Billy Joel

For the record, I’ve never met Billy Joel… I’ve been in the same stadium as he, and I'm pretty sure we would have a really interesting conversation if there were ever an opportunity to talk some day. None the less…

There are years in my youth where I literally wore out vinyl records of Billy Joel songs… just from trying to learn every last note of his piano parts, and then memorize the lyrics and actually sing on pitch into a mic while also playing his piano parts note perfect… At one point I had some kind of personal quest to become as good or better a piano player than Billy Joel; at somehow being a ‘better Billy Joel’, than Billy Joel… it was obviously a “youth” thing, as best as I can describe it, but gradually learning to play like him was such a glorious passion. I heard it repeated so often from perfect strangers that I was clearly going to be “the next Billy Joel”, that I kind of started to believe it… again; something about youth being wasted on the young, or the naive suspension of disbelief…

Billy Joel Concert, Toronto
Billy Joel Concert 1981, Edmonton - $12.50
Billy Joel Concert 2009, Toronto - $275.50

After high school, I applied to attend a highly regarded jazz program at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton, Alberta. To get in, I recorded a special demo tape made up almost entirely of playing and singing all my best Billy Joel songs… I don’t remember if I even submitted one jazz standard to get in that jazz program… even so, I was told by my adjudicators who were deciding whether or not to allow me in, that I could attend on one condition; that I completely internalize that there is “already a Billy Joel”, and that from now on, I could only play the jazz standards, or Scott Goodfellow songs that I had written, for the entire duration of my time in their school… and with a reluctant acquiescence, I agreed… but… this was not easy.

In true rock and roll defiance, at the end of every “Scott Goodfellow Band“ practice, I would hand out my Billy Joel charts, and we would all do our best “Billy Joel Band” at full volume and “vamp out” at the end… People sometimes ask; "what is "fun", for you ?" Well… playing live with the Band, was great fun; 😎

There was once a time when I would have squandered a chance to talk with Billy, by asking him to discuss all my favorite songs of his; to somehow let him know with absolutely no uncertainty, just how much his music has meant to me over the years… because somehow I had the notion that his knowing all this would really make a significant difference to him… (cough)

Billy Joel Concert, Toronto

I’ve since searched his name, and saw clear as daylight, that there are probably thousands of “Scott Goodfellows” on this earth, who have also emulated his playing, who have also asked him all the same tired questions, and have all the same repetitive accolades to lay on him… Then I watched his Shea Stadium concert, where even Sir Paul McCartney flies out and gets a police escort to the gig to sing classic Beatles songs with Billy… I wouldn’t even be surprised if Elton John was standing in the wings too, while all of New York was out to cheer on their native son, Billy Joel… then I read this… there is no need to explain anything of the kind… an innocent, naive idea though...

Between my professors at jazz school and watching Oscar Peterson play next to me, I eventually understood that; beyond the money issues of the music business, if I was going to move forward in music, that trying to become my own player, with my “own sound”, was the only thing that actually mattered, and yet that is clearly the most difficult and intangible thing to do… the very idea of being “better” than Billy or Oscar was clearly never going to see light… I’ve come to deeply appreciate the effort it takes to be able to play music really well, while somehow making it look effortless… but more than that; to also have written a song and crafted a sound that is uniquely identifiable in this crowded world, where stadiums full of people belt it out in harmony… that is pure magnetic magic.

I still play “Summer, Highland Falls” from time to time, and if you also listen to the piano work on my early recordings, you can’t miss identifying the Billy Joel influence; how he has been a core Mentor over many years, without our ever having met…

Thanks, Billy.

Billy Joel, Toronto concert view