"They didn't look like fabricated Hollywood-type guys. They looked like working class kids. They played their own instruments and the girls were all screaming, and I said, 'That's what I wanna do.' I like that job," Joel says.
Joel calls it "a job" for a reason. He has always approached music more as a working man than a star.
His first hit, "Piano Man," was a bittersweet portrait of the complex relationship between a performer and his audience.
Complex or not, the relationship has been enduring.
From 1974 to 1994, Joel recorded an astonishing 33 top 40 hits, but to hear him tell it, each hit was a surprise.
Of "Piano Man": "It's a waltz," Joel remarks.
And the touching love song, "Just The Way You Are," almost never made the album: "It just seemed like a cocktail lounge song. You know, it's a good song, but it wasn't a rock and roll song," Joel admits.
Fortunately for his fans, the song Joel and his fellow musicians dubbed a "chick song" were brought to their senses when Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow stopped by the studio and showered praise on the song and eventually, changed Joel's mind.
And we-- we listened back to it, and we're going-- "I don't like this. Do you like it?" "Nah, it's a chick song."
//Linda Rondstadt (PH) and Phoebe Snow (PH) come by the studio when we're listening back. And / Linda Rondstadt's sayin-- "That's a great song." And we're going, "Yeah, you think so?"
His songs, such as "Big Shot," "Uptown Girl" and "River Of Dreams" are stories ripped from the pages of his life.
"River Of Dreams" was released in 1994 and the year marked a turning point, both personally and professionally. Joel and supermodel wife Christie Brinkley divorced, and "River Of Dreams" turned out to be Joel's final pop album.
Not that he was ready to retire.
A gifted story-teller, Joel began a series of lectures at colleges across the country, sharing with music students lessons learned over 40 years in the industry.
When he's not onstage, you'll usually find him indulging one of his other passions, like riding motorcycles or cruising the waters off his native Long Island.
This is more than recreation, Joel designs, builds and sells his own line of boats.
In more ways than one, life for Billy Joel has come full circle.
Daughter Alexa ray is 20 now and a singer-songwriter herself. And there's another woman in his life; in 2004, Joel married then 23-year-old Kate Lee, star of the Bravo channel's "Top Chef" reality show.
These days home, it seems, is exactly where he wants to be.
"I've been on the road now for close to 40 years and, you know, I miss my wife, I miss my home. I'm kind of a homebody. I think people assume because I'm supposed to be a rock star, that I live this jet set kind of life. But I don't. I'm kinda boring, but I don't mind," Joel intimates.
Unfortunately for him, the tabloids don't think he's boring.
A stay in rehab last year for alcohol abuse and a car crash the previous year -- which police say wasn't alcohol related -- thrust him back in the headlines.
"I'm not interested in gossip and sordid details. I'm interested in people's success and people's art and people's craft. But the other things don't appeal to me," Joel says.
For the record, Joel's art and his craft are in fine form.
He's got a new album out this week -- he turned his historic run at Madison Square Garden into "12 Gardens Live."
And while the roar of the crowd still thrills him, he keeps it all in perspective. Remember, this is just his day job. What really matters to Joel is all the other stuff.
"A lot of us think what we want in our life is happiness. Well, happiness is an extreme. We have to learn how to recognize contentment, Joel says.
"Sometimes you gotta look around and go, 'Hey, everything is OK.' That's pretty good. That's where I am."