In order to keep the beat for the Piano Man himself, a drummer needs to wield a solid pair of sticks. Such is the case with Chuck Burgi, who has long been one of the country’s most accomplished and respected drummers.
As the drummer for musical legend Billy Joel, Burgi gets the opportunity to play before sold-out crowds in such iconic venues as Madison Square Garden, where Joel has a monthly gig. Burgi also tours the country with Joel, and has performed on Broadway for 1,400 shows as the drummer for the smash musical, Movin Out, which chronicled Joel’s storied career.
A versatile musician who is often in demand, he has also played with Hall & Oats, Blue Öyster Cult, Meat Loaf, and other notables. He has recorded with numerous artists, including Michael Bolton, Bon Jovi and Diana Ross.
Which bands were your early musical influences?
Like most musicians of my generation, the Beatles had a huge influence on me. Also, I loved the song “Wipe Out” with its pulsating, staccato beat.
Describe your own personal style of drumming.
I’m like a chameleon on the drums, always changing and adapting to different styles of music. And with the many styles of music written by Billy, I need to be able to play such genres as jazz, reggae and an aggressive beat for many of his songs. Eclectic would be a good way to describe my playing.
What led to the Movin Out role?
I give all the credit to Tommy Byrnes, who plays guitar for Billy and who was instrumental in putting together Movin Out. I had known Tommy for awhile and he approached me with the concept and asked if I’d be interested. I said “Just tell me when and where.”
How did your relationship with Billy Joel begin?
He would often come to the show and perform on stage for the last song and the encore. We got to know each other and he invited me to come on the road with him. Playing with Billy has been and continues to be the highlight of my musical career thus far. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done as a musician. In my opinion, he’s America’s greatest musical talent.
How can you put into words playing on Broadway, at MSG and sold-out arenas?
It’s been beyond a dream come true. You work forever to be in this position and to be rewarded like this is phenomenal. Billy is on a totally different level from most artists.
In addition to playing with Joel, do you perform with other bands as your schedule allows?
I play with some of the members of Billy’s band, Michael DelGuidice and Tommy Byrnes, in a Billy tribute band called “Big Shot.” I also perform with a city/country band called “Shotgun Wedding” of which I was a founding member. We have been promoting our record South Of Somewhere, and occasionally perform in the tri-state area.
What do you enjoy in your spare time?
I give private drum lessons, and I enjoy researching and reading non-mainstream science and history. I draw, paint, and compose small pieces of music that could be commercials or mini-soundtracks. I’ll be adding some art and compositions to my website: www.chuckburgi.com. I also enjoy biking and simply being out in nature.
What do you like best about New York City?
I love the energy and the food. Also, it feels like a small, big city in many ways because of the ease of getting to the various sections of the city by public transportation.
PHOTO BY SAYRE BERMAN