Billy Joel is the most frustrating artist I know. His last album, “The River of Dreams,” is almost twenty years old. Billy doesn’t care. He told me last night at the smashing Songwriters Hall of Fame induction dinner and show that he’s happy doing nothing. Cold sober, Billy — one of our great talents– told me that his double hip replacement surgery has been such a big success that he doesn’t want to work. “I was in pain for so long. Also, I walked with a limp. Now I know why. I’m so happy that I feel like doing nothing.” Billy told me that he’s just not in a mind to write songs. He’s happy working on instrumental pieces. “I’ve written a lot of hymns,” he said.
So Billy does still like to play the piano and perform. He came to the Songwriters to induct pal Garth Brooks–and then joined Brooks at the piano playing and singing Garth’s song. “Shameless.” He sported a black cowboy hat. “That’s a cool lid you got on,” said a surprised Brooks.
It was the usual historic night at SHOF, the best music night of the year save for Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy dinner. Highlights included Sam Moore and Bill Medley–the soul man and the righteous brother–performing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” as a tribute to legendary songwriting husband and wife Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Boz Scaggs and honoree Allen Toussaint did three of the latter’s song including “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” which had an elegant, elegiac quality that showcased the intimacy of the evening. Trisha Yearwood sang a medley of Bacharach and David songs to honor Hal David. “Sopranos” star Dominic Chianese serenaded the crowd of 700 people with “It Was A Very Good Year,” then introduced the 92 year old author, Ervin Drake, who must be showering in the fountain of youth.
There was a lot more: Leon Russell performed “A Song for You” and was inducted. This is a big year for Leon. Dwight Yoakam inducted him and performed Russell’s Carpenters hit, “Superstar.” Chrissie Hynde started the night, wearing a chic yellow jacket covered in black squiggles, over jeans, boots and a tshirt. She sang “I’ll Stand By You” as a tribute to songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who in turn performed an eccentric version of their Madonna hit, “Like a Virgin.” Kelly, who thanked his many ex wives, has a falsetto that could lead the Stylistics. They thanked Chrissie for showing up for them, coming in from London. They made a veiled reference to Madonna, who has snubbed them in the past even though they wrote her biggest hit. They also wrote “True Colors” for Cyndi Lauper, and “Eternal Flame” for the Bangles.
The great show was produced by Linda Moran and Phil Ramone, with lots more too: Chaka Khan, who missed rehearsal, wandered in and belted out “I’m Every Woman,” after getting her award from that song’s co-author Valerie Simpson. Jerry Ragovoy (“Time is On My Side,” “Piece of My Heart”), Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, famed producer Russ Titelman, and Bernie Taupin were among those in the audience. Skylar Grey performed a medley of hits by John Bettis, who was honored for his long resume including three hits with the Carpenters (“Yesterday Once More”).
And PS there were many shout outs through the night to Bill and Tani Austin, owners of Starkey Hearing, for their incredible charitable work around the world. Leon Russell even dedicated his award to them.
photo c2011 Showbiz411/Ann Lawlor