, Billy Joel recorded the albums Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles, leading to, among other awards, a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall in 1975.
In 1977, his career really left the launching pad after he wrote, recorded, and released The Stranger album, which became Columbia Records’ biggest selling album from 1977 to 1985. The song “Just The Way You Are” won two grammies in 1978, the same year Billy released his first #1 album, 52nd St.
So many excellent albums followed (can you tell I’m a fan?) – Glass Houses, Songs in the Attic, The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man, Greatest Hits Volume I and II, Kohuept, Storm Front, River of Dreams, Greatest Hits Volume III. Wow, what a repertoire!
Billy Joel never graduated high school, because of a missed exam.
From 1973 to 1982, Joel was married to his business manager, Elizabeth Weber. She stayed on as his business manager, which was a giant mistake, since her brother embezzled most of Billy’s savings.
From 1985 to 1994, Billy was married to model Christie Brinkley, with whom he had a daughter, Alexa Ray.
In 1996, he became co-founder of the Long Island Boat Company, which makes the classic, 38-foot Shelter Island Runabout powerboat. They had sold 20 boats by 1999.
He sold the house he built in the Hamptons (while married to Christie Brinkley) to Jerry Seinfeld for $32 million.
In 2004, he married culinary artist Katie Lee, to whom he remains married.
Billy Joel has taken part in a number of concerts benefitting a wide range of groups, including Farm Aid I, marine-related groups, Walden Woods, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Kobe earthquake victims, Rainforest Benefit, and Save the Music (restoring music programs to New York City Schools).
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