Being a “musical gigolo” is not easy but Mighty Joe has been working at it full-time since 2001. His duties have included being a wedding DJ, a wedding singer at “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” and the MC for events such as the CAEEL fundraiser at Doc Ryan’s. The “wandering minstrel” of Madison Street is also a regular presence at Molly Malone’s, Scratch and the Pioneer Tap.
He first discovered our local bar scene as an English major at Concordia. He began playing the “old joints on Madison” twenty years ago. There were always college kids in attendance. Mighty Joe used his degree to teach English at Luther South HS for eight years.
The singer-songwriter then left academia and took the plunge into full-time musicianship. Mighty Joe learned how to work a room by playing nightspots in Forest Park. “It’s a fun place for music. Every bar has a different crowd. It’s a melting pot of people from all walks of life.”
Mighty Joe grew up in Lombard. His mother, Carolyn, came from Tennessee in the 50’s and met Jim from Maywood. They had two boys Jim, Jr. and Joe. Carolyn later returned to Cleveland, Tennessee to continue her real estate business. Though they were separated, she remained Mighty Joe’s “best friend.”
In 2009, he lost his mother to a stroke and his brother in a car accident. While spending the next several years selling his mother’s property and settling her estate, Joe found himself going through a dark but pivotal period. He searched deep into his songbook for tunes that would fit his new persona.
“There Was a Time,” for example, reflects on the innocent times of watching black and white TV and vacationing in the family car. (It’s among a hundred songs Mighty Joe has recorded with local producer, Nick Eipers). “Every Time I See Her” is a “mom” song he intends to include on “Songs for Cash Vol.2.”
The somber tone of these songs, however, does not reflect Mighty Joe’s rollicking stage presence. His “Folk Vegas” style is equal parts playful banter and songs catchy enough to get the crowd to sing along. Of his eight albums, “No Kids in the Beer Garden” captures the spirit of a Mighty Joe show in Forest Park.
At a recent gig at the Pioneer, Mighty Joe played a diverse selection of covers. He strummed several by “Down Under” bands to please a patron from New Zealand. He also kept up a steady stream of stage patter with the crowd. His laid back approach brought to mind that singer who famously “stepped on a pop top.”
Admitting that he “grew up a lot when my mom died,” Mighty Joe said that the tragedy has renewed his determination to make a living at music. But even a “musical gigolo” has to pay their own way sometimes. When Mighty Joe wanted to cover “Dear Prudence,” he had to write a $90 check payable to The Beatles, LLC.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.