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Billy Joel Biography

Billy Joel

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Born: 1949. Living in: United States

Joel recorded many popular hit songs and albums from 1973 (beginning with the single "Piano Man") to his retirement from recording pop music in 1993. He is one of the very few rock or even pop artists to have Top 10 hits in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. A six-time Grammy Award winner, he has sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide and is the sixth best selling artist in the United States, according to the RIAA. Joel's induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame (Class of 1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Class of 1999), and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (Class of 2006) has further solidified his status as one of America's leading music icons. He has continued to tour occasionally (sometimes with Elton John) in addition to writing and recording classical music.

From an early age Joel had an intense interest in music; especially classical music. He began piano lessons at an early age, and his interest in music instead of sports was the source for much teasing and bullying in his early years. As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so that he would be able to defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time, but abandoned the sport shortly after having his nose broken in a boxing match.

Joel attended Hicksville High School, and was to have graduated in 1967. However, he was one English credit short of the graduation requirement; he overslept on the day of an important exam due to his late-night musician's lifestyle. Faced with a summer in school to complete this requirement, he decided not to continue. He left high school without a diploma to begin a career in music. In 1992, the English credit requirement was waived by the Hicksville School Board and he received his diploma at Hicksville High's graduation ceremony 25 years after he left the school.

At the age of 14 Joel joined his first band, The Echoes (which later became The Lost Souls). According to producer Shadow Morton, Joel was also the pianist on the Shangri-Las hit "Remember (Walking In The Sand)". In 1966, he joined The Hassles, a Long Island band that had some local success ("Every Step I Take," "You Got Me Hummin'"). The Hassles released two albums The Hassles (1967) and Hour of the Wolf (1968) on the United Artists record label. Following The Hassles' demise in 1969, he formed the pop rock duo Attila with Hassles drummer Jon Small. Attila released their eponymous debut album in July 1970 and disbanded the following October.

Joel's lyrics have made many references to locations in the New York City metropolitan area, particularly Long Island. For example, the "Miracle Mile" line in 1980's "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" refers to the affluent shopping district located on Northern Boulevard in the community of Manhasset and 1980's "You May Be Right" references walking through the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn alone as proof of craziness. In his 1973 song "The Ballad of Billy the Kid," he describes a certain "Billy" as being from the town of Oyster Bay, the municipality in which the hamlet of Hicksville is located. He has since stated, in the liner notes from his album Songs in the Attic, that this "Billy" is not himself, but rather an Oyster Bay bartender.

Several of Joel's songs have grown out of specific personal experiences, including "Piano Man," which he wrote describing his regular job playing at a Los Angeles piano bar in the early 1970s, and "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," purportedly written about either the Syosset mainstay Christiano's or a similar eatery in New York City's Little Italy. His song "Vienna" was supposedly written about a visit to his father in Europe, while "Big Shot" was based on a bad date with Mick Jagger's ex-wife Bianca.

His music reflects influences from many different genres including European classical composers, Aaron Copland, 1950s doo wop, Broadway/Tin Pan Alley, jazz, blues, punk, ska, gospel, pop, and even Russian folk songs, to straight-up rock & roll. This has, in part, led to his broad success over a long period of time, but made him difficult to categorize in popular music today.

1979 - Grammy Winner - Record of the Year - Just the Way You Are
1979 - Grammy Winner - Song Of The Year - Just the Way You Are