“Philly’s Piano Man” Robert Eric is a Billy Joel tribute artist from the way he plays to the way he walks and talks. Rob has played in big name casinos across the Jersey Coast such as Ceasars and Harrahs. He also produces remixes that have landed on Billboard. But where did this all start? This and many other questions were answered in this exclusive interview.
How did your interest in music start?
It was natural really. I come from a musical family, so there was always a piano and guitar in the house. My father was a Jazz guitarist and I just started playing.
How did you and your backup band start working together?
Well I didn’t like the whole audition process where you listen to a bunch of tapes everyday until you found one that you wanted to hear in person. I went through an agency [Frank Kielb Entertainment] and he brought in a band called the Road Kings. They filled in as a backup band when I needed them and I played keyboards for them when they needed me. We had a really good relationship. They did a lot of blues and party music which I loved, so everything grew from there.
Why did you decide to make a tribute band for Billy Joel over any other artist?
I’m actually a really big Beatles fan, but throughout high school my teachers would always say “You look like Billy Joel. You even sound like Billy Joel.” This got the wheels turning in my head to take that idea and turn it into what I did. I was already playing guitar and piano at the time. I went to a legend show in Atlantic City and knew one of the bands. I submitted a submission tape to see if I could play at the show but didn’t get it. But the tape got sent to New York and they wanted me to do Broadway. But I was an eighteen year old kid, I wasn’t ready. So I practiced some more and then eventually got my show. It took a while to really get the hang of Billy’s stuff though, because he played really fast, but I practiced non-stop.
What was it like opening for Billy Joel not once, but twice?
It was great! They got us to play on the radio [WIP] and treated us so nicely. They gave us a shout out at the shows before we opened which was a great feeling. The funny part is we didn’t meet Billy. We met the rest of the band, but he wasn’t doing meet & greets at the time because they didn’t want damage his voice. But it really was great. It’s such a blur that it doesn’t even seem like we did it twice, it seems like it only happened once.
What made you decide to start producing?
We all have a story, but mine isn’t complex or anything. I always loved music and computers, so put those two together and you get music production. in 1984 I opened a studio and started doing a lot of dance records. I produced a lot of gangster rap that came out if Camden, New Jersey. Recently I did a Billy Joel mix. Over the years its just grown and kept progressing.
How long would you say it took you to become a successful remixer?
It took a while. We had to build the studio then start mixing a song, it wasn’t anything that could happen over night. The more you do it, the more it forces you to get better. In 1990 I heard a song on Q102’s rotation and I didn’t like how it sounded. So I asked myself “How can I help? How can I make this better?” I studied a lot and then artists from New York and Philly started coming through my studio and I knew this was it. It was something I was good at so I stuck with it.
Is there anything else you want to accomplish in the music industry?
I’m happy with where I’m at. You can’t do too many things in life, it would be too much. If you have too much on your plate, you won’t be able to give something your full potential. When you’re older, you’d rather focus on a few things instead of trying to be better than everyone else in the industry and do what everyone else is doing. I just wanna be a piano man. Maybe one day play on a cruise ship or something. But nothing drastic. I’m happy with the things I’ve done, and that’s what matters.
You can see Rob in action tonight, Friday March 27, at 7pm in Room 9 Sutherland. PSU students are free, $10 for guests.