THE PIANO MEN
Jeff Scott is Elton John. Jeff Brewer is Billy Joel.
The tribute-band industry is a booming one. People flock to the experience for any number of reasons. Perhaps your favorite artist has died — think David Bowie or Michael Jackson. Maybe the tickets to hear the real artist are too expensive. Or perhaps your absolute favorite never tours your neck of the woods.
For the tribute artist, touring the work of others offers positive performing possibilities.
“I had my own recording studio and I played the bar circuit and that was okay,” said Toronto-based Brewer. “Like so many others, I had preconceived notions about tribute artists. But then, the first time I stepped on stage to do my Billy Joel tribute it was in front of 3,000 people. You get to play some pretty big stages.”
Elton John and Billy Joel have collaborated for decades, selling out wherever they went.
Their music continues to tap into the hearts and minds of baby boomers. Brewer knows what the audience wants to hear, so the two play all the hits all the time.
Brewer auditioned for the tribute gig after seeing an ad in Toronto’s NOW magazine. He was told to prepare three songs — Only the Good Die Young, Piano Man and Big Shot.
“I sang the first two lines of Only the Good Die Young and the guy stopped me,” Brewer said. “He said ‘you’ve got the gig.’ Life is like that sometimes.”
That was 15 years ago.
Brewer, a 49-year-old father of two, tours for almost half the year. He’s covered the United States and Canada, performed on cruise ships, in sprawling retirement enclaves in Florida, in Bermuda and Belize.
He’s also played Oyster Bay, Long Island. Billy Joel is a Long Island native and has been in the neighborhood when Brewer is performing. Brewer has only seen Billy Joel perform once, in New York City, and has never met him.
“It’s nerve-wracking to think he could walk in while I’m performing,” Brewer said. “I don’t think he minds (the tribute scene). After all, people are listening to his music.”
Brewer said strong male tenors like Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting were allowed the time by their record labels to develop, back in the day. Not every song had to hit a home run. Fans remained loyal and matured with them.
“I’m a songwriter at heart and Billy Joel is a very skilled songwriter,” Brewer said. “That’s the staying power. It comes down to the quality of the writing.”
Brewer doesn’t think he’ll hang up the tribute mantle any time soon and said his busy schedule is a result of more than his ability to sound and play like Billy Joel.
“There is a difference between being a musician and being an entertainer,” he said. “I’m an entertainer. I love performing for people.”
Excerpts from an interview by firstname.lastname@example.org