Not every country music performer hails from the rural heartland. Joe Val spent many years as one of the most respected country artists around, and he was an Italian/American (real name: Joseph Valiante) who was born and raised in the Boston area. But New England has always had a strong tradition in country music, including the kind Joe loved — bluegrass — so maybe it’s not that surprising.
Growing up during the Great Depression in the blue-collar Boston suburb of Everett, young Joe Valiante thrived on the music of radio stars like Bill Monroe. He began learning guitar while still in his teens, and eventually added banjo and mandolin. By the time he’d reached adulthood, he was finding work performing with area groups like the Radio Rangers and the Berkshire Mountain Boys. He also spent some time appearing with Tex Logan, whose difficulty pronouncing Joe’s last name led to his new stage name, Joe Val.
For many years, Joe’s music — as important as it was to him — had to sometimes take a back seat to his earning a living, mostly as a typewriter repairman. But by the late 1960s, after forming the New England Bluegrass Boys with Herb Applin, Bob French, and Bob Tidwell, he was able to concentrate on performing and he soon became a fan favorite.
Although he might not have cut a dashing figure on stage — he was short and thin, with a brush mustache and thick glasses — Joe Val was popular with fans and friends alike. He and his group were able to build a following through records and on tour, and were at the height of their popularity when Joe was stricken by Lymphoma in 1984. He died the following year at age 58, and is still remembered fondly in the Boston area. The 27th annual festival bearing his name will occur in February.
Joe Val & New England Bluegrass Boys – “Goodbye Old Pal”