Joe Beard: Rochester’s Quintessential Bluesman Keeps Rolling

Joe Beard: Rochester’s Quintessential Bluesman Keeps Rolling




Inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame in 2017, octogenarian Joe Beard cuts a tall, slender, handsome, and exceedingly cool persona. Anyone who has watched him play in Rochester’s more intimate venues-places such as Abeline Bar and Lounge and the Dinosaur BBQ- know that he is both down to earth and soulful at the same time. One comes away from his performances with the impression that he is not a household name on purpose, for his music often feels like a walk around a familiar block. In the words of guitarist and longtime collaborator Duke Robillard: “It has become somewhat trendy to pick up the guitar and call yourself a blues artist these days. But make no mistake, Joe Beard is the real thing. His voice, guitar, songwriting, sense of humor and depth of feeling were learned and earned the hard way, all the way from his Mississippi roots to his years of honing his craft the way a true artist evolves. Joe Beard is here, and he’s here to stay” (from For Real liner notes).

From my own experience watching Joe Beard play, I can say that his sound is like a perfectly blended whiskey. Just as whiskey is made from fermented grain mash such as barley, corn, and rye, Beard’s music is a combination of the three main ingredients in his personal journey from Mississippi to Chicago to Rochester. To begin with, the Delta is in his blood and always will be. You can here it in the spiritual freedom of his riffs, and it is firmly ingrained in the sweet agony of his voice. His sound is connected to the land like a plow. Yet it yearns for something high above the ground. 

The Chicago grain is unmistakable. This is the urban expression in his style. Beard can be ambitious, bold, and unafraid. When he is on stage he pays homage to the great electric masters such as Howling Wolf,  John Lee Hooker, Lighting Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. Some of these idols he had a chance to play with after he moved north from Ashland, Miss in the mid 50s.  

Finally, Beard is Rochester through and through. This is the city that he settled in, and his music settled here with him. Rochester is working class and that’s Beard to the bone (he was an electrician for many years). Rochester is rust belt, homey and unpretentious. That’s Beard. His groove is where he wants it to be. 

Like a fine whiskey, Joe Beard is a potent and refreshing blend of tastes and influences. He played with Son House in his living room and onstage in Memphis with B.B. King. He will play for 20 avid listeners on any given Tuesday night in downtown Rochester. He will play the blues because he is the blues.

Looking to check him out? Joe Beard and Bill Downen are set to Headline the Next Concert in a New Folk Series at Downstairs Cabaret Theatre – The next program in a new concert series entitled “Rochester Folkus” featuring Folk, Traditional, Old-Time, Bluegrass, and other acoustic music will be held on April 11 at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, 20 Windsor Street, Rochester, NY. All concerts begin at 7 pm and occur on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of every month (with occasional exceptions). Reservations are accepted (but not required) and can be made by calling 585-325-4370.

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer, domestic violence counselor, and SUNY adjunct professor of philosophy, He lives and works in Rochester, NY.