If you’ve heard a saxophone on one of your favorite records over the last 30-plus years, chances are high you have heard Mark Rivera at work.
Rivera has been a part of Billy Joel‘s band since 1982 and is the music director for Ringo Starr’s “All Star Band” tours. He’s performed live with Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney, recorded with separately with John Lennon and Joe Walsh, and is famously featured on Peter Gabriel‘s classic track “Sledgehammer.”
In addition to the saxophone, Rivera also plays guitar, keyboards, flute, harmonica, and horns. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call him a renaissance man of modern music.
Rivera recently released an album of his own work, Common Bond — with guest appearances by Elton John and Ringo Starr — and will be performing Friday night (May 9) at Madison Square Garden as part of Billy Joel’s ongoing residency.
While in studio with Scott Shannon, Rivera shared a few songs Joel hates performing in concert, as well as the secret behind the stutter on Bachman–Turner Overdrive‘s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
“It changes up quite a bit,” Rivera says of the always evolving Billy Joel setlist, approaching its fifth performance at MSG. “He’ll try to keep it fresh… each set has been different.”
Even with so many songs to choose from, there are a select few that Joel refuses to play. Considering his source material for the music he writes, it should come as little surprise as to why he excludes certain tracks.
“‘Tell Her About It’… ‘Just The Way Your Are’… you have to have a gun to his head [to play them].”
With the number of musicians Rivera has played with, it’s fair to assume he’s heard his fair share of stories; some of which can be repeated and others that can be. One that is suitable for all ages is about one of Bachman–Turner Overdrive’s most popular songs: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
“Randy Bachman was in the first All Starr Band I worked with with Ringo,” recalls Rivera, who heard the song on CBS-FM that morning. Bachman’s brother, whom has a stutter, had recorded vocals on the demo for “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which the record company had loved. They insisted BTO go back into the studio and record it again. The response Bachman and the band received was not what they expected. “The A&R person said, ‘Whoa whoa whoa, what happened to the B-B-B-baby and N-N-N…?'”
As it turns out, the record execs wanted the stutter. Randy Bachman had to return to the studio and mimic his brother’s stutter for the song, which it has become well-known for.
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