Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in Bronx, New York.
As a young child, his family moved to Levittown, a suburban housing development
on Long Island in New York
State. Billy discovered
classical music at the age of four, a love that has stayed with him to the
present day. Billy’s early classical piano training provided him with a strong
foundation for his future career.
his early influences, Billy lists Ray Charles, The Beatles, Dave Brubeck, Sam
Cooke, The Rolling Stones, and Otis Redding. His ambition to become a
professional musician began to take shape after seeing The Beatles
perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. At age 14, Billy joined his first band, the Echoes
(later known as The Lost Souls), after noticing, among other things,
that it was a foolproof way to meet girls.
this time, Billy’s parents had divorced and, like many single parents, his
mother was struggling to make ends meet. While still in junior high school,
Billy took professional music jobs at night to help supplement the family
income. It was difficult to work all night and still make it to school on time.
Although Billy’s grades were fine, he was not allowed to graduate with his high
school class as a result of too many absences.
1968, Billy joined The Hassles, a well-known band from Long
Island. The Hassles recorded two albums for United Artists,
The Hassles and Hour of the Wolf. In 1970, Billy moved on to form
Attila, a heavy metal rock duo with Hassles’ drummer, Jon Small. Attila
recorded one album on Epic Records. Although Billy had an album out, he had to
supplement his income during this period with various “straight” jobs such as
writing rock criticism for the magazine “Changes”, working in a factory,
painting Piping Rock Country Club in Locust
Island and recording a commercial with Chubby Checker.
signed a solo recording contract in 1972 and released his first album, Cold
Spring Harbor (Paramount Records). Named after a village on Long Island’s North Shore,
it was Billy’s first full album of original songs. Meanwhile, a Philadelphia radio
station, WMMR-FM, started playing a tape of a new song, “Captain Jack”, which
was taken from a live concert broadcast.
Jack” became an underground hit on the East Coast, but legal and financial
wrangles caused Billy to disappear to the West Coast in 1973, where he performed
in piano bars under the name “Bill Martin”. That experience was stored away,
later to be retold in the song, “Piano Man”. Although Billy did his best to
keep a low profile in Los Angeles, the notoriety
of “Captain Jack” prompted Columbia Records to track Billy down in Los Angeles and offer him
a recording contract. Billy signed with Columbia
in the spring and went straight to work on an album with producer, Michael
Stewart. His first Top 20 single, “Piano Man”, was released at the end of the
1974, Billy and Michael Stewart teamed up again and recorded Streetlife
Serenade. The album featured the hit single “The Entertainer”, and garnered
Billy his first crop of music industry awards, including “Best New Male
Vocalist” (Cashbox), “Male Artist of the Year” (Music Retailer), and “Record of
the Year” (Stereo Review, for Piano Man). Sell-out concert performances at
Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New
York City confirmed that Billy had achieved permanent
moved back to New York
in 1975, assembled a new band and began recording the Turnstiles album.
Songs such as “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”,
Billy’s tribute to Phil Spector (later covered by Ronnie Spector), the torchy “New
York State of Mind”, and anthemic “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on
Broadway)” would join the ranks of Billy’s already classic recordings. With the
success of Turnstiles, Billy embarked on his first major concert tour.
He opened in New York City with a WNEW-FM live
broadcast from the Bottom Line and closed 108 SRO performances later with three
nights at New York’s
prestigious Carnegie Hall.
next album was The Stranger. From the time of its release in 1977 until
1985, The Stranger was the biggest selling album in Columbia Records’
history. Billy toured the United States
and Europe in support of The Stranger,
playing 54 concerts from September to December, including an appearance on “Saturday
Night Live”. As the New Year began, the album’s popularity showed no signs of
slowing down. In fact, the Billboard Hot 100 chart for May, 1978, listed three
singles from The Stranger (“Only the Good Die Young”, “Movin’ Out”
(Anthony’s song), and “Just the Way You Are”).
