Happy Birthday to Billy Joel, who turns 64 today (May 9th). With two recent festival shows under his belt at Australia's Stone Music Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Billy Joel fans are waiting to see what his next move will be. Billy, who hasn't toured since 2010, went on record as stating that he's considering a series of full-album shows in major U.S. cities in the near future. August 10th will mark the 20th anniversary since the "Piano Man" released his last studio rock album, River Of Dreams. The album, which peaked at Number One on the Billboard 200, featured the Top Three hit -- and Billy's last Top Ten hit to date -- "The River Of Dreams."
In early 2011, Billy made headlines when he canceled the publication of his memoir, The Book Of Joel. The completed book -- co-written with former Rolling Stone writer Fred Schruers -- was due to be published in June 2011 by HarperCollins. Joel sold the rights to the autobiography for $3 million and promised never-before-known anecdotes about his music and personal life -- including his split from second wife Christie Brinkley, and his long battles with substance abuse.
After deciding to pull the book, Billy issued a statement to The Associated Press which read: "It took working on writing a book to make me realize that I'm not all that interested in talking about the past, and that the best expression of my life and its ups and downs has been and remains my music."
Although Billy is known as one of the top musicians in all of rock, he says that his musical limitations could actually be responsible for helping him creating his greatest songs: "I never really applied myself the way I should. I never practiced my scales. I'm limited, and in a way, I think my limitations have helped me as a pop music writer. Sometimes I'll paint myself into a corner, and I don't know how to get out, so I just come up with my own solution to get myself out of that corner. And that, in a way, is what may make my material original."
The late Phil Ramone was Billy's closest musical confidante, and produced such classic multi-platinum albums for Billy as The Stranger, 52nd Street, Glass Houses, Songs In The Attic, The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man, and The Bridge. He told us shortly before he died earlier this year that Billy's a multifaceted man: "But, y'know, he's a wonderful animal. He's just so smart. And of course he comes of playing this tough Long Island kid -- which is part of his background -- but the rest of him is just amazing. He's an amazing guy. Extremely intelligent and well read."
Despite his fans clamoring for a new album, Billy says that he's happy touring and playing his greatest hits, but is equally content quietly writing instrumental music: "I guess these days I just think of myself as a classical composer. I have a piano at home and I write classical pieces -- I don't ever wanna call it classical pieces, it's piano music. They could be used for an orchestra, some of these things might end up being used for a movie soundtrack. I'm not even all that anxious to have them performed. Right now all I'm interested is just composing."
Wings drummer Denny Seiwell produced the early sessions for Billy's 1971 solo debut Cold Spring Harbor. He recalls being amazed at his talent years before the rest of the world discovered "Billy Joel": "I started producin' Billy out in Long Island. All I remember was Billy was just awesome. He was phenomenal. In fact one night we were having a problem, we couldn't get him to -- he really had unbelievable piano chops and we couldn't get him to slow this (sings piano riff). He wouldn't slow down, so we said, 'How 'bout we get you a bottle of booze, man?' So we got him a bottle of gin (laughs), and he sat it on the piano bench and he just started sluggin' away at this thing. We said, 'Just let him chill out for a little while. We'll slow him down.' And the more he drank, the faster he got!"
Over the past decade, Billy's problems with alcohol popped up frequently in the press, resulting in his last stay at the Betty Ford Clinic in 2005. Two years before that, he appeared on NBC's Dateline and spoke candidly about his relationship with the bottle: "I can abuse alcohol if the demons get me. I'll go on a bender. It's happened to me before. That's why I went into rehab, I was on a binge, I was on a bender. And I said 'This is stupid, I've got to stop.' Then I went and I did stop and I've learned to recognize what those signs are."
Billy was asked what gig out of the thousands that he's played meant the most to him: "First gig I ever did where I got paid, I was in a band. I was 15-years-old. I played at Holy Family Church in Hicksville. I thought we sounded great. Maybe we sucked, but I thought we sounded great, and then at the end of the night the priest gave us 15 bucks apiece, which in 1964 was, like, I don't know, 1,500 dollars."
Photo Courtesy of BillyJoel.com