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Sing us a song

Billy Joel returns to play in L.A., the city of his breakthrough single, ‘Piano Man’

Billy Joel says that if he had to do it over again, he’d un-write “at least 25%” of his songs.

“I’ve written some real stinkers I wish I could take back,” he says, starting with “When in Rome” (from 1989’s “Storm Front”) and “C’etait Toi” (from 1980’s “Glass Houses”). “I don’t even speak French,” he says of the latter, “so I don’t know what I was doing. Sometimes I’d get six or seven songs I thought were pretty damn good, then there’d be a couple of squeeze-outs at the end just to fill up the album.

“I realize now I shouldn’t have done that.”

Fortunately for Joel, the quality stuff has provided more than enough hits to power his career as one of music’s top touring acts over the three decades since he released his last pop album, “River of Dreams,” in 1993. This year — between shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where he’s held down a monthly residency since 2014 — Joel, 73, is playing stadiums with Stevie Nicks, an unlikely pairing given his reputation as a proudly uptight New Yorker and hers as a vibey purveyor of California cool.

Yet the run of concerts, which begins Friday night at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, is also an opportunity to remember that Joel’s career actually got going in Los Angeles, where he wrote his signature song, “Piano Man,” about his experiences entertaining the patrons of the now-defunct Executive Room near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue.

Joel, whose pop currency never quite seems to wane — see the TikTok craze over his late-’70s tune “Zanzibar,” or Olivia Rodrigo’s shout-out in her song “Deja Vu” — called from his home in Florida, where he lives for much of the year with his fourth wife, Alexis Roderick, and their two young daughters.

You moved to L.A. in 1972, after your debut album failed to make much noise. Were you excited or reluctant to come here?

I was excited. I’d never lived anywhere else other than Long Island, so I saw L.A. as this great romantic place. I was sort of in my own western. I got to live up in the Malibu hills for a while, and to me that was like being in “The Magnificent Seven.”

Then I moved to a rental house on Mulholland Drive in Hollywood — very scenic, right over the Hollywood Bowl. But everybody seemed to be in the same business I was in. If I wanted a guy to help fix my plumbing, he wasn’t really a plumber — he was an actor. And if an electrician came to my house, he was actually a writer. It got to be kind of confusing: Does anybody really do anything here? And this is when New York was having all this financial trouble, and it was gonna go down the tubes. There’s that famous headline: “Ford to New York: Drop Dead.” When I heard about that, I got my back up. I said, I’m going back home — this isn’t my place.

What was your repertoire at the Executive Room?

I didn’t really have a pat list. I just played whatever popped into my head at the time, depending on what I was drinking. I got free drinks and kind of lubricated myself throughout the night. It was probably a combination of Hoagy Carmichael, the Beatles and whatever big pop hit there was the time. “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Did you take requests?

I did. I was working for tips. So was the woman I ended up marrying. Elizabeth [Weber] was a cocktail waitress in the bar. She’d work the room her way — the waitress practicing politics [from “Piano Man”] — and I’d work the room my way. We had to pay the rent.

What might you have played at the end of the night if you’d had too many?

Probably something patriotic. “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

I remember there was a fight in the bar, and to calm everybody down I played a patriotic song, so everybody stood up and saluted the flag and stopped the fight. I was a hero for a second.

What was your attitude toward L.A. after you left?

I was in some ways scornful, but I was also melancholy about leaving. I went from being an insignificant nobody to the Piano Man while I was there.

I still look back to my time in L.A. with a certain amount of romance, almost as if I was an exiled writer living in Paris or something.

How long have you known Stevie Nicks?

We met at a Fleetwood Mac gig in San Francisco probably 10 years ago. I just got to meet her backstage, but we’ve never worked together, even though we both kind of hit at the same time. So this’ll be a completely new thing for me. I’ll probably do one of her songs and she’ll probably do one of mine.

Which song of hers are you thinking about?

That’s up to her.

You ever feel lonely as a solo act compared to a band like Fleetwood Mac that has all these deep, interpersonal ties?

I did very much enjoy touring with Elton John. It was like I joined something. As a solo artist, it’s always me, me, me — gets kind of boring. But when I hooked up with Elton, I got to play his material, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I miss that.

