It was 1991, I was in my first year of university in eastern Canada. Up to that point my piano studies had all pertained to classical music. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and lots of scales.
One night I was sitting in the music building lounge with my friend, Cherie, who was a singer. “I just want to be in a band,” I had said to her. “I’d like to be one of those guys who can just sit down and play any ole song, play all that Billy Joel stuff. I don’t know how to do that.”
How did the pros do it? They didn’t need sheet music. It was all just in their head, in their bones so to speak. It still seemed like a mystery to me at that time. I recall, Cherie replying, “well I’m sure the people who can do that sort of thing have put the time in to figure out what’s going on in the music and they get good at playing in that style.”
Over the next few years I was engrossed in several styles of music. I listened to a lot of Billy Joel recordings, especially his live recordings. I loved the energy of it all. And unlike much of rock & roll you could actually hear the piano! His ballad, “Honesty” always floored me. The lyrics are amazing and the chords within the song move in a unique, clever way.
Most of how I became a working musician was just by being thrown into the fire. I learned as I went from gig to gig and discovered that each scenario required different skills.
Playing Billy Joel Songs For A Living
Call it serendipity, but by 1999 I was working 4 or 5 nights a week in the USA performing in high energy piano bar atmospheres. Entertaining, playing and singing songs by Billy Joel, Elton John, and taking requests nightly became the norm for many years that followed.
I’m not implying that it was brain surgery, after all it’s just playing music. But at 18 years old I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Looking back I’d tell that 18 year old kid to relax, give it some time and things will fall into place. I guess I should thank Cherie too, for reminding me that we all have our unique talents and what we bring to the table will put our own stamp on the music we play.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Then again, would our younger self listen? 🙂
As a THANK YOU for being one of my subscribers I want to give you my cover of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” for free. My version, stripped down to just piano and vocal, is a bit of a departure from the original.
If you like the track you might also consider checking out “Another Lucky Day.” It’s my latest album full of me singing, playing piano, organ, and keyboards.
P.S. In the photo above from 2011, I’m entertaining a young crowd at University of Denver, in Colorado. I imagine I played a Billy Joel song on that gig. By the way, I mentioned I started off on classical piano, as it turns out Billy has a background in classical music and cites it as influential in his songwriting.
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