For the longest time, Kyle Martin has made a career inspired by a legendary musician. As the lead singer of the tribute band JOEL, he tours the country, giving fans a thrill by channeling Billy Joel.
Martin’s homage is so spot-on that he beat out more than 30,000 hopefuls to play the role of the Piano Man in Joel’s Tony Award-Winning Broadway musical “Movin’ Out,” choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
From 2007 to 2009, Martin performed eight shows a week, re-creating Joel’s most popular songs. It was a lot of work, but it was an incredible experience and truly an honor to have his idol for a boss.
“We were able to tailor the show to the audience we were in front of. I loved giving shout-outs to the cities we were performing for,” Marin said. “The sights I saw across the country were better than any road trip I could come up with.”
Martin will make a stop at the Nugget Casino Resort’s Celebrity Showroom on Jan. 2. He’s looking forward to the gig.
“I’ve always had a love for Reno since I was kid: Circus Circus, the restaurants, the Sierras, etc.” he said. “The crowds are amazing in Reno. They love to dance and get crazy. I have no doubt they'll bring that to the show.”
Don’t expect a fluffy lounge act, because the Sacramento musician will be bringing his powerhouse band JOEL along for the ride.
Bassist Larry Hart has performed with Montrose, Eddie Money and Northrup. Tony Providence has drummed for everyone from Stevie Wonder and Prince to Jay-Z. Saxophonist and percussionist Jeff Teczon is a two-time Grammy nominated jazz musician. And guitarist Jerry White has made a name for himself performing with folks like the Mighty Whiteys and Roger Smith of Tower of Power.
“Each musician brings energy and mastery to the show. It’s important to not only have amazing musicians but to have them meld well,” Martin emphasized. “We’ve been together for seven years and we can read each other’s cues very well.”
JOEL, which is widely considered to be the premier Billy Joel tribute band on the West Coast, has plenty to work with. The Piano Man’s catalogue is as tall as the Whitestone Bridge in his hometown of the Bronx. Joel’s discography includes 13 studio albums yielding 33 Top 40 hits, in genres ranging from pop to blues to doo-wop to classical.
Martin has hit upon a generality. A man who plays piano and sings will tend to gravitate toward either Billy Joel or Elton John. Martin can certainly perform Elton John in a pinch, and may well play a couple of songs by the Rocket Man at his Nugget gig. Still, he’s a Joel man through and through.
“I appreciate that Billy’s style is universal. He takes each genre and masters it and truly makes it his own,” Martin said. “There’s so much depth to Billy’s songwriting and performing. He never does the same thing twice.”
And then, of course, there are those nearly-inimitable pipes.
“I think Billy’s voice is aggressive, in a good way,” Martin said. “He attacks each song with confidence and masculinity. He makes the ladies swoon and the men wish they could be him.”
The JOEL frontman insists he never gets bored of his muse. His appreciation of Bill Joel’s catalogue evolves regularly, finding him enamored of a song he had previously underrated. “My favorite Billy song is currently ‘Summer, Highland Falls.’ He has a lot of great, more obscure songs,” Martin said.
Audiences tend to have their perennial favorites: “'Uptown Girl' is definitely a crowd favorite, and 'River of Dreams' gets people out of their seats. 'Piano Man' gets people singing more than any of the songs we perform.”
Being a tribute act makes for an interesting career. Martin and his JOEL band-mates have enjoyed the chance to mingle with other musicians who are on a parallel path. Favorites include the Bowie tribute act Space Oddity, fronted by David Brighton, and fellow Northern Californians Steelin Dan.
Such encounters have nothing on one Martin had back in 2008, however, when he got to meet Billy Joel when he was practicing for the closing of Shea Stadium. Martin was able to meet the superstar and his band, given that he knew the keyboard player and had the added cachet of starting in “Movin’ Out.”
“He’s a very nice and humble man,” Martin said. “I never did play for Billy live, but he told me he heard great things about my show. That blew me away! I recently saw Billy’s show in San Francisco last September. It was his first show in San Francisco in 30-40 years. Epic.”
Martin has three kids approaching their teenage years. While they’re more into artists like Zedd, Coldplay and Katy Perry, he has managed to pass on his love of Billy Joel’s music to his brood.
“Oddly enough, I'm still somewhat cool to my kids (sarcasm implied),” he joked. “I'm glad they appreciate the classics as well.”
As far as classics, Martin had a deep appreciation for many a singer/songwriter including Stevie Wonder, Freddie Mercury, Carole King and “Brave” singer Sara Bareilles. His love for music is what keeps him excited. What keeps him successful is his emphasis on “hard work, passion and a plan.”
“Knowing who you are and treating your music as a business without sacrificing the love of the art is so important,” he said.
Martin, who is grounded and sustained by his Christian faith, used to be quite involved in music-making within his congregation.
Lately, however, he’s moved onto another kind of ministry, focusing on helping others develop their skills as performers. He’s opened a studio in Sacramento called the Professional Voice, where he and staff work with singers from all styles, ages and skill levels.
“I still work with many music pastors, but I’ve also had the fortune of working with Broadway performers, contestants on 'American Idol' and 'The Voice' and recently was on the 5 Seconds of Summer tour coaching Randy Jackson’s artist, Jackson Guthy.”
Martin is feeling busy and fulfilled but he if he got a phone call from someone trying to enlist him on another tour of “Movin’ Out,” he wouldn’t have to think too long.
“There’s always talk of a revival. I would love to see it happen and, if I'm lucky enough, be part of it,” he said. “You never know.”