1949–1970: Early Life and Career

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Posted on Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:54am
by John MacMillan

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William Martin Joel was born in the Bronx on May 9, 1949 and raised in the suburb of Hicksville, New York.

Billy's father, Howard (born Helmuth) Joel, a classical pianist, was born in Germany, the son of a Jewish merchant and manufacturer, Karl Amson Joel. Howard emigrated to Switzerland and later to the United States (via Cuba, as immigration quotas for German Jews prevented direct immigration at the time) to escape the Nazi regime. Joel's mother, Rosalind, was born in England to Jewish parents, Philip and Rebecca Nyman. Rosalind and Howard Joel divorced in 1957. Howard Joel moved to Vienna. Billy Joel has a sister, Judith, and a half-brother, Alexander Joel, a classical conductor in Europe, currently chief musical director of the Staatstheater Braunschweig.

Billy reluctantly began piano lessons at an early age, at his mother's insistence, his teachers including the noted American pianist Morton Estrin and musician Timothy Ford; As a teenager, Joel took up boxing so he could defend himself. He boxed successfully on the amateur Golden Gloves circuit for a short time, winning twenty-two bouts, but abandoned the sport shortly after his nose was broken in his twenty-fourth boxing match.

Joel attended Hicksville High School until 1967, but he did not graduate with his class. He had been playing at a piano bar to help his mother make ends meet, which interfered with his attendance; specifically, he missed a crucial English exam, as he had been playing a late-night gig at a piano bar the evening before. Though Joel was a comparatively strong student, at the end of his senior year, he did not have enough credits to graduate. Rather than attend summer school to earn his diploma, Joel decided to begin a career in music: "I told them, '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'." Joel eventually signed with Columbia. In 1992, he submitted essays to the school board and was awarded his diploma at Hicksville High's annual graduation ceremony, 25 years after leaving.

After seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Joel decided to pursue a career in music. In an interview he said of the group's impact, "That one performance changed my life ... Up to that moment I'd never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn't look like they'd come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon's face -- and he looked like he was always saying: 'F--- you!' -- I said: 'I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.' This is what I'm going to do -- play in a rock band'."

Joel founded the Echoes, a group that specialized in British Invasion covers. When the Echoes became popular in New York, Joel left high school to become a professional musician. The Echoes began recording in 1965; Joel was originally hired by Snuff Garret as a pianist for Bobby Vee, however he was fired before doing any records or shows because he refused to wear the matching jackets the band was to wear. Joel (then 16) also played piano on several records released through Kama Sutra Productions and on recordings produced by Shadow Morton. Joel played on a demo version of Leader of the Pack, which would become a major hit for the Shangri-Las.

In late 1965, the Echoes changed their name to the Emeralds and then to the Lost Souls. Joel left the band in 1967 to join the Hassles, a Long Island group that had signed with United Artists Records. Over the next year and a half they released four singles and two albums (The Hassles and Hour of the Wolf). All were commercial failures. Joel and drummer Jon Small left the Hassles in 1969 to form the duo Attila, releasing an eponymous debut album in July 1970. The duo disbanded the following October when Joel began an affair with Small's wife, Elizabeth, whom Joel eventually married.



Billy Joel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : taken from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Joel