Back-to-Back January Shows Salute Music of the Bee Gees & Billy Joel
Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Perhaps there is no greater honor for an established and seasoned singer or band than to have fellow entertainers pay tribute to them by immersing themselves in their body of work. Tribute artists have been around for decades. There is no telling how many men have donned the white & gold pants-suit and strutted on stage as the King Elvis Presley.
For audience members to totally enjoy a tribute show there has to be three factors that complete the experience. The entertainer(s) must embody the look, the sound, and more importantly the attitude of the artists they’re portraying. If that triple threat is in place, then the artist(s) behind the tributes usually welcome larger crowds to their shows.
Friday January 7th and Saturday January 8th two such tribute shows are coming to the low country as the North Charleston Performing Arts Center plays host to the New York Bee Gees on Friday night, and David Clark’s ‘Songs in The Attic’ a musical salute to Billy Joel on Saturday evening. Both shows are among the top acts in their industry paying tribute to the respective artists.
Peter Mazzeo who portrays Barry Gibb admits his group encompasses everything fans admire about the famed trio. “The Bee Gees have a tremendous body of work. They are known for the songs they had during the disco era and on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but they had many hits before they were the biggest thing to come out of the late 70’s. What we do in the New York Bee Gees is bring that entire experience to the audience.”
Mazzeo says commitment to craft is what it takes pull it all off. “You have to hit it and be good at it. People are quick to say you suck if you don’t deliver, and of course you’ll never be asked back. We had a standing gig where we played every Friday and Saturday night for two and a half months straight. So hopefully that proves we deliver the goods.”
Although he’s been performing in and around New York since the 1980’s, and fronted his own band, Mazzeo says the idea for the New York Bee Gees didn’t come about until seven years ago. “When we started to kick around the idea, we didn’t want to do The Beatles or any other band that everyone was doing. So, when we researched the Bee Gees, we discovered there wasn’t a lot of competition. There was Staying Alive and the Australian Bee Gees, and they are good tribute groups, but again there wasn’t a lot of tribute acts focused on the Bee Gees.”
Mazzeo adds, “So we started gigging at BB Kings Blues Bar in May of 2014. Before long they had us in regular rotation at Lucille’s at BB King’s. We quickly gained a solid following, and we discovered there was a strong interest in people wanting to hear Bee Gees music. The Bee Gees are iconic and have a body of work that will live on forever.”
After doing it now for several years Mazzeo admits he still immerses himself in his role as Barry and occasionally overdoses on the Bee Gees. “I continue to do background research on Barry. Old archives, things on YouTube that are new to me. Each of the Gibb brothers have their own personality, and I do my best to take on Barry’s persona when I perform.”
The reason Mazzeo does is obvious. “You want to be totally believable on stage. The more I take on Barry the better it is overall the New York Bee Gees. Fans who come to our shows are fans of the Bee Gees, and obviously they realize they aren’t seeing the group, but I and my fellow band mates want the audience to totally lose themselves in the show, and the whole Bee Gees experience.”
Has the incomparable Barry Gibb taken in a performance? “He’s not seen it, but I know he’d love it. Many people who’ve worked with him have said the same thing.” Having performed for most of his adult life, Mazzeo likes to think he’s found his groove. “I’m not kidding. This is one of the best gigs I’ve ever had. It’s such a blessing to make a living as an entertainer, and even more rewarding to do it performing songs I love, and fans really enjoy.”
So, what can fans expect. “We cover a wide range of their music. Their early hits and their disco era hits. It’s not unusual for audience members to get up and dance. We’re playing feel good music from one of the greatest pop rock trios in the history of rock n’ roll.” Mazzeo says the New York Bee Gees add a few appropriate songs in their set. “We do a couple of Andy Gibb songs. We’ll do ‘Shadow Dancing’ and ‘I Just Want to Be Your Everything’. Our whole show is an homage to the brother’s Gibb.”
While Mazzeo took on the character of Barry Gibb, New York native David Clark has been slowly transforming into the legendary ‘Piano Man’. “Maybe I was destined to play Billy. I was born on Long Island, not far from the Nassau Coliseum. My first arena concert was Billy Joel’s ‘Glass Houses’ tour at Nassau Coliseum. I was just 13 years old at the time but had already been studying and playing piano for several years, so there was an immediate connection. There was just something about Billy and his performance that resonated with me.”
Clark first became aware of Joel in 1977. “My earliest recollections of Billy was on ‘The Stranger’ album. Still one of my all-time favorite albums to listen too. It didn’t have the same impact on me at age 10 that it did in later years, but still there was something very different about ‘The Stranger’ album. Very cool and mysterious, even today.”
Clark adds, “Obviously that album put Billy on map. Two of my favorite songs to perform on stage come from that album. I really enjoy playing ‘Vienna’ and ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’. Both songs are fun to perform, yet totally different, and showcase Billy’s range. They’ve become concert staples for him, so naturally I have to include them in the shows I do.”
While he’s product of the music he embraced in his younger years, Clark says keyboardists are his passion. “Being a piano player, Billy and other great piano players always kind of drew me in.” Clark admits his musical tastes varied in his formative years. “I grew up listening to all the great classic pop and rock artists of the 70’s and 80’s. I like to think I’m well rounded, but Billy was always one of my favorites, even before I began this salute to his legacy.”
It helps that Clark who will turn 55 early next year resembles Joel in his later years. “Sadly, I’ve been blessed and cursed at the same time, with no hair and a little bit of a paunch. But the latter two and my overall physical appearance, combined with piano skills, and desire to emulate Billy’s show have been beneficial to me at this stage in my life.” Clark couldn’t have done this decades ago. “I was skinnier and had long hair. I literally grew into the Billy Joel role.”
Clark calls his tribute show ‘Songs in the Attic’, a salute to Joel’s first live album which came out in 1981 and was Joel’s way of introducing fans to his earlier work prior to ‘The Stranger’. “Aside from ‘Piano Man’ many fans didn’t know how many great songs he put out in the early 70’s. He brought fans up to speed with ‘Songs in the Attic. Just a great album. I love songs like ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’, ‘She’s Got a Way’, and ‘Captain Jack’ which is really cool to play live.”
What can audience members expect when they come out to see Clark perform. “Hopefully they’ll be blown away. My goal every time I go on stage as Billy Joel is to give everyone in the crowd the Billy Joel experience. My show has a lot of guts. Billy is an entertainer. He has a strong body of work, lots of hits, and I try to deliver all of that and his energy in my shows.”
Has Billy Joel ever seen Clark play live? “He hasn’t seen it in person, but I know he’s aware of my salute to him through other contacts. I’ve worked with The Lords of 52nd Street (a rock band primarily comprised of members of the line-up which backed up Joel from 1976 to 1981), so I’ve heard a little buzz. All good.”
What sets Clark’s show apart from other artists that perform Billy Joel classics. “I’m not just another cheesy lounge act singing some of Billy’s greatest hits. Lots of singers and even piano players can do that. I actually replicate Billy’s act. There’s a huge difference. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this level of success if I wasn’t delivering the total Billy Joel experience.”
Low country fans hungry for the sounds of the Bee Gees and Billy Joel will have an opportunity to hear their music live, when the New York Bee Gees and Dave Clark’s ‘Songs in the Attic’ a musical salute to Billy Joel bring their respective shows to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on back-to-back nights. First up the New York Bee Gees on Friday January 7th, followed by Clark’s tribute show on Saturday January 8th. For tickets and info visit https://www.northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com/
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