Billy Joel was born in the Bronx, New York City in 1949, and soon thereafter, the Joel family moved to Levittown, where he grew up. Billy's father was a classically trained pianist, and had Billy enrolled in piano lessons at age 4. He studied the classics and took a particular interest in Beethoven and Chopin.
Billy took piano lessons from a woman in the neigborhood who also taught ballet. The other boys in the neighborhood would pick on him, thinking he was taking dancing lessons. In response to the bullying, Billy took up boxing, eventually boxing in 22 bouts before having his nose broken. At that point he stopped boxing, and focused on music.
Billy's major musical influence changed one Sunday night in February, 1964. Billy Joel saw The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, and his musical direction shifted. Another major influence was Ray Charles, whom Billy idolized.
In 1963, Billy joined his first band, called "The Echoes," which they later changed to "The Lost Souls." While still in high school, billy and his band were playing in the local bars.
In 1967, Billy joined The Hassels, releasing two albums for the United Artists label. After their breakup in 1970, he started "Attiila," a "heavy" rock duo with the Hassel's drummer, releasing a record on Epic.
Attilla was soon history, and later in 1970, Billy Joel signed a solo record deal. He recorded Cold Spring Harbor and embarked on a world tour to promote the record. After the tour, the deal went sour, and Billy went to Los Angeles to keep a low profile. He played in piano bars under the name "Billy Martin" because of contractual problems.
While laying low in L.A., a Philadelphia radio station started playing a live tape of "Captain Jack," stirring up interest in Billy Joel. Columbia Records tracked him down in L.A., and Clive Davis signed Billy Joel to record Piano Man in L.A. The single "Piano Man" makes it to the top 20, and the album reaches gold status.
In 1976, Billy Joel moved back to New York City, and put together a new band, The Turnstiles. The begin a world tour as a headliner act.
In 1977, Joel released The Stranger, produced by legendary producer Phil Ramone, who becomes integral to the Billy Joel sound. The single "Just The Way You Are" wins two Grammies, for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The Stranger becomes Columbia's biggest selling record from 1977 until 1985.
Joel's 1978 album, 52nd Street, hits #1; and then 1979's Glass Houses stays at #1 for six weeks. The single "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" reaches #1. In 1981, Billy won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal, Male; and The People's Choice Award, both for the album Songs in the Attic.
In 1982, while recording The Nylon Curtain, Billy has a motorcycle accident. After finishing the record, it charts in the top 10. Later that year, he releases An Innocent Man, which hits #4 on the Bilboard chart. He scores 6 top 40 singles from the album, and "Uptown Girl" reaches the top 10.
The following year, Columbia re-releases Cold Spring Harbor, and releases Greatest Hits Volume I & II, which becomes his seventh consecutive top 10 album. That year he also participated in the Farm Aid concert, along with John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and others.
In 1985 he records The Bridge, with duets with Ray Charles and Cyndi Lauper. In '87 Billy Joel and his band tour the Soviet Union, recording and releasing a double-record album of the event. In 1988, he releases Storm Front featuring the single "We Didn't Start The Fire," which charts at #1. He also receives the Grammy Legend Award in '88.
In 1991, he continues making hits with River of Dreams, which debuts at #1. The single of the same name also goes to #1. In 1993 and '97 Billy Joel and Elton John tour worldwide together. In 1999 he receives the Record Industry Association of America Diamond Award for selling more than 10 miilion copies of Greatest Hits Vols. I & II, actual sales being more than 20 million units. Also in 1999, his idol Ray Charles inducts Billy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal by the Smithsonian Institution.
In 2000, he again tours with Elton John, and in 2002 a Broadway show Movin' Outfeaturing his songs opens to rave reviews. In 2007 he receives the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
Billy Joel is one of the best selling recording artists in the U.S. He has had top 10 hits in the 1970's, '80's and '90's. He has charted with 33 top 40 hits, has won 5 Grammies, garnered 23 Grammy nominations, and is in the Songwriter's and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Some of the many songs Joel is known for include "Piano Man," New York State Of Mind," "Captain Jack," "she's Always A Woman To Me," "Movin' Out," "Only The Good Die Young," "Leave A tender Moment Alone," "Scenes From An Italian Reastaurant," "My Life," and "You May Be Right." He also has Fantastic Delusions, an album of his classical piano compositions. Billy Joel continues to tour, occasionally with Elton John.
Photo: mind's eye, Creative Commons Lic.
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