Gary James' Interview With Mike Del Guidice Of
The Ultimate Billy Joel Experience
Mike Del Guidice And Big Shot
Mike Del Guidice is Billy Joel in Big Shot: The Ultimate Billy Joel Experience. Mike is so good at what he does, he even fooled Billy Joel! That's right, Billy Joel could not tell the difference between his voice and the voice of Mike Del Guidice. Now that's a compliment!
Q - How did you come to the conclusion that a Billy Joel tribute show would work? Billy Joel is still out there performing, isn't he?
A - Yeah. I guess it was back in the year 2006 or so. I was thinking about what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to do a McCartney band. I was going to call it Wings Over Long Island. I was going to do a Chicago band, which I ended up starting, called Beginning, which is still playing now, but I bailed out of that a couple of years after I started it. Then finally I just settled on the fact that everybody told me I sounded like Billy a lot. I figured on Long Island I couldn't really go wrong. I think if I was going to do any artist on Long Island, it would have to be Billy. He's the best. He's one of my favorites. It was hard not to do it.
Q - Why would you consider starting a McCartney tribute band?
A - I really liked the concept of being able to get up and play bass and not just be stuck behind a piano. So, I really kind of wanted to explore that, but I was so kind of entrenched in the Billy Joel stuff already that it made so much sense to just do it.
Q - I never heard of anyone wanting to put together a McCartney tribute act. That's different.
A - Yeah. It was gonna be more Wings stuff right after The Beatles. I was kind of going that route. Now the way the band's going, we're trying to do a bunch of stuff anyway. I'm getting to do a lot of that as well, as Billy Joel. So, that's kind of getting the best of everything.
Q - Was it expensive and time consuming to get this band together?
A - No. I mean not really. At this point in time it was just a matter of finding a couple of guys to get it going and finding a room that wanted to try it. And we ended up doing our first show at The Village Pub and it was a success right off the bat. We kind of got lucky with the fact that we really didn't have to work that hard. Maybe people on the island were kind of starving for something like it. They loved Billy, so I think it was an easy game to get into it in the sense that it didn't cost that much. We kind of built up a following slowly. It was kind of there, right from the beginning. It just had to be cultivated a little bit.
Q - Was it a hard sell to get musicians to join up with you?
A - Yeah. It's still hard. I kind of go through guys over the years. I go through quite a few band members and different changes and different spots, all basically trying to culminate to get to Billy's guys, where we're kind of getting now where we actually have a lot of Billy's guys playing with us, which has been a real blessing.
Q - That's certainly a remarkable achievement.
A - Yeah. It's been really good. We actually got Billy's OK last year to go ahead and use his band. He signed off on it and said it was fine. We've been real fortunate.
Q - You play over 120 concerts a year?
A - Yeah. We get a pretty active schedule. It gets even more busy in the summertime. That's where we kind of make up the ground. We usually average two shows a week. Then in the summertime we're around four shows a week, sometimes five. We kind of bounce around a lot. We travel.
Q - That's what I was going to bring up, this band has to travel.
A - Yeah. We definitely do, more in the Summer than in the Fall. In the coming year or the next year or two, I'm going to be pulling the business out of the bars more and just doing the concert halls and more of the shows. We'd rather do shows than bars. Bars, you have people with scattered attention, they want to dance. It's a whole different vibe than an actual sit-down concert.
Q - How can you make enough money with an act like this when you play a bar?
A - The only way to make money in that respect is you gotta have a following. Once you have a following you can demand the money. You can't really demand any kind of money unless you draw people. We've been fortunate enough over the years to build up the following that's allowed us to make the money and continue working steady, where some bands aren't. Honestly, it's just been a blessing. I'm really grateful for it.
Q - You've actually performed with Billy Joel?
A - I haven't actually performed with him. He invited us down to do a sound check at Nassau Coliseum in 2002 when he was on the road with Elton John. I guess he heard us over the phone. We were on a news show and he heard us over the phone. He was really impressed by it and called us up and asked us to come down to the Coliseum. We checked his equipment. He gave us special treatment. The whole nine yards backstage. We got to hang out with him a bit. Really just a sweet guy. Very cordial. I'll never forget that. He was definitely a stand-up guy.
Q - Had you met Billy Joel before that?
A - I had only met him at a party at Christmas, an Italian restaurant in Syosset where Billy Joel wrote ("Scenes from) An Italian Restaurant" about. I was walking in and he was walking in behind me. That was the first time I got to meet him, but that wasn't really official. The official meeting was in 2002.
Q - What an incredible feeling it must be for you to meet the guy you portray onstage.
A - Yeah, very surreal. It's definitely something you don't forget, you don't take lightly, and you're grateful for when it happens. People always ask "has he ever come down and sang with you or gotten up onstage?" I always say "no, but it would be a blessing and an awesome thing if he did, but we don't expect anything like that. We're just happy to be working."
Q - Do you try to look like Billy Joel onstage?
A - Absolutely not. We are so against mock bands. I've actually taken the "tribute act" out of the title of the band because I was just so tired of the labeling of it. I've never tried to look like him. I love his music. I think he's a great songwriter. He's a great singer. And we try to do the music justice. Over the years it kind of becomes your own. You play it so much, you kind of do it your own way. I try to maintain his voice. But at the same token, after awhile, when you've done it so long, you just kind of put it on. It's like putting on clothes. You're not thinking about it as much. But I've been excited about doing some of his other material we've been adding to the set, playing the McCartney and Chicago and other stuff too. We kind of made the band a little more global, so to speak.
Q - You've also recorded your own original material on a CD called "Miller Place".
A - Yeah. I've been doing that my whole life. The frustrating part of doing a tribute band or any kind of cover band is the fact you lose your own identity a bit. I'm definitely at the point in my life where I spend more of my time writing and recording than I ever do performing Billy Joel. That's kind of four or five hours a week. My whole life is really in the studio. Writing, recording, video editing, doing video work for the band. It's hard being trapped a bit, but you know what? It pays the bills, so it's kind of the Catch 22 of the cover band syndrome.
Q - Do you ever tell audiences you also are an original artist?
A - Yeah. my new CD is "My Street". It's been selling really, really well. It's been on sale for the last few Summers. "Miller Place" and "My Street". They're selling tremendously. We play at least two songs a show. We do meet-and-greets after the show. We do autograph signings. We have lines of people wanting to buy the stuff. My stuff has definitely become an integral part of the show and it's gonna be more a part of the show as years go by.