Mike DelGuidice finds niche, becomes a 'Big Shot' with Billy Joel tribute
Mike DelGuidice spent many years singing and playing at piano bars. He went on to head up the Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot for 18 years, when, in October 2013, Billy Joel heard DelGuidice sing and invited him to join his band.
Today, DelGuidice continues to perform with Big Shot and with Billy Joel on both national and international tours, including monthly performances at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
On Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot will perform at Big Cork Vineyards as the final act of three in the Big Summer Concert Series. The Maryland Theatre teamed up with Big Cork to present the evening concerts on the last Saturday evening of June, July and August. Gates open to the concert at 6:15 p.m. Ticket holders are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets. Tickets for Big Cork Wine Club members cost $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. General admission is $40 in advance and $45 at the gate.
DelGuidice, 48, who recently took up residence in Florida, spoke by phone with a Herald-Mail reporter. He recollected his early experiences with music as a child growing up in Long Island.
A boy watching through the basement window
“A neighbor across the street had some rock bands. He was a drummer and I was friends with his brother. I was only like six years old or so,” DelGuidice said. “I would go over to their basement window and watch them jam. That’s where I started to really like classic rock.”
Around the house, he heard artists like Elton John, Billy Joel, John Denver and James Taylor. He began taking drum lessons from the guy across the street, and as he started to get a handle on that, he also learned to play guitar.
“I did my first real performance in a sixth grade talent show. It was ‘Tom Sawyer’ by Rush. The place went crazy. That was the end of it for me,” DelGuidice said.
He was smitten by music. He played guitar, bass and drums, then when he was 14, DelGuidice became involved with a church.
“The church needed a piano player for the youth group. I took a guitar and went over to the piano and started to figure that out note for note until I learned how to play the piano,” he said. “As I was learning piano, I listened to Elton John, Billy Joel. People would walk by the music room at school and say, ‘Wow, you sound like (Billy Joel). You should do more of that.’ And that’s where it all began, with singing the Billy.”
Throughout high school, DelGuidice dug into Joel’s musical catalog and “really started loving his stuff.” By age 17, he was playing at piano bars, as well as playing other solo gigs and with bands.
At times over the years, he took odd jobs to help pay the bills.
“For a while I did landscaping. I worked for Pudgie’s chicken, you know I did the whole thing dressed up as a chicken. I’ve done every humiliating job you can imagine,” he said. “That was before I said, ‘I think I’m gonna do music. This is what I like.’”
A man suffering through tragedy
DelGuidice was making a go of life as a musician when life threw him an unexpected curve ball that nearly left him sidelined.
“I basically went from gospel to piano bar then all the sudden around ‘99 or 2000, I was about ready to give up on music,” he said.
He had been working on a record with Billy Joel’s former bass player, Douglas Alan Stegmeyer when, in 1995 at 43 years old, Stegmeyer died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“Everything was locked up in his estate. The whole concept of what we wanted to do died with him for a little while,” DelGuidice said. “My friend was dead. He was so influential at that point in my musical career. I needed to take a break.”
DelGuidice wasn’t able to stay away from music for long.
“Eventually passion says, ‘Hello. What are you doing? Come on. Time to get back on track and go make a run of this thing the best you can.’ You can’t not do it anymore,” he said.
It was around that time that DelGuidice ran across a Dave Matthews tribute band.
“I thought that was kind of weird. I never heard a band do all one artist. Top 40 bands were really popular back then,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, everybody likes Billy Joel, especially on Long Island. Maybe I could do that.’”
DelGuidice had done Billy Joel songs with Stegmeyer before his passing. He decided to try a gig or two and see what would happen. Like DelGuidice, Billy Joel grew up on Long Island.
“It’s Long Island. People love Billy Joel. A lot of people took to it,” he said.
A musician finding his niche
Sounding like another singer is not that hard.
“You can end up sounding like somebody else if you try hard enough. You work on the accent, the vowels, you hold out the Ss, things like that,” DelGuidice said.
But that’s not what he is about. His performance is more of a celebration of Billy Joel’s music, which he said is so popular, in part, because Joel tells stories.
“He is literal. His melodies are great but also his chord progressions. The changes are anything but predictable. They are very different. You can’t pick up an instrument and say ‘Let’s just play it.’ It’s not easy. The chord structures are difficult,” he said.
DelGuidice also credits Joel with being “one of the best bridge writers in the world.”
“He always has that thing that goes into that area of the song that makes you say, ‘Whoa. Where did that come from?’ And people can relate to him because he is just a normal guy,” he said.
DelGuidice said he’s had a great six years now performing with Joel. When he first got the gig in 2013, it was filling in during a European tour while a couple of Joel’s regular players were doing other jobs.
“I think (Joel) hired me for background vocals and to play rhythm guitar. After I was there a while, he started to realize I could do more,” he said.
Joel wanted to get back to the way his records sounded, using more double-overs as he’d done in the ‘70s.
“I started singing certain parts with him, doubled live,” DelGuidice said. “It gave it more of a young Billy sound along with the more mature Billy sound he has now. It makes it quite interesting to hear in the ears. I hear him in 1974 and hear him now, bouncing off of each other.”
Whatever Joel wants musically, DelGuidice is happy to oblige.
“Whatever he throws at me is good enough for me,” he said. “He is more than nice to me. He gives me a solo every night. It’s been just amazing.”
A future open to the universe
Meanwhile, DelGuidice continues to perform with Big Shot and to write and perform his own music.
“I love singing a lot of different things, including my own music. If I just stayed in one box, that’s kind of limiting in a sense,” he said. “There are maybe other things that can bring joy and happiness to me and to the band and to the audience.”
The audience at Big Cork can expect 70-to-80% of straight-up Billy Joel music.
“The rest, we fill in the gaps. We do a classic rock set. It could be anything from (Led) Zeppelin to (Paul) McCartney. We do a little original stuff. Sometimes we break it down and do an acoustic set,” he said. “We’ll see what I feel like for the night. Usually I have a set list but I don’t stick to it. I just call out songs when I feel the vibe in the room.”
As for the future, DelGuidice plans to keep doing what he is doing and see what happens.
“I’m really about leaving things up to the universe and to God. I don’t try to do anything. If I try to do something, it usually fails,” he said. “So I sit back and shut up, do the right things and let God be God. He’s done a really good job so far. I’m blessed already. I don’t need much more than this.”