early fall of 1978, with a fourth top 20 single from The Stranger (“She’s
Always a Woman”) still charting, Columbia Records released 52nd Street,
which went on to become Billy’s first number one album. A twelve-week North
American tour finished dramatically with three sold-out nights at New York City’s Madison
February of 1979, in a hotel room in Paris, Billy received a middle of the
night transatlantic phone call informing him that “Just the Way You Are” had
captured “Record of the Year”, and “Song of the Year”, giving Billy his first
two Grammy Awards. After the European tour ended, Billy traveled to Cuba for “Havana
Jam” (March), an historic three-day event at the Karl Marx Theater. Spring
included two months of U.S.
touring, two nights at the Budokan in Tokyo, and
a benefit concert for several Long Island charities.
In October, with sales of The Stranger and 52nd Street totaling over nine
million units, Columbia Records named Billy their biggest-selling solo artist
of the 20th century.
the time Glass Houses was released in March of 1980, Billy had already
won two more Grammy Awards for 52nd
Street in the categories Album of the Year and
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. Glass Houses quickly reached number
one on the Billboard chart and remained there for six weeks. The third single
release from the album, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, became Billy’s first number
one single. Billy was honored with an American Music Award for “Album of the
Year”. The North American summer tour included five sold out shows at Madison Square Garden.
Houses won “Best Rock Vocal
Performance, Male” at the 1981 Grammy Awards, giving Billy his fifth Grammy in
three years, as well as a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Male Pop
enjoying the success of his previous studio albums, Billy recorded Songs in
the Attic, an album of live concert performances. Songs in the Attic
released in September, 1981, and although some of the material was not as
widely known, it received a very enthusiastic response from the public.
Including the songs “She’s Got a Way”, “I’ve Loved These Days”, “Captain Jack”,
and “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”, Songs in the Attic became Billy’s
fourth consecutive Top 10 album.
1982, despite a serious motorcycle accident on Long Island,
Billy completed the critically acclaimed The Nylon Curtain album. Born
out of his concern with the “diminishing horizons” of the American experience, The
Nylon Curtain is a hauntingly anthemic journey through the world of blue
collar workers in “Allentown, Pennsylvania”, guilt and interpersonal
relationships in “Pressure”, and the Vietnam experience told through the eyes
of a soldier in “Goodnight Saigon”. The album earned a four star review in
Rolling Stone, reached number seven on the Billoard chart, and was nominated for
a Grammy for “Album of the Year” in 1982. Once again, Billy toured in support
of the album.
the Nylon Curtain tour ended, Billy returned home and wrote an
unprecedented ten songs in seven weeks for a new album. An Innocent Man
echoes the music he loved as a kid. The songs that comprise An Innocent Man
are Billy’s tribute to the music he loved growing up. The Motown girl groups
inspired “Tell Her About It”, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on “Uptown
Girl” (a number three single and RIAA certified “Gold” single about his
soon-to-be wife, Christie Brinkley), the great Ben E. King on “An Innocent Man”,
the street corner doo-wop of “The Longest Time”, and sharkskin, shades and
pompadours on “Keeping the Faith”. An Innocent Man reached number four on
the Billboard charts, was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Album of the Year”,
and generated six Top 40 singles, three of which made it to the Top 10,
including “Uptown Girl” (which was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Pop
Vocal Performance, Male”).
the midst of the excitement and success of An Innocent Man, Columbia
Records decided to re-release Cold Spring Harbor, Billy’s first solo
album in November, 1983. Originally recorded for Family Productions, Cold
Spring Harbor contains the original recording of “She’s Got a Way” and “Everybody
Loves You Now”.
