The members of Billy Joel’s original band, The Lords of 52nd Street, will be appearing at Suffolk Theater this August to sing Billy Joel classics, such as the iconic New York State of Mind. We had the great pleasure to speak with the bands saxophonist, the talented and legendary musician and producer who has worked with notable names such as Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, The Beach Boys, John Stamos and former New York Yankee/Latin Grammy nominated jazz artist Bernie Williams, Richie Cannata! Cannata spoke with us about The Lords of 52nd Street, his inspiration and sound, and why Billy Joel’s songs are simply timeless.
What was the inspiration behind creating The Lords of 52nd Street?
We were asked to be inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and because of that they asked us to play a song as a band, which was the original Billy Joel band—Liberty DeVitto, Russell Javors, Doug Stegmeyer and myself. Doug passed, so it was just the three of us. I put the band together, and I hired guys that were amazing musicians, who knew the music. We went ahead and were told to do one song. We ended up doing four songs that night, and the next thing we knew, people wanted to book us for gigs.
What are a couple of your absolute favorite songs to perform?
“New York State of Mind” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”
What is it about Billy Joel’s hits that have stood the test of time?
What Billy is—he’s a regular person. He hits home with his lyrics, and with the combination of Liberty, Russell and myself adding to the music—it’s very digestible, very palatable. It’s something where you listen to a lyric, you listen to a melody line, and you say— I get it. I like it. They’re just things that we did back in those days that have sustained. To this point, we’re selling out concerts, and it’s 35 to 40 years later. I think people really like to hear those melodies and music.
What was one of your favorite gigs of all time, and why?
I would say when it was my Mom’s 80th birthday. She came to see me play at Madison Square Garden, and I found her in the audience from the stage. I dedicated New York State of Mind to her as I had my Dad’s sports jacket on. He had passed many years before, so it was kind of an emotional moment for the two of us.
What do you love about your band, The Lords of 52nd Street?
What I love about it is we’re playing this music the way it really should be played. We’re playing the keys that they’re written in—the energy that it was back when we wrote the songs with Billy, and there’s a new resurgence of this music. It’s really got the energy. The reason Billy is still playing out there today is because of our band, and what we did, and the groundwork, so I love Lords of 52nd Street because we’re playing it with that intensity. And we’re playing with musical talents, not digital fixing. There’s no auto-tuning.
How do you prepare for your live performances?
You always feed off the energy. You feel the audience’s vibe and give back. The music has been proven, so all we need to do is play it correctly. It’s got to be right. You’ve got to own the parts. You’ve got to own everything that you do, and play them from your heart, and really dig deep. That’s how I prepare for the audience, and it kind of gets prepared as I’m in the concert setting.
You studied classical piano, clarinet, flute, keyboards, as well as the saxophone you are so famously known for. How has being able to play multiple instruments contributed to your sound, and what do you love about the saxophone in particular?
It does because each instrument has its own parameters. Where I’m digging deep and playing some hard jazz or rock & roll is a tenor saxophone. Where I’ve got to play something like the clarinet solo in Italian Restaurant, that’s clarinet. It can’t be tenor. It’s another texture. The saxophone survived a long history of jazz, pop and rock music. It’s been there. It’s an instrument that a lot of people do like, and I feel very fortunate to make some music that people can remember with the saxophone.
Now, just a side note, you’ve worked with John Stamos and appeared on the hit sitcom “Full House.” What did you love about this experience?
Well if I tell people that I’ve played every major venue in the world from the Sydney Opera House to Carnegie Hall to Madison Square Garden in New York, they say—that’s really great Richie, and then I say I was on Full House with John Stamos, and they freak out! John Stamos and I are very close friends. I met him when I played with the Beach Boys, and I was on about five episodes of Full House. When it was happening, it was the best and most fun experience. We just had a great time doing it. And I thank John very much for allowing me to be a part of it. We also did the Rippers revival about a year and a half ago on Jimmy Fallon, and it turned out to be one of the greatest ratings on his show. I had so much fun, and John—he’s what you would want him to be—he’s the greatest and warmest person you’d ever meet.
You will be at Suffolk Theater on August 11. What are you most looking forward to?
I was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, so these hometown gigs are fun, and the Suffolk Theater is a beautiful theatre. It’s a great place to see a concert like what we’re going to do. I played there before, and I’m looking forward to a lot of my family being out there, and friends, and people of that closeness to me to come and enjoy the show. Come out and see the Lords of 52nd Street. We’re so proud of this band. The music is great.
The Lords of 52nd Street will be performing at Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street in Riverhead on Thursday, August 11 at 8:30 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343.