One of the Top 5 most successful recording artists in American history, Billy Joel - like Tom Petty and many other musicians - was inspired into the rock and roll life when he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
Born in Hicksville, New York in 1949, Joel was more interested in fighting than music. He took piano lessons grudgingly, but was an accomplished boxer winning 22 bouts. A broken nose ended his boxing career, but left his fingers intact.
Joel played in a lot of bands as a teenager through the 1960s: The Echoes, the Emeralds, the Lost Souls, the Hassles, Attila - a duo which broke up when Joel had an affair with his partner’s wife - whom Joel eventually married.
The Billy Joel that went on to so much success began to catalyze in the first half of the 1970s. He produced his first album with Family Productions and recorded his first solo album Cold Spring Harbor - which included She’s Got a Way and Everybody Loves You Now, but the album didn’t catch on. In 1972 Joel signed with Columbia Records and moved to Los Angeles, where he played in a piano bar under the name Bill Martin and was inspired to write Piano Man - which became his signature song.
Joel’s 1973 album Piano Man had modest sales, but then things took off for Joel - good and bad: 10 albums, a couple of suicide attempts, four wives, 33 Top 40 hits, six Grammys dozens of awards and collaborations and a thousand gigs later, Joel returned to Hicksville High in June of 2017 to accept the high school diploma he bailed out on in the 1960s, prophesying: “To hell with it. If I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records, and you don't need a high school diploma over there.”
And he was right.