Chuck Burgi

Trying to fit in a career that stretches for almost 45 years into a 40-minute slot is nigh on impossible especially when there is so much to talk about. Mick Burgess called up legendary drummer Chuck Burgi to talk about his remarkable career which sees him currently occupying the drum stool in Billy Joel’s band. Burgi talks about his time in the band including the release of the classic live performance Billy Joel: Live at The Yankee Stadium in cinemas next week as well as looking back on replacing Phil Collins and Bill Bruford in Brand X, the making of the AOR classic In For The Count by Balance and joining legendary bands such as Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult and that was just scratching the surface of his musical journey.

You’re currently drummer for Billy Joel. How did you end up working with Billy?

I got involved with Billy through his long-term guitar player Tommy Byrnes who was the musical director for years until David Rosenthal took that role although Tommy is still very much involved. They keep us together and crack the whip. Tommy and I began working together long before I joined Billy and we met through a mutual friend Greg Smith, who is one of my best friends and were in Rainbow together. Greg introduced me to Tommy and I started working with him. I got a call from him in ’97 to go out on the road with Enrique Iglesias who at the time was one of the hottest Spanish artists around. In that band was David Rosenthal, who I was also in Rainbow with and Crystal Taliefero, who is the percussionist in Billy’s band. We toured together for a year and I stayed on for another two years with Enrique. At the end of 2011 I got a call from Tommy saying he had a Broadway show featuring Billy’s music and asked if I’d be interested in being the drummer. At that time, I was a road dog living in Manhattan but I was very interested. We got a band together and rehearsed a dozen songs or so to audition for the backers and producers and they said yes. We rehearsed from May for a September opening. I played in the show ‘Movin’ Out’ for three and a half years, playing upwards of 1500 shows, 8 shows a week for 6 days every week. That was my one and only experience on Broadway. It was amazing. Tommy left to go out on the road with Billy but Greg Smith was in the show too. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun. We were able to re-write a couple of Billy’s songs to make them much heavier. I could play double bass drum in “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” That was my way into the band as Billy was able to audition me for three and a half years. That was probably the longest audition of my life. He asked me towards the end of the run to join his band and go out on the road and we were rehearsing for that tour during the last run of the Broadway show.

There’s a new film out Billy Joel: Live at The Yankee Stadium due in cinemas next week. When was that show recorded?

That show was recorded in 1990 and I joined Billy towards the end of 2005 but I saw that video years ago. When I first joined Billy, I watched that on YouTube to see where Billy was years before me joining. This cinema version has been remastered and updated for a bigger visual impact. It’s an incredible performance in front of a huge crowd and to me really highlights what a fantastic artist he is.

You’ve played at some historical shows including twelve nights at Madison Square Gardens which was released on the 12 Gardens Live album. Getting to play the Garden once is something that most artists can only dream of but twelve nights is incredible. How does it feel to be part of that?

It was felt absolutely incredible to be involved I those shows. I had no idea it was recorded though until later. I was just so new at that time that I was like a deer in the headlights. At the time I was grateful that I didn’t know that it was being recorded. I was so nervous and eager to fit in. That 12-show run has been extraordinary but I’m now at 96 sold out shows at The Garden with Billy and I’m hoping by February I’ll hit my personal 100th show.

Do you have any plans to play over in the UK anytime soon?

I know we are planning a big show in Hyde Park in London next summer on 7th July. I just heard that we’ll be doing that so I’m very excited at the thought of coming over and playing for you guys. That’s our only European show that we have planned for next year so it’ll be a really special one for us.

With Billy being so popular he has an impressive address book and he’s shared a stage with Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Steven Tyler, Brian Johnson, Tony Bennet and also Elton John over the years. That must be great fun for you?

If I’m not speaking out of turn I think AC/DC is Billy’s favourite Rock band so when Brian Johnson came and sat in with us, it was beyond a thrill. When I first joined Billy, we’d do “Highway To Hell” nearly every night with our guitar roadie, Chainsaw, singing. It was great. He’d get up and sing nearly every night to give Billy a break. When Brian came up, we’d do “Back In Black.” It was crazy. Getting to play with Paul McCartney too was amazing. The Beatles are why I started playing music. To even think that I could play music and make a living out of it at that time was something I could not have imagined but to think I’d close a show at the Shea Stadium with Sir Paul it would have been such a fantasy as to be unbelievable.