1985, Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II became Billy’s
seventh consecutive Top 10 album. In addition to containing most of the
classics in his catalogue, the album also contained two new songs, “The Night ss
Still Young” and “You’re Only Human” (Second Wind), Billy’s song of
encouragement for teenage suicide prevention. Paul Grein’s “Chart Bea”"
column in Billboard proclaimed Billy to be the “most consistent and prolific
male album artist of the decade”. That same week, “You’re Only Human” (Second
Wind), became Billy’s eighth Top 10 single. Billy joined with fellow musicians
John Mellencamp and Randy Newman for Farm Aid I, and also participated
in USA For Africa.
highlights of 1985 were Billy’s marriage to Christie Brinkley and the birth of
their daughter, Alexa Ray. Collaboration with Ray Charles, Steve Winwood, and
Cyndi Lauper culminated in the new summer release of The Bridge. Billy
recorded “Baby Grand” with Ray Charles, a long-time hero of Billy’s and for
whom Alexa Ray was named. Cyndi Lauper co-wrote and sang on “Code of Silence”
and Steve Winwood joined Billy on “Getting Closer”, playing the Hammond B-3
organ. The Bridge also included “Modern Woman”, the single from the “Ruthless
People” motion picture soundtrack. Billy’s first North American tour in two
years opened on September 29, and extended through December, with encore
performances in many cities scheduled for January, 1986. Meanwhile, the Big
Man on Mulberry Street album track was adapted for television by the producers
of the hit television show “Moonlighting” (airdate November 18).
summer of 1987 marked a personal and professional triumph for Billy as he
became the first U.S. pop
star to bring a fully-staged rock production to the Soviet
Union. Under the U.S.-Soviet General Exchanges Agreement of the
Reagan-Gorbachev 1985 Geneva
summit, this was a significant cultural breakthrough and was encouraged by the
U.S. Information Agency and the Soviet Ministry of Culture. Billy performed in
concert at Olympic Sports Complex (Moscow) and
V.I. Lenin Sports/Concert Complex (Leningrad).
Millions of Soviets saw the closing night in Moscow telecast in its entirety on tape
delay. Opening night in Leningrad was the first live rock radio broadcast in
Soviet history, made extra special as it was simulcast in the United States.
The live double-album, Kohuept (translation: “In Concert”), chronicled
the trip and was released in October.
1989, Billy Joel split with his long time manager, re-vamped his band and began
working for the first time with producer Mick Jones (Foreigner). Storm
Front was Billy’s fourteenth Columbia
album and his first new studio recording since 1986. Both the album and the
first single, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, reached the number one spots
simultaneously on the Billboard album and singles charts on December 16, 1989.
The album is suffused with the maritime imagery of “The DownEaster”,
"Alexa", and “Storm Front”, the personal reflections of “I Go to
Extremes” and “And So It Goes”, a reminiscence of his Soviet sojourn in Leningrad and the
heart-wrenching confession of passionate love in “Shameless”. Storm Front
received two Grammy nominations for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male,” and “Producer
of the Year”. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” received nominations for “Record of
the Year”, “Song of the Year”, and “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male”.
Storm Front Tour opened on December 6, 1989 in Worcester,
Massachusetts, and ended fifteen months later
on March 24, 1991 with Billy’s first ever concert in Mexico City. The tour reached 4.3 million
fans via 174 shows in 16 countries, setting attendance records across North
America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Highlights were many, but never-to-be-forgotten moments occurred in Berlin,
where Billy performed a day after German Reunification; in the Philippines,
where he played to GIs on January 15, the same day Operation Desert Storm began
a continent away; and the Bronx, where Billy played the first ever rock concert
in Yankee Stadium. Billy also performed two benefit shows at the Jones Beach
Amphitheater, on Long Island, The Concerts for
the Bays and Baymen. On December 5, 1990, he took a day off from the road and
came home to New York
to receive a Humanitarian Award from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and
the Grammy Legend Award.
1991, while still on tour in support of Storm Front, Garth Brooks’
recording of “Shameless” hit number one on the Billboard Country Chart, another
first for Billy.
1992, Billy recorded two Elvis Presley classics, “All Shook Up” and “Heartbreak
Hotel” for the “Honeymoon in Vegas” motion picture soundtrack. He also recorded
“In a Sentimental Mood” for the soundtrack for “A League of Their Own”.
after finishing the various soundtrack recordings, Billy began working on a new
studio album with producer, Danny Kortchmar. Released in August of 1993, the River of Dreams album debuted at number one on
the Billboard Hot 100 chart where it stayed for three weeks. The first single, “The
River of Dreams”, spent twelve weeks at number one on the Contemporary Chart,
setting a new record.
earned four Grammy nominations in 1994 - Record of the Year, Song of the Year,
and Pop Male Vocal for the song “The River of Dreams” and Album of the Year for
of Dreams (the
album). Later that year, Billy took a break from his own tour to team up with
Elton John for a summer stadium tour. The Face-to-Face Tour was an
unqualified success and one of the hottest tickets around. In the fall, Billy
resumed his own tour and traveled to Australia at the end of the year.
