February 5, 2016
The Space at Westbury, Westbury, NY
As rhythm guitarist for Billy Joel during his heyday, Russell Javors played on some of Joel's biggest albums like Glass Houses and An Innocent Man, along with touring the world. Now, some three decades later, Javors has gotten together with Billy Joel band members, drummer Liberty DeVitto and sax player Richie Cannata, as The Lords of 52nd Street. They started playing music together again after reuniting in the fall of 2014 when they were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
Tonight, they play at the Space at Westbury, a make-up show after a snowstorm postponed the original January date. Javors spoke by phone about the new band and that other guy he once worked with.
Kevin Filipski: How did The Lords of 52nd Street come about?
Russell Javors: Well, we really hadn’t thought of it at all: we got together to do the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and honestly I wasn’t even gonna do it. At first, I didn't have the feeling that anybody cared about it, but it was great getting together and seeing the guys and there was an overwhelming response. It was a part of my life I had moved on from, but now I'm with my brothers again. It all clicked in and was very natural. We hadn't seen each other in ages, but it went over well enough that we thought there might be something there and there’s interest in hearing us. It's funny: I've been playing together with Liberty since I was 15, and we didn't have to think about it. It's natural. It felt that we were like brothers, there's that pulse that we have together. It's nothing complicated: it's chemistry.
KF: It's a crowded field of tribute bands that you're wading into.
RJ: Yes, there are lots of these kinds of bands out there, and they're good, like the Bigshot band. I had always stayed away from it because I just didn't feel it for awhile, but it's cool that Billy's music is kept alive, even though it’s funny to hear other people play my parts. But people care about this music, and they care about hearing us playing it. The tightrope we have to walk is we're not a tribute band, we are the actual band that played on those records.
KF: Do you still see Billy Joel?
RJ: A year or two ago, I sat in with him onstage in Florida and before that in Hong Kong, and once in Detroit. It's always good to see everybody, and it's nice how they treat me like family. I'm different now that I was back then: if we made those records now, I might not play them the same way. You don't want to reinvent the wheel, but I look at these songs in a slightly different way now. We were a simple band: our whole mindset was to frame the songs and frame Billy: the song is always king.
KF: How does it feel to be part of so many songs that touched so many people?
RJ: It's funny: I lived in Hong Kong for years and they have a Bourbon Street-type neighborhood, and I'd walk through and see myself in a video from the '80s. And I realized how much exposure that music had and how much it meant to so many people. You might not think of it that way when you're doing it, but looking back, it was an important part of many people's lives. Billy has earned his accolades with the test of time. I always think of us as Billy's E Street Band.