Sony Signatures to Host Billy Joel Memorabilia Auction

Billy Joel has decided to clean out his warehouse. Next month, the veteran rocker's almost-30-year-old collection of musical instruments, recording equipment, and stage gear will be put up for public auction by Sony Signatures, his merchandising company. A portion of the gross from the "Billy Joel Memorabilia Auction" will be donated to VH1's Save the Music Foundation, according to Dan Cooper, Senior Vice President of Sony Signatures' music division.

Among the goodies to be sold is a Mini Moog synthesizer originally purchased by Joel back in 1971, when he was known as Billy Martin. The Rhodes model 73 keyboard he used to write his hit "Just the Way You Are" is also part of the collection, as is a Hammond/Trek II B-3 Cutaway organ, reportedly one of his favorite instruments. A duplicate of the Yamaha CP-80 electric piano that got flipped over onstage during Joel's "An Innocent Man" tour in Russia is up for sale with the base and legs of the original instrument, which now hangs in the Hard Rock Cafe in New York.

Keyboards are only the beginning. There's a Hamer guitar from the most recent tour, which Joel will play one last time and then sign for the lucky buyer. A custom-made harmonica strap, still attached to the harmonica he played on "Piano Man," is also available. So are a seemingly endless number of road cases and cabinets from various tours, and the assorted contents of the cases---drumheads, cables, keyboard stands, Velcro straps, music stands, volume pedals, microphones, and some Barcus Berry pickups that haven’t been manufactured in at least 15 years.

Oddities include: a wind machine of unspecified make; a mid-1970s Helpinstill piano mixer and power supply; a portable air-conditioner with road case, purchased for the "Innocent Man" tour and used in Joel's studio; and the dashboard from an old Cadillac Eldorado, adapted to serve as an air-conditioning duct atop Joel's piano during the Billy Joel/Elton John tour. There are plenty of professional loudspeakers up for sale, such as a pair of 20-year-old Urie 838 monitors that survived the rigors of the road, a Leslie 122 used with the Hammond organ, and several Yamaha stage speakers, including one that was packed with Russian vodka and accidentally tipped over while being pushed by members of the Red Army. There are also two cases of 4'x8' sound-baffling panels (48 in all) Joel used in his "lobster house" on Shelter Island, and one with "400 linear feet of velveteen drapes in assorted colors."

Perhaps the most sought-after items for sale will be a set of two songbooks, known as "Billy's Bibles" because he could not go on stage without them. The books, like all the items in the auction, will be signed and accompanied by certificates of authenticity.

Bidding will be conducted online at ebay, from 7:01pm Sunday, December 13 until 7:01pm Sunday, December 20. "Bidding is open to everyone," according to Dan Cooper, who mentioned that no provision has been made for accommodating bulk purchasers, such as the Hard Rock Cafe. "They can get in line just like everyone else," he said. Nor had he been contacted about a possible donation to the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, although such an eventuality is not out of the question. Billy Joel is scheduled for induction into the Hall of Fame later this winter, and "if he decides to make a donation, that's his prerogative," said Cooper, who served as tour accountant for Joel in the late 1980s.

Technical questions regarding the equipment should be addressed to Sony Signatures Director of Operations Jim Guida, who said he will relay them to Joel's road crew. "As far as we know, everything is in working condition," Guida said. "At least, it was when it went into storage."

Guida and Cooper are part of a three-person team rounded out by Director of Merchandising Ivy Sciandra, who described herself and her husband as "big Stereophile fans" with a penchant for "heavy-vinyl reissues and British loudspeakers."

Sony Signatures is the merchandising and licensing division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Clients---who are not necessarily on the Sony Music label---come from many musical genres, and include such names as Barbara Streisand, Harry Connick, Jr., Natalie Merchant, Julio Iglesias, the Beatles, Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Alan Jackson, LeAnn Rimes, the Blues Brothers, and Midnight Oil.

Dan Cooper mentioned that future auctions may include items owned by Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan, and the Doors. Charities to benefit from the auctions are chosen by the artists.

The Save the Music Foundation is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Music Educators National Conference, the International Music Products Association, and the National Association of Band Instrument Manufacturers. The Foundation promotes awareness of the importance of musical education, and engages in fundraising drives nationwide to raise money for student instruments and school music programs. Since its inception in 1997, the Foundation has implemented more than 200 educational programs in 16 American cities, reaching a total of more than 57,000 children. By the end of 1999, schools in 25 cities will have benefited from Save the Music's efforts.