Billy's marriage to Christie Brinkley ended in 1994. The two separated amicably
and divorced in August of that year.
October 1994, the RIAA certified Songs in the Attic and The Nylon
Curtain for sales of two million units which moved Billy into a tie with
the Beatles as the act with the most multiplatinum albums. The RIAA also
certified 52nd Street
and Glass Houses septupleplatinum (7 million units) to make him the only
artist to have four albums at the septupleplatinum mark. The other two are The
Stranger and An Innocent Man.
River of Dreams Tour continued into early 1995 with a tour
Billy was in Osaka during the disastrous Kobe earthquake and
donated proceeds of his concert to local earthquake relief. He returned to the
States and reprised the Face-to-Face Tour with Elton John.
a short breather, Billy hit the college lecture circuit in January, 1996 with “An
Evening of Questions, Answers . . . and a Little Music”. After speaking at 32
different schools, the lecture tour concluded in early May with a live radio
broadcast at Town Hall in NYC via WPLJ. The event was a benefit to establish
The Rosalind Joel Scholarship for the Performing Arts at City
College in New York City.
1996, Billy found a way to turn his life long passion for boats into a money
making venture. Along with Peter Needham of Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard,
he formed the Long Island Boat Company, and started building the Shelter Island
Runabout, a 38-foot classic powerboat.
March, 1997, Billy traveled to Washington,
DC to receive ASCAP’s Founder’s
Award. Awarded for lifetime achievement, past recipients of the Founder’s Award
include Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Leiber and Stoller and other legends.
achieved worldwide sales of over 100 million units earlier this year, 1999 has
also marked two other major milestones in Billy Joel’s career. In January, he
received the American Music Award’s “Award of Merit” and in February, he was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Joel rang in the new millenium with a sellout celebration at New
York City’s historic Madison
The extraordinary concert was recorded and released on Joel’s 17th album, Billy
Joel, 2000 Years - The Millenium Concert. In March, 2000, Joel traveled to Washington, D.C.
where he received the Smithsonian Institution’s James Smithson Bicentennial
Medal. Mr. Joel also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music from Southampton College in May, 2000.
the first half of 2001, Billy kicked-off a 31-date, 25-city tour of North America with Elton John that lasted from January 19
to May 16. The wildly successful shows were well received with sold out crowds.
June 14, 2001, Billy was honored by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame with the
Johnny Mercer Award, the organization’s highest honor, at their annual dinner
in New York City.
Joel performed “New York State of Mind” on the America: A Tribute To Heroes
special that aired on 31 networks simultaneously on September 21, 2001. He also
performed at the Concert for New York
City on October 20, 2001 playing “Miami 2017 (Seen The
Lights Go Out On Broadway)” and “New York State of Mind” as well as performing
a poignant duet of “Your Song” with Elton John and participating in the
all-star finales “Let It Be” and “Freedom”. The concert raised millions of
dollars for the September 11th relief fund.
releaseed two new albums in 2001. Fantasies and Delusions, his long
awaited album of solo piano compositions, was released on October 2, along with
a 36-track compilation album, The Essential Billy Joel. Fantasies and
Delusions shot to the top of the classical charts and held the number one
position for weeks.
the fall of 2001, Billy Joel appeared at college campuses for a series of
Master Classes. Joel answered questions from the audience and, along with
pianist Richard Joo, performed selections from Fantasies and Delusions
as well as songs from Joel’s extensive song catalog. One of the Master Classes
was recorded in Philadelphia
and aired nationally on the A&E special, “Billy Joel: In His Own Words”.