William Michael Albert Broad (born 30 November 1955), known professionally as Billy Idol, is an English rock musician. A member of the Bromley Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, Idol first achieved fame in the punk rock era as a member of the band Generation X. Unlike other British punk rock artists, Idol claimed he was inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Idol then embarked on a successful solo career, and was a member of the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion" of the United States. A series of music videos for songs such as "Dancing With Myself", "White Wedding", "Rebel Yell" and "Eyes Without a Face" made him one of the first MTV stars. Idol continues to tour with guitarist Steve Stevens.
Life and career
Early life and Generation X
Idol was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, England. The name Billy Idol was inspired by a school teacher's description of Broad as "idle". In an interview on 21 November 1983, Idol also tells us that the name "was a bit of a goof, but also part of the old English school of rock. Billy Fury and all that. It was a 'double thing' not just a poke at the superstar-like people. It was the whole sort of – everyone was doing it too – it was fun, you know?". He goes on to say the name "didn't really ever backfire, only with the stupid people who took it seriously"
In 1958, when Idol was two years old, his parents moved to Patchogue, on Long Island, New York, United States. The family returned to the UK four years later with Idol and a younger child Jane (who had been born in the United States), settling in Dorking, Surrey. In 1971 the family moved to Bromley, Kent, where Idol attended Ravensbourne School for Boys. Idol also attended Worthing High School for Boys in West Sussex. In October 1975, Idol went to Sussex University, to pursue an English degree and lived on campus (East Slope) but left after year one (1976). He then went on to join the Bromley Contingent of Sex Pistols fans, a loose gang that travelled into town when the band played.
Idol first joined the punk rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees (before the band had decided on that name) in 1976, but soon quit and joined Chelsea in 1977 as a guitarist. However, he and Chelsea bandmate Tony James soon left that group and co-founded Generation X, with Idol switching from guitarist to lead singer. Generation X were one of the first punk bands to appear on the BBC Television music programme Top of the Pops. Although a punk rock band, they were inspired by mid-1960s British pop, in sharp contrast to their more militant peers, with Idol stating; "We were saying the opposite to the Clash and the Pistols. They were singing 'No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones', but we were honest about what we liked. The truth was, we were all building our music on the Beatles and the Stones". Generation X signed to Chrysalis Records and released three albums and performed in the 1980 film, D.O.A., before disbanding.
Early solo success
Idol moved to New York City in 1981, and became a solo artist working with ex-Kiss manager, Bill Aucoin. Idol's 'bad boy' image was recognised and this worked well with the glam rock style of his new partner on guitar, Steve Stevens. Together they worked with bassist Phil Feit and drummer Gregg Gerson. Idol's solo career began with the Chrysalis Records EP titled Don't Stop in 1981, which included the Generation X song "Dancing with Myself", originally recorded for their last album Kiss Me Deadly, and a cover of Tommy James & the Shondells' song "Mony Mony". Idol's debut solo album, Billy Idol, was released in July 1982.
Part of the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion" of the United States, that year Idol became an MTV staple with "White Wedding" and "Dancing with Myself". In 1983, in an effort to introduce Idol to American audiences not yet as familiar with him as those in the UK, Idol's label released "Dancing with Myself" in the United States in conjunction with a music video directed by Tobe Hooper, which played on MTV for six months.
Rebel Yell and superstar years
Idol's second LP, Rebel Yell (1983) was a major success and established Idol in the United States with hits such as "Eyes Without a Face," "Flesh For Fantasy", and the title cut. Tracks from the album featured in the 1988 Hollywood comedy film Big, which starred Tom Hanks. "Eyes Without a Face" peaked at number four on the United States Billboard Hot 100, and "Rebel Yell" reached number six in the UK Singles Chart. This album and its singles saw Idol become popular in other countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand.
Idol released Whiplash Smile in 1986, which sold well. The album included the hits "To Be a Lover", "Don't Need a Gun" and "Sweet Sixteen". Idol filmed a video featuring "Sweet Sixteen" (which he also wrote) in Florida's Coral Castle. The song was inspired by the story of Edward Leedskalnin's former love, Agnes Scuffs, who was the main reason Leedskalnin built the structure over a period of decades, starting years after she jilted him the day before their scheduled wedding in their native Latvia.
In 1986, Stevens appeared with Harold Faltermeyer on the Top Gun soundtrack. Their contribution was the Grammy winning instrumental, "Top Gun Anthem". Stevens was working on the Billy Idol album Whiplash Smile, and Faltermeyer supplied the keyboards which led to both of them playing on the Top Gun score.
After the success Steve had received, the partnership between Idol and Stevens fell apart. Besides playing an acoustic show for KROQ in 1993, Stevens and Idol would not tour again until early 1999. Stevens and Idol collaborated in the mid-1990s, playing with Guns N Roses members Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum in 1995. Idol, Stevens, McKagan and Sorum performed "Christmas in the USA" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1995.
In 1987, Idol was walking in a park in New York with a woman called Grace Hattersley, when they were stopped by police. The police found cocaine on Hattersley. Idol said the drugs were not his and was released. Hattersley held a press conference saying that she was Idol's girlfriend. However, Perri Lister had a press conference of her own, stating that she was, and had always been Idol's girlfriend.
A remix album was released in 1987 called, Vital Idol. The album featured a live rendition of his cover of Tommy James' "Mony Mony". In 1987 the single topped the United States chart, and reached number 7 in the UK. The album had already been available in the UK for two years.
Idol and Lister moved from New York to Los Angeles. Lister became pregnant with Idol's son Willem Wolfe. Idol did not stay loyal to Lister, and started seeing Linda Mathis, who was thirteen years younger than Idol. At the age of 19, Mathis became pregnant and chose to move in with her mother to have her child. Mathis had a child, a girl named Bonnie Blue Broad, born on 21 August 1989.
In 1989, Idol appeared on stage with the Who as Cousin Kevin as part of the live version of Tommy, which was aired as an HBO special and released on home video and later as a DVD. In later years, Idol also stood in as a guest performer with the Who on "Bell Boy", a hit from their rock opera album Quadrophenia, and provided the lead vocals that were originally sung by the band's late drummer Keith Moon. On these brief appearances, Idol dressed in a bell boy's uniform to reflect upon Moon's eccentricity on stage.
Idol was involved in a serious motorbike accident, which nearly cost him a leg, on 6 February 1990 at the corner of Gordon Avenue and Fountain Avenue, in Hollywood. He was hit by a car when he ran a stop sign while riding home from the studio one night, requiring a steel rod to be placed in his leg. Shortly prior to this, film director James Cameron had chosen Idol to play the T-1000 character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and had drawn storyboards to resemble him, but the accident prevented Idol from accepting.
Charmed Life was released in 1990, and a video for the single "Cradle of Love" had to be shot. The song had been featured in the Andrew Dice Clay film, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Since Idol was unable to walk, he was shot from the waist up. The video featured video footage of him singing in large frames throughout an apartment, while Betsy Lynn George was trying to seduce a businessman. The video was placed in rotation on MTV. "Cradle of Love" earned Idol a third Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Against his doctors' advice, he also managed to make appearances to promote Charmed Life.
In 1993, Idol released Cyberpunk. Regarded as experimental, it was recorded in a home studio using a Macintosh computer, which was a new concept at the time. Idol used Studiovision and Pro-Tools to record the album. The album took ten months to make. Idol recorded the album with guitarist Mark Younger-Smith and producer Robin Hancock.
Special editions of the album were issued with a floppy disc which contained a screensaver. It was one of the first albums which listed the e-mail address of the artist (email@example.com, now inactive) in its booklet. In 1996, Idol appeared in a live version of The Who's Quadrophenia.
He played a Generation X reunion show in 1993.
Idol shot a concept video for "Shock to the System". The video would feature Idol being attacked by several police for trying to videotape them beating up someone on the street. It resembled the Rodney King beating that prompted the LA riots. Idol would then turn into a cyborg that scared away the police.
In 1994, Idol collapsed outside a Los Angeles nightclub due to an overdose on a drug called GHB. GHB happened to be a legal drug at the time, which was mainly used by weight-lifters.
After the incident, Idol realised that his children would never forgive him for dying of a drug overdose, and he began to focus more on fatherhood. Idol has never admitted that he is totally off drugs, just that he has his habit under control. He claims to have first smoked marijuana at the age of 12, and also says he took acid at the age of thirteen. Cyberpunk pays tribute to Lou Reed with Idol's cover of "Heroin".
Idol did not want to release an album during this period because he was having a lot of problems with his record label. It was decided that he would wind up owing the record company money if he produced anything. EMI hired producer Glenn Ballard to work with him on a new project, but Idol battled the label over creative differences and the album was put on hold.
In 1994, Idol and Steve Stevens contributed a song called "Speed" to the soundtrack of the hit movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
Idol was a performer three times during the 1990s at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Concert, which is held each October.
Idol made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1998 film The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler, in which Idol ultimately saved the relationship between characters Robbie Hart (Sandler) and Julia Sullivan (played by Drew Barrymore). Idol also had a small part in the film The Doors, directed by Oliver Stone. Idol played Jim Morrison's drinking pal, Cat.
Reunion with Steve Stevens
In 1998, Idol returned to the public eye playing himself in The Wedding Singer, a film that also featured "White Wedding" on its soundtrack. He was also considered for the role of the villain, Jacob Kell, in Highlander: Endgame, although ultimately Bruce Payne was cast.
VH1 aired Billy Idol – Behind the Music on 16 April 2001. Idol and Stevens took part in a VH1 Storytellers show three days later. The reunited duo set out to play a series of acoustic/storytellers shows before recording the VH1 special. Another Greatest Hits CD was issued in 2001, with Keith Forsey and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" appearing on the compilation. Forsey and Schiff had originally written it with Idol in mind, but the singer turned it down and eventually the song was given to Simple Minds, who made it a hit in 1985. The LP also includes a live acoustic version of "Rebel Yell", taken from a performance at Los Angeles station KROQ's 1993 Acoustic Christmas concert.
In 2000, Idol was invited to be a guest vocalist on Tony Iommi's album. His contribution was on the song "Into The Night", which he also co-wrote. That year he voice acted the role of Odin, a mysterious alien character, in the animated fantasy film Heavy Metal 2000. In the 2002 NRL Grand Final in Sydney, Idol entered the playing field for the pre-match entertainment on a hovercraft-type stage to the intro of "White Wedding", when he managed to sing only two words before a power failure ended the performance.
Devil's Playground and beyond
Devil's Playground, which came out in March 2005, was Idol's first new studio album in nearly 12 years. Idol reunited with guitarist Steve Stevens and producer Keith Forsey to record the album. It was after a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom that Sanctuary Records approached Idol about making new music in his older style.
The album was recorded with the entire band playing in one room, rather that each person recording their part separately. Idol's drummer, Brian Tichy, collaborated with Idol and Stevens and co-wrote some of the tracks on the album. The first single and video to be released was "Scream". Idol had been playing a batch of new songs in concert that never made the final release of the album. These songs include 'Monster', 'Stranger in My Skin', 'Walk the Line', 'Man in the Killbox', 'Beautiful Life' and 'Big World' (written for his daughter).
It reached No. 46 on the Billboard 200. The album included a cover of "Plastic Jesus". Idol played a handful of dates on the 2005 Vans Warped Tour and also appeared at the Download Festival at Donington Park, the Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans and Rock am Ring. Guitarist Steve Stevens broke his ulna while taking a few bags into his hotel in New Orleans. The guitarist had to perform most of the tour in a two piece removable cast.
In 2006, as his only UK live date, he appeared headlining the Sunday night of GuilFest. That same year he made an appearance on Viva La Bam where he helped Bam Margera succeed in "creating" a sunroof for his Lamborghini Gallardo and performed live for April Margera for her birthday. In 2006, Idol guested on his keyboardist Derek Sherinian's solo album Blood of the Snake, covering the 1970 Mungo Jerry hit "In the Summertime". A video was made featuring Idol and guitarist Slash. In November 2006, Idol released a Christmas album called Happy Holidays.
In 2008, "Rebel Yell" appeared as a playable track on the video game, Guitar Hero World Tour, and "White Wedding" on Rock Band 2. The Rock Band 2 platform later gaining "Mony Mony" and "Rebel Yell" as downloadable tracks. On 24 June 2008, Idol released a new greatest hits album, The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself. The compilation featured two previously unreleased tracks, "John Wayne" and "New Future Weapon". A third track, "Fractured", was available for download on iTunes. He embarked on a worldwide tour, co-headlining with Def Leppard.
In July 2009, Idol performed at the Congress Theater, Chicago for the United States television series Soundstage. This performance was recorded and was released on DVD/Blu-ray as In Super Overdrive Live, on 17 November 2009.
2010–present: Kings & Queens of the Underground
On 16 February 2010, Idol was announced as one of the acts to play the Download Festival in Donington Park, England. He stated, "With all of these great heavyweight and cool bands playing Download this year, I'm going to have to come armed with my punk rock attitude, Steve Stevens, and all of my classic songs plus a couple of way out covers. Should be fun!" In March 2010, Idol added Camp Freddy guitarist, Billy Morrison and drummer Jeremy Colson to his touring line-up.
In 2012, Idol appeared on the third episode of the BBC Four series, How the Brits Rocked America.
He is currently recording an album of new material with producer Trevor Horn, and Horn's former Buggles bandmate Geoff Downes.
Idol will go on tour starting in 31 May 2014 through 2015. He has also confirmed that his upcoming studio album will be named Kings & Queens of the Underground, due to be released in October 2014, and the name of two featured songs; "Kings & Queens of the Underground" and "Bitter Pill".
Billy Idol's current band consists of:
- Steve Stevens – lead guitar (1981–1986, 2001–present)
- Stephen McGrath – bass guitar, backing vocals (2001–present)
- Billy Morrison – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2010–present)
- Erik Eldenius – drums, percussion (2012–present)
- Paul Trudeau – keyboards (2014–present)
- Phil Feit – bass guitar (1981–1983)
- Steve Missal – drums, percussion (1981)
- Gregg Gerson – drums, percussion (1981–1983)
- Judi Dozier – keyboards (1982–1985)
- Steve Webster – bass guitar (1983–1985)
- Thommy Price – drums, percussion (1983–1988)
- Kenny Aaronson – bass guitar (1986–1988)
- Susie Davis - keyboards, vocals (1986-1988)
- Phil Soussan – bass guitar (1988–1990)
- Zane Fix – bass guitar (1980s)
- Mark Younger-Smith – lead guitar (1990–1993)
- Larry Seymore – bass guitar (1990–1993)
- Tal Bergman – drums, percussion (1990–1993, 2000)
- Bonnie Hayes - keyboards, vocals (1990-1991)
- Jennifer Blakeman – keyboards (1993)
- Julie Greaux – keyboards (1993)
- Danny Sadownik – drums, percussion (1993)
- Mark Schulman – drums, percussion (1993–2001)
- Sasha Krivtsov – bass (2000)
- Brian Tichy – drums, percussion (2001–2009)
- Jeremy Colson – drums, percussion (2010–2012)
- Derek Sherinian – keyboards (2002–2014)
- Studio albums
- Billy Idol (1982)
- Rebel Yell (1983)
- Whiplash Smile (1986)
- Charmed Life (1990)
- Cyberpunk (1993)
- Devil's Playground (2005)
- Happy Holidays (2006)
- Kings & Queens of the Underground (2014)
List of awards and nominations
MTV Video Music Awards
The MTV Video Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony established in 1984 by MTV.
The BRIT Awards are the British Phonographic Industry's annual pop music awards.
- Coral Castle, a stone structure where Idol got his inspiration for his song "Sweet Sixteen".
- Bromley Contingent
- Larkin, Colin, ed. (1992). "Idol, Billy". The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 2: Farian, Frank to Menza, Don. Guinness.
- Official website
- Billy Idol MySpace page
- Billy Idol on Twitter
- Billy Idol at the Internet Movie Database
- Interview @ Legends
- Billy Idol at Rolling Stone
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Image from Discogs