Have you ever thirsted for music, so much so that it ached in every cell of your body? That every decision you made was in answer to the primal longing to bring the music in your bones to fruition? Reading S.A.C. Member Joe McLeod‘s story of coming into being as a musician, one can feel a deep unsatiated longing that led him to a musical adventure from Vancouver to Nashville to Toronto and back again. As a budding musician, Joe had a hunger for inspiration and connection to the deeper roots of music that led him to earn a forestry degree in order to apply for a work visa to move to Nashville. As a result, Joe has shared the stage with artists such as Johnny Cash, John Pennell, and Angaleena Presley to name a few. Joe felt that deep thirst for creating music and has answered it with courage and perseverence.
In His Words…
The first time I ever heard bluegrass music was at the age of 17. At the time, I was enthusiastically exploring all of the classic sounds of the 60s and 70s spending countless hours scouring my Dad’s record collection for some deep cuts by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. What I found instead on this particular day was the original album by Old And In The Way, a 1975 Rounder Records bluegrass project featuring the likes of David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Kahn, Vassar Clements, and of course Jerry Garcia. If you are familiar with the album, you know the allure of Greg Iron’s cover art depicting five caricatures feverishly picking bluegrass amidst a backdrop of general store sundries. I was immediately drawn in and noticed the banjo player’s resemblance to Jerry Garcia. I was astounded that I had been listening to the Grateful Dead for a few years and was unaware that Jerry played banjo. I immediately eased the vinyl from its sleeve and proceeded to spin the wax. As the first banjo notes of “Pig In A Pen” rolled off Jerry Garcia’s fingers I was hooked on bluegrass music. I went on that day to tape the album and that tape went on to define my summer and in many ways the musical trajectory that I have been on for the last 17 years. As time went on I learned that the music, driven by banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass, had a deeper history and that the genre’s birth was credited to Mr. Bill Monroe.
A few years later at the age of 22, my quest to further understand bluegrass music led me to visit Nashville to drink from the fountain of inspiration that wells there. I was enamoured by the depth of talent in Nashville and the ubiquitous music. I will never forget that first trip and my fortune to see artists such as Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings own the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. These were artists I had listened to for years, but to see them on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry was like seeing a wild lion in the Serengeti. They were the best players in the business and they held me captive during sets demarcated by Eddie Stubbs’ impeccable radio voice reading various advertisements for Goo Goo Clusters or Martha White Flour. By the time I returned to Canada, all I could do was scheme a strategy to return to Music City USA.
Stage one of this plan was to finish my forestry degree at UBC in Vancouver, stage two was to get back to Nashville and work legally. In the end I arrived there circuitously by working first in Colorado and then eventually getting a job as a tree climber with Davey Tree in Nashville. With a work Visa being one of the more difficult mechanisms to negotiate in a post 9/11 America, tree climbing fell under the umbrella of forestry related work and consequently afforded me a Visa to work in Nashville. The work was secondary to the ultimate goal of digging into the depths of Nash-Vegas to further understand the amorphous beauty of music.
As everyone knows, Nashville is the ultimate acid test for a musician and to be humbled by Nashville is to become a better musician. I was fortunate to live in Nashville for three years and have my share of humbling experiences. I had the rare fortune of sharing stages, songwriter rounds, parking lot jams, and friendships with some fine songwriters and musicians including Johnny Cash, Vassar Clements, Harley Allen, John Pennell, and Angaleena Presley. These experiences left an indelible mark on who I am and the music that I create. I have since played in a handful of bands in Toronto and currently play with the Scattered Coals in Vancouver.
As humans we are not static beings, but rather we shift and evolve trying to polish our edges as we go. When I started learning to play the guitar at the age of sixteen I recall a high school classmate chuckling and saying, “you won’t be able to learn guitar now, you need to start when you are six years old to get any good”. Of course if we never followed our dreams because it was too late to start life would be meaningless. With this in mind, we should all keep polishing our edges and remember that Antonio Stradivari’s 25 year long “Golden Period” only began when he was 56 years of age.
Joe is currently working towards his first independent release in 2012.
Click Here for a sneak peek.