What was your favorite Elton song to play?

Either “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” or “The Bitch Is Back.” Digging into somebody else’s inspiration is cool, especially when you’re playing the piano. Elton’s got a lot of gospel in his stuff — a lot of rhythmic piano, almost like rhythm guitar. Mine is more classical-based. But there’s not many piano players that people are aware of in rock ‘n’ roll. Randy Newman. Bruce Hornsby. Leon Russell. Dr. John. We kind of hang in the same group.

In 2018 you told the New York Times that you couldn’t see yourself playing Madison Square Garden in five years. Here we are, and you’re still doing the MSG gig as well as the tour with Stevie.

I know. It’s bizarre. At the end of every tour, I feel like that’s it for me: “OK, I’m done.” And then some time goes by and it’s like, “Let’s go out and play.”

When the time comes, would you consider a big farewell tour like the one Elton’s on?

That was brought up the other day. But I have a disdain for capitalizing on that: “Let me threaten that it’ll be the end, and then I’ll make a lot of money.” I’ve seen bands so many times announce their farewell tours and then they never go away. I’ve seen a couple of the Who farewells at this point.

Christine McVie’s passing last year was a grim reminder that a lot of folks from your generation of rock ‘n’ roll have reached a certain age. In the next 10 years …

There’s gonna be a lot of attrition. I had an idea for a tour [of mine]: The poster has illustrations of a bunch of dead insects, and the name of the tour is Dropping Like Flies. I say to my agent, “Look, go ahead and be as grim as you want.” We’re all aware of it.

One wonders if Fleetwood Mac will tour without Christine as we’ve seen Steely Dan do without Walter Becker and the Eagles without Glenn Frey. What’s your take on a band touring after a key member dies?

Depends who it is. I’d go see the Eagles even without Glenn because their material is so strong. They’ve been together so long, they’re a hard-working band.

What did you think of the Rolling Stones’ decision to go out without Charlie Watts?

The drummer they were using, Steve Jordan, he’s great. But I would have wanted to see Charlie, honestly. I mean, when Bill Wyman left, I sort of felt like that was it for the Stones. But they don’t stop. I think it’s an English thing.

You’re one of the few legacy acts that still tours but doesn’t put out new music. Has your experience seeing what audiences want to hear — which is to say, the old hits — proved that your decision to stop recording was the right one?

Well, I didn’t make that decision based on whether it was right or wrong. It just felt like it was time for me to stop writing songs. I didn’t have the same motivation anymore. You need inspiration to create good new music, and if you don’t have it, don’t bother. Get off the treadmill, for Christ’s sake.

What’s your barometer for judging whether a new song is good or bad?

You can always tell. But it also just got to a point where it was getting excruciating for me to write. The enjoyment went out of it. I just read an interesting quote by Hemingway. Someone asked him, “Why is it so easy for me to read your stuff?” And Hemingway said, “Because it was so g— hard for me to write.”

When you’re putting together a set list, do you ever think about how your songs — something like “Captain Jack,” which talks about “the junkies and the closet queens” — will be considered in the current cultural and political climate?

You mean are they woke? It crosses my mind. But “Captain Jack” has gotten real boring to me. The verse is just two chords over and over again, and it’s this dreary story of some suburban kid jacking off at home. My mind starts to wander during the song, so I don’t do it even though people want to hear it.

“Only the Good Die Young” is a tough sell.

It’s occurred to me recently that I’m trying to talk some poor innocent woman into losing her virginity because of my lust. It’s kind of a selfish song — like, who cares what happens to you? What about what I want? But on the other hand, it was of its time. This was written in the mid-’70s, and I was trying to seduce girls. Why bull— about it?

You lost something like 50 pounds during the pandemic, right?

Yeah. It wasn’t even conscious. I mean, I’m glad I lost the weight because I was getting pretty heavy there. But I’ve gained a fair amount of it back. I found what I lost — or it found me.

You drink these days?

I stopped a couple of years ago. It wasn’t a big AA kick. I just got to a point where I’d had enough. I didn’t enjoy being completely inebriated, and it probably created more problems in my life than I needed.

There’s no instinct to have a drink after a show?