So, you were in a rhythm section with Paul McCartney and for one night at the Shea Stadium, he was your bass player? 

Absolutely. I’d like to think of it like that but I was just so thrilled just to share a stage and play with him. That was the culmination of two shows that also included guest appearance by Roger Daltrey, John Mellencamp and Steven Tyler. I think it took me about a month to comprehend what I’d done. It was mind boggling and took me weeks to get my breath and get some perspective on it.

Just going back to the start, you recorded your first album, Masques with Brand X. That must have been pretty daunting for someone so young to follow onto the drumstool of Phil Collins and Bill Bruford?

I had done an album or two with an American fusion guitar player but the Masques album was recorded in 1978 and that stands as my first completely internationally released album. That was scary. I could write a book on that. I don’t think I slept a wink for the whole stay I was in England with them and recording at Trident. I was just terrified that they’d say, sorry it wasn’t working out and send me home. When I met them, they were trying to make a transition and they knew that Phil was not going to be able to record the next record as he was busy recording And Then There Were Three. It was an incredible moment for me to sit in and play with them.

One of those great early albums you recorded was In For The Count by Balance. That is now considered one of the all-time great AOR albums. Did you know you were recording something really special at the time?

No, I didn’t. We were trying to follow up what I thought was a classic debut record. They were struggling with writing and following up the big hit they had with “Breaking Away.” It was a difficult process. Two of the members of the band, Doug and Peppy were very successful jingle writers and they were busy every day. They were trying to juggle that with writing and rehearsing. It was another deer in the headlights moment for me as I was stepping into the shoes of another great drummer, Andy Newmark. He was king of sessions along with Steve Gadd. It was crazy following that first album.

The band had everything, the songs, musicianship, great reviews. Why do you think that didn’t translate into platinum albums?

There was a downsizing occurring with the record label. We heard, even when we were doing the record, that there were great changes going on at the label. Then the subsidiary label that we were on was having trouble. When the record eventually came out the wind was already out of the record company’s sails and they were trying to cut their losses and juggle what acts they were going to keep. That second album came out and then we got dropped.

Do you think there was unfulfilled potential in Balance?

Absolutely, yes. From my point of view there are a million bands who went through that too where they’d failed to launch then weren’t given the opportunity to redeem themselves. That was one of the tough experiences of getting to know the music business. It can be a very cruel mistress. Billy would be the first to say that if he was signed or even tried to get a record deal today, he wouldn’t have made it. He was still finding himself as a songwriter and as a lyricist and performer. It took him several albums before people starting noticing him. I think it was the Stranger album or 52nd Street before he hit his stride. He had time to find out what his forte was. He was afforded that opportunity by Columbia. The label nurtured artists back then and that just doesn’t happen now.

You did end up joining Rainbow for Bent Out Of Shape in 1984. Were you invited to join or did you apply for an audition?

Joe Lynn Turner and I were old friends. I’d worked with him years before and helped his first band get its record deal by doing a bunch of showcases but I had to leave because I joined Jazz guitarist Al De Meola for his first solo tour of the world. That’s where my brain was at, at the time. I was more into Fusion and what I’d call “Lead Drums.” Years later after Fandango did a few records, Joe joined Ritchie and they did two records together and he called me up out of the blue and said he had an opportunity for me and asked if I was interested. I was with Balance at the time, not making any money and trying to get re-signed to a new label doing new demos with them. They others were doing jingles and me and the bass player weren’t and I was dying financially and then Joe called and I was invited to an audition.

What do you recall about that audition?

I thought it went really well. I was given a bunch of songs to learn and we played “Spotlight Kid”, “Since You Been Gone”, “Smoke On The Water”, “Burn”, “Can’t Happen Here” and “Surrender”. Ritchie just put his hand up and said thank you and walked out. I looked at Joe and said “That didn’t look good”. As I was packing my stuff up Roger Glover came over and said he really enjoyed playing with me and said he was doing a solo record and asked if I’d like to play on that. Although I thought I hadn’t got a hook up with Ritchie, I started doing Roger’s solo record Mask. That was a real thrill with a lot of jamming. Roger told me that they had another drummer for Rainbow, I think he was called Chris and that he wasn’t sure about him but Ritchie was sold on him. He said he had to go over to Copenhagen to do the record so I told him to give me a call when he was back. Three weeks later I got a call from Roger and Joe and they said I had to come over as they’d done 10 days of work and didn’t have a single song to keep. They said that they’d told Ritchie that he had to hire me so I went over to Copenhagen. They had some amazing ideas but Ritchie was being Ritchie and I didn’t know if he was digging playing with me or not. Let’s put it this way, by the time we finished doing the record I was sure I would never see them again. I flew home and thought I’d better start looking for something else but within a month I got a call from the manager asking if I wanted to go out on the road with the band.

How was the musical interaction for you? Ritchie likes to improvise on stage. Was that pretty scary at first?

Playing with Ritchie was everything I could hope for. He loved playing something different every night. He was all about improvisation and it was such a thrill playing with him, I can tell you. I loved Deep Purple on hearing their first American single “Hush” and once I heard Machine Head, I went completely nuts. I thought it was phenomenal, so to be able to play with Ritchie on stage was just a whole another level from our studio experience. I implored him to trust me as I’d already recorded with Brand X, Hall & Oates and Balance by then and I was fairly confident about how I could give him the drums that he needed for the record and the live shows. I wasn’t really able to develop my parts the way I wanted to on record and Ritchie was fine with that but we really did start to develop when we played live. The Live In Tokyo album has some phenomenal stuff on it. It gives a good inkling of what could have gone on, if the Deep Purple reunion hadn’t happened at that point.

You ended up joining Blue Öyster Cult in the early 90s. How did you end up getting that gig?

I got to know them when I was in Meatloaf and we shared the same bill when we were touring in Europe. When Meatloaf put the band to rest for a couple of years so he could do the Back Into Hell album, Blue Öyster Cult called me up as they were losing their drummer and it was pretty seamless. I was with them for almost 5 years. Their stuff is hard to play.

You recorded two albums with them, one being Cult Classics which was a re-recording of old material. Did you get much scope to interpret the songs your own way or did you have to stick to Albert Bouchard’s blueprint?

They almost wanted the Cult Classics to be karaoke versions. They were struggling with losing their masters to Columbia and they wanted to be able to licence some of their music. They needed to recreate the feel of the classic songs so there was no room for interpretation on that. The chance I got was on Heaven Forbid which was a completely different experience and I loved doing that record. At the time I wanted to be in Pantera so maybe it was me pulling them in a heavier direction than they wanted but there’s some great tracks that I look back on and I’m very proud of.

At times over the years, ex-members have stepped back in to sub for the band, if needed. Have you been back to play the odd gig here and there?

No, I’ve not played with them since. They have a really good band now and I love their latest album, The Symbol Remains. It gave me an excuse to call Buck up and tell him how much I loved the record and gave us the chance to get connected again. Not only is he one of my favourite people but one of my favourite guitar players. I think they’ve created a whole new world that’s in keeping with the best they’ve been.

You’ve recently been involved with Tokyo Motor Fist which includes Ted Poley (Danger Danger), Steve Brown (Trixter) and your old mate Greg Smith. How is that going?

We did two records together and I was so proud of both of them. We did the Monsters of Rock Cruise and some local shows but I had to bow out as my calendar is too full not only with Billy but my Mom is almost 100. I managed to get her into a home near me and I’m the only family member who can see her and be with her. When I made that arrangement for her, I called Steve up and told him that as he was going to have a lot of work on that I just couldn’t commit to it. They have an amazing drummer, Jordan Cannata now but I don’t know what they have lined up or whether they’ll do another record but Steve Brown is one of my favourite writers and I loved working with everybody but I just couldn’t do it on top of looking after my mom. My main focus now is looking after my mom and playing with Billy Joel.

Interview By Mick Burgess

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Burgi

For more on Chuck Burgi visit

Billy Joel will perform in London for the 10th Anniversary of BST Hyde Park, headlining on Friday 7 July. This will be his only European appearance in 2023.

Tickets for American Express presents BST Hyde Park go on general sale at 10am Thursday 6 October visit

This announcement comes shortly before the release of one of the most recognised concert films of all time, Live At Yankee Stadium, coming to cinemas for a special two-night global fan event via Trafalgar Releasing on Wednesday 5 & Sunday 9 October. In celebration of 50 years of Billy Joel, watch New York’s quintessential son’s stunning 1990 Bronx stadium concert.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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