Here’s a concert to look forward to this summer… The Lords of 52nd Street, featuring members of Billy Joel’s original band, are playing the Misquamicut Drive-In in Westerly on August 5th.
I recently chatted with Liberty DeVitto, the legendary drummer, who recorded and toured with Joel for over 30 years. He co-founded the Lords with Billy’s longtime sax player Richie Cannata and lead guitarist Russell Javors. All three will be here with the band in August.
Like many established musicians, DeVitto’s tried to stay busy during the pandemic.
“I’ve been doing a lot of studio work and I have new a book out,” he explained. “It’s called A Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It’s my life story and it came out last July. About a month ago I did the audiobook; oh my Goodness, you want to talk about a labor of love. It took me 55 hours to read my own book. Billy wrote the forward in the book and also spoke the forward in the audiobook.” (Click here for a link to purchase the book.)
With Covid-related restriction ending, I asked him about the unique nature of a “drive-in” concert.
“Well, when the pandemic first hit last summer, we did one at Tobay Beach out on Long Island. It’s a strange thing because people are sitting in their cars, and some people get out and sit on top of their cars, and listen that way. Some of them listen to the show on the car radio … and instead of clapping they beep their horns.”
Without fans directly front of the stage, it can be hard for bands to connect with audiences. DeVitto continued,
“The way to get energized is to play off the other musicians in the band, like when it was fun, back when we started. If fans are slitting in their cars, we really can’t see the reaction on their faces, what we do is play to each other to get that energy lifted. It slides off the stage and onto the people and they can feel that camaraderie that good bands have. They (fans) feel like they’re part of the band.”
The Lords are no tribute act – they’re the real deal, seasoned musicians who’ve toured the world. Their lead singer mimics Joel’s voice and mannerisms from his late 70’s/early 80’s heyday.
“Dan Orlando will be playing with us. He plays piano and does the Billy vocals – he’s really good and has a lot of energy and he sounds more like “young Billy,” the one from the 70’s and 80’s. We do all the songs in the same key as the record. So, we actually sound more like Billy Joel than Billy does these days.”
No doubt, Billy Joel is one of the greatest recording artists in the history of popular music. Devitto was there for many unforgettable moments. He recalled an historic visit to the former Soviet Union in the summer of 1987.
“I played with Billy for 30 years, on records and live. The Soviet Union tour was one of the greatest moments ever. Ya know, when I grew up, we used to hide under our desks, because we thought the Soviets were gonna drop bombs on us (as if the desks would protect us),” he joked. “When I went over there, I thought I was going to see these fire breathing dragons. When I got there, one of the greatest moments for me was standing on Soviet soil and looking up at the sky and thinking, it’s the same sky that’s over us. I realized its politics and governments that fight against each other. People everywhere are the same, they just love other people. The people in the Soviet Union were great.”
We did the song “Leningrad” on the Stormfront album which totally nailed how we felt after we left the Soviet Union. We were the first act to do a full production there. They saw exactly what they would have seen if they went to Madison Square Garden,” added DeVitto.
“Before we went to the Soviet Union, we went to Cuba on an exchange program between Columbia/CBS Records and the Cuban government with Tito Puente, Weather Report, Stephen Stills, and a lot of people that were on the CBS record label,” he recalled.
“We played at the Karl Marx Theatre. For every American group that played, a Cuban group played next. It felt more Communist there than it did in the Soviet Union. We were on the beaches and there were soldiers with rifles watching every move we made. We gave t-shirts to the kids at the beach.”
“A few years later, after some were allowed to leave and come to the US, we met a lot of those kids who were on the beach and they would tell us who was arrested and who drowned on the way coming over. It was a moving moment to play there.”
DeVitto is certainly looking forward to performing live again. “The crowd is older, but the Lords play with the energy of the 1970’s. We played in the 70’s and now we are in our 70’s,” he joked.
“I love Rhode Island, I’ve played there many times, I always say, it’s the smallest state, but the people have the biggest hearts.”
Our advice on August 5th – pack everyone up and bring the family!