The Hippo


Sep 23, 2019








Mike DelGuidice. Courtesy photo.

Home run
Billy Joel tribute act is almost the real thing


 By Michael Witthaus
There’s a moment in Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” when the song’s character, playing for real estate novelists and other lost souls, is asked, “Man, what are you doing here?” That’s a question Mike DelGuidice put to himself after nearly a decade tickling the ivories in Long Island bars, with very little reward. For a moment he came close to walking away from music, but he stayed on. What happened next is almost unbelievable.
He heard about a Dave Matthews Band tribute act called Ants Marching that was doing well in the region. Playing music by someone who still had a career seemed a little bit Las Vegas, but he decided to go for it, choosing Joel and naming the project Big Shot. 
“Obviously, it was a no-brainer to do Billy, because it’s Long Island,” DelGuidice said in a recent phone interview. “I figured it would be a home run … and I loved his music the most.”
He was right; it worked almost immediately. DelGuidice’s voice was a dead ringer for Joel’s; they even looked a bit alike and shared a working-class Long Island backstory. For a decade, Big Shot often drew audiences in the thousands. If that was the end of the story, it would be a happy one — but it got better. 
In 2010, DelGuidice got a wild idea when the Piano Man took a medical leave of absence. Joel’s band, which included a couple of DelGuidice’s friends, was sidelined while the star recovered from hip replacement surgery, so he reached out. First, he called longtime guitarist Tommy Byrnes, then touring drummer Chuck Burgi. Though it was a long shot, he had a hunch they’d say yes.
“These are real legitimate musicians who love what they do,” DelGuidice said. “They’re not playing with their major artist.  … You gotta understand, where’s the income coming in for any of us if our main gig is not working, you know?” 
This logic has led to Big Shot shows with Joel’s entire band backing DelGuidice.  
It gets more interesting than that, however. When Joel decided to get back on the road in late 2012, he sent his band to rehearse at a Huntington, Long Island, theater. DelGuidice stood in on piano for the first few days. When the star arrived, he could hear the group from his dressing room and swore he was listening to a tape of himself. “No, that’s a guy named Mike,” he was told.
Joel liked what DelGuidice did so much he invited him on the tour, as a backing vocalist and guitar player. Singing with him, Joel said in a radio interview, “is like harmonizing with myself.” Six years later, the piano player who nearly quit before throwing his lot behind covering Long Island’s favorite son is out with him whenever he plays live, including his record-breaking residency at Madison Square Garden.
When he’s not playing ballparks and hockey rinks, DelGuidice leads Joel’s band at places like Plymouth’s Flying Monkey, where he performs May 11. The Big Shot shows are heavy on Joel material but also include solo songs like “Ordinary Guy,” which is the theme song for the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait.
“Expect kind of an odyssey,” DelGuidice said. “Some rare cuts, some hits and then it’s really an unscripted show. What I think always makes a Big Shot show different is that we don’t really genuinely have set lists that we adhere to. ... We’ll have the first three songs, and we just let it go from there, so every show can really be different and on the balls of your feet.”  
Taking another page from Joel’s playbook, Big Shot will play songs covered by the Piano Man in concert, like a bracing version of “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney. 
“We do a lot of different stuff and I love to … cover music and sing artists that inspired me, and Billy is the same way,” DelGuidice said. “If you go to his show, he’s playing everybody else’s music half the night.”
To paraphrase another Joel song, DelGuidice is moving up, not moving out, an experience that’s produced its fair share of surreal moments, like flying in private jets and rubbing elbows with A-List celebrities. For DelGuidice, though, the moment he got hired tops the list. 
“I can’t get past that day,” he said. “ There’s been a million first unbelievable moments, and I can only keep going back to the first one. I was literally just a guy ... excited to be called in for a rehearsal, and an hour later I was touring Europe.” 

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