Special to The Record
Elton John and Billy Joel each have legions of fans but not many who would make a career of playing and singing their songs.
Enter Jim Witter.
With Witter on grand piano and a skilled band behind him, a Sid Williams Theatre audience will get a multi-media ’70s show Oct. 27 filled with Movin’ Out, Crocodile Rock, Only the Good Die Young, Philadelphia Freedom, Piano Man and many more hit songs.
“When I first started out with an idea for the show, which was going to be a nostalgic look back at the ’70s, the idea was to do a number of hits from different artists from that decade,” Witter explains in a phone interview.
Born in the 1960s, Witter came of age in the next decade, when his musical tastes developed and became entwined with other pleasant childhood memories.
There was no doubt that any nostalgia show would feature the 1970s, especially with the success of That ’70s Show.
“I was going through all the charts from the ’70s … and I noticed Billy Joel’s and Elton John’s names kept appearing quite frequently. I was, and still am, a massive Billy Joel fan and almost as massively an Elton John fan.”
Witter’s focus quickly narrowed to two of his favourite singer-songwriters.
The Piano Men show he developed nearly a decade ago has been a hit ever since, earning rave reviews from music critics all across North America.
Witter developed a similar show focusing on the 1980s but, “There’s definitely a greater interest in all things ’70s.”
That phenomenon is still going strong.
“More and more people my age are starting to feel very nostalgic for their youth.”
Witter, of course, has witnessed live performances by John and Joel.
“The very first concert I ever went to, a real rock concert, I was about 12 years old. I remember this so clearly.”
His brother had two tickets, but a friend couldn’t attend, so he asked his little brother if he wanted to go.
“I remember saying, ‘Who are you going to see?’ And he said Billy Joel. I remember saying, ‘Who’s that?’ ”
Needless to say, Joel made a huge, life-changing impression on Witter.
“I was 12 years old, and it was a big moment for me. I knew that’s what I want to do. I remember the next day saying to my mom, ‘Hey, can you teach me some chords on the piano? I want to learn how to play the piano and sing.’ ”
Witter saw Joel and John live several times each, including John “in his heyday, probably around ’78 when he would play three-and-a-half-hour concerts. It was magical.”
He doesn’t impersonate John’s and Joel’s singing styles, although Witter confesses he’s heavily influenced by both.
“I don’t like to tell people we’re trying to mimic the artists. I don’t dress up like Elton or anything like that.
“At the same time, I grew up with these songs and the original recordings of these songs are burned into my psyche. For me to do anything but try to recreate them would be almost sacrilegious.
“We don’t change the arrangements at all, and it just seems natural to me to play them the way I remember hearing them.”
Witter augments the songs in The Piano Men show with a large video screen displaying 1970s images that is popular with audiences.
Witter is a Canadian award-winning country and Christian music singer-songwriter from Ontario who’s had 10 top-10 songs on Canadian country radio.
He received two Juno Award nominations.
He’s performed the Piano Men show all over Canada and the U.S., and recently did so in London, England. He’d love to export his take on the ’70s to Japan.
Jim Witter performs Oct. 27 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay. The 2016–2017 Blue Circle Series is proudly presented by Odlum Brown Limited.
For concert details and tickets, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit 442 Cliffe Ave.