After 14 years of playing Billy Joel, Michael DelGuidice is now playing with Billy Joel.
The 42-year-old from Sound Beach has made his living fronting Big Shot -- a popular Billy Joel tribute band that routinely packs Long Island venues. But now he also sings background vocals and plays acoustic guitar in the Piano Man's own band.
"He could have grabbed anybody," says DelGuidice, fresh off a short string of United Kingdom concerts with Joel. "This is truly a fairy tale."
HIS 'BIG SHOT' DelGuidice has long been known for emulating Joel's vocal stylings. If you close your eyes and listen to him sing the near-eight-minute opus "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," you'd think you were at a bona fide Billy Joel concert.
Over the years, various members of Joel's band have played in Big Shot with DelGuidice while the Grammy-winning artist was off the road. Last summer, Joel's guitarist, Tommy Byrnes of Oceanside, pitched the idea to have DelGuidice stand in as a "stunt double" for Joel during the Billy Joel Band's rehearsals for the upcoming U.K. fall tour.
The hints started dropping, DelGuidice says, on the third day of October rehearsals at the Paramount in Huntington:
"Do you have a passport?"
"Do you know the catalog on acoustic guitar?"
Then the bomb: "Billy's showing up at 2 p.m. No promises."
When Joel arrived, he asked DelGuidice to join him onstage, where he played an entire set with the band.
"On the albums where you would hear two of Billy's voices, that's where I would sing with him plus on the harmonies," says DelGuidice.
Joel drummer Chuck Burgi, who also plays with Big Shot, was struck hard.
"When Mike sings with Billy, to me it sounds like Billy doubling himself," Burgi says. "That's a sound that I've never heard in this band."
After a successful rehearsal, Joel wanted a private word with DelGuidice.
"We went behind the curtain, and I was both nervous and excited," DelGuidice says. "Billy said, 'I'd like to get you on the road. Can you get away?' "
GOING LIVE DelGuidice made his stage debut with Joel at the Paramount warm-up show on Oct. 16, then flew overseas for gigs in England and Ireland. His first arena show with Joel in Manchester was before 20,000 people, a bit bigger than a packed Friday night at Mulcahy's in Wantagh.
"To see the lights fade to black and hear the place go nuts was insane. I thought, 'This is a whole other level,' " he says. "Billy comes walking out with this presence. He's the man, and you realize how minuscule you really are. This guy is beloved."
STAYING ON BOARD Backstage before the show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, Joel told DelGuidice he wanted to keep him on board.
"Adding his harmony to our mix, it's really enhanced the vocals so much," Joel told Newsday's Glenn Gamboa in a recent interview. "The other thing is he knows all my stuff, so I don't even have to do much rehearsal with him. I hate to rehearse. Mike comes in, and he just knows the stuff cold."
DelGuidice is still trying to process what's happened.
"It's almost like a dream," he says. "He literally reached down into my life and stirred it up."
BUSINESS AS USUAL When DelGuidice is not on tour with Joel, Big Shot will continue to forge on.
"Billy has no problem with us playing in between," he says. "It only gets bigger."
Judging by a recent packed house at The Emporium in Patchogue, it looks like Billy business is booming.
The wall-to-wall crowd is buzzing with excitement and Big Shot's opening song,
"Everybody Loves You Now," is even more poignant.
"This guy has been representing his music for years, and now he got his break," says Joanne Thompson, 43, of Islip Terrace, who has seen Big Shot at least a dozen times. "It just proves that hard work pays off."
During "You May Be Right," DelGuidice grabs the mike and jumps into the crowd. He's welcomed with hugs, high-fives and handshakes.
"I checked out Big Shot one night at Mulcahy's 10 years ago, and I was instantly sold," says Mike Cacciatore, 36, of Patchogue. "Mike's a Long Island guy, and we're happy for him."
DelGuidice is about to have another dream come true -- playing Madison Square Garden, where Joel has multiple shows next year.
"It's like a child who grows up playing baseball and then all of a sudden gets drafted by the Yankees and is playing in the World Series at Yankee Stadium," he says. "To play there with Billy is the most amazing thing in the world."
MIKE DELGUIDICE AND BIG SHOT
WHEN | WHERE 9 p.m. Dec. 27, The Emporium in Patchogue
INFO 631-627-8787, theemporiumny.com
COVER CHARGE $15 (free 6-8 p.m.)