It never even occurred to them that they would ever play Billy Joel music again.
Saxophonist Richie Cannata had his successful studio Cove City Sound Studios in Glen Cove and his work as Bernie Williams’ music director. Drummer Liberty DeVitto had his own band The Slim Kings, as well as being part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s house band. And guitarist Russell Javors had started his own toy manufacturing business in Hong Kong and had also developed shows for TV production companies.
They were all looking ahead, not back at their days as part of the Billy Joel Band, one of the biggest concert draws in the world. But when they were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2014 — an honor they accepted mostly to pay tribute to the late Doug Stegmeyer, who played bass with them in Joel’s band — something clicked.
“I realized that these are our records, too,” said Javors, calling from his home in Boca Raton, Florida. “We may not have written them, but we helped them take shape, helped them sound the way they do. . . . I think Liberty said, ‘If Billy’s the father of these songs, we’re at least the uncles.’ ”
That feeling didn’t just click with them. Those who saw them play — along with David Clark from the Joel tribute show “Songs in the Attic” handling vocal duties — at The Paramount that night in 2014 couldn’t miss the spark, the excitement of these guys playing those songs again.
No one knew it that night, but that’s when The Lords of 52nd Street were born.
“I thought, being away from each other for so long and coming back together again, that we were going to be like the Eagles or a band like that and have a fight before we even got to do it,” DeVitto says, laughing, just days before the band plays its first full concert together in 27 years at The Space at Westbury on Feb. 5 (The show was orginally scheduled for Saturday night, but was postponed because of weather.) “Actually, I didn’t think that. We’re just having a blast.” (The band is also set to play The Cutting Room in Manhattan on Feb. 20.)
For Clark, it’s a dream come true playing with the musicians he idolized growing up. “As a musician and a fan, this is just really, really cool,” he said.
Javors said that if the Lords of 52nd Street can simply recapture the feeling from the Long Island Music Hall of Fame induction, everyone will be happy. “It just seemed very natural and easy,” he said. “I think that feeling is going to be the same every time we get together.”
Cannata said playing the Joel songs that the Lords of 52nd Street bonded over years ago has been energizing.
“It’s got magic,” he said. “It really is amazing. The songs feel fresh again. We feel like young guys again.”
For Cannata, that feeling is extra special, considering the past year. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in April and underwent intense chemotherapy that sapped his strength.
His illness delayed the launch of the Lords of 52nd Street project, but the band feels that after the Westbury show the momentum will build again.
“This has been the best therapy,” said Cannata, who is now cancer-free, but continues to go to rehab to get full feeling back in his hands and feet. “I’m so glad to have my life and my friends around me. I’m ready to start kicking some ass.”