Q’s With A Pollstar Live! Panelist: Crystal Taliefero Talks About Making The Band And Life On The Road
– Crystal Taliefero
Crystal Taliefero is a multitalented musician, producer and vocalist who has spent much of her last 30 years touring and recording as a member of the Billy Joel band, after getting her start as a touring artist with John Mellencamp. Over the years, she’s gigged with a wide variety of artists including Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Elton John, Enrique Iglesias, Natalie Merchant, Meat Loaf and Bruce Springsteen (more about that later).
“Crystal is without a doubt the most talented multi-instrumentalist and vocal arranger I have ever worked with,” Billy Joel says of Taliefero, whom Rolling Stone one called of music’s “best secret weapons.”
In addition to singing, she’s a talented percussionist, saxophonist, guitarist and keyboardist. She’s also committed to children’s education and has collaborated with Weston Woods Studios to narrate a series of audio books, the most recent of which is titled “Sea Bones.”
Crystal will be a lively addition to her panel, “I’m With The Band: The Trials And Tribulations Of A Touring Musician” that opens Pollstar Live! on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 9:45.
“I’m looking forward to having a good time. Meet some folks. Answer some questions. Meet some young folks and go and make some more friends,” Taliefero told Pollstar. “When my publicist asked me if I wanted to do this Pollstar Live panel I’m like hell yes! It’s Pollstar!”
Pollstar: What’s one of the toughest things about life on the road?
Taliefero: Trying to maintain your health! That’s hard. It takes a lot. If I were vegan I could bring my own food.
What have you learned to deal with as a touring musician that people might not realize?
You learn how to recognize the crazy. One show stands out: I’m backstage talking to these kids, and they’re great, and this knucklehead comes up and asks me how I got this gig. “Did you sleep your way there?” And I turned my attention away from him and back to the kids. And in a calm voice – because you know I’m pissed off if my voice is calm – I said, “I got here because I’m good at what I do.” And that’s how you make it. You go and work as hard as you can, and do the best that you can, and that’s all that anybody can expect. I look over to security, and he’s looking at me, and says, “you want me to kick him out?” I said, “Do it gently.”
What’s been your biggest accomplishment in the last year?
My work with Weston Woods Studio, doing scholastic books with children. I just finished one last month called “Sea Bones.” Working with Billy Joel, of course, doing some production work. I just finished a 21-song double album with an independent artist named Dave Gott. It’s done and mastered. I really like him and feel really good about it. I did some work with Keb‘ Mo’. They’ve all been keeping me pretty busy. I’ve been with Billy for 30 years. The band, they’re my brothers, for real. We’ve gone to battle and we love each other. When it got to the point they realized, “she’s gonna be here a while,” they kinda eased up after 25 years!
What live show changed your life and why?
Bruce Springsteen. First shout out was with John Mellencamp, for obvious reasons. Then I’d say Bob Seger. That truly, truly changed my life. And of course, Billy Joel.
But Bruce Springsteen was incredible. That was also a crazy experience. … I was the last one he hired. I came in nine days before the first show. I’m in my lawyer’s office, cryin’ the blues; he’s got a big fee and I’m trying to get him give me a break because I wasn’t working. And he says, “You’ve worked with everybody, right?” and I said, “Not Bruce Springsteen. That ain’t never gonna happen.”
While I’m still in this office, and I can’t make this up, the phone rings and Billy’s production manager, Boomer (Bobby Thrasher), calls me and says, “What are you doing? You want to go on a tour?” Well, shoot, are you kidding me?
“It’s with the Boss,” he says. … It was the 1993 Human Touch/Lucky Town tour. I packed two pairs of drawers, a skirt, culottes and a pair of jeans because I figure I’m gonna audition and be home in two days. … Bruce says, “you’re in.”
So we go New Jersey, and the Big Man is standing up there, by the stacks, with his arms crossed. And Billy Joel is standing there, too! Oh my God. All I could think was, please don’t boo me. But the Big Man and Billy were there. I did not get booed.
Bruce took me by the arm and says, “That was pretty clever what you just did there.” One of the most crazy, memorable experiences ever.