I don’t need it now. I used to get offstage and be so wound up and adrenalized that I needed something to calm down to go to sleep. But I realized when you’re drinking yourself to sleep, you’re not really sleeping. You’re just passing out.

What do you do when you get offstage now?

I go to sleep. It takes all my strength these days just to get through a performance because it’s hard work. I leave it all on the stage.

Who in your life calls you Bill?

Everybody does. My wife calls me Bill, my friends call me Bill. That’s my name. Billy is a little kid’s name: “Mrs. Joel, can Billy come out and play?” That’s what it sounds like to me. But the problem with Bill Joel is there’s nothing to it. It’s like a doorbell.

Anyone call you William?

My wife does from time to time, and I know it’s a sign of trouble.

What do you do on a day when you don’t have a gig?

I wait around for the kids to come back from school. I love hanging out with my children. They’re 7 and 5 now, and they’re so much fun and so interesting to me. I get to be a stay-at-home dad. That’s how I enjoy my life these days.

When Olivia Rodrigo joined you at MSG last year, you said as you introduced her that your kids like her music. Are you interested in what they’re into?

Very much so. They like all the big artists like Olivia and Taylor Swift. But recently they’ve discovered the Beatles, and now they ask for us to put on the Beatles channel [on satellite radio]. It’s so much fun hearing those early Beatles tunes and watching my kids respond to them.

What do you think of Taylor Swift?

Very good, conscientious writer. She knows music, and she’s productive — she’s working her ass off. She gets some shots just because she’s so popular, which must be tough to deal with. But I have a great deal of respect for her and for other artists from that same age group. They’re attuned to the craft of songwriting. They’re harkening back to the Gershwins.

Last thing: You recently wrote a letter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame urging the nominating committee to put the late Warren Zevon on this year’s ballot. He made the cut. You take any pride in that?

Well, he was my first vote.

If he gets in and the Rock Hall asks you, would you do the induction?

I’m working this year, but if I’m in the right place at the right time, I would do that.

Which of his songs would you perform if asked?

“Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Love that song.

Mikael Wood / Los Angeles Times / March 9, 2023

Additional Credits

  • Caption: PHOTO: BILLY JOEL will play SoFi Stadium on Friday with Stevie Nicks. He remembers L.A. “with a certain amount of romance.”
  • PHOTOGRAPHER: Myrna Suarez
  • PHOTO:1984:  Billy Joel at home in Los Angeles. He wrote his hit song “Piano Man” based on life at a local bar.
  • PHOTOGRAPHER: Richard E. Aaron Redferns
  • PHOTO: 2022: A meeting of singer-songwriter generations as Olivia Rodrigo joins Joel at Madison Square Garden.
  • PHOTOGRAPHER: Kevin Mazur Getty Images
  • Credit: POP MUSIC CRITIC

stevienicks

LIVE IN CONCERT (2023-2024)

