"Protected: The Time a Stiff Caught Fire"
During my first year of college I had a part-time job in a Fresno record store, where my roommate and I launched a petition drive to rescue an obscure young pop artist, whose first major label release had quietly debuted and just as quietly died, or ‘stiffed’ in industry parlance.
The ensuing chain of events was the subject of a short article I wrote for the Sacramento NPR station’s monthly magazine, some 13 years later. The album’s producer, Michael Stewart, read my story and called to say it solved a long-standing mystery about how the album had ‘risen from the dead,’ and to report that the artist himself wanted to call and thank me personally. I said maybe we could arrange the call once I’ve published the full story. Mike asked when that might be. ‘When he’s ready to retire,’ I said.
Over 30 years have gone by since that conversation, and with the artist’s retirement reportedly ‘around the corner,’ here it is, the true story of how Billy Joel caught fire with Piano Man.