Having sold more than 150 million records, Billy Joel is a household name as well as a role model for aspiring songwriters and musicians.
The 68-year-old “piano man” has had Top 40 hits in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990. He wrote all 33 of his Top 40 hits in the US.
With classics like Uptown Girl, New York State of Mind and We Didn’t Start The Fire it’s not surprising that people start to sing along when they hear his tunes.
It’s only fitting that he has received some very prestigious awards for his work in the music industry. Billy Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
He holds a record for selling out 36 shows in 3 years, more than any other artist.
While backstage at Madison Square Garden, in New York, Billy Joel moves slowly and deliberately, having just had both hips replaced. However when he gets on stage, he is exuberant and makes the giant venue feel like a living room.
The crowd in the building is aged 20 and up. A much younger audience than you would expect at this old rocker’s show.
“I’d look down and see rich people sitting there, I call ’em “gold chainers.” Sitting there puffing on a cigar, “entertain me, piano man.” They don’t stand up, make noise, sit there with their bouffant haired girlfriend lookin’ like a big shot. I kinda got sick of that, who the hell are these people, where are the real fans?” Billy Joel said in an interview with Billboard.
“It turns out the real fans were always in the back of the room in the worst seats,” he said.
So that’s when Joel decided it was time for a change.
Joel hasn’t produced new music 24 years and doesn’t intend to ever make a new album.
“I’m still writing music, I just stopped writing words,” he said. “When Christie [Brinkley] and I got divorced I was missing my daughter, who would visit me and then have to leave.”
“It was heartbreaking. I started to write what could have been a song, but the music was saying what I wanted it to say. It came naturally to me and it had all the emotion in it. Music speaks to me on its own. But I’ve never closed the door on writing songs,” he said.
He’s proud to have made music that speaks to all age groups, with 12 best-selling albums.
“How boring would it be if it was just people in my age group?” he told the Daily Mail.
Billy Joel is spending most of his time at Madison Square Garden, close to his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, not far from where he was born.
“I hesitate to call it a tour – I don’t want to be a road dog any more. I’ve got a new baby, a new wife and I don’t want to be in hotels,” he said.
Billy Joel toured with Elton John for 16 years, but that came to an end after he had his hips replaced.
“I had to have my hips replaced and that was the reason I was out of commission. The last few gigs I did with Elton I could barely walk. I had canes – canes on stage is not good,” he recalled.
For now he is happy playing close to home and sleeping in his own bed at night, overlooking manicured gardens and the sparkling bay. With an estimated worth of $180 million he doesn’t need to worry about booking gigs any time soon.
Having true fans at his shows is very important to the performer.
“We never sell front rows, we hold those tickets at just about every concert,” he said. “For years, the scalpers got the tickets and would scalp the front row for ridiculous amounts of money.”
Instead he sends his road crew out to the back of the room after the audience comes in and get the people in the worst seats and bring them to the front rows.
“This way you’ve got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans,” she said.
His actions not only make fans happy, but he can feel good about taking those tickets out of scalpers’ hands.
“We’ve tried to figure out how to beat the scalpers for years and years, hold off selling until the last minute, the wristband thing, limiting the amount of tickets people can get. You can’t fight that secondary market,” he said.
“We don’t want to play to big shots, I want to play to younger people, people who can only afford a low ticket price. They make the best audience, they make the most noise, they’re the most enthusiastic,” he said.
Do you think more artists should be like this?