Billy Joel and Stevie NicksStevie Nicks

FEB 10, 2024
Mark G Etess Arena
Atlantic City, NJ

FEB 14, 2024
UBS Arena
Belmont Park, NY

FEB 17, 2024
CFG Bank Arena
Baltimore, MD

FEB 21, 2024
Bon Secours Wellness Arena
Greenville, SC

FEB 24, 2024
Hard Rock Live
Hollywood, FL

FEB 28, 2024
Smoothie King Center
New Orleans, LA
TICKETS

MAR 3, 2024
CHI Health Center
Omaha, NE
TICKETS

MAR 6, 2024
Simmons Bank Arena
North Little Rock, AR
TICKETS

MAR 9, 2024
AT&T Stadium
Arlington, TX
Billy Joel
TICKETS

MAY 3, 2024 – MAY 5, 2024
Lovin’ Life Fest
Charlotte, NC
TICKETS

MAY 7, 2024
Enterprise Center
St Louis, MO
TICKETS

MAY 10, 2024
WinStar World Casino & Resort
Thackerville, OK
TICKETS

MAY 14, 2024
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, TN
TICKETS

MAY 18, 2024
Frost Bank Center
San Antonio, TX
TICKETS

MAY 21, 2024
Yaamava’ Resort & Casino – Yaamava’ Theater
Highland, CA
TICKETS

MAY 24, 2024
BottleRock Napa Valley
Napa, CA
TICKETS

MAY 27, 2024
Delta Center
Salt Lake City, UT
TICKETS

MAY 30, 2024
Ball Arena
Denver, CO
TICKETS

JUN 4
Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis, IN
TICKETS

JUN 9 
Mohegan Sun Casino
Uncasville, CT
TICKETS

JUN 12
MVP Arena
Albany, NY
TICKETS

JUN 15 
Hersheypark Stadium
Hershey, PA
TICKETS

JUN 18
Van Andel Arena
Grand Rapids, MI
TICKETS

JUN 21, 2024
Soldier Field
Chicago, IL
TICKETS

Two Icons One Night presented by Live Nation
^ Non-Live Nation show


Previous 2023 dates

March 10, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Los Angeles, CA
SoFi Stadium

March 15, 2023
Seattle, WA
Climate Pledge Arena

March 18, 2023
Las Vegas, NV
T-Mobile Arena

May 12, 2023
Raleigh, NC
PNC Arena

May 16, 2023
Knoxville, TN
Thompson-Boling Arena

May 19, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Nashville, TN
Nissan Stadium

May 22, 2023
Atlanta, GA
State Farm Arena

May 25, 2023
Orlando, FL
Amway Center

June 16, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Philadelphia, PA
Lincoln Financial Field

June 20, 2023
Toronto, ON (Canada)
Scotiabank Arena

June 23, 2023
Chicago, IL
United Center

June 27, 2023
Louisville, KY
KFC Yum! Center

August 5, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Columbus, OH
Ohio Stadium

August 8, 2023
Milwaukee, WI
Fiserv Forum

August 12, 2023
Houston, TX
Toyota Center

August 15, 2023
Austin, TX
Moody Center

August 19, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Kansas City, MO
Arrowhead Stadium

September 23, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Foxborough, MA
Gillette Stadium

September 27, 2023
Pittsburgh, PA
PPG Paints Arena

October 1, 2023
New York, NY
Madison Square Garden

October 4, 2023
Buffalo, NY
KeyBank Center

October 7, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Baltimore, MD 
M&T Bank Stadium

October 28, 2023
Memphis, TN
FedEx Forum

November 1, 2023
Savannah, GA
Enmarket Arena

November 4, 2023
Allentown, PA
PPL Center

November 7, 2023
Detroit, MI
Little Caesars Arena

November 10, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Minneapolis, MN
U.S. Bank Stadium

November 29, 2023
San Diego, CA
Viejas Arena

December 2, 2023
Inglewood, CA
The Kia Forum

December 5, 2023
Palm Desert, CA
Acisure Arena

December  8, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Phoenix, AZ
Chase Field

December 12, 2023
Sacramento, CA
Golden 1 Center

December 15, 2023
San Francisco, CA
Chase Center



2022 Tour

Stevie Nicks

Jazz Aspen Snowmass
Snowmass, CO
Labor Day 2022

Ravinia Festival
Highland Park, IL
September 8, 2022
September 10, 2022

Pine Knob Music Theatre
Clarkston, MI
September 13, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Sea Hear Now Festival
Asbury, NJ
September 17, 2022

Xfinity Center
Mansfield, MA
September 19, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Maine Savings Amphitheatre
Bangor, ME
September 22, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Sound on Sound Festival
Bridgeport, CT
September 24-25, 2022

Ohana Festival
Dana Point, CA
September 30, 2022

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles, CA
October 3, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

POSTPONED
Ak-Chin Pavilion

Phoenix, AZ
October 6, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

POSTPONED
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

The Woodlands, TX
October 9, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
Alpharetta, GA
October 12, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ascend Amphitheater
Nashville, TN
October 16, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Credit One Stadium
Charleston, SC
October 19, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

PNC Music Pavilion
Charlotte, NC
October 22, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre
Tampa, FL
October 25, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre
West Palm Beach, FL
October 28, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Orion Amphitheatre
Huntsville, AL
October 31, 2022

RESCHEDULED SHOWS

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
The Woodlands, TX
November 2, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ak-Chin Pavilion
Phoenix, AZ
November 5, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton