Joe Rathburn was born in Michigan where, at 17, he quit his job as a busboy at a pancake house and went full time as a musician. First playing bass in a band called Ages, which was put together around a bar owner’s drummer son, Joe was recruited from that band into a power trio called Skyhook, which made a bit of a name for itself opening for the likes of Kiss, The Guess Who, The James Gang, and Chuck Berry. And while all this was going on, Joe also was doing solo acoustic guitar and vocal gigs, starting to write and perform his own tunes. He put together a band of loyal friends called the True Blue Eddy Band with which he recorded original tunes and played bars. Soon, he was doing covers and making good bread playing solo on the steakhouse circuit.
In 1979 he moved to San Diego where, at first working for tips, he gradually worked his way up the local music food chain to garner the respect of his peers and an audience. He formed several small cover acts working restaurants and lounges.
A Side Note: While in one such duo act called LA, which needed a keyboard player, Joe “discovered” a promising young man demoing a Yamaha DX7 keyboard for a customer at a local San Diego music store. He was so impressed with the fella’s skills he immediately approached the young man and asked him to make Joe’s duo a trio, and he accepted. That young man stayed with Joe’s act for two years, delighting everyone with his savant like musicianship and carefree antics. He eventually desired to leave the trio to pursue his own original music. He left Joe’s act to form his own band. Shortly after that he phoned music legend Frank Zappa’s office and offered his services as both a guitarist and keyboardist (Joe didn’t even know of the young man’s outrageous guitar chops). Zappa, intrigued by the young man’s audacity, called his bluff and invited him up to Los Angeles to audition for the upcoming tour which was already in rehearsals. The rest is history. The young man, Mike Keneally, has joined the pantheon of legendary Zappa band alumni, forging a critically acclaimed career of his own, and touring the world. Though living in different worlds, Mike and Joe remain friends, and Joe is happy to have given Mike his first gig.
Back to Joe: After releasing a low budget, self-recorded cassette called Cup O’Joe, he got the backing for his first high budget album, Little Suns, produced by Dave Blackburn in 1997.
Little Suns got nominated for Best Adult Alternative Album in the San Diego Music Awards. On the strength of Little Suns, Rathburn auditioned and was accepted onto the Songs.Com website’s roster of artists: It being one of the very first music websites to market independent singer/songwriters, almost acting as a label, boosting artists profiles and getting their names out there (eventually morphing into CD Baby). That led to Joe attending his first Folk Alliance Conference in Nashville. While there he played the famous Bluebird Cafe, and a few major open mics, learning from those “Nashville cats” and gaining experience. He used that experience as he continued to write and play more and more original shows back in San Diego.
He also hooked up with a band called The Banana Republicans for two and a half years, playing every Sunday afternoon at a bayside resort doing Caribbean island music (one of Joe’s secret pleasures). That led to a stint with another band called Koko Loco who were supported by the Parrot Head community(Jimmy Bufffett fans).
It wasn’t until 2001 that Joe released his second big-budget recording, Rockwells and Picassos, produced by Jeff Berkley, which was also nominated in the SDMAs in the Best Acoustic Artist Category.
In 2004 Joe landed a gig at a downtown San Diego restaurant called The Tin Fish, located just half a block from PETCO PARK, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. He still plays there today, entertaining the crowds before every Padres home game. If you do the math that’s around 1200 shows and counting. He’s become quite the entertainment institution down there.
Between 1996 and 2004 Joe hosted several coffeehouse concert series, meeting, becoming friends with, and presenting other local artists. He produced a compilation CD Called the Save Mikey’s Project, which featured many local luminaries, in an effort to save a favorite venue from closure.
Also, late in 2004 Joe recorded Joe Rathburn LIVE at Dark Thirty.
Then, in 2005, he started a singer/songwriter showcase series at a tiny coffeehouse called The Hot Monkey Love Café, which was near his home. He called the series Joe Rathburn’s Folkey Monkey Thursdays to differentiate it from the venue’s jazz night, blues night, metal night, and hip-hop night. Today, after many venue changes, it has become The Folkey Monkey @ Vision, a prestigious, listening room concert series, presented the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of every month, featuring the best local talent and touring artists from around the globe. Both artist and audience love it for its comfortably respectful atmosphere and family like comraderie. The venue seats 200 and boasts a great sound system, nice lights, projection screen, and grand piano, in an alcohol free environment.
In 2020 Rathburn’s back in the San Diego Music Awards, having been nominated in the Best Singer/Songwriter category. As of February 2020, Joe is in the planning stages for his next album, Soul Radio. His best ever.
Joed Rathburn teaches you basic practical theory for guitar.
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