“I was watching Billy Joel perform on TV when I was about seven and said to myself, ‘that looks like a really cool job!’”
Cut to about three decades later and James Fox is one of the most prolific musicians on stages from London’s West End, to Broadway, to the far reaches of the earth traveled by Crystal ships. As the headliner of “My Life: The Music of Billy Joel,” Fox returns to the repertoire of songs made famous by one of his own personal idols, a daunting task for any musician, but one blessed by the “Piano Man” himself. He has the distinction of being the only performer to play Billy Joel in the Broadway, West End and touring show, aptly called “The Piano Man,” before which he met with the star to discuss the performance.
“He was almost intimidatingly easy to be around; had nearly no instruction or notes for the performance. He really encouraged me to interpret his music in a way that resonated with me and that I thought audiences would enjoy most,” Fox recalls of the meeting.
Since that pioneering role, Fox has absolutely cultivated his own flare for Joel’s music, evident in the high-voltage performance he gives on Crystal’s Galaxy Lounge stage. Supported by Crystal’s own talented ensemble of singers and dancers, Fox shares his nearly tireless energy and genuine love for the songs with the audience, performing more than a dozen timeless hits including “New York State of Mind”, “Uptown Girl”, “She’s Always a Woman to Me” and, of course, “Piano Man.”
“It requires a certain amount of authenticity with the Crystal audience, since everyone on board gets close throughout the voyage, which is fun,” says Fox of the experience performing aboard Crystal ships. “I cannot simply come on stage each night and present a ‘canned’ introduction, when I’ve just had dinner with the audience the evening before. I get to speak directly to them.”
Fox performs aboard the ship for roughly a week at a time, allowing him to return home and to other cities for gigs showcasing his own material, as well as an array of other genres. His stage career has seen him portray Paul McCartney for three years throughout the world, as well as more commercial work, which, this summer, includes an original signature song for the Welsh Football League.
His own repertoire is nothing if not diverse, with a library of original work that showcases his guitarist roots in a more contemporary style (think John Mayer, with much shorter hair). Another labor of love includes more than 20 years performing for British troops in the UK’s Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) – the British equivalent to USO tours – concluding his service on a high note, with a Civilian service medal awarded to him for his service in performing for troops in Afghanistan.
Fox has twice been honored to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, which he views as payback to his devoted mother, who drove the van of ambitious teenaged band members to gigs throughout his childhood.
“Looking up at the boxes and seeing Her Majesty in one, and my mum in the next, really brought everything full circle for me.”
Crystal guests can – and should – catch James Fox in “My Life” aboard several upcoming Crystal voyages. Check the “Entertainment & Programs” section of your selected cruise for details.