Piano Man’s Man

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MILLVILLE, N.J. -

Success is rarely achieved in a linear fashion, and that’s particularly true for musicians. There are near-empty venues, unreturned calls for gigs, and a cycling of band members.

About a decade after Mike DelGuidice formed his Billy Joel tribute band, Big Shot, the latter was about to happen. Performing upwards of 100 shows a year for nearly 10 years, his band members were getting worn out. Big Shot was amidst the descent on the seesaw of success, and something had to give.

Fortunately for DelGuidice, that something was Billy Joel’s hip.

Sure, the connection between one of music’s greatest contributors and a small band from Long Island seems like a stretch, but the link between them is real. When Joel stopped touring in 2010 due to a hip surgery, DelGuidice saw the possibility for a musician’s alchemy. He invited members of Joel’s band, namely Tommy Byrnes and Chuck Burgi, the guitarist and drummer for Joel’s band, to join Big Shot while the rock star recovered.

With DelGuidice having a strong deference for Joel to begin with, there was a natural chemistry. By 2011 a band named after a Billy Joel hit song was featuring real members of the Billy Joel Band. By 2013, though, it was the Billy Joel band that was about to receive a new member. DelGuidice was asked by Joel to accompany the Piano Man as a member of his band on his tour.

From a pub in Long Island to a sold-out arena in Europe, DelGuidice had made it. But that doesn’t mean DelGuidice has forgotten his roots entirely. On Friday, November 30, he and Big Shot will be performing at the Levoy Theatre.

Prior to his show in Millville, DelGuidice spoke with SNJ Today.

How would you describe your origins as a musician?

I started back in school just listening to a bunch of different rock stuff. I was inspired by a bunch of stuff my family listened to, so I’d say it all started back in grade school. I got a guitar and started taking drum lessons, and kind of just started back in the day there. But it came from being surrounded by a couple of neighbors that had bands, and I’d go over and watch them, and it got me inspired, then I kind of went off from there and started on my journey.

The grind of performing close to 100 shows a year was tiring for some of the previous members of Big Shot, how were you able to persevere through that?

I think I was just as tired as they were, but I just had a vested interest because it was my business, so I had to fight through it to a degree. It was a lot of work, so you get tired. You just want to be home with your family, and you start to get older. We were all getting to that same spot that something just had to spark it, then [long-time Billy Joel guitarist] Tommy Byrnes got in the band, then Chuck Burgi, mainly Tommy added a new spark to everything.

Over a decade after forming Big Shot you joined the Billy Joel band, what was the day like when Billy asked you to join?

Best day of my musical career, for sure. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s just one of those days that was just such an emotional roller coaster. I didn’t see it coming either, so I was blindsided by it. It was really just an amazing day, I was beyond elated. I called everyone. It was life-changing.

Can you tell me about the first time you performed on stage with Billy?

First time I performed in front of an audience with him would be at the Paramount, which is where I got the gig during the rehearsals with his band. I don’t even think I remember what I played or what I sang [laughs]. I was so engulfed in the idea that I was actually part of the band. I’ll just say I was pretty elated. It didn’t really hit me until we started doing arenas. We started doing arenas in Europe, and that’s when it really hit me that this was a major thing, like ‘wow, this is huge.’ I was just so in the emotions of being hired, and was so elated from that that I almost don’t even remember the first performance. I just know I screwed up a lot [laughs].

Going from those massive arenas to the tighter, more intimate venues like the Levoy Theatre here in Millville, how do you like that difference?

I love the difference. I like a very small—not too small, though, because it gives me anxiety more so than the big audiences—but I like the smaller venues where they’re seated and listening. I love theaters, because theaters are the kind of venues where you really get to perform as opposed to entertain, and there’s a big difference in that. You have an audience in the theater that’s really listening. Everything you’re doing is pretty out in the open. It’s not going to people who are dancing and spilling drinks, and screaming, and going on big screens, you know everything going on in the background. It’s a different kind of thing compared to an arena where you get kind of lost in this whole massive array of people; you now have a more centered audience and so you get more centered because they’re listening more and you’re listening more, and everything gets a little more refined. I really like that about the theaters.

For someone who’s never been to a Big Shot concert, how would you describe a typical show to them?

There really is no typical show, we fly by the seat of our pants. It’s usually me that’s calling the songs. We might have a set list just to have something to look at, but it always ends up going in different directions depending on the type of the room, and the audience, and the energy and how nostalgic we’re feeling on that day. It could be anything, it could be a night of all classics, I mean we’re always going to do all the big hits that people want to hear, but as far as what happens in between them it can be anything. I like to sing different stuff, so sometimes we’ll go off and do some classic rock or we’ll break it down and do an acoustic set in the middle, it’s not just all Billy Joel. Anything could happen.

Big Shot performs at the Levoy Theatre in Millville on Friday, November 30, 8 p.m., $35, levoy.net.

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