I was first aware of Joseph Hale back in 2008, I think. My father and step-mother were in from KY and staying at the Blennerhasset Hotel. We just had dinner and were hanging out in the lounge, and in the corner sat one Joseph Henry, (Later, changing his last name to Hale) playing piano as background sound with nobody really paying much attention, except for his wife, Sasha. She was so into it, grooving and singing every word, sitting on the leather couch near him. It was super sweet. I was distracted by how good he was. Not good, amazing really. I was feeling guilty that I was distracted so from my family visit. I said to my wife, "am I so un-hip and just really out of touch with current music that don't know any of these songs or are they all originals? They all sound amazing!" I approached Joseph at the end of his set and he informed me that his songs were all original. It didn't seem real. I couldn't believe that all this music, music that was so brilliantly formed, arranged and performed was being created right here near my ears. Created/conceived so close to my home.
He gave me two CDs that night. Both packed full of original songs that he had obviously spent hours producing in his basement on his multi-track. Recording in mind bending "Brian Wilson" fashion. The arrangements were thick and fully realized, one song after the other and his voice was flat out amazing in a Lennon/McCartney way. As I listened to the songs, one gem after the other, I eventually had to pull off the road (on my way to some show) and call my wife to tell her how out of my head I was over this guy's music!
At the time I was hosting many songwriter nights in WV and Ohio and had a radio show were I would feature regional songwriters. I felt I knew just about everyone, but man, was I wrong. This was like accidentally striking gold. I immediately asked him to perform one of my radio shows in Morgantown.
He would command your attention during those tapings. His songs were beautiful, funny, dark, punk, yet melodic. He would totally suck the crowd's attention in. There's no way to exaggerate his musicality at that time in his life. Here is a recording from one of those radio shows.
After watching him perform, I invited him over to the house to work on some songs of mine with no real goal in mind, although, I dreamed of incorporating him into my then scattered musical vision. He brought his keyboard and set up and we discussed music, (Lou Reed, Bowie, Zevon etc) played a few songs and immediately connected.
I loved how he worked his ass off on learning my tunes when we really didn't have a plan, we were just playing and kicking things around. I'm so happy I documented that first collaboration here.
Joseph Hale then became part of my mid-life crisis it seems. After being out of a band for a few years and playing and touring as a solo artist, I found that Joseph along with Billy Matheny, both about 20 years younger than I, inspired me to start a new band. Like most people, my career has been filled with mentors. Sometimes the mentors have been unaware. The earlier obvious ones being my mother and brother playing the piano around the house, then later, my guitar/artistic guru, Dallas Gose, then later still, Mike Morningstar, Larry Groce, Tim O'Brien etc, but when Joseph entered my life, I found myself writing songs and creating music informed and inspired by him and his musical way. Joseph along with Billy Matheny unknowingly became a driving force in my musical direction. Both mentors of sorts. I would imagine them hearing the tunes, maybe looking over my shoulder and approving or disapproving. I was writing songs about a fictitious songwriter who was going through an extreme mid-life crisis. My mid-life crisis was mild, possibly because I felt that I was making "good art". It was closely tied to Mr. Hale. His fine work can be found in songs like Get Well, Intervene, I'm a Shark etc here.
He enriched my life and I spent a lot of time struggling over how I might sooth his mind somehow. Break in and reorganize? It is difficult to talk about a friend who has passed so tragically, so early in life and honor and discuss their worth without becoming self-serving. Impossible really.
So, I suppose these words are to make myself feel better about his passing somehow, but they are also meant to celebrate all that was good about the man, and there was plenty. I do know that I respected Joseph Hale. I respected his life and his art and friendship. I'm happy that I was able to tell him that over and over again. I will miss him and continue to celebrate what he created here on earth. Pure art can be unreal. Joseph Hale was unreal, yet he made us all feel, so, real.
You simply must listen to his music again.
FIND IT HERE
|Todd with Joseph Making up a song on the fly in Pomeroy Ohio|