If you’re a Billy Joel fan like me, you’re already familiar with the drum grooves of Liberty DeVitto. Liberty played drums with Billy on 13 platinum albums and recorded and toured the world with Billy for more than 30 years. He wrote and recorded the drum parts for 22 Top 40 hits and six Grammy-winning recordings.
Billy Joel’s music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I knew the name Liberty DeVitto because I had seen him credited as the drummer in the liner notes for all of my favorite Billy Joel albums, but it wasn’t until my first Billy Joel concert, October 8, 1986 at The Philadelphia Spectrum, that Liberty officially became one of my all-time favorite drummers. I was blown away by the energy of Billy’s band that night, but especially by Liberty’s drumming. In the same way that Max Weinberg, another of my favorite drummers, powers the engine of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Liberty powered Billy’s band. I would go on to see Billy in concert more than 15 times after that magical concert in Philly. At every show, I watched Liberty’s drumming as much as I watched Billy playing piano. Liberty brought exactly the right energy to the right songs at the right moments, and for me, was an integral part of Billy’s music. But I never really knew much about Liberty as a person until now.
Too often when I pick up a an autobiography by one of my musical heroes, I always tell myself that I’m going to quickly speed read through the beginning, the part that is almost always a family history, and get right to the part where the author starts talking shop about the music. Fortunately I stopped doing that because I realized that where that person came from, along with their journey, adds an emotional impact that you really need to fully appreciate how the events in their lives led them to create the music that we love. I’m so glad that I didn’t skip any sections in Liberty’s book, because the heart and soul of this book is about family and friendship. It’s equally about Liberty’s love of music and drumming, and the many sacrifices that he made in his life to achieve his dream of drumming for a living. Much like the masterful lyrics in Billy’s songs, Liberty’s story is a “series of hellos and goodbyes” and often “either sadness or euphoria.” This is a tremendously emotional book. It’s a seesaw of highs and lows. One minute you’re sharing the thrill of Liberty’s accomplishments; the next minute you are emotionally gutted by a tragic loss, and then back to hope and happiness.
The story of how Liberty became “Billy Joel’s drummer” is intertwined with the story of family, friends, heartbreak, loss, substance abuse, success, fame, and of course plenty of fascinating and fun anecdotes about all of the songs that he recorded with Billy. It’s also a story about rebirth and redemption. I highly recommend this book. You can order it direct from the publisher or from Amazon